He tries to catch lightning in a bottle and then take a flick of that. 

Words: Kris Ex

Images: Ben Watts

Photo Editor: Sally Berman

Designer: Paul Scirecalabrisotto

RESPECT. Founder: Jonathan Rheingold

“I was, as a teenager, really interested in cult—cult fashion, cult music, cult gear. I was like a rudeboy back in England, listening to ska music”


Acclaimed photographer Ben Watts’ recently released Lickshot—a follow-up to 2003’s well-received Big Up—is part photo book, part journal, and all vibrant, raucous, in-your-face exercise where still images spark with kinetic energy to burst and crackle on the page. And it’s not by accident. The 42-year-old limey, who now calls New York City home, has been chronicling his progress in scrapbooks since his days at Australia’s Sydney College of the Arts. “I do that for myself,” says Watts, whose latest effort registers encounters with everyone from Adrien Brody to Jay-Z. “People have always enjoyed my journals, so now I got them published for more people to see.” 

So would it be safe to categorize his books as visual memoirs? “I think that’s going a little bit deep,” laughs Watts. “But they’re definitely my personal journals.”

His work may speak for itself, but he’s not too shabby either:

I was, as a teenager, really interested in cult—cult fashion, cult music, cult gear. I was like a rudeboy back in England, listening to ska music. I was really into that, and then I got into Motown, and I went from there to reggae, and then the hip-hop thing exploded and took off. When I first became exposed to it, it was, like, ’86, ’85. I just really dug the music and what was being said, and I felt like it was a natural progression [of what I had been listening to]. That became my passion.

From there I went to college, started learning photography and sort of culled any information that I was interested in—music-wise, fashion-wise, energy-wise, just feeling-wise—into my pictures, even if they didn’t have an immediate connection; sort of that street style that hip-hop represents. To me, that was the part of it that was interesting about it. Later on, when it became all about bling culture and all that stuff, it’s still interesting—but definitely not as interesting as the raw street edge that I really fell in love with.

My first book was definitely a journal dedicated to urban youth culture and street culture, but this one is more of a progression onward and [shows] more sophistication in my work. My passion certainly still remains the same, but I didn’t want to be accused of making the same book twice. I wanted it to be something that still has the thread of continuity, but to bring it into a more sophisticated genre, without alienating people who appreciated my work. The worst thing that can happen to me is for someone who appreciated my first book to pick [Lickshot] up and say, “This guy sold out. This is weak.” I put my best foot forward.



Originally Published in RESPECT Premiere Issue

Story Copyright Musinart LLC

All Photos Copyright Ben Watts