Image courtesy of Vicky Grout.
“Meet The London Photographers Who Turned Their Tumblr Into A Global Rap Brand.”
Many spend their early 20s traveling, but Londoners Imran Ciesay and Solomon Boyede—aka Ciesay and Soulz—have made it their careers. Together, the friends are behind Places + Faces, a lifestyle and photography brand best known for intimate depictions of contemporary rap culture via Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube. Today, the pair have held exhibitions in Tokyo, New York, and London, showcasing their candid behind-the-scenes shots of A$AP Mob, Boy Better Know, and a catalogue of top-tier artists they now call their friends. This February, they snapped Drake right after he stepped offstage at a Section Boyz show; straight afterwards, they were hanging with Metro Boomin in Paris.
The pair began curating a blog in 2011 as students, when, after a few years of casually attending shows, they started shooting them from the press pit. Later that year, they began finessing their way backstage by telling white lies to artists’ managers and press agents. From there, they gained unfiltered access to some of the most prominent hip-hop musicians of the 2010s.
Since they established Places + Faces three years ago, it’s blossomed as a brand, picking up an international fan base and spilling out from its Tumblr origins into YouTube documentaries, photography exhibitions, and a covetable, cozy collection of branded apparel that now helps fund their travels, where they continue to capture the artists they meet along the way. From Stormzy to Skepta, King Kruleto Kanye, Frank Ocean to Future, many have squinted at the signature bright flash of a Places + Faces camera, going on to feature either on their swelling Instagram page, in their 60-sheet zine, or going off on stage at one of the duo’s free-entry raves.
Combining a DIY aesthetic with the type of widespread visibility made possible by social media, the duo have turned a modest Tumblr blog into a genuine lifestyle. In their own words, Ciesay and Soulz told The FADER about their wanders around the globe, and how two little-known photographers from London built a brand now recognized worldwide.
CIESAY: Places + Faces started in 2013. I met a guy on Facebook who was my dad’s cousin; he told me I can stay with him if I’m ever in New York. So I booked my flight the next week. When I got there, there was a lot of things happening. A$AP Ferg’s album was dropping, 2 Chainz’ album was dropping, Big Sean too. Everyone was in New York, and I had this camera. I would just turn up to venues by myself and say [to the staff at the door] I’ve come from London to shoot this show. I would make up a company and just muster up the courage and hope they would say yes. I would say I needed a Triple AAA [Access All Areas] pass; most people thought ‘Okay, he’s from London, he’s probably important,’ and said yes. You just have to look like you’re supposed to be there. I had nothing to lose.
SOULZ: While he was in New York, there were shows going on in London that I would shoot. [At the shows,] with most of these artists I’m not a stan, so I [would] just strike up a conversation, but when I am a fan it’s a bit nerve-wracking. Big Sean was a nerve-wracking one, I had been listening to him before the Kanye co-sign. That conversation seemed to go so fast, I can’t even remember what I said. A lot of artists were doing their first U.K. shows at the time: Travi$ Scott, Chance the Rapper, Future. We documented their growth from the beginning so it became a big family. Most of the artists now know who we are.
CIESAY: One of the first people on the blog was A$AP Ferg. I randomly met him in an elevator when I was shooting [Brooklyn rapper] Ken Rebel on the roof of a building. I was waiting for the elevator to take me down, but as it came up Ferg was just in there chilling with his laptop. I asked what he was doing; he was like, “Just going to the studio.” I asked if I could come and he said, “okay cool.” I took pictures of a lot of the A$AP members after that; Ian Connor,A$AP Nast. They were some of the first.
SOULZ: Then at the end of that year , Ciesay took a photo ofKanye in Paris.
CIESAY: That was taken at Fashion Week. I went there to go and party because I had never experienced it before. I was in the club and someone was like “Oh, Kanye’s here.” Then there was a point where he left his secret room and I was the only guy on the dancefloor. I thought, ‘Okay cool, but I‘m trying to turn up.’ I guess we kind of had this weird eye contact, and he called me over. We were speaking about random stuff. I didn’t want to stay there for too long so I asked if I could take a couple pictures before I left.
SOULZ: When that happened, people started noticing the brand a bit more. That was our final year of university. There have been several times, let’s say when A$AP Rocky would be in town and the same day I’ve got coursework to do—I would just drop [the coursework] and leave. On the day I graduated, I got a call that YG was in town and he was doing a concert in Brixton. So straight after my graduation I changed my clothes and went to go shoot the concert; my parents were trying to have a little feast but I had to leave.
After that, we had the party in London where Skepta and JMEperformed. Skepta was cool with us already.
CIESAY: Me and Skepta became friends when we were in Paris at a friend’s party. Then when he was doing the video shoot for “It Ain’t Safe” [on the Meridian Estate, in London neighborhood Tottenham] he DM’d me like, “Come down, dress road.” I met Krept & Konan, Stormzy, and all these different U.K. guys and took pictures of them while they were there, as well as the main cover photo for the single.
CIESAY: Nothing is really planned beforehand. We did a mini exhibition in New York that we literally planned five days before. 400 people turned up in this room that could only fit 150. It was crammed, and I had all these pictures hanging off a clothes line.
We really only made the merch to promote the brand when we were traveling. When I made the hoodie it was only for me and Soulz to wear. It was never supposed to be released—I never call myself a designer. But as we kept traveling with it, people wanted it. People wanted to be a part of Places + Faces, it was turning into a lifestyle movement.
Wiz Khalifa wearing [the hoodie] helped. I met him in Paris at some radio station. He saw my hoodie and said he would love to have one; luckily I had one in my bag and he wore it the next day.
SOULZ: This all started off with curiosity. We were curious about everything, how to get into photography and then how to get our stuff out. It’s about our journeys, it’s our perspective, how we see the culture. We haven’t succeeded yet. I want Places + Faces to be something that shifts the culture in arts.
CIESAY: I want people to look at the pictures the same way they look at pictures of Biggie and Tupac in the ‘90s, and just know that Places + Faces were documenting the culture. I want my pictures to show our journey and our story. I want to be in a museum or something.