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Hajar Benjida On Photographing Rappers…

And Making Her Young Thug Project Come To Life

Hajar Benjida is a music photographer from The Netherlands, best-known for her intimate backstage polaroids and film shots of your favourite rappers. Playboi Carti, Migos, Lil Yachty, Cardi B, Princess Nokia, Rich The Kid or Tyler The Creator are just a few names on her list of people she has photographed in the past. Unless you’re shooting for a major publication, which is not the case for Benjida or many other photographers – the access to backstage at rapper’s major shows is very strict and limited. Benjida is somebody who talked her way into accessing backstage without a wristband or photo pass to accompany her, but instead using her camera as a go-to-pass. She’s later developed relationships with some of the people she has photographed, moving from photographing them backstage to taking photos of them in their home cities.

Hajar Benjida. by Sara Benjida

In 2016, Benjida created a school project using a collection of images of Young Thug she found on the internet and matched them to already-existing paintings, she called the project @youngthugaspaintings. Young Thug himself went through stages of following just 1 account on Instagram and Benjida’s @youngthugaspaintings was one of them.

The resemblance of some of paintings to images of Thug is striking and it would have taken time and research to put it together. The image of Thug stepping out onto the catwalk at V Files Runway 7 show (2016) to stop and adjust a model’s outfit whilst smoking a blunt, is one of the most iconic moments in rapper meets fashion culture. Benjida managed to find a painting of two women, one of them is standing behind the other adjusting her dress at the shoulder length which resembles the one of Young Thug adjusting the fabric on model’s shoulder. Both Thug and the woman in the painting are wearing a long red piece of clothing which is a bizarre similarity. In 2018, Scope Art Fair in Miami Beach announced that ‘Young Thug As Paintings – A Retrospective’ is showing at the space during Art Basel with the help of 300 Entertainment and Young Thug Life record label. Footage from the exhibition aired on Vice News via HBO, where you can see people interacting with Benjida’s work as well as Young Thug making a grand entrance to view the space.

I caught up with Hajar to find out more about her work, influences and future plans.

What first sparked your interest in Photography?

When I was working on my portfolio to get accepted for art school. I was trying out all kind of mediums, I used to mostly draw portraits and I was into fashion. I didn’t even wanna be a photographer, I wanted to be a stylist. But that was the only program I got accepted for so I guess it found me. 

Is there anyone or anything that has influenced you to be the photographer that you are right now?

People, I love taking portraits of faces. I used to always draw faces now I photograph them. 

What piece of advice would you tell somebody who would like to kick-start a creative career over in the Netherlands?

Focus on your craft instead of hype. 

Do you see yourself moving elsewhere to develop your career?

I think so.

Playboi Carti by Hajar Benjida

How did you get into backstage/music photography?

I was always going to concerts as a fan of these artists, a camera was basically my backstage pass, I would mostly talk myself backstage without a photo pass or wristbands. I went from photographing some of these artists backstage to photographing them in their home city, that’s crazy and all by myself.

I feel like shooting backstage at shows is a hard one to crack, especially when you’re a girl trying to photograph rappers – sometimes people get the wrong idea. Have you ever had anybody doubt you?

Absolutely, up to this day. A lot of times it’s people working at venues and festivals not taking me seriously as a photographer. I feel like the men in the industry that are doing the same thing as myself can do a lot better and use their privilege in supporting and helping us women in the same field out. I feel like men mainly only support and help each other out. I don’t like to complain about it too much though, because anything a man can do, I can do better. 

What’s your most memorable shot that you’ve taken so far? And why?

I really love the photos I took of my friend Ethereal at his house in Atlanta. I love the personal approach. 

Magic City by Hajar Benjida

Do you have a list of people that you would like to shoot in your lifetime? If so, can you share a name or two.

I want to do a proper shoot with Young Thug and I’m dying to shoot Naomi and Nicki Minaj. All three of them are living icons. 

You’re the creator behind @youngthugaspaintings Instagram page. What inspired you to make your school project about Young Thug in exact?

He just happened to be the perfect person for it. He is timeless just like these historical paintings. 

Was it a long process to find matching images and paintings?

Some take long, some don’t.

You’ve premiered your project ‘Young Thug As Paintings’ at Art Basel Miami last year and actually got to meet Young Thug in the making, how did this opportunity come about and what was it like to meet him?

I had proposed ideas of doing an exhibition multiple times, but when I mentioned I wanted to set something up during Art Basel to 300 Entertainment it finally sparked interest for them to help support it. That doesn’t mean getting it to one of the biggest Art Fairs during Art Basel was easy, it wasn’t confirmed until 3 weeks before the actual exhibition. A lot of the art fairs didn’t take the project serious, but Scope Art fair decided to get with the winning team. I can’t believe it was one of the most talked exhibitions during Basel, it still feels surreal to me and Thug visiting the gallery was honestly the best day of my life. He seemed to really appreciate it and he called me the goat. 

Metro Boomin by Hajar Benjida

Are you working on any personal projects at the moment?

Yes I’m currently in Atlanta working on my graduation project. 

What is one thing that you would like people to know about yourself, that they might not know?

I have a hard time approaching people, I even procrastinate making important phone calls. But I really have to push through that for my photography.

What’s your longterm goal and where would you like to see yourself in a few years time?

Be 10x better in what I’m doing, constantly learning and developing and hopefully rich enough to finance my dream projects. 

Juice WRLD (left) Ethereal (right) by Hajar Benjida