Raafi Rivero | images and ideas

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Raafi Rivero is a filmmaker and photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. Click here for professional inquiries.

These occasional missives have been posted continuously since 2006 when “moblogging” was a thing. Please explore work and ideas here, elsewhere, or on the social platform of your choice:

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This essay by Crag Mod asks the question, “will digital books ever replace print?” Call it a state-of-digital-books referendum. Beautifully written and digitally bound.

To read a book once is to know it in passing. To read it over and over is to become confidants. The relationship between a reader and a book is measured not in hours or minutes but, ideally, in months and years.

Recently, a hardcover of Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire was gifted to me. Because I rarely read in print these days (other than magazines), I bought the book from Apple as well. The idea is that I don’t have to wait until some imagined future where I make time to read the books on my side table every night, I can just read the thing anytime. A dual-platform experiment — one not quite undertaken in Mod’s essay, but perhaps a best-of-both worlds approach, for now.

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A recent film project took me all over the city — and the boroughs. These shots were caught in between. All happen to have been captured in Manhattan. The last two happen to have been captured a half-block apart.

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One could have an entire career photographing Coney Island. Numerous photo books and essays have been shot in the area. In his recent guide to the neighborhood, Scott Newman showed some of the highlights. The mix of people and vistas is unlike any in the city. The socioeconomic forces that make the area both a tourist attraction and one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city come across in every direction one looks. Immigrants, subsistence fisherman, bikers, lovers, tourists. It is impossible to be comprehensive. Here are a couple recent snaps.

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Great characters and writing by Jordan Ritter Conn. A dose of reality about the silent majority of athletes with professional aspirations:

For some of the players on tour, this is how their basketball lives end: not at their college senior day or an NBA retirement ceremony, but on a Wednesday evening in a Berlin suburb, with the teammates who’ve beaten them out for jobs, wearing jerseys that bear the logos of a two-bit agency and a charity they’ll likely never hear of again. Their dreams have been fading slowly. Here, they finally die.

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When I showed up yesterday, I didn’t know it would turn into a photo essay, there was just a feeling that I wasn’t yet done thinking about a musician who had been a part of my life. The mural site was in biking distance. I spent the day shooting photos and meeting fellow travelers. There was a charge in the air. And the little papi with a P! logo in his head is just the prelude.

Please, click here to see more.


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Andrew Kelley invited me to the studio the day I shot this pic of Sean Price in 2011. He was recording his verse on the Wu-Tang album Legendary Weapons. After recording that night, he lit up the assembled crew of rappers and industry folks with his lyrics and sense of humor. He spoke of the struggles of raising a teenager. When I shot this image, he was digging through a laptop to pull up an Alchemist-produced song from his upcoming album. He played it back for the room, rapping along to his own voice. You never forget meeting your idols.

In the shot, though it’s cropped, he’s wearing a Duck Down records baseball cap. Whole swaths of my personality have been formed by excessive listening to the Duck Down crew’s string of amazing records in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Price was one half of the duo Heltah Skeltah. But in the record industry shakeup of that time, the crew became less productive. Out of them all, Sean Price’s transformation into another type of artist, his ability to persevere and forge a new creative identity as a solo artist is something I’ve always had great admiration for.

Rest in Power.

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With the current beef over ghostwriting in hip-hop, here are some thoughts that went out earlier as a set of tweets:

