Breakdancer B-boy Fly in a Stilt Village in Papua New Guinea – Best Shot by Josh Cole | Art and design
II have always loved the breakdance, graffiti and hip-hop culture. My Physical Graffiti project started when I was a student, photographing local breakdancers, focusing on the acrobatic and explosive side of their dance, playing with how you could freeze their movements in the air.
I started advertising in 2004 but everywhere I went in the world I would ask the UK dance community if they knew anyone there and get in touch. with local dancers or, more recently, I found them through social media. Whenever there was a half day free, I would go to bed to take these photos.
This shot is probably the pinnacle of the project. I was in Papua New Guinea, making a short film for a charity. While driving through the capital one day, one of the people I was working with spotted the most famous breakdancer in the country walking down the street. My mate knew I wanted to shoot breakdancers and said, “Ah, this is the guy you want.” His name is George Tau, aka B-boy Monkey Stuntz. We stopped the driver, George jumped in our car – and we drove off. We kind of kidnapped him!
George agreed to bring 10 dancers for a photoshoot, and it was my idea to take them to this little village on stilts outside of Port Moresby. The guy in the picture, B-boy Fly, was a particularly outstanding dancer and acrobat. All the children in the village had gathered to watch, originally drawn because of the cameras, but were later mesmerized by the dance. There’s this amazing feeling that they lift it up, like their energy is levitating it. I didn’t even notice the dog when I took the photo – he was just walking around.
Technically, it’s a pretty tough shot. Even if you had the fastest Nikon taking 15 frames per second, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to capture the moment. You speak in a split second. It’s just instinctive. I always say that I learned my camera reaction skills while playing a game of golf on the Super Nintendo when I was a kid. When you were taking a swing, you had to press the button in a very specific place.
The village was amazing. There were all these cars set on fire and everywhere you looked was rusty corrugated iron covered in crazy graffiti. I love going to places like this where you are told not to because they are too dangerous. I firmly believe that you are creating your reality: if you decide to see hate and violence, this is what you will get. And if you see love and happiness, this is what you will create instead. But this shoot was the ultimate test of that belief – statistically, Port Moresby is one of the murder capitals of the world and you can feel the potential for violence there.
The Physical Graffiti project took me from filming dancers in the sea at dawn in Burundi with hippos running around us, to the most dangerous townships in South Africa. I have also seen outrageous stunts. A guy did a parkour style jump from the second floor balcony in a building in London. Another backfliped from the roof of a house in a South African slum. I try to get things that are dramatic and “big” in their form – often breakdancing footage can just look like someone lying on the floor.
This photo shows a literal body lift. But I think it also captures the rise of the human spirit. There is a philosophical side to the project: the dancers I photograph often come from difficult backgrounds, or have endured hardships and challenges, and they use the expression of their body to lift them out of obscurity into a better future. .
It is also my own journey. I was a drug dealer and addict. I was raided by the drug squad and got a warning and they said, “We are going to watch you.” So I was a little panicked. That summer, at 23, I made the decision to go to college and study photography. So I always say that photography and the hip-hop scene really saved my life.
Since the lockdown I have made the decision to move away from the world of commercial photography and fund a Physical Graffiti photo book and the profits will go towards starting a new business, a holistic healing center called Eye of the Storm, helping children with PTSD and trauma. It is an act of faith. Just like the guy in the picture.
Josh Cole’s CV
Born: Rugby, United Kingdom, 1974.
Qualified: University of Derby.
Influences: “Don McCullin, Nan Goldin, the experiences of my life.”
High point: “Shooting in more than 20 countries in one year.”
Low point: “Losing my meaning in the business world.”
Superior council: “Stay true to what excites you in your work.”