Hip hop music, as performance art, is intimate. When you hear the rhythm of the rhymes, you also begin to learn about the rapper’s life. You may feel enlightened, sympathetic, even fascinated, wanting to delve deeper. And although the music resonates on its own, according to freelance photographer Jared Soares, “There’s something to be said about having a visual record of a time and a place.” Indeed, Soares believes “that culture should be documented, and just the fact there is a record of this time, you can see how people dress, what venues look like, family life.” In the upcoming exhibit Jared Soares: Hip Hop Roanoke debuting at the Taubman Museum of Art this month, Soares captures the musical life of hip hop musicians through a lens.
Currently based out of Washington, D.C., the 34-year-old Soares was born in California. He moved to Roanoke in 2006 and worked for several years as a photographer at the Roanoke Times. He has been a photography aficionado for most of his life. Soares reminisced about his family’s influence on his passion as a photographer, “My mom had cameras around the house. She had a subscription to National Geographic. She’s the type of mom that, every special occasion, I was getting photographed by the stairs.”
Similarly, Soares has been a fan of hip hop since an early age, but when he moved to Virginia, he sensed a creative opportunity to combine his two interests. He spoke about this original inspiration, saying, “I just wanted to see if hip hop existed here, what it looked like in Roanoke. It was also a chance for me to explore this new city that I had moved to and also look at it through the lens of something that I’m into.”
In 2008, Soares began his project of photographing Roanoke’s hip hop scene, a journey that literally began with liner notes. After purchasing a mixtape from a local corner store, he called a phone number on the back cover and reached graphic designer Terrence Palmer. Soares recalled the conversation, “I explained who I was, what I was interested in doing, and I asked if we could meet up.” After some initial trepidation, Terrence warmed to the project and agreed to introduce Soares to his connections. For several years after this initial meeting, Soares bore witness to the network of hip hop artists in Roanoke, creating a photographic record of their lives.
Hip Hop Roanoke will be on display at the Taubman Museum of Art from July 29 through February 25, 2018. Curatorial Coordinator Eva Thornton spoke to the importance of the exhibit’s presentation of the hip hop scene, saying, “It’s usually underground and not readily available to a lot of people, so I want to introduce our community to something they would never get to see normally, and in turn, I want to bring in these young artists and make them feel like the space is their own.” After Soares relocated to D.C., Thornton was keen on bringing him back to Roanoke. She commented on how Soares’s work has changed over the years, saying, “I think his work has gotten a lot more raw and gritty. There’s just something sharp about some of these photos, whereas the older ones seem a little more nostalgic.”
Thornton went on about Soares’s personality, “He’s so approachable, I think that’s why people open up to him so much. He’s able to navigate into these situations almost unseen and photograph people as he’s done this throughout his career. He’s found these interesting groups of people that may be not so approachable.” From this unique perspective, Soares has been able to document these subcultural roots from real world encounters, not just impersonal photo shoots.
For example, when one local hip hop musician, Poe Mack, went on tour last year, Soares followed along. Using his camera, he was able to capture the energy from the road, from the live shows on stage to the down time behind the scenes. His candid approach allows him to present an honest reflection of the lives of these artists who often go unnoticed. “With the whole project,” he said, “I’m trying to offer an alternative viewpoint of a subculture that most people in Roanoke—or in general—might not encounter.”
Community is important to Soares, and Hip Hop Roanoke is all about expanding the notion of who is part of the Roanoke community. Through determination and talent, Soares has been able to represent the voices of these musicians with images that are both honest and intimate. As a diverse as the Roanoke hip hop scene may be, Soares offered this simple truth about it, “Hip hop adds another voice to the community. It adds another group that people can be a part of. It’s another form of expression, and I think all those things are important to have in any community.”