The Trap: documenting the birthplace of a music genre

French photographer Vincent Desailly’s new monograph delves into the people and places that make up the thriving trap scene in Atlanta. We speak to him about bringing the project to life, and the perils of poverty porn

Despite only being a teenager in musical years, trap has become one of the defining genres of the past decade. Named after the slang term trap house, or a building used by dealers to sell drugs, trap first began to emerge in areas of Atlanta in the early Noughties.

Born as a sub-genre of hip-hop, it swiftly became known for its deep bass lines, shuffling rhythms and gritty, often distorted vocals, and made household names out of early originators including Lil Jon and T.I.

Since then, the genre’s influence has spread well beyond its Deep South origins, spawning global superstars such as Travis Scott, and feeding into the music of mainstream popstars including Katy Perry, Beyoncé and M.I.A.

In a marked departure from his glamorous photos of celeb royalty at Cannes or campaign shots for fashion brands such as Veja, Vincent Desailly’s first monograph takes a deep dive into the place and people that gave birth to a worldwide phenomenon.

The photographer was first attracted to the idea of documenting Atlanta’s trap scene after doing a similar project for a French magazine in 2015, when he travelled to Baton Rouge in Louisiana and attempted to capture the effect the small town is having on hip-hop in the US more broadly.

The opportunity arose in early 2018, when Desailly was catching up with long-time friend Brodinski, a DJ and producer who previously worked with Kanye West, and is one of the few Europeans to have fallen into the trap scene in and around Atlanta (as opposed to just sending beats over email, says Desailly). A week later, the photographer jumped on a plane and headed out there.

Despite having an in with Brodinski, the project didn’t get off to the best of starts. “At first, I focused on chasing key figures from the trap scene, internationally known rappers or major local figures,” says Desailly. “I was trying to get in touch with them through the regular channels, management or PR. I thought, wrongly, that it would add something to my project, a kind of marketing thing. It was a total fail, those guys are generally not into regular promotion, and definitely not when they are in their hometown.”

Returning to Atlanta several times over the next few months, Desailly changed tack, instead meeting up with an array of locals who Brodinski introduced him to. The project evolved as he started hanging out with, and in turn taking photos of, the city’s up-and-coming dancers, rappers, producers and entertainers.

Featuring a foreword from one of trap’s forefathers, Gucci Mane, The Trap is an homage to the genre’s birthplace. Desailly’s beautifully shot images include portraits of dealers and photos of drugs being measured out on tabletops, but equally hone in on everyday scenes in people’s homes. Notably, the extract from Gucci Mane’s autobiography contains some of the only words featured in the monograph, with Desailly preferring to allow the images to speak for themselves.

“I want people to make up their own mind, have their own vision of both my pictures and what they represent. I would say I gave a very subjective treatment, trying to capture the beauty and the hard reality of the daily life in east Atlanta,” says the photographer.

Popular culture’s penchant for poverty porn is something that the creative community has become a lot more conscious of over the last few years. Was Desailly mindful of not playing into the harmful stereotypes sometimes associated with the trap scene?

“I’m a 30-year-old white guy born and raised in Paris, and I spent six weeks in Atlanta. I can’t say I understand or explain the life of the people I met, I can just be comfortable with my pictures,” he says. “They are authentic even though they are not supposed to be a mirror of society. They are a personal vision of the reality, that’s it.”

The Trap is published by Hatje Cantz; frenzyparis.com/vincent-desailly

GRAPHIC DESIGNER

London, EC3R

SENIOR DESIGNER

Guildford, Surrey