Legendary nightclub and culture photographer Polo Silk has been documenting Air Jordan in clubs and parties in New Orleans since the late 1980’s.

From custom painted photo backdrops to dressing from the feet up, as we kick off to All Star in NOLA this week Polo shines a light on J’s in his city from the early years.

 

“Dressing up is like a style [in New Orleans]. Fashion is really big here – ’cause we had block parties, the skating rinks and the football games. On those days, you want to really be on your A game for dressing and styling from head to toe with whatever was in.

Of course, Jordans were the first $100 tennis shoes. That was the start of athletes getting signed with shoe contracts. And Jordan was the man, so everybody wanted to wear J’s. In New Orleans we go buy our tennis shoes first, then we go buy our outfits second. The rap thing had just started, in ’87, ’88. When the Jordan IIIs came out my brother Ike and my cousin Tim G, the first thing was on our mind: we had to get those.

We were trying to do something different, to stand out. We were trying to be rappers and stuff too, for the block parties and high school talent shows. The first thing we thought: ‘Man we gotta get those Jordans. I think we’ll really stick out if we get both black and white pairs and wear them mismatched.’ So we bought those first pairs of Jordan IIIs and we wore them mismatched. A lot of people knew us from that.”

“They call it stunting and shining down here. And we wanted to out-stunt and out-shine everybody else. That was two bills plus tax for tennis shoes. We had to do what we had to do, put our grind into overdrive, just to buy both pairs.

At first they came out at the start of the season. Then I think they started coming out with tennis shoes during the All-Star game. The All-Star game coincides with Mardi Gras down here. So a fresh pair of Jordans was coming out around Mardi Gras and everybody was at the store to get a new pair of J’s to wear for the Mardi Gras day.

I’m from uptown: the Three; Third Ward; Trendsetters; home of the soldiers. So we like to rock the camouflage. Me, I like to call it my work uniform. Camo pants, jacket and a fresh pair of J’s and I’m ready to roll.

I do colors – I like stand out and be fly. The way it goes, your Jordans could mostly go with anything, and once they started coming out with different colors… You’re trying to get those before everyone else in the neighborhood. And – wham. Get an outfit to go with them. I think we are different in New Orleans – shoes first, then outfit. Get the J’s, cop that killa outfit, then watch out, weekend. Here I come.”

“What used to be the Boys Club offered photography classes and I was hooked. I took the classes in high school and was on the newspaper and Year Book staff. A good friend opened a teen night club. He had a spare room which I transformed into a picture room, my studio. My first backdrop, I had a wicker chair and a lot of posters and stuff from the hip hop magazines. I decorated it with stuff from my room. So, you know Jordan boxes were on prime display.

Everywhere I went I just took my camera with me, ‘Chelsea’. I do all the culture events in my city – block parties, second lines, nightclubs, concerts, you name it. My job was not really hard – be at the place where people were getting their stunt on, and bingo. Shop open.

I could cut a person’s head off in the picture, but I better not miss their shoes.  That’s when I had to start to make the picture vertical – to get their shoes too. ‘Cause if the shoe’s not in the picture, they don’t want it.”

 

“The only thing that slowed me down is technology. Everybody got their camera phones now. I’m losing my best customers – the women – ’cause they are taking their pictures at home, in the mirror and stuff.

I was blessed that most my images were in storage, and by Momma Daisy’s house on the East Bank – not in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, or I would’ve lost everything. I have a couple photographers who lost most of their work – they made me realize the importance of what I have and how blessed I was they survived the storm.

I am working now, scanning my images to preserve them and shine a light on my city. To all the people who supported me in New Orleans – thank you, me and ‘Chelsea’ love you.”