Angela Boatwright – photographer, film director, metalhead – is a living legend of hip-hop, punk, and music photography at the turn of the century.
Though she’s known widely for her work documenting East L.A.’s underground punk scene, and for her film Los Punks: We Are All We Have, Boatwright is as versatile as they come.
From shooting Jay-Z, Kanye, Nicki Minaj in their earliest moments starting out in New York, to throwing herself into the mosh pit of backyard punk shows in L.A., Boatwright is a photographer without limits. Her work is dynamic, energetic, and always growing – a reflection of the artist herself.
Now working towards a degree at UC Irvine and continuing to study the relationship of culture to its environment, Boatwright is in a moment of change. We caught up with the photographer below, about where she’s been, and where she’s going.
Angela Boatwright’s early beginnings…
KH: How does a metalhead from Columbus, Ohio end up so deep in the Los Angeles punk scene? What was your move from New York to L.A. like?
AB: I grew up very into metal, yes! As an early, early teen I was obsessed with metal (mostly thrash and hair metal if those two things even belong in the same universe) but as I got older it became metal, punk, and hardcore.
When I moved to Los Angeles— I knew that L.A. has a massive punk history, but I wanted to see what was happening now. So I did some digging and long story short, I was invited to attend my first backyard show in a neighborhood called City Terrace in East L.A. in 2013 and was instantly hooked!
My move from New York to L.A. was supposed to be temporary, actually. My friend and fellow photographer, Scott Pommier, needed someone to stay in his place in Los Angeles for four months and all I was doing in New York was staying up crazy late, spending hours editing a documentary that I was filming at the time. I had no life and it was becoming mega-expensive.
“I thought a change of scenery would be good, so I took Scott up on the offer to sublet and never left southern California. I’ve been here now for nine years!”– Angela Boatwright, Photographer & Film Director
Her journey as a music photographer
KH: Your work covers a wide range of subject matter, from punk culture to early hip-hop royalty. Is there a difference in shooting subjects in the scene you grew up in as opposed to the streets of New York in the 90s?
AB: Yes and no. Yes, because every single person is different, of course.
“Being a photographer is all about the ability to get familiar with your subject, super-fast (emotionally and socially, not by doing research) in a very organic way— especially people that are inherently different from you.”– Angela Boatwright, Photographer & Film Director
Hip hop also comes from such an authentic place. It’s like punk in that way. The message is important and has a strong foundation in community in culture; punk is similar. Metal can get kind of frou-frou and ridiculous, at least the hair metal that I was listening to in the early 90s— hair metal isn’t so relevant right now for exactly those reasons— but hip hop and punk are still very much relevant.
I would be nowhere without the hardcore scene I hung around in when I lived in Ohio, for photographic and emotional reasons, but nothing compares to the streets of New York City. The early 90s was a time when hip hop artists wanted to be photographed in their community and on the streets… I, for sure, will always prefer the organic, neighborhood locations.
Photographer Angela Boatwright remains a student of the game
KH: You’re in school now for Urban Planning at UC Irvine. Do the intersections of geographic, demographic, and cultural forces inform your work as an artist?
AB: I’m actually in school for what’s called Psychological Science, which is kind of a merge between psychology and urban studies, but since we first chatted I think I’ve officially decided to double major in Urban Studies as well!
This being said, I absolutely believe that geographic, demographic, and cultural forces inform my work as a documentarian and as a student. I loved learning about the history of Los Angeles, especially about redlining and immigration, the inherent racism within the LAPD, how an entire community of Mexican-American residents were displaced from Chavez Ravine to make way for Dodgers stadium… so much stuff.
I couldn’t get enough of hanging with the punks, I had zero interest in pandering to people in the film industry, which ended up being a mistake apparently…,
“I just loved being with the punks— hearing their stories, meeting their families, learning about their experience. It was the best time of my life.”– Angela Boatwright, Photographer & Film Director
Scoping the landscape
KH: Those early photos of Nicki Minaj are some of my favorites, coincidentally because that was the diner closest to me in high school, where I would go for a midnight snack or a hungover breakfast. Are there locations or shoots that have meant the most to you throughout your career?
AB: Oh wow, that’s amazing that you used to go to that diner! Their pancakes were so good! We shot those photos while the diner was open and actively serving customers, that’s how unknown Nicki was at the time. The place would probably be swarmed if we shot her there nowadays!
I love that shoot. It was on my birthday and Nicki was great. She spent so much time with us and was down to do whatever.
Yes, there are lots of locations that mean a lot to me but the people have always been more important, for sure.
“Remembering any given shoot for everything that it embodied, the entire experience, that kind of stuff is more memorable to me.”– Angela Boatwright, Photographer & Film Director
That being said, I did have my favorite spots but generally, if my subject(s) was open to it, I’d always prefer to take them out on the street and walk around. I was always good at finding great spots on the street without previously scouting it.
Angela Boatwright always craved to be creative
KH: I love the story about you sneaking into Nirvana when you were 16, and taking photos for your high school photography class. When did the work start to feel real for you as a career, or were you always just shooting what you wanted and letting the chips fall where they may?
AB: I think I always wanted to be a professional photographer, although I had no idea what that meant (running your own business can be a nightmare, especially for a creative person) but it was always 100% my goal to get out of Ohio and make something of myself. I grew up in a fairly dysfunctional family and felt that I had a lot to prove to everyone around me as well as myself.
In all honesty, I moved to New York out of spite, as in, ‘you think I’m not so special, I’ll show you!,’ and apparently it was a great motivating factor because it worked! I did pretty well in New York as a photographer. I still find spite to be such a solid, legit reason to go out and do something. There’s nothing more punk than succeeding at something solely because you wanted to thumb your nose at the entire world…
“I’m a pretty organized, hard-working, passionate person so I have to be 200% into whatever I’m doing or I can’t do it at all.”– Angela Boatwright, Photographer & Film Director
And, of course, live band photography was frowned upon in the early 90s and considered snapshot photography by art academics, so shooting a live band was another way to say ‘fuck you’ to the world, too, which was great.
Weaving through moments of doubt
KH: It seems you’ve been on a roll since you arrived in New York, straight out of high school. Did you ever have a moment of doubt? How did you get through it?
AB: I have moments of doubt weekly. I go nuts for a little while, sometimes I write things down to get a sense of where everything went wrong…
“I always keep working towards my goals even if it means making only one phone call during any given day. Some days I get a lot done and sometimes nothing but I am always striving.”– Angela Boatwright, Photographer & Film Director
Los Punks was such a huge undertaking that it left me confused about the photo and film industries as I was all of a sudden significantly more interested in not only research but how I can get the credentials to help and advise people outside of giving them the opportunity to tell their story. School has been great in that it is helping me refine my interests further all while working towards a degree.