Maï Lucas, France-USA, photographer and street-art lover

Subcultures always find ways for renewing creation.

Maï Lucas is an experimented photographer who also is an observer of the styles and creativity that people are using to shine in the streets of big cities. She dived into trendy mixed cultures and photography at a very young age and now creates great pictures inspired by street culture. Maï is represented worldwide by Askmyagent.

July 4th, 2010 – © Maï Lucas.

Hello Maï. You grew up in Paris where you started working as a photographer. Can you tell us about your early art background and your personal course?
I grew up in the center of Paris and was lucky enough to hang out at a very young age with some very creative people in “Les Halles.” It was a big crew of trendy, French people like Mondino, Jean Paul Gaultier, Maida, and Serge Kruger of the famous night club “Les Bains Douches.”

At the age of 18, I started assisting Stephane Sednaoui, Nick Knight and Satoshi and I discovered New York and its growing hip hop culture… It was the time of LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Afrika Bambaataa, Eric B and Rakim and Monie Love… Very quickly, I felt in love with this culture and started to go every year to New York and while in Paris I did photo reportage for teenage magazine and portraits of musicians.

There, I tried to develop a style mixing street culture, fashion and life inspiration. I wanted to do something real, something people could rely on. Now, I extended my work within fashion, advertising, music, and art.

So your personal work is definitely about street culture(s). What came first: the interest for hip-hop or these deep social considerations we can see in your pictures?
I was 16 when I first heard hip hop music. I felt a great sense of energy where there was a beautiful mix of people where everybody could shine and show their unique sense of creativity. New codes were invented every day… girls and boys from any culture were respected and welcomed to bring new energy to this growing culture. In New York, I met everyone of the scene from Afrika Bambaataa to Ghostface Killah, A Tribe Called Quest, Smif N Wessun… what I liked was the freedom of trying new rules to shine. I always loved subculture which can destabilize the mainstream.

Subcultures have a way of renewing creation if you’re open and have the eyes to look at it.

Are you travelling a lot? Where are the places you regularly like to go, and the places you would like to discover?
I used  to travel a lot and because I find inspiration through different cultures. Nowadays, I have two girls and I try to be there for them… therefore, I’m still mostly moving back and forth between Paris and New York.

I am a big fan of roots culture which is ruled more by personality rather than money. If you watch carefully, you’ll find beauty in every country.

I’ve read somewhere that you’re going every year to Jones Beach, Long Island. Why this?
When I started to take pictures about hip hop culture in New York, I discovered this great event called “Greek Fest” at Jones Beach where every borough in New York would come together. It was the only big gathering of African-American hip hop culture.

An amazing place where it was fun to go and see girls and boys at their maximum shine… the perfect place to feel what was going on in the street culture. Then year after year, I could see all the new fashion, the new, hot style, new vibe, etc. what was really going on in the streets. Jones Beach is a good barometer about the African-American hip hop culture.

Your work is very detailed, colorful and I think original, trying to see things differently, but how would you define your own style? Your creative personality?
I love life. I think people can be amazing. I have the chance to see a lot of beauty in life and beautiful people around me and I decided to give a tribute to them… trying to make a beautiful picture to communicate my love and admiration for other people to see.

When I say beauty and beautiful, I’m not talking about superficial beauty…I am talking about people who are beautiful human beings that touch me. Life is full of little details which can make your day, if you know how to see them. I look at life as almost like being seduced. And when I am, I take the photo to communicate this perfect moment. I love shooting in an old school way with analog films and take time to look and feel what’s going on.

I love the color of the light and how it creates a special moment. I am deeply touched by the person I’m taking the picture of. Every great picture is a great moment.
Nowadays, the market is too fast. We build dreams on things that are illusions and we forget that real life has its deep strength and is our foundation.

What about Fashion? Nowadays fashion creatives are watching closely on the streets, do you feel being a particular witness of some new fashion trends?
I think fashion starts with style and a wish to seduce or to participate to life where one is offering the “best, beautiful me” with no special or particular brand but the will of shining and being special.
To hopefully be loved.

