Hip-Hop Photographer Jonathan Mannion


In what has to be my favorite and most meaningful interview I’ve ever done, I recently got a chance to talk with New York City based and famed hip-hop photographer Jonathan Mannion. I mean, if you’re a fan of hip-hop then I can tell you that YOU HAVE seen his work at some point or another. And me, as a photographer in a similar realm, speaking to him and interviewing him was definitely an honor and a great experience for me.

Jonathan is working with Tanqueray and is contributing to a campaign and website called WeResistSimple.com. Basically it’s an online platform (a blog of sorts) that is giving artists like him and other celebrities an outlet to speak their mind and speak their thoughts.

Well, I caught up with Jonathan to discuss the new blog site and campaign. Then of course, we also got to know him a little better, as well asked him a few other questions like his involvement with Miami and Miami based artists like Trina, Trick Daddy and Rick Ross. And we even slid in a The Carter IV question. Read below, an interview with photographer Jonathan Mannion.


Doing great. Thanks for having me. I’m definitely a fan of the M-I-A. I love Miami.

Initially it came to my attention through my friend Coltrane Curtis, also one of the artists involved with the campaign. He thought it was something special that I might want to be a part of. Its a project that is giving numerous people from various arenas a platform to be speak from their hearts and whatever they’re going through. And you have to take your hat off to Tanqueray for taking the initiative to do this. Its something that is a first of its kind. The WeResistSimple campaign is filled with such powerhouses all across the board and all the blog entries are just so informative and offer valuable voices and perspectives on various topics. And there’s no real rules or regulations, its just whatever’s in our minds and hearts. And I know that there’s going to be some collaborations on deck among some of us part of the campaign. Its bound to happen.

I’m probably going to do a moment-by-moment and photo-by-photo journey through my trips. But overall , this blogging experience is just set to be more in the moment of whatever I am going through on that particular day. I did a Big Pun remembrance post. I did a post about the situation in Haiti. But a lot happens minute-by-minute so I definitely don’t plan things out. I just post as I go and as I feel.

A lot of people know me as being more into the music side of things, but I am definitely very athletic. I played soccer for 30 years. Tennis for 25. Basketball, football and etc. And believe it or not, even having that athletic side of me does allow me to relate to any athlete I shoot because I know what they go through and I know what their lives are like. So it helps me shoot them and relate to them a little better.

I’ve been lucky. Seriously, I love it. I get to run around, travel the world and take pictures. I always think to myself, “wow, this is my life? This is awesome.” Seriously, I can’t complain. Looking back, everything in my life has been like a build-up taking me to the next step of my life and career. Looking back at my journey, I really feel like my vision has become stronger only because of the things that I happened to have done before doing what I am doing now. Everything leading up to this point has really gave me a great foundation. And also, being that I was a psychology major in college – that has probably been the most valuable piece of the puzzle right there. Because I know how to push these artists buttons and get I want [from a photo shoot], while still respecting signs of when they’re getting tired, what they need and etc.

Well , time crunches are always going to be there – so I’m use to that. But you know, I’ve gotten a shoot where they said I only have 10 minutes to shoot with the artist. You know to a point where we were bargaining for time and I was able to bargain those 10 minutes and got them to do 12 minutes [Laughs]. But yeah, the time crunches that’s nothing. I guess a difficult part has been the waiting around. You get to the studio with that energy and ready to go, but then you have to wait a while for people to show up. One of my pinnacles and just intriguing shoots we had was when we had to pester this guy to come to his own photo shoot. It was this shoot I did with ODB from Wu-Tang. He showed up 7 hours late and dressed up as Rick James and came with a list of demands and etc. It was a CRAZY day to say the least, but we got it done.

If I have shot it, I don’t know about it [Laughs]. I know he’s diving into the Carter IV, but the Rebirth cover was the most recent situation and shoot that I’ve done with him.

In the beginning of my career I was an apprentice to a lot of fashion shooters that were always chasing the sun. So, Miami has always been a hub for me since I moved to New York in ’93. So I was definitely in Miami from 94-97 a lot, of course in a different capacity but still in the city a lot early on in my career.

I was actually at Art Basel [Miami] this past December. And I was just blown away at the kind of artists that showed up. Miami just has this amazing bubble of an art scene and there are tons of young artists and kids that really want it. And I was just speaking to them while I was there about my experiences and my pitfalls that I’ve fallen into in hopes that I could help them avoid my same mistakes. I was speaking to a ton of them on a daily basis. I think it’s important that I do that, it’s a responsibility that I feel I have to give back.

It’s a tradition for me, but soon as I get off the plane, I always get my Cuban Coffee and Empanada at the airport whenever I come into Miami. As silly as it sounds and as basic as it sounds, but $3.26 worth of Cuban Coffee and empanadas let’s me know that I’ve arrived in Miami.

One of the first projects I did was with Luke. It was a great experience. It was a girl on the cover – a real beautiful girl in a bikini with this pacifier. And I know it sounds cheesy, but it was so Miami and urban and vibrant. I always approach things with class and we did it. And Luke is a legend. But yeah, there’s a lot of shoots that I’ve done in Miami. Not only for Miami artists, but for other artists as well because everyone seems to gravitate to Miami for all the things the city has to offer. One of many includes Nas’ God Son, we shot that in Miami.

Trina and I have definitely had a long run. We’ve probably done like 5 shoots together. She’s a sweetheart and an amazing person. We have had an amazing working relationship together and I look forward to getting back to that.

Some of my favorite photos I’ve ever created have definitely been with Trick Daddy. He was always willing to take a chance with things. I have pictures of him next to a washer and dryer in the back of this crazy house in Overtown. And the room had a rug with the Last Supper designed on it, and he was dressed in cowboy boots with spurs, a revolver in hand and a cowboy hat. It was crazy how different the shot was. And that’s just one example of how he’s given me a different impression of who he was. He’s willing to take chances. Again, some of my favorite pictures I’ve created in Miami were with Trick.

We’ve had an incredible working relationship. I’ve done a couple of his albums and some XXL covers I believe. But he’s incredible to shoot. You look at him and yeah, he’s a big dude. But he’s someone that’s so comfortable in his skin. In ALL of his skin [Laughs]. But he always comes in the flyest rides and he’s just got that style and pays attention. He’s a not only a musician, he’s a great artist and knows what he needs to do. He appreciates good art and knows what it takes to make these images and that’s why they come out great.

You know, I have a new mindset with me to work on some projects that are a little more personal. Do things to become more of an artist. To have it be where let’s say you see a photo on a table or hanging up somewhere and you’d say, that’s not a photo of Jay-Z, that’s a Jonathan Mannion original. And I am really trying to challenge other people to understand art and the artists that create it because it is through our eyes that these [artists, celebrities, athletes] are translated on to the rest of the world. We definitely need to support art and support the artists.

Definitely check out WeResistSimple.com. I’m grateful to be a part of it. Its given me a chance to speak on what’s important to me and as well as the other contributors involved to speak what’s important to them. But its been really rewarding to be involved. Yeah, I have other ways of communication like Twitter and Facebook, but the blog I have on WeResistSimple.com is something different that I do with a real focus and real dedication. So definitely log on.


To read Jonathan’s blog entries and keep up with his latest thoughts and photos, Log on to WeResistSimple.com.

And click below for more photos taken by Jonathan….

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