Our next featured guest for New Black History is not only creating Black History himself, but has been documenting the history others are creating all along the way. How? By photographing some of the most important artists and events in Black culture for the last two decades. Scratch that, in AMERICAN culture, period.
We’re excited to feature Mel D. Cole as part of our New Black History initiative, who we feel exemplifies the sentiment perfectly. If you’re not familiar with Mel’s work, open another tab to meldcole.com and get acquainted with it immediately. Mel has been photographing the hip-hop scene for the last 20 years, where he’s been capturing epic moments in music, nightlife, and youth culture in general. With the pandemic effectively shutting down all that fun stuff temporarily, he’s shifted much of his focus to photojournalism, where he is now documenting history being made in the fight for social justice and the madness that is our political climate today. He was even there in D.C. taking photos on the frontlines of the Capitol breach on January 6, so when we say he’s documenting historical madness, we mean it.
On top of all this, Mel, who is an avid soccer fan, recently started the first Black-led photo agency dedicated specifically to promoting and documenting the sport in Black culture.
Obviously, Mel is one cool dude, so we are honored to have had him take some time to answer a few questions for us, as well as appear on the Stadium Goods Instagram Live for a very insightful and inspirational conversation. Catch the formal interview below.
Please introduce yourself: Where you live, what you do, anything else our readers should know about you.
My name is Mel D. Cole. I live in Jersey City, NJ with my wife, 2-year-old son, my dog Bruce, and our two cats. I am originally from the south side of Syracuse, NY.
How would you define New Black History, and how would you say you’re creating it?
New Black History is happening everyday, not just during this month. I look at this month as an anniversary to celebrate all of Black folks’ accomplishments. In the last 20 years I would say I have been a more prominent contributor because of my work behind the camera highlighting the amazing creators of the world, and more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement.
You shoot everything from street photography, to photojournalism, to concerts and events, to in-studio portraiture. Just to name a few! Do you have a favorite style of photography or one you find most meaningful to you?
My favorite is shooting concerts. There’s nothing like being in a small, sweaty-ass, dark club photographing some new talent or being at a festival where the lights are amazing and the energy is roaring down your neck! I will never get enough! But the most meaningful is my photojournalism work.
Do you have an all-time favorite camera and/or format?
Disposable cameras are my favorite.
You’ve been in and photographing the NYC hip-hop scene since the early 2000s, how have you seen the culture change over the last two decades?
Hip hop went from having one seat at the table to owning the house that the table is in!
In another 10 to 20 years, the era of hip-hop you photographed is going to be seen as incredibly unique and important, the same way photographers documented punk and early hip-hop in the late 1970s to early ‘90s. Were you inspired by music photographers and really cognizant of capturing the culture while you were shooting the last two decades, or were you simply shooting in the moment because you were there and then realized what an important document you had later?
I was just there shooting the moment because I loved the artist I was documenting. I knew then what I was documenting was important. I didn’t start shooting because of any other photographers. It wasn’t until later on that I met photographers like Ricky Powell, whose work started to creep into my creative spaces.
What other photographers, filmmakers or artists in general have influenced or inspired you the most?
I like Devin Allen’s work a lot. I also loved Ricky Powell’s photography. There’s Jamel Shabazz and Gordon Parks. Raven B, she’s dope, and my guy Joshua Kissi are the names off the top of my head.
Can you tell us about Charcoal Pitch FC? And why did you decide to dedicate an agency specifically to soccer?
CPFC is the first Black-owned soccer-specific photo agency dedicated to documenting Black culture in the sport, both internationally and here in the states. Right now I have a partnership with the Premier League where I document Black fans throughout America for their program, PL Fans of America. My past clients are Nike, Manchester City, and the International Champions Cup.
Oh, and to answer the question, I started this company because I love soccer and there’s a big void in the soccer space that needed to be filled.
With concerts and events coming to a halt for the bulk of 2020, you shifted gears to capturing all things revolving around the social justice issues and protests, beginning with the murder of George Floyd to the the invasion of the Capital. What sparked this energy to be on the front lines?
Being a Black man with a voice sparked it! Sitting silent while history is happening, especially when it has everything to do with your own people, is something that I would not have been proud about. I had to stand up and do my part.
How did being there at the Capitol invasion go down? Were you already in D.C. or did you go specifically because you knew something like that might happen? Can you walk us through some of your day there? It had to be crazy.
I went on my own accord. I applied and received a press pass to photograph the event that happened before shit hit the fan. I knew that something might happen but I didn’t know that THAT would happen. I was up at 5am, I had to get in line to get searched by the Secret Service at 6am. Speeches started around 9am. It was freezing cold. Fast forward to Trump speaking, the next thing I know is I’m walking towards the Capitol with thousands of people, a lot of them were talking about going inside the building.
The rest is history. The craziest and most intense day of my life.
As a Black man, you obviously have a different perspective as a photojournalist covering the protests and political issues as opposed to white photographers. How do you think it shows in your work?
It shows when I focus on different stories such as making sure the Black voices there are seen and sometimes heard.
Do you think there’s a need for more Black photojournalists? Do you see many people of color getting hired by major news organizations, or is there a lot of room for improvement in that regard?
Yes, hell yes. There should be way more Black folks in every profession. I think there’s room for improvement, for sure.
Can you tell us about your photo book? What can our readers expect to find in it, and where can they get a copy?
My book is called Great Photography in Hip Hop. It was released last February. It showcases almost 20 years of my work within the hip hop communities. This book is one of my proudest accomplishments! You can buy it on Amazon!
Any more publications coming in the near future?
Yes, I am working my way through book deals at the moment. I am looking to make an announcement soon!
What’s the last thing you took a photo of?
Professionally: the big snow storm we had here in New York. Personally AKA on my iPhone: my son in the bathtub and one of our cats checking in on him.
Anything else you’d like to plug? What can the world expect next from Mel D. Cole?
I am now selling a bunch of my prints—I launched the store last week! You can check them out at www.meldcole.store and for the month of February I’m running a sale; 25% off everything!
You can expect more exciting stories for all of the different genres within the photography world that I am into.