Sedgwick & Cedar takes its brand name from a party in the summer of ’73, held in a small rec room at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx—a place that’s been dubbed the birthplace of hip hop. Around the same time, photographer Joe Conzo picked up a camera and started taking pictures of his friends on the scene, and those images are widely recognized as the most iconic of the time. Now 30 years later, Sedgwick & Cedar are collaborating on a series of T-shirts that pay homage to Conzo’s seminal work. We spoke to Conzo and Ray Riccio of S&C about how it all came together. Read the full Q&A after the jump.
Why did you start taking pictures?
Conzo: I was a chubby little kid with an Angela Davis afro and I wasn’t very athletic. I picked up photography in grade school and I just ran with it. I became a recognizable photographer in high school and just documented my scenery, my surroundings. You know, we’re talking mid-’70s. The Bronx was a turbulent place. Then I was just befriended by the members of the Cold Crush Brothers. I hung with them and the rest is history.
Can you tell me specifically some of the stories behind the images in the collection?
Conzo: One of the photos Ray chose from Sedgwick was the gangster shot, which is so important because that represented one of the biggest battles, if not the biggest battle, between two hip-hop groups at that time. The Cold Crush Brothers, along with the Grand Wizard Theodore and The Fantastic 5, those were the hottest groups. And to actually get them to come together on this seminal date and battle each other was really big. The costumes they used during the battle—it was just so significant and important, so that’s one of my most iconic photographs.
What was the directive on this project?
Conzo: Ray just said, “I want to see photographs that will make your hair stand up on the back of your neck, that nobody’s seen before.” I go through my archives every couple weeks. It’s like record crate digging.
Riccio: The history that Joe has preserved, not only for hip-hop culture but for American history, music culture at large, is just amazing. It’s like discovering the Dead Sea scrolls. Without Joe, most of the visual history of vinyl records would been lost, would have never been captured. Joe Conzo is the first photographer of hip-hop culture. What we feel about Kool Herc as an innovator and creator of the culture of hip hop—Joe Conzo, in his own right, is a pioneer as a documenter. He’s the first. No one predates Joe Conzo, so it’s just an honor to work with him.
What’s been the reaction from people, Ray?
Riccio: Absolutely blown away and amazed. They feel like they not only have a piece of history in their hands, but they actually have a collectible piece of art on clothing. That’s the best way to sum it up. And it’s the first time we’ve ever worked with Joe in this way, to have a dedicated capsule to his work, a collection that is strictly Joe Conzo’s, that has a hang tag, that calls a small piece of “his story.” Every image is hand-selected with Joe’s input, and each shirt has a platinum signature in Joe’s handwriting.
Are you planning to work together again?
Riccio: We definitely have plans to work together. We pay homage to the roots and origins of hip-hop culture and those that paved the way, but we also are paying homage to those genres that hip-hop originally pulled from—salsa, reggae and soul music, genres that helped forge the sound of hip-hop. Then hip-hop founded its own cultures of creativity. And what’s unique about Joe is not only did he document what was happening around him, but also with his Latino heritage, he also captured some of the greats of Latino music culture.
Conzo: When I wasn’t hanging out with my brothers from high school, the Cold Crush Brothers, I was hanging out with my dad, who was Tito Puente’s manager. So not only do I have hip hop from the ’70s and ’80s, I also have salsa.