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Meet The Creative Who Photographs Hip Hop Legends
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Meet The Creative Who Photographs Hip Hop Legends

Picture of Naomi Clear-Vekinis
Director of Community
Updated: 24 April 2017
Since 2009, Elisabeth Ouni has been piloting No Balls No Glory: A Polaroid Story, a rather exceptional project for which she has snapped Polaroid portraits of the world’s greatest hip hop artists. Having first gained access to Pharrell Williams with her Polaroid in tow, Elisabeth has gone on to capture unique shots of countless other hip hop stars. Here she shares how the project came to fruition and reveals who she’d like to photograph next.

TCT: What is A Polaroid Story and how did it come to fruition?

A Polaroid Story is a platform where I combine my love for music, polaroid and storytelling. I was experimenting with an old polaroid camera I found in a thrift store and took polaroids of friends and subjects related to my hometown Ostend. The idea came up to how awesome it would be to have a polaroid of Pharrell Williams. When I openly discussed the idea the response was that this idea is completely impossible. Triggered by that I ended up going to an N.E.R.D concert and after a very long and exciting story I ended up portraying Pharrell in the middle of his concert, on stage. Back home I had to explain to so many people how it was possible to take that polaroid, so I decided to write it all down and that’s how (No Balls, No Glory) A Polaroid Story began. I never stopped chasing polaroids since then.

TCT: Where does your interest in hip hop culture stem from?

Sonically the genre and affiliated genres (soul, funk, jazz, R’n’B, blues…) organically attracted my ears since I was a child. The core message of hip-hop has always been something that motivated me, inspired me or simply made me dance.

TCT: Did you envision spending 5+ years working on this project when you started?

I think so. I decided to really execute this idea after I watched an interview with Pharrell Williams talking about the power of executing an idea and where that idea may take you. I always knew this was not gonna be a walk in the park, but I also knew that once I got going it would be really hard to stop because I believe in power of continuity, the process of building your journey. It’s easy to have ideas, it takes a lot of discipline and courage to keep executing it.

TCT: How did you initially get access to the stars – it must be quite difficult, no?

That is basically the concept behind A Polaroid Story. Behind every polaroid the written text explains the road towards that polaroid and how it was possible eventually to take that polaroid. In the early years this was inevitably done from the front row up. Later on I quickly learned that to have better polaroid portraits I had to switch up my way of approaching, which meant I became much more familiar with the music industry, as in finding my way to the entourage, manager, labels, etc. Still until this day A Polaroid Story proves that it’s not always easy, although more and more artists find their way organically to me now, which is very motivating to keep going.

TCT: You’ve snapped some legendary hip hop artists – Wiz Khalifa, Pharrell, J. Cole, Kendrick to name a few. Who were your 3 favorites to capture, if you absolutely had to choose?

D’Angelo, Gil Scott-Heron, Wiz Khalifa

TCT: What has been your most memorable moment while working on this project?

There are too many to mention, but grabbing fries with Gill Scott-Heron, ending up in TI’s hotel room for a private listening session for his new album or just hanging backstage with Wiz Khalifa and snapping a dozen polaroids because he loved it so much.

TCT: Which artist that you haven’t yet worked with would you love to photograph and why?

Drake, because his viral influence on hip-hop is just unseen. Kanye, because his work as a producer is something I admire very much. Last but not least I want to portrait (photograph) a lot more women as in Sade, Grace Jones. I want to portrait Erykah Badu again, Janet Jackson…

TCT: What are your plans for the future of this project – where would you like to take A Polaroid Story?

I’m currently working on the launch of the A Polaroid Story online store where launch deadline is April 2016, where I will release selection of prints on a quarterly basis, that you’ll be able to purchase in different sizes. There will also be a small selection of custom A Polaroid Story merchandise that you can purchase to support apolaroidstory.com. I launch the store first and foremost as an attempt to make apolaroidstroy.com self-sustaining. Every sold print will be injected back into producing better and quicker new stories. Many people ask me when I will release a book, this is something that inevitably will happen. I would like to release something with Rizzoli or Taschen. But I know how time-consuming making a book is and I still need to iconify a few important profiles before I do so. Last but not least I want to be more agile with A Polaroid Story in terms of traveling and taking the expo abroad.

TCT: Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?

I work as an independent in PR and communication with clients stemming from fashion, music and lifestyle. This is my core job so I work on different projects throughout the year.

TCT: Finally, what is your favorite hip hop album of all time?

I don’t believe in the word “impossible” but the answer to your question is exactly that: impossible.

Visit apolaroidstory.com and Elisabeth Ouni’s Instagram account to see more of her shots. You can also watch video footage of her encounters with Wiz Khalifa, TI and Pharrell Williams on the A Polaroid Story Youtube channel.