Probably one of the most anticipated books of the year. Bury Me with the Lo On,” by the rapper Thirstin Howl III and the photographer Tom Gould is a salute to the Brooklyn street crews locally famous for wearing nothing but Polo Ralph Lauren.
The book is a timeless encyclopedia to New York and the street culture that has become a global phenomenon. “Bury Me,” is dipped with a huge collection of Thirstin’s personal photos of the Low Life members (some taken in prison) and filled with an abundance of photography from the inestimable Tom Gould. It’s a collaboration made in heaven. Street savvy Tom Gould has directed yet another classic.
In the book, they capture rare moments with extravagant characters draped in silk, scarves, newly boosted Polo bathrobes, gold chains and outlandish ski outfits – all made by the American icon and Bronx hero, Ralph Lauren.
Get a unfiltered view of “Bury Me With The Lo On” in our interview below..
What is “Bury Me With The Lo On” and what does this project mean to you?
“Bury Me With The The Lo On” is a book is based around a subculture inspired by the “Lo Lifes”; a gang of teenagers from neighboring areas of Brooklyn that came together in 1988 to form a boosting (shoplifting) crew with the common goal of accumulating as much Polo Ralph Lauren as possible, by any means possible. The word ‘Lo taken from the second syllable of Polo.
When people think of gangs they normally associate the fashion to be flashes of red, blue or leather motorcycle club patches with top and bottom rockers, but what made Lo Lifes different was that they dressed in the finest garments stolen from every upper-class department store in the tri-state area, while living a reality that was the complete opposite of what Ralph Lauren represented.
Over the past 30 years, the stories of the Lo Lifes and this particular fashion has spread throughout the world, birthing a subculture of collectors of vintage Ralph Lauren garments.
The book is created alongside Lo Life founder Thirstin Howl the 3rd and is made up of interviews, archival pictures and recent portraits of key players within this unique subculture. To me it is a special project, as it has never been documented in a book format before. The history of this movement goes back 30 years so it feels good to finally have a book completed around this subject and to be able to immortalize the founders and pioneers of this movement within a hard cover document.
How did it initially start?
As a young photographer from Auckland I was always looking to imagery from New York for inspiration. Growing up in New Zealand we were pretty isolated from the rest of the world and what was going on within hip-hip in New York, but that just made us more intrigued and eager to see more, it also made it special.
Around 2001-02 the tales of the Lo Lifes had spread to Auckland as Lo Life founder Thirstin Howl the 3rd’s album Skillionaire was out. After hearing stories about the Lo Lifes from the older crews in Auckland and then listening to the music, it all made sense. Then once I started seeing images of Lo Lifes appearing in magazines and on the Internet, my fascination grew.
Once eventually moving to New York I was busy exploring the city with fresh eyes and was constantly taking pictures and meeting new people. Meyhem Lauren was one of the first people I met when I moved to New York, who was one of the younger members of the Lo Lifes and in 2010 he introduced me to Thirstin Howl the 3rd. I had always wanted to do something around the Lo Lifes and the Polo culture they pioneered, so later in 2010 Meyhem, Thirstin and myself went to dinner at a restaurant in Queens. We ate some seafood, drank some cognac and decided to start working on a book project.
The production for this book seems huge. How long have you been working on it and how wide and far have you gone?
It was! But I feel good things take time. As a photographer I wanted to not only capture the original Lo Life members but to also capture the subculture they inspired around the world, to me that was what was powerful about the story. The fact that this crew from Brooklyn in the late 1980’s not only influenced the fashion of mainstream rap stars throughout the 90’s but also birthed a worldwide subculture that has continued for nearly 30 years was something worth documenting and documenting right.
With that, it was a big task to try to capture the key players within the movement and to try and show a complete picture of this subculture. We started this in 2010 and it’s now 2016 and it’s finally out. This project took me throughout various cities of the States and eventually over to Japan to document the culture in Tokyo. To me that was special as it showed just how universal and loved this culture is. To have spread from Brownsville in Brooklyn all the way to Tokyo in Japan is amazing to me.
Do you have a favourite encounter or photograph from the book?
I particularly like the images that have women in them. This culture is not only for men, in fact some of the most sought after items of Ralph Lauren are the women’s garments, and it was important to show this within the book. From the early years the partners and girlfriends within the culture were referred to as “Lo Wives” and many were boosters and big collectors of these coveted items of Ralph Lauren.
How did you hook up with Raekwon for the book? Were there other icons that you met along the way?
I was introduced to Raekwon through a friend of mine and it all happened from there. It was special to have him within the book, as he was a big reason that Polo became popular within hip-hop and in popular culture. Once people saw him within early Wu-Tang music videos wearing the “Snow Beach” Pullover and USA fleeces, Ralph Lauren became sought after by people all over the world that were listening to this music.
Throughout the process of shooting the book I met many people that were icons in my eyes for many different reasons. Icons on the street of Brooklyn, icons of this fashion or just down to earth people that came from nothing and gravitated towards this fashion to empower themselves and to look their best, even though this brand was never made for or marketing to them.
The book is beautifully put together, produced and designed. What was the process behind the design and publication?
From the very beginning of the project Doubleday & Cartwright came onboard as the designers, and along with their publishing imprint Victory Journal we worked over the years defining a look and feel until we were all happy. It was a great process as they were fans of the culture and the visual aesthetic and with that our main idea was to keep the design classic and timeless. Overall the process took about a year once we had all of the final content and assets, a labor of love, but one I am really happy with.
What other projects are you currently working on? What’s next?
To be honest I’m just relieved that this book is finally out and can be read and treasured by the people who are a part of this culture and also discovered by others. I don’t have any plans on another book project just yet but have a short film based in South Auckland I am aiming to shoot at the end of the year. Either way, I just want to continue telling stores that hopefully open people’s eyes.
You can purchase this book on the 1800 PARADISE site. Limited copies remain globally.