How place defines us - Jared Willis Photography

How place defines us

In which i ramble on about rap music and various locations

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how where we are & where we have been shapes who we are & even the art we produce. I apologize in advance as this is only tangentially related to photography.

When I was 20, I took a bus from my home in rural New York to San Diego. There were no smartphones or mp3 players or laptops… the best I could do to dampen the grueling 100+ hour journey was a portable CD player, a stack of burned discs, and about 10 pounds of AA batteries. I listened exclusively to west coast rap. 2pac, Snoop, Dre, Kurupt, Xzibit, Nate Dogg, Daz, & Ice Cube. I had always loved the music but I didn’t fully understand it until I took my first trip across San Diego. The way the sun looked, the architecture, the palm trees, the way the air smelled, and of course the culture. Seeing it all up close made the music make sense. I had heard the music plenty of times, but only by existing in Southern California & sharing that space with the artists, did I gain a deeper understanding of it. Certain musical elements that had once seemed arbitrary now seemed necessary. Given the setting, the music seemed almost predestined, like there is no other way it could have been written. I had a similar experience a few years before. A few friends and I took a trip to Virginia Beach. The clubs there seemed to be playing an inordinate amount of techno & Jay Z. In fact, it wasn’t just the clubs. Cab to convenience store to lobby, we were constantly drifting from drum and bass and into blunts and Bentleys and back again. That mid atlantic party vibe, that mix of spring break destination, New York rap and southern charm just drips from Timbalands music. On our way back, we stopped to visit someone's cousin in a project tower in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Just one drive through Staten Island, walking down an actual project hallway then back through Lower Manhattan & across New Jersey did more to illuminate East Coast music than 100 Rap Genius explainers.

It’s more than just music. A man in the Navy during the 30’s writes Starship Troopers. A man growing up in the sixties writes The Forever War. From poetry to Pikachu, Japanese art seems as heavily influenced by elemental forces as the island of Japan itself. Zurich is widely considered the most walkable city in the world & constantly generates some of the best street photography. The first two decades of the twentieth century were pretty weird for Spain & France. What if Picasso had lived in Minnesota instead? The city of Baltimore is the greatest character in The Wire.

Our surroundings play a big part in who we are. Reflecting on these influences is important. The better we understand where we have been & why, the more illuminated the way forward becomes.

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