  1. I never had a problem with Dr. Dre rapping lyrics that Ice Cube wrote in NWA… *because* everyone knew that Cube wrote them.
  2. When I was a teen with a rhyme book and a graf book, the worst thing you could be was a “biter.” In other words, Be Original.
  3. Adidas built a multi-year campaign on that concept. But before it was marketing, big-“O” Originality was the bedrock of hip-hop culture.
  4. Whether in dance, lyrics, or graf – coming with something new was the point. In fact, one of the first hip-hop films is called Style Wars.
  5. The idea of rapping another person’s lyrics confounds the raison d’être of being a rapper – putting your own voice out. Being heard.
  6. It’s hard enough for black and brown folks to have a voice in this oppressive society. Then we invented hip-hop.
  7. Rap is not perfect. And it has had carpetbaggers and plagiarism from the very beginning.
  8. The beef between Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five is just one example.
  9. Yet rap has a bodily aversion to “fakers”; it’s one reason Drake has always had haters among purists in spite of demonstrable talent.
  10. Like, “is he really tough? Or is he just saying that on a record?”
  11. But people have also confused “realness” or authenticity with street-cred. Q.E.D. 50 Cent.
  12. 50 Cent and Drake represent opposite poles of the same thing: an in/ability to express a life-force that transcends the self.
  13. That force: I will call ∞, and some might call God. Expressing that force through hip-hop is important because…
  14. Our bodies and intellects have been denigrated, disparaged by a society that hates us. In response we pick up the mic. We say, “I am here.”
  15. The power of an original voice: hearing it makes you feel just as alive, just as present as the human being emitting it.
  16. The power of an original voice: it shoots straight through the drudge of everyday life and explodes in your brain. They call it dope.
  17. As a fan, it is dope I want. It is dope I demand. In the meantime I’m willing to settle for rap beef. Let’s not confuse the two.
  18. Ghostwriting is small beans. Original expression is art. I want art. From rappers, and everyone else. ∞

All that said, here’s a whole bunch of new hip-hop by artists most of us probably haven’t heard, mixed by DJ Wally Wonder.

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What is happening between police officers and people of color in this country is a structural issue and must be deconstructed as such. Cameras won’t change basic character.

Another unarmed brown man, Samuel Dubose, has been killed by the police. In the video of the incident, less than five seconds pass between the officer touching the door handle on the man’s vehicle and the officer shooting the man. Add Cincinnati to the list of cities: Sanford, Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, Prairie View. When will it end?

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This is why some Black people are asking themselves, “Why didn’t she just put out the cigarette, shut up and get through it?” Because she loved herself. Because she was on her way to fulfill her dream. Because she knew she was somebody and that she didn’t deserve to be mistreated. Because the demand for dignity always asserts itself at the height of an assault. Because the choice never should have been between her life or her dignity.

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I was walking with camera in hand. Enjoying the weather, the people, and the many stylish outfits that seem to be having their own conversation in the Garment district. A striking woman appeared in a flowing orange dress. One often sees garments that drag the floor at the Oscars, say, or a wedding. This was on 38th and 8th. And all the better for it. Brittane designs her own dresses. And the rest of us are lucky because of it.

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This piece has been rattling around in my brain for weeks. The author, Matthew Butterick, asks important questions about the differences between publishing on the web as an artisanal enterprise vs. throwing in with one of the big ad-supported services out there. As someone who has been writing online for some time now, and who continues to use services like Twitter, there is a temptation every so often to scrap this blog and join a service that potentially adds visibility or ease-of-use. But I can’t seem to quit old-fashioned, self-hosted WordPress, open source warts and all.

Every few years this site gets a fresh coat of paint. Sometimes it feels like that’s the point of having this space – to tweak and experiment with what it means to publish online – rather than the writing itself. All of which sort of supports the selling point of the larger services like Medium that say, “we’ll take care of the design, you just do the writing.” The worry is that I’m not a good enough writer to make noise in an environment like that, and not a good enough designer to stand out in an environment like this. For years I’ve attempted to add tweaks and wrinkles to the presentation of the work and writing on this site to make them pop. But the truth is that those expressions have a limiting factor: me.

I am not a writer who reads enough. Nor am I a designer who is fluent in every technique of the day. And with the exception of two teachers in high-school: the English teacher who forced me to confront what writing actually is (even if it took years to finally understand what he was saying), and the art teacher who explained the basics of design in a semester – I am mostly self-taught at both disciplines. It is in that sense that Butterick’s article strikes its most pleasing chord. There is no other way for this site to achieve whatever harmony it does achieve without it’s author having rolled up his sleeves and mixed it up with CSS and Khoi’s grid. The hope is that the result is something sui generis, that’s also worth reading and looking at. Who knows? I guess I’ll keep trying.

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