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Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop exhibited in Seattle’s MoPOP

Open until Jan 2023 at the MoPOP museum in Seattle, the exhibition examines the evolution of hip-hop through more than 170 iconic images of its most influential artists. Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop was made possible by the Annenberg Space for Photography + International Center of Photography. The curator of the show is Vikki Tobak who is editor of CONTACT HIGH: A Visual History of Hip-Hop. Creative Director of the exhibition is Fab 5 Freddy.

The exhibition tracks the evolution of hip-hop, connecting us with the experiences, identities, and places that have shaped the world’s most popular music genre. Containing four decades of photography from the late 1970s to today, the exhibition documents a revolution not just in music, but in politics, race relations, fashion, and culture. Containing over 170 iconic images of hip-hop’s most influential artists such as Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Queen Latifah and Tupac to name a few, and also includes rarely seen contact sheets giving the visitor a glimpse into the creative process of each photo session.

The exhibition documents the urban spaces where hip-hop came alive and established itself as a cultural force – where music reflected everyday experience and the images captured and memorialized it, providing a necessary perspective — sometimes empowering, sometimes controversial.

Photography has helped shape hip-hop, which has always been about self-definition. Press photos and album covers announce the arrival of the style, swagger, bravado, singularity, and artistry that help the performer become an icon. For this genre that speaks truth to power, reclaims and concretizes identity, idealizes self-representation, and visualizes political rhetoric, the images are inseparable from the music. Contact High pays tribute to the way a new genre reinvented popular music—back when nobody knew where hip-hop could go or how long it might last, back before hip-hop exploded worldwide.

“Hip-hop is more than music, encompassing fashion, politics, identity, and self-expression, and Contact High celebrates the richness of this cultural force,” said MoPOP Curator Amalia Kozloff. “Most importantly, hip-hop continues to deliver on its original mission: to give voice to everyday people and communities, which is essential to contemporary calls for racial and social justice.”