Prior to establishing herself as a fine art and commercial photographer for international magazines such as Vogue Italy, Lori Sapio was the personal photographer for MC Questionmark. Sapio traveled with the musician throughout the nineties documenting the rave scene. Now, she’s delving into her archives to put together a book of photographs of the DJs, Junglists and community.
Emily von Hoffmann: This project centers on the US drum and bass scene in the 90s, something that I think many people might not be familiar with. Can you describe the scene for our readers? Who were the major players, demographically, or more individually, if you like?
Lori Sapio: The major players were based in the UK, where the genre of music was created. Goldie, who founded Metalheadz, Fabio and Grooverider, Bryan Gee and Jumping Jack Frost of V Recordings, Ed Rush and Optical, Simon Bassline Smith, Roni Size, Photek, Dillinja and Lemon D, Blame, Krust, Trace, Zinc, DJ Hype.
In LA, there was the Junglist Platoon who had a weekly night, as well as Science which was held by Raymond Roker who owned Urb magazine.
In NYC, there was the Conkrete Jungle crew. In Chicago we had Phantom 45, Danny the Wildchild, Dr. Groo, DJ 3D, Snuggles, Phix and RY-N. There was also the Bass by the Pound Crew who had a night at Big Wig and Scott who had Dub Shack at Liar’s Club.
The promoters were amazing and would bring the UK artists and nationally know talent in with the local talent to play at raves as well as at Smart Bar, Metro, CroBar, Mad Bar and House of Blues.
There were crews and parties all over the states. If you were a Junglist, you were accepted into the community and knew where you could go to hear the music you loved. In Chicago, we were like a little dysfunctional family you would see your members out and about several times a week to dance and to hang out. It was a nice community feeling.
The music originated from the UK (the sounds) and each DJ interpreted and made it’s own.
EvH: You began your career as an architecture photographer, but also developed a passion for documenting urban music subcultures. Can you tell us more about this progression of your interests, and how you stumbled upon these unique scenes in the beginning? (Were you taken with it right away? Can you remember the first time you went out as a music photographer, and what that was like?)
LS: I started going to raves when I was 16 and fell in love with not only the music, but the scene. For my final project in college, I decided to do a fine art series of the lights and the movement at the parties.
Upon graduation from college I went to Paris and NYC to concentrate on fashion and architectural photography. In addition to photographing architecture commercially, I got a job at Hedrich-Blessing as assistant project manager. They are one of the oldest architectural photography firms and are responsible for some iconic images.
I started going out almost nightly, I loved the music and started bringing my camera along. I connected with some editors and my work was starting to get published in Thousand Words, Mix Mag, Urb and XLR8R. I then decided the music was what I wanted to shoot and made that my focus. Soon after started shooting press images for artists as well as artwork for their albums.
EvH: By some crazy chance, it seems, you became MC Questionmark’s personal photographer, which led to a ton of adventure and access. Can you share any anecdotes or interactions from that time that really stand out in your mind? What was it like to suddenly be immersed in that world? Did the fact that you were “friends with the talent” ever interfere with your work, or was it always a positive? How did these experiences inspire “Parallel Lines”?
LS: Dr. Groo actually came up with the title “Parallel Lines,” he said I was like the talent…. I traveled, I had the access, I was right there with everyone, on a parallel line.
I feel being MC Questionmark’s photographer helped me gain access at times I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. I would at times run interference for some of my friends who were the talent at an event. Help give them their space to do their job. Everyone wants to bug the DJ when they are in the middle of their set. I’ve done it…. But I would always wait when I knew it was the right time to ask if they needed anything or to say bye.
I also was able to travel to events and get the VIP treatment I wouldn’t have received. We had our own golf cart driving us around at coachella behind the scenes as well as a tour bus as our dressing room. I was also present at the opening of fabric nightclub in London and had full access to every stage and booth. Those were both awesome events.
EvH: You’ve developed an eclectic body of work over the course of your career. What would you say are the common threads, if any, that run through the diverse subject matter? What makes a Lori Sapio project?
LS: I feel that I’ve developed my own style, I don’t try to copy anyone else. I try to put as much of me into every image I release. When shooting portraiture, I like to bring out my subjects personality…. I love seeing a spark in someone’s eyes.
EvH: Do you have any advice for the up and coming photographers among our readers? What is something important you wish you’d learned earlier, for example?
LS: Go to the library. Study the masters of photography. Look at books. Make a pinhole camera and develop the negative. Learn how to spool film on a reel, learn how to develop it…. Get into a darkroom and get your hands in the chemicals. Print the negatives you burned images onto.
I still believe there are photographers and there are digital photographers. I am a photographer because I know when I have the shot. I don’t need to look at the back of the camera to know its there. From years of shooting film I know what works and when I have what I wanted and know I can put down my camera and stop shooting.
EvH: Can you share with us any plans for future work that you’re particularly excited about?
LS: This past February I started a Seasons project I wish to continue. It combines my love of flowers (been a floral designer for 25 years as well), as well as beauty photography. There are also some upcoming fashion projects I’ve been working on as well as a couple of editorials that are currently being shopped around to International men’s publications.
After busting out my negatives for Parallel Lines, I have found many of my travels to Egypt, Mexico, Morocco and Thailand I would love to show in some galleries. There are always things on the horizon to get excited about!