"Big Up" by Ben Watts

July 11, 2014

Big Up is an impressive array of portraits featuring rappers, actors, boxers, dancers, skateboarders, children, and other street characters. London-born photographer Ben Watts started this collection in 1990 when he came to New York from the Sydney College of Arts. Fascinated by the faces and energy of New York’s urban youth culture, the book started as a collection of personal snapshots that continued to build over a dozen years.

And the title? “Big Up is a Jamaican expression used in dancehall music to give respect”, Emil Wilbekin explains in the forward. The book’s design pays full homage to the subjects by matching their completely cool aesthetic, the stylized pages scrawling with sharpie notes, ticket stubs, tape and other mixed media. Big Up was published in 2003 through Princeton Architectural Press. 

Ben Watts is a regular contributor to publications such as Interview magazine, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Vibe. His work can regularly be seen in advertisements for Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Kodak, Sony Music, and several other iconic American companies.

Text by Linnea Stephan