Now Reading: Barron Claiborne: The Lens Behind Iconic Hip Hop Portraits

Barron Clairborne

Barron Claiborne: The Lens Behind Iconic Hip Hop Portraits


In the vast landscape of photography, Barron Claiborne stands out as a beacon of talent, especially in the realm of hip hop. From capturing raw emotions to immortalizing moments, Claiborne’s lens has given the world some of its most iconic images. Dive into the world of this Boston-bred photographer and discover the stories behind his shots.


Crafting His Skills:

Growing up in Boston, Claiborne’s tryst with photography began at the tender age of ten. After relocating to New York in 1989, he worked alongside photographic giants such as Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and his mentor, Gordon Parks. This experience would shape the genius behind his future works.


Musicians Through His Lens:

Claiborne’s portraits have been a staple in the music industry. With works like the DJ Khaled cover for Paper magazine in 2016, he showcased his unparalleled knack for capturing artists’ essence. His visual artistry graced many album covers, including Tricky’s Angels With Dirty Faces and N’Dea Davenport’s Bring It On.


Exhibits and Accolades:

Claiborne’s fine art has found homes in prestigious locations globally, from the Polaroid Museum in Cambridge to the Pérez Art Museum in Miami. With exhibits in Paris, Art Basel, and Martha’s Vineyard, his work has garnered international acclaim. Recognizing his contributions, The National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a grant in 2012, followed by another from Creative Time in 2013.


“The King of New York”:

Perhaps the most iconic of Claiborne’s works is a series of portraits of The Notorious B.I.G., featuring the rapper in a plastic gold crown against a deep red backdrop. Captured just three days before Biggie’s tragic death, these images have since become emblematic of hip-hop culture. The principal photograph from this series, aptly titled “The King of New York,” was celebrated in the 2018 book Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop and the subsequent 2019 exhibit in Los Angeles.


A Crown’s Legacy:

An interesting tidbit from the “King of New York” shoot revolves around the plastic crown that Claiborne had procured for a mere six dollars. This crown was auctioned in 2020 for a staggering $594,750 at Sotheby’s, a testament to the cultural significance of the photograph.



Barron Claiborne’s work goes beyond mere photographs. They are windows to moments, emotions, and stories that resonate with many. Through his lens, the world has witnessed the soul of hip-hop and the essence of its icons.



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