Ricky Powell, photographer and mainstay of downtown Manhattan, dies on the age of 59

Ricky Powell, the portrait and street photographer best known for his work with Beastie Boys, has died. Complex reports and its management has confirmed Pitchfork. He was 59 years old.

In his heyday in the late 80s and early 90s, Powell was a mainstay of the downtown Manhattan art and music scene. His portraits and candidates of musicians like Eric B and Rakim, LL Cool J, Run-DMC and Madonna, as well as downtown NYC residents like Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Sofia Coppola and Laurence Fishburne have been shown in and in art galleries published several photo books.

Powell was born in Brooklyn and spent time on Manhattan’s Upper West Side but grew up in Greenwich Village. He graduated from LaGuardia Community College and Hunter College but switched to photography out of spite, found a camera an old friend had left behind, and decided to make something of himself to show her what she was missing out on. He began documenting the art openings and hip-hop shows he attended in downtown Manhattan, and quit his lemon ice cream salesman in 1986 to tour with the Beastie Boys on Run-DMC’s Raising Hell tour .

Some of his most famous photos were taken with the Beasties, and he regularly made cameos on their tours and videos. He reads a copy of Popular Science in their video “(You must) fight for your rights (to party)” and was immortalized in Paul’s boutique song “Car Thief”: “Homeboy, throw in the towel / your girl was fucked by Ricky Powell . “

Powell also hosted a show on New York public television called Rappin ‘With the Rickster, which featured famous friends like Run-DMC, Laurence Fishburne, and Sonic Youth alongside New York’s unique cast of characters including a Greenwich Village man who is famous for his wearing a plastic sandwich bag on his head. The episodes were collected on DVD in 2010.

Powell, a street photographer who was often around his neighborhood with camera in hand, liked to talk about the “chemical bond” between photographer and subject. His photography has been featured in several collections, including the retrospectives Oh Snap !: Ricky Powell’s Rap Photography (1998) and Public Access: Ricky Powell Photographs 1985-2005. A documentary, Ricky Powell: The Individualist, premiered in May 2020.

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