Last Day

Revolt TV, February 5th, 2014

Words by Dan Buyanovsky for REVOLT

Photo by Katie Piper for MANNION Studio

An artist’s space is his sanctuary.

Infinitely more than a workshop, a creative’s studio represents a cocoon of imagination; a safe place from which an artist can experiment and explore the bounds of their ideas in a comfortable and open-minded environment.

For photographers especially, a studio can define a body of work, as a plethora of visitors both notable in name and otherwise visit, creating non-replicable moments that can only be captured in memories and, sometimes, in photographs.

Such was the case for hip-hop photographer Jonathan Mannion, who, after kick-starting his storied career in 1995 with this legendary photo of Biggie at The Palladium, over the course of the past decade, shot an astounding number of classic photos from his studio on 23rd Street in New York City.

From Kanye’s first cover shoot (for FADER Magazine) to a handful of album covers for the likes of Game, Rick Ross, and DMX to countless iconic portraits of A$AP Rocky, Tech N9ne, Mos Def, Theophilus London, Buju Banton, Fabolous, Dwayne Wade, Nelly, and Jeezy… if it was hip-hop, it happened in Mannion’s studio. Through ten years, the sprawling, skylight-lit studio became a bastion of creativity, and essentially a historical landmark in hip-hop lore.

That all changed last year, when the photographer was informed that the building the space occupied the top floor of had been sold to foreign investors, who had grand plans of replacing it with a gentrified high-rise; swapping history for yet another nondescript tower dropped in the lower portion of Manhattan’s ever-evolving Midtown.

While the move by way of ultimatum can be seen as an unfortunate development spawned by the gradual white-washing of New York City - as showcased by the recent demises of famed Queens graffiti spot 5 Pointz and short-lived Brooklyn DIY venue 285 Kent - Mannion is taking it as a signal from above, a push toward long-awaited liberation. As he puts it, he’s “free” - from expectations, from repetitive setups, and most importantly, from the physical space that’s defined his life in the last decade more than he has it.

Still, despite his optimism, Mannion’s forced move sparks a deeper, more philosophical conversation about New York City’s slow and steady shift that’s leaving artistic destinations by the wayside as developers continue build the city higher and higher into the sky, stacking as many people into square blocks as physically possible.

In just three months, we’ve lost 5 Pointz, 285 Kent, and now, Mannion’s studio, and come April 2, we’ll lose Roseland Ballroom, a live music institution since its opening in 1958. Sure, up-and-coming spots like Williamsburg’s Glasslands and Baby’s All Right have proven to be great venues to catch new music in the city, but which concert halls will see their end next? How long will it be before the Bowery Ballrooms, Webster Halls, and Irving Plazas of the city shutter their doors because foreign investors looking for prime real estate buy up all the land these five boroughs have to offer?

As we continue to ponder this and whether David Byrne was right about New York’s 1% all along, we return to Mannion, a New York icon who’s unafraid of his city’s evolution, simply because of the opportunity it gives him to move around untethered.

On his last day inside his former studio on 23rd Street, REVOLT visited Mannion to capture a final glance of an artist in his element. As he (with help from assistants) packed up boxes, made plans for the move - he’s yet to sign a new lease, instead looking forward to exploring his options - and reminisced on his time in the now-famous locale, we spoke with the photographer about some of his fondest memories in the space, including a recent rooftop shoot with Travi$ Scott, a touching session with Buju, and the first time he shot Kanye.

As expected, the vibe was both nostalgic and uplifting. Similar to the feeling you get as you head toward a breakup you saw coming for some time, Mannion was both reluctant to let go and intrigued by whatever lies ahead. Judging by his track record, we’re sure he’ll find ways to stay busy in the outside world.

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