For as long as Hip-Hop has been around, its marriage with fashion has withstood the test of time. From the early 80s to now, you’ll be able to spot at least one brand in a music video. But here we’re focusing on something more specific: sneakers. Hip-Hop and sneakers have gone hand in hand and you hardly hear one without the other. From sneaker giants like Adidas and Nike getting nods to even rappers creating their own brand of sneakers. Even athletes have dipped into the world of sneakers, the most famous line being Michael Jordan’s Air Jordans.
Three photographers were each given a limited edition pair of sneakers created by NBA Hall of Famer and two-time olympic gold medalist, Patrick Ewing. From here they set out to tell a story through their eyes or in this case, their feet. Blending the elements of both sneaker and Hip-Hop cultures, and take you on a journey grasping the essence of cities across the country. But before we get into storytime, here are the three photographers taking us on a tour through their camera lens.
Justin Milhouse is a 27 year-old photographer born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from Crockett Technical High School in 2006, and began to pursue photography while attending college in Alabama. Being exposed to various aspects of art and culture from a young age helped shape the hobby that eventually became a fiery passion. In 2009, Milhouse created fresh-cool-dope.com as a platform for his creative expression as well as to document both his surroundings and the world at large. Eventually, his site evolved and became jmilhouse.com and now has a heavier focus on his work and the documentation of its process. Over the last six years, Milhouse has composed work that shows his visual growth as an artist and reflects on his passions in a more personal light.
Fred Daniels III, better known as Just Fred, is a photographer and creative architect who has lent his eye and vision to globally-leading brands as well as up-and-coming creatives. Hailing from Chicago, Just Fred has had his work published across several different digital platforms including Adidas Hoops, SLAM! Online, BIG TEN Network and for Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Iman Shumpert. While working with big names, Fred also completed some personal projects to help keep the creativity flowing. He also doubles as a brand influencer who helps increase the awareness of lesser known companies using imagery to bring attention to their campaigns. Just Fred frequently travels and seeks to help brands tell their story one photo at a time.
Finally, we have Andy Mac, an 18 year-old creative coming out of Jersey City. Born Andrew Suarez, he isn’t too fond of being called a photographer as there is more to him than that label. His reason for taking pictures is quite simple: his memory sucks. Capturing moments has become so fascinating to Andy Mac that he takes pictures of just about everything. Just to remember that it happened and that he experienced it. Not to mention that he’s only just started to use platforms where his work is recognized. Right now he’s in the prime of his life and is very excited for where this journey might take him.
In the midst of their storytelling, I received the opportunity to ask these talented creatives a few questions about what inspired them to show the world a glimpse of the cities they’ve grown to know and love through a pair of High 33 Patrick Ewing sneakers.
What were your key inspirations for each of your Ewing shoots?
Andy Mac (AM): I was always fond of photography that captures the rawness in the moment, so my concept of capturing my city in its real light immediately came to mind when I read the requirements given to me. And the fact that they said I had complete creative control. I knew each photo had to be a story of its own and I wanted to make sure the sneakers were used in a way where the story is told and the sneakers play part in each photo.
Just Fred (JF): My inspiration was travel. I’m always on the move, and I wanted to show that through my photos and take the Ewing’s along with me.
What is it about your city that you want the world to see?
AM: Every time I have a conversation with someone outside of Jersey City about Jersey City, they instantly think about downtown because it’s so “glamorous”. But I don’t live downtown nor do I have the same viewing of downtown the way they do. All my life I saw the side of Jersey City that everyone tries to leave in the shadows. Being given this project was the perfect way to shine some light on the real Jersey City rather than the mask it wears.
JF: I want the world to know that Chicago is a great city. But I feel like people already know that. Can’t mention the U.S. without Chicago.
How have the Ewing’s, or sneakers in general influence you in your life?
AM: I’m personally not much into sneakers, so the Ewings kind of caught me by surprise. I had to think about how a person who wears sneakers like these would wear them and what scenarios would fit best with them. I only have four kicks that I really wear. They’re all SK8 Hi Vans. I can skate around in them, and they’re just my go-to shoes. Buying a fresh pair is like being born again. You go through life with them and they get beat up along the way. The more beat up they are, the more character they have and I love that about my kicks
JF: As far as the Ewing’s, I watched him play when I was growing up. I remember how cool it was to have his shoes. Sneakers are all about style and self-expression. In my life, the sneakers I wear depended on my mood. Growing up I didn’t have them all, so as an adult I made sure I was able to get what I like and show that self-expression.
What do you love most about the relationship between sneakers and Hip-Hop?
AM: The relationship between sneakers and Hip-Hop inspires me in a sense, the type of relationship they have is like a photographer with their lenses: it’s essential. Some sneakers get their recognition through artists who take a liking towards them. Hip-Hop is like the personal sponsor for sneakers whether they’re genuinely posting up the sneakers to get them out there or simply rocking them. That role works vice versa as well. I may not listen to an artist much but if I land on him/her and see that he/she has my favorite sneakers on, that could make me want to test him or her out a bit more. The relationship they have goes hand in hand any way that you look at it.
JF: That relationship between Hip-Hop and sneakers is important. Hip-Hop is the world’s most influential genre of music and has been since the 80’s. We as consumers always look to the artists to see what’s next and that causes us to buy that particular kind of shoe. I call it a working relationship. Hip-Hop gives to the sneaker culture, just as the sneaker culture gives to Hip-Hop.
What were the first pair of sneakers you fell in love with?
AM: Easily my Black SK8 Hi Vans are the only ones for me. I’ll never cheat on my babies.
JF: The first pairs of shoes that I fell in love with would be the [Blue Toe] Reebok Questions and the Air Jordan Olive IX’s. I remember wearing them until I couldn’t anymore.
What are the one pair of sneakers that you’ve always wanted to get your hands on?
AM: Considering I never was into sneakers I never sweated them so bad. BUT I always wanted a pair of Black Cement 3’s. I thought those were so dope!
JF: I would have to say one, if not both of the Reebok Questions and the Air Jordan Olive IX’s.
Justin Milhouse was unavailable for comment
In short, these young creatives strive for nothing but greatness in the content they put out. By showing the true essence of the cities they represent through sneakers, they’re able to capture everyday life. Even though they all have different opinions and experiences, sneakers have seemed to bring them together one way or another. To see their visuals come to life, be sure to come out to Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival’s Juice Hip-Hop Exhibition on July 15th at St. Ann’s Warehouse.
Photos courtesy of Just Fred