Jonathan Mannion has been a pillar within the culture for over 25 years and is infamous for having documented “The Golden Era” of hip hop. He has recently joined forces with Moët & Chandon and renowned fashion designer, LaQuan Smith to launch its new Nectar of the Culture campaign, which celebrates the people, places and moments that continue to push our culture forward.
Prior to the launch, YRB Magazine’s Executive Editor Jonn Nubian discussed with Mannion how he is capturing the next generation of pioneers, in what has been dubbed the “Rose Gold Era” .
YRB: How did this collaboration with you and Moët happen?
Jonathan Mannion: I think they were looking for somebody who has risen with the culture. Somebody that had established their footing, never wavered, delivered quality and defined in my case his lens, the culture. I have moved with it and shape shifted with it but always made critical contributions.
I know that there was also the idea of having it be somebody who would be in a position to mentor and guide the next generation. That is an aspect that they could like lean on but also somebody that hasn’t stopped. I’m still pushing because I’m an artist. I am always wanting the next photo, the next opportunity to have that dance with somebody to make a definitive photo that continues to define culture. It’s a story of relevance to the story of dedication, perseverance, weathering the highs and the lows and I think that says a lot about me as a creator and an individual. I think for all of those reasons it was a good fit for a brand that’s been around for 275 years.
YRB: What’s the definition of the golden era for you?
Jonathan Mannion: It’s interesting for true hip hop fans, the golden era defines a very definitive section of maybe 10 years of culture. I’d say the entire rise is a golden era.
I choose to say it in that way because this was a really beautiful period of the rise through culture from an underground movement to a dominant force. That’s the entirety of that process whether you look at it as hip hop’s entire history of 40 years or 25 years (my contribution) the golden period. We know that we were always something but from nothing to something. It’s a success story that needs to be amplified. It’s just a moment culture evolving where we’ve touched every aspect of it from fashion, music, photography and art. We are the leading voice. My definition of what the golden era represents for me is to have taken that journey passionately with everybody and work with the greatest artists of my time, which has been a total gift.
YRB: Tell us about the selection process for the portraits you did for the campaign.
Jonathan Mannion: We are clarifying that process as we go forward. LaQuan Smith is the first individual that we’ve chosen and obviously he’s solidly and squarely in the design space and in the fashion world. Put up a picture of Rihanna wearing one of his outfits and it’s like, Oh My God! He’s got a beautiful alignment with success, glamour and elegance at the highest level but you know he’s a self starter. He taught himself how to do this. He’s been passionate about this his entire life. Spending the time to learn a little bit more about him, you realize that he is a pure creator and represents the Nectar of the Culture. You know what I mean?
He is the essence of what it means to make contributions that are significant within your discipline.
YRB: And he is a hiphop head (lol) every fashion show of his that I attended is heavily hiphop influenced. He knows it resonates with the culture and pushes everything beyond that.
Jonathan Mannion: He’s got his finger on the pulse of New York and what’s happening and embracing different ranges of the human experience that only informs his process.
It was a beautiful, we spent a day together even though the photo shoot that we did was only a couple of hours long. I know going forward we’re running around the country to be able to find these important voices and I know that there’s some that feel solid but no one has really told me and I’m Ok with that. I like walking into situations like, Hey where did you land? and Why? and How can I help? I’m always here to guide and help and offer my opinion. It’s exciting not to know where we’re going and to allow people to take the journey. This isn’t a calculated campaign. This is an ever evolving sort of experience and how do we make it as rich as possible.
YRB: Based on the various locations and subjects, are you approaching the way you shoot in a different way? Or is it more fluid?
Jonathan Mannion: With me and LaQuan specifically, one of the core elements for me is I always go into the roots. Where’s the creative space? What has meaning to you? That’s where I want to photograph you because then the picture takes on a kind of a life of its own because it represents something that’s actual.
I always say I can take you to some really cool looking steps somewhere that graphically is pleasing, but if I shoot it on the steps of your grandmother’s home it’s going to have memories attached to it. I always like to add that layer specifically for the person that I’m photographing. I think for the world it becomes a richer story because the emotions come out.
So going to his workspace, sewing machines are there, there is stuff being tucked in the corner, things that we can’t see. Those new garments coming and being delivered to the world. It’s exciting, there’s an energy to that and that’s what I always seek.
There’s never a formula although I do have desires to tell an authentic story.
YRB: Thank you!
Jonathan Mannion: Thank you so much for spending the time.
The following week Moët & Chandon held an exclusive launch that drew a cross-section of creative luminaries, including Lil’ Kim, Wale, BJ The Chicago Kid, Mack Wilds, models Andreja Pejic and Vlada Roslyakova and Danielle Herrington, who arrived wearing custom LaQuan Smith attire.
These notables and more all gathered for a multi-course pairing dinner prepared by celebrity Chef JJ Johnson.
Photos by: Lewis Mirrett for Moët & Chandon