THE FIRST THING I realized after being tapped as the editor of the top secret TALLY HO! magazine, was that shooting with creator Phil Knott evoked the spirit of the 1966 cult film Blow Up by Michelangelo Antonioni.
It’s a classic film that is part meditation on what photography means and dovetails with Nathanael West’s 1939 The Day of the Locusts, that was as much as about the emergence of fanatics (where the word fan stems from). Starstruck crowds of movie goers literally step on one another to get a glimpse of the next movie star or starlet, at the movie theater towards the conclusion of Locusts.
In many ways both Locusts and Blow Up continue to resonate and relevant because they pretend to represent different truths about the impacts the effects photography and film have on our psyches.
But when speaking to Knott, or watching him shoot, or witnessing the final product being developed, you realize the Black, British shutterbug is carving out a new space.
I’m a British photographer currently residing in Los Angeles. My career started in the heyday of the 90’s London fashion and music scene. My early works appearing in revered magazines like The Face and ID as well as campaigns for influential 90’s brands like Stussy. With a booming UK music scene I found my calling helping to create iconic photographs of musicians like Amy Winehouse and Oasis.
A move to New York and inspired by hip hop culture I was fortunately positioned to capture the rise of cultural figures like ASAP Rocky and 50 cent as well as commercially exploit my photography for brands like Steve Madden, Nike and Hennessy.
For the past two years I have been living in Los Angeles with my private work focused on capturing skid row street and gang culture with an ongoing portrait project.The about section of Knott’s website.
Knott and I were introduced to one another by a publisher we both knew well. Knott was his go-to photographer. “But,” as Phil said to me one day:
“Johnny knows why I agreed to all this derivative work—so I could eventually execute my vision.”
Knott’s vision was a magazine called Tally Ho! that was based on, and a thematic successor to a Broad sheet iteration that became the most sought out swag at openings of downtown New York City art galleries.
We got each other instantly and began working together after hours, often challenging the restraints Rheingold and managing editor Rachelle Gauthier, put on us. Gauthier, would fly up to Manhattan from Atlanta where she was living and left with the unenviable task of keeping two diabolical man children, who relished in agreeing to things to get the fuck out of the mind numbing scheduling meetings, so we could do what we wanted.
Gauthier, who was essentially hired to make sure we stayed on schedule, found herself occupying a neutral but protective DMZ between editorial and ad sales, shielding us from the business and budget aspects, as every time we began working on a new section of the magazine. we would rethink the DNA of the mag, sending us in more daring, but more importantly (for poor Rachelle) more expensive places than our initial road map, which gave Gauthier the weekly, and sometimes daily Sisyphean task of redrawing the editorial map every time we submitted new content.
It was Rock & Roll meets Afro Punk.
In his capacity the publisher was also chasing fashion advertising dollars and constantly concerned that the magazine was starting to look more urban, and less Andy Warhol’s Interview, a sensibility which I imagined he assumed I would color correct white—not realizing that the posh accented West End born Knott and the fast talking son of immigrants raised in the Hudson Valley found themselves in a never practiced but perfectly choreographed work flow.
Knott’s moody, textured, and cinematic feeling photos made him a favorite of record labels.
It got to the point that when I was late or unable to make a meeting, Knott would anxiously ask if there was a possibility that I would show up, because he’d begun to feel like his images were empty without “Sav’s words.”
From jump we both agreed that Reggie Watts was unquestionably the cover subject of the first issue’s cover which was met with remarkable resistance rumored to be because the powers that be claimed they couldn’t sell ad space in a magazine with Watts on the cover.
After smoking a joint on the fire escape between meetings, Phil and I would peruse the marketing teams’ advertising kits, where sentences gushed and were so pregnant with hyperbole they nearly went into labor on the page.