Hip hop culture when it started was very open-minded, creative and fun with a constant evolving new style… I love the street because it has the freedom of creating an everyday new style. Fashion is creative and tells a lot about the person wearing it, including his state of mind.

I always look around me to see what’s going on. So, yes, I do witness this kind of fashion. I totally understand that the commercial fashion with its brand and social affirmation also find their inspiration in the street.

We can see a cosmopolitan world on your photographs, from Paris to the Caribean via NYC… But all these have some American style. Do you have international commissioned work however?
I was lucky and had the chance to be raised in Paris which is a very cosmopolitan city. It doesn’t seem like that to strangers. But, yes, we mix a lot. I am a mix girl, my mother is Vietnamese and my father French.

I decided very early to work on cosmopolitain subject and show that the world is a mix; representing the mix generation in our actual world, without ethnic prejudice, showing people that feel being neither totally white, black, asian, etc… but mixed… and trying to show modernity… maybe that’s were you find they have some american style.

I always enrich myself hanging out with many different people from different cultures from diverse financial backgrounds. International means a lot to me. It’s the way we are modern.

In 2005 your exhibition “Tatoos, 125 th Street” was quite a great thing about an intimate look of young Americans. How do you get so close to unknown people?
I take pictures of what I respect and somehow understand. New York is a great place where life is hard. The people I take pictures of have a hard life with a lot of social problems. They have a survivor-based upbringing and are very sensitive people. You never know what life is going to bring you. Behind appearances, the African-American and Hispanic people are very humble people and generous of themselves.

When a person accepts to have their picture taken, we exchange a moment of life and respect for one another. I always felt like the sister, the mother, the friend, the lover of the person I am taking the picture of. It is very intense and brief but I am the lucky one who lives with this moment for eternity and have the chance to try to communicate it. By showing you the picture of a great person in a generous moment or a moment of exchange.

Most of the people I shoot are not close to me. We share a moment like a dance then life goes on. People are like colors or music notes to me… I am trying to show you my vision of the great world I see in my mind.

« Tatoos ,125 th Street »

You recently published a book untitled “36 Chambers” that is a collaboration with famous old school graffiti artist (and husband) JonOne. How was created this project and why such a title?
The edition is called 36 Chambers. Paolo, our amazing Italian editor, has a passion for people and street culture which is why he named his series “36 Chambers” (of Shaolin). Our book is one of the 36 chambers.

You know, life is strange. I started my work about hip hop culture among African-Americans many years ago and started to realize that Hispanics had a great input into it. Then later, I met jonone and got married and he helped me discover more deeply their insight. This project is a natural collaboration. We love street culture. We are both bonded with  New York street culture,  and  inspired by it.

Jon is coming from a Dominican area in New York and started graffiti there many years ago, and in parallel, with my work in Paris, I was always going to New York to do my personal projects about street life and style. This project is a combination of our visions and a little part of our vibe and art and life. It was very meaningful to us and a gift for our daughters.

We live together, raise our kids together. We live in New York, in Washington heights. I thought it was great to show a personal piece of where Jon is coming from. Where his roots are…We did it with love and respect for our girls To show them what brought us together  ,our complicity… and mostly why we’re always happy to rediscover this vibe when we go to New York. It brings a smile to our face because we know we are going to be amazed and touched by life, people and there.

What are your next projects? Do you have exhibitions right now? Are you working on a new book?
I want to show more.
I want to continue to show how we should accept and see more the beauty of others.
Yes, I am working on a new book.
Yes, I have many other secrets to show you.
Also, I will be lauching my new website ( with a lot of images in september so be ready to check it out!

Represented by Askmyagent, portfolio: Maï Lucas.
“NY Ghetto Shine” and “Tatoos, 125 th Street” two past exhibitions at Speerstra Gallery (Post Graffiti and Contemporary Art).

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