There are iconic hip-hop photographs that remain etched in cultural memory: Biggie donning a Coogi sweater while counting racks in ’96, Salt-N-Peppa sporting Kente cloth Kufis with heavy gold chains in ’87, and the classic 1995 image of late rapper Tupac Shakur in a white bandana, staring hauntingly at the camera. Following the impressive careers of Gordon Parks and Carrie Mae Weems, who made photography imperative to documenting the various facets of black life, the medium became a staple in the rise of hip-hop. The culture’s next rising photography star lies in Gunner Stahl: a lanky, soft-spoken millennial from Atlanta, GA.
The magic of Stahl’s pictures relies on his employment of an avant garde technique. “I like just being basically a fly on the wall, just chillin’ and taking pictures. I never like to ask, ‘Yo, let’s go take this super staged picture with you over here next to this.’ They just do whatever they do, and I do whatever I do.’ All my work is natural,” he says in the FADER clip, below. “It’s this naturalistic approach to the medium that’s endowed him with an instinctive ability to connect to the camera’s subjects. He relies on capturing rappers in their elements, creating a symbiotic bond of trust and ease, as he is referred to as “rap’s favorite photographer.”
Stahl began his photography journey five years ago. His interest in documenting rappers through pictures came out of his network of friends and associates’ involvement in the music industry. “Everyone I was around just did music. For some strange reason, they either produced or they were a manager of an artist, or they were like an actual artist,” he confesses. “I’ve just been around music so long, so I was like, ‘If this is what I’m around, let me just document it.” Prior to his interest in archiving the ebbs and flows of the culture in 2010, Stahl was snapping photos at parties and parks in his hometown.
“You can’t get any more—what’s the word I’m looking for? You can’t get more unfiltered than an un-staged film photo. It’s impossible. It’s like shooting a gun in the dark because you don’t know what your pictures are going to look like at all. I feel like my pictures have more personality since it’s never like, you know, a staged shoot. And you’re in the moment, so you might as well capture it,” the refreshing talent adds.