Photographer Hayley Louisa Brown is a creative force to watch. As editor-in-chief of Brick, a biannual hip-hop culture publication, she set out to eschew all the usual clichés about the genre, such as the propensity for overtly masculine imagery seen in American titles like XXL and The Source – iconic hip-hop magazines from the late ’90s and early 2000s – choosing instead to focus on contemporary imagery and timeless content.
As the second artist to be selected by Ace & Tate’s Creative Fund, Kate Lawson met up with Hayley at London’s Ace Hotel, to talk about her natural affinity with music, Elvis’ continual impact on youth culture, and why she’s swapping London for Los Angeles.
Words by Kate Lawson
Photos by Søren Jepsen
Have you always been into music and how were you first introduced to it?
Yes! I spent my childhood making CDs of songs downloaded from really terrible websites like Limewire, and playing them to everyone in my tutor group. I also grew up with a lot of different musical influences from my family, who all have their own tastes, and that combined with my MTV intake helped to shape my appreciation for so many types of music.
So is there a stand-out video you saw on MTV that made you fall in love with hip-hop?
Seeing that Mad Max inspired 2pac video for ‘California Love’ on MTV base transfixed me. It was so otherworldly to me, the mix of sounds and the production.
And were you going to lots of hip-hop gigs too?
Yes, when I first moved to London from Guildford, I went to see all the shows by artists like Tyler, the Creator and A$AP Rocky and there was this insane energy about them that was like nothing I had seen before. It reminded me of the energy of punk and things that I had seen and read about.
So is that where the inspiration to create a hip-hop focused zine, with a punk spirit came from?
Yes, I was really into reading up about youth culture and also other subcultures like Punk when I was at secondary school, and my Uncle was a punk. I wanted to make something I would buy myself – other hip-hop mags had become almost like lads mags with just a bit of music content, very tacky, 80s boys with their toys. I wanted to change that image. Now people are so fluid with their referencing and there’s not really a divide of masculinity and femininity anymore, so stereotyping isn’t so prevalent, and so I set out to make Brick appeal to everyone.
But you were a photographer first, with a stint in fashion photography, shooting fashion editorials for the likes of Nylon and Wonderland – so how did all that come about then?
I studied a fashion photography course at The London College of Fashion. To begin with I was almost blinded to anything else, until Mark LeBon (acclaimed 80s photographer and key contributor to the ‘Buffalo’ aesthetic), tutored us and really opened our eyes to shooting stuff that wasn’t fashion. When I saw books by Bruce Weber and Bruce Davidson, I was like ‘holy shit this is amazing’ – and I decided that was something I really wanted to do. But I worked freelance for a while in fashion first.
And then after year as hip-hop editor at Clash magazine, you finally made the jump to create Brick.
Yes, I knew I really wanted to start something that focused on just hip-hop culture and was really my thing, so I left Clash and did it. I wanted to make something that had an arresting element, for people to keep and collect like I did with magazines I used to buy, tearing out my favourite pictures and sticking them on my wall.
What are some of the big name artists you’ve secured for Brick so far? And what kind of features make the content so unique?
Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Ferg, Vince Staples, Action Bronson and so many more! One of the stand-out features is a tribute to the lyrical prowess of Phife Dawg, one of the founding members of A Tribe Called Quest. We’re trying to make a publication that encapsulates the culture that sits alongside the music. So we also try to incorporate features on things other than direct interviews with artists – for example, we had a feature on the history of hip-hop publishing after we visited the world’s largest magazine collection at the Hyman Archive.
So aside from Brick, let’s talk about one of your other projects you’re working on currently, with the help of funding from Ace & Tate’s creative fund – tell me more!
It’s a photo project about young Elvis fans, that I would potentially like to grow into a book. I went to Memphis and shot all of these Elvis fans who are in their teens and early twenties, and for me the idea of Elvis as a pop culture figure is a completely separate one to him as a musician – it’s the idea of his impact on culture and his visual that interests me more so than his music. Youth culture is a subject that’s always fascinated me, and Elvis personifies what an effect a single person can have on a generation.
And where did your idea for the project stem from?
I think being British we are bombarded with so many images of America, from TV and film to music and art and advertising that it’s difficult not to absorb it – especially growing up in the British countryside where there’s a lot less visible culture than in London. The idea of New York, LA, Las Vegas, Memphis, all these places had been romanticised in my head from such a young age that I’d always had an attachment to them without ever being there.
Do you ever find personal time for yourself?
Yes, and when I do, I like to escape to a gallery, I find them very calming. When I was a teenager at 15 or 16 I would bunk the train into London and walk down the South Bank to the Tate for a couple of hours. It was inspiring to look at things which influenced my photography later on. I also like going to the Barbican Cinema, and there’s a great Martini Bar there too!
Finally, with Christmas fast approaching, aside from new offices is there anything else on your wish list?
Oh yes, some Gucci loafers, make up from Glossier, and an interview with Frank Ocean please!
Our Ace & Tate Creative Fund helps emerging creatives like Hayley to realise their personal projects. Something for you? Get the full story here.