This article originally appeared on VICE France
In 1993, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) saw the light of day. Around the same time, and hours before their first ever show in the UK, British photographer Eddie Otchere met the Wu-Tang Clan. He spent a couple of hours with them then and, fascinated, he kept coming back to take the group's photographs for almost a decade.
Eddie's work is one of the most beautiful photographic documents ever made about the Wu, captured at a time when the group was at its peak. I spoke to him about how it all came to be.
VICE: Where and when did you start taking pictures of the Wu-Tang Clan?
Eddie Otchere: I regularly shot them during the 1990s and early noughties. I took the first photos in 1993, maybe 1994. It was during their first show in the UK, shortly after the release of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). I bought my tickets in advance, and I had heard that each member would arrive on his own plane. I headed down to RCA records in London, who where handling the Loud roster, and literally bumped into them outside.
Cool. And they were immediately OK with you taking pictures?
I chatted with them and developed a rapport, which meant they allowed me to get on their tour bus and follow them to the Kentish Town Forum to shoot them during sound check. The thing is, there was no sound check—they were just standing outside, throwing rocks at passing trains, smoking, and chilling. U-God practiced his tiger style.
In any case, I managed to capture the Wu except for the RZA and Ol' Dirty. I don't believe Cappadonna was a member as such at the time, so I knew I had to catch the 9 MCs. By the end of that day, I had shot 7. Later that night, I witnessed the beautiful chaos of that first show.
You did end up taking pictures of Ol' Dirty Bastard.
Yes, but that happened a few years later—in 1997. That was around the release of Forever, when I also took new shots of Method Man, U-God, and their producer DJ Mathematics. They made the cover of Time Out London that week. Sonny Takhar, the product manager of the Wu at the time, made sure that album went to number 1—he paid all the right people to play their part, and they did. I'd hoped to capture the RZA as well at that shoot, but he was a no-show. And as brilliant as it all was, I still couldn't say I had captured the Wu in their entirety.
But you did later.
Yes, I met the RZA in 1998 and Cappadonna four years after that. So it took me from 1993 to 2002 to photograph ten MCs.
Can you tell me more about the photo of RZA dressed as a superhero?
The RZA came to the shoot in character. He walked into the room as Bobby Digital. To be honest, I was a massive Kool Keith fan at the time and I felt RZA's character was too close to Keith's alter ego. I think he had a brilliant response as Robbie Analogue. Anyway, the RZA created a whole superhero persona with one simple costume, and he had a great way of expanding hip-hop's cultural landscape that way. In that sense, I want to expand hip-hop culture into fine art spaces and large format books.
How deep does your Wu-Tang fanaticism run?
I'm a music collector—especially of music on vinyl. About half of my collection is contemporary and half is classic. In the 1990s, I was totally immersed in hip-hop culture. On the same day the Wu released Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chanbers), A Tribe Called Quest released Midnight Marauders and although the two albums are vastly different, it's interesting how influential the Wu were. The golden age of hip-hop is interesting because it covered so many different kinds of music, all under one banner.
Tell me about this Method Man picture, with that weird eyelid.
Method Man always had a trick up his sleeve. On that day, he was practically brimming with ideas and he just wanted to show me a new trick. He developed it further in his video for Bring the Pain.
Who did you get along with best?
Method Man is the most giving. Even when he's in a bad mood, his personality shines through. Ol' Dirty was the funniest, although his humor was tinged with tragedy. Ghost is great too—a cross between ODB and Meth. They are all incredible people. Even when I think about them now, they seem like a sort of gods to me.
How do you feel when you look at these pictures now—almost two decades later?
Looking at them now, I'm reminded of what I set out to do with these pictures, which was to find a new path for hip-hop photography. And I'm reminded of the political nuances in our society; how these men are seen as a menace in some communities and heroes in others. They're guys whose creativity and social pastimes are criminalized and demonized, but they also serve as an inspiration to generations of people.
These images are so strikingly beautiful, especially when you consider normal hip-hop photography. What did you want to do with the photos?
At the time, I wanted one thing—to capture the ultimate group shot of hip-hop's ultimate super group. That was the challenge. I had it in my mind to pitch to shoot the cover for their next album. I wanted to create a coherent body of work that best represented the group. I can't help but see them in a sort of religious context, so my ideas for them gravitate around prayer books, iconography, and their canonization within hip-hop. And after 20 years, time has proven that Wu-Tang is forever.
Visit Eddie's website for more information.