African American Studies
Interviewee: Joe Conzo, Jr.
Interviewer: Mark Naison, Maxine Gordon, Marvin Cabrerra
Interview on May 9, 2006
Summarized by Alice Stryker
Joe Conzo is the first hip-hop photographer and was born February 6, 1963. His grandmother Evelina Antonetty was a community activist. She moved from Puerto Rico to the Bronx and immediately got involved with politics in the 1950’s. She started the United Bronx Parents. His entire family, starting with his grandmother, stayed in the Motthaven area of the Bronx and all attended P.S 25. He grew up in the St. Mary’s Projects on 149th street. Music played a very important role in Conzo’s life. His father was the manager, assistant, and publicist for Tito Puente for many years.
He attended middle school at Clark 149 and then attended high school at the prestigious South Bronx High School and graduated in 1980. He began to get involved with photography when he was in Middle School as an extracurricular activity and became very involved with it. His early photos were of Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, and all of his father’s famous musician friends. Although photography was only his hobby, his photos of Tito Puente would occasionally end up as album covers. The first photograph he ever had published was of Paul Newman in the New York Post.
He got involved with drugs in High School but became addicted when his grandmother died. He sold all of his photography equipment for drug money. Fortunately, his mother saved all of his negatives and when he got clean after being arrested, she returned them.
He got involved with photographing the birth of hip-hop from being the school photographer at his high school. He was taking pictures of Adriane Harris (AD) for the basketball team, and he was invited to take pictures of the group AD was involved with, Cold Crush Brother. Eventually he started following them around and he became their personal photographer. He had no idea that hip-hop in general become so popular. Through his involvement with Cold Crush, he was introduced to many young rappers that would become very influential. Cold Crush played at many popular clubs throughout New York City. He claims that hip-hop was a movement of young people who wanted their stories of life in the Bronx to be heard. A very famous picture he took was of Cold Crush performing at his high School prom.
He explains some of the pictures he took to the interviewers and the legacy of his grandmother. He also goes into his experience watching the Bronx burn all around. In his family, their Puerto Rican heritage was very important to them. In fact, his grandmother was involved with the pro-independence movement and with the political prisoners that were released. He also explains many of the pictures he has documenting he birth of hip-hop. He also shows some of the original flyers that Cold Crush Brothers used to advertise their performances. Today he is a paramedic with the fire department, the treasurer of his union, and is still taking pictures.
Conzo, Joe Jr. May 9, 2006. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. Digital Archive at Fordham University .
Click below to download supplemental content.Conzo, Joe Jr.mp3 (113019 kB)