TONE & STYLE Fast-forward, fearless, mischievous, naughty, like an unruly child, honest, always well-intentioned, passionate, great-looking, self-confident. Tally Ho! is a communication tool replete with independent creative content that comes from a non-dictated, free-willed “self” of artists, as opposed to being trend driven. In a neo-romantic way, Tally Ho! is a proclamation and a protest of the human soul. This generates an outcome that is full of social and aesthetic meanings.
Tally Ho! is a collection of some of the most celebrated fine artists today. We are an art-based publication finding the unseen and seen talent around the globe—from London to New York.
We are not your typical magazine on display. We look for the beauty in the decay and capture the moment. Tally Ho! will be an exchange of cultures and ideas. Tally Ho! is here to challenge the status quo in today’s media.
A powerful visual compilation and free spirit of creative individuals.
A refreshing and distinctive view of culture.
Features images never published before, from progressive artists such as photographers, designers, writers, illustrators, painters and stylists.
It was marketing copy that evoked that of the media company where Knott and I had first collaborated, Marc Eckos’ COMPLEX magazine where I had been Executive Editor.
With Tally Ho!, Phil and I both considered the subject of the covers as something that would be decided at the end of crafting the pages, another set of dynamite placed in our publisher/persuer’s path to throw them off, as the press deadline quickly approached .
But the great cover conundrum was sorted when SONY hired Phil to shoot the debut album of 18 year-old rapper Rakim Athelaston Mayers aka A$AP Rocky.
At the height of Middle East war fervor that showed no sign of diminishing, Phil shot Rocky in a series of moody, ethereal images for his CD cover, sitting, staring down pensively with the American flag draped over his shoulder.
Suffice to say A$AP was not the cover they wanted, at which point Phil and I argued vociferously that conversations we had with the sensitive and poetic Mayer made him something new, different, and not often seen in hip-hop. As the days counted down to going on press, we both knew we were losing ground every day and surmised we were being placated, only to have “the old switcheroo” pulled at the last minute on press.
“Your words, mate,” Phil said to me one morning, Confused, I asked him to repeat himself. “Your words, Sav! Your fucking brilliant words. You have to interview him and show them.”
This was difficult since he was under heavy PR protection and we’d only been allowed to get a handful of quotes. I ran to the J&R Music World by the South Street Seaport for a voice recorder small enough to go unnoticed in my shirt pocket and Rakim and I started shooting the shit, while I peppered in very specific questions into what sounded like banal small talk.
Rocky was pro-LGBT, a feminist, and a vegan—”woke” in 2006.
Rocky never made the cover. But his words still ring true.
FROM my edited word document of my interview the Rocky, submitted to Rachelle Gauthier:
HED: From the Mouth of Babes
DEK: You see the imagery and then you meet the kid. In the photos he’s all grills and posturing, but then you talk to him and he’s the boy next door, super smart and on point with a voice that makes you wanna listen all day, possesses progressive politics and is a vegetarian to boot (do you know what they do to those chickens?)…. A$AP Rocky is a poet and shares what Cornel West would call a prophetic pragmatic vision.
TH: You appropriate a lot of patriotic symbolism in your imagery (the US flag, the dollar sign, etc), It would seem that these symbols could be seem as oppressive to your generation in the era of Occupy Wall street and the ongoing war on terror, what does that represent to you?
The upside down flag, in black and white photography, it basically represents anarchy. I feel like it’s time for everyone to come together and start our own Constitution, our own country, a new space where we’re all one people. White, black, Asian, Indian, gay, straight, female, male…just everyone to come to together and start respecting and changing things. I think that there’s not enough ART in the world. There’s a lot of ENTERTAINERS, but not ARTISTS, a lot of ENTERTAINERS are just puppets. Artists change the world. We’re definitely trying bring back some protest something different to the world of hip-hop–make it mean something–especially my man Schoolboy Q, the A$AP mob and me….
TH: What do you want the one thing the world to know about you?
This album, this project I got coming out is like nothing else in the world.
And it was, and so was Tally Ho!