The Moneybag Movement is a hip-hop group from Syracuse, New York a city that is at its peak in poverty levels. Within rough social and employment conditions the members of the group find time to be parents, work at odd jobs, attend basement parties and keep their dream of making hip-hop alive. Photographer Andrew Renneisen spent some time with the guys from the Moneybag Movement and has won two consecutive student awards of excellence with the Alexia Foundation for his projects documenting violence and social issues.
What’s a day in the life of one of the guys of the Moneybag Movement?
Kuntry the main guy I photographed had to be a father, he had to take care of his kids and work when he could, either selling drugs or taking up odd jobs around Syracuse. And then at night, they almost pretend they are these extravagant rappers with this extravagant lifestyle, it’s all about their music, flash and the money. They get all dressed up to go out, it’s all very interesting.
How did you meet these guys?
The project really started as a workshop I started at Syracuse and it went from there. I went down to the studio to find a story for this workshop and I was like, ‘hey, guys I’m doing a story on family and community and I am wondering of you guys know anyone that has been through a tough time?’ and these guys pointed me to Kuntry and DC’s direction. I was just blunt honest with what I was doing and they welcomed me right away, they liked the fact that I gave them photos and prints.
How do your subjects talk about hip-hop? What does it mean for them?
Yeah, they think their music is going to get them out of Syracuse and out of this situation they are in right now. I mean, the North Side is one of the rougher neighbourhoods of Syracuse. Kuntry lives in an apartment where he told me half of the homicides stem out of that apartment complex. If you listen to some of their music they rap about their problems in Syracuse.
That’s tough.. How did you feel after seeing the photos and going through the process of documenting their lives?
I was very involved with these guys, even when I started at the workshop during the fall and I kept photographing through spring. I was able to bring them into a community gallery and they were able to watch themselves on screen. I am just really trying to capture their lives and I think they appreciate it. I enjoy shooting the story and then they enjoyed watching the pictures after, so is kind of a win-win situation that makes everyone feel good.
Those parties look wild.. How was it for you?
They wanted me to go out with them, so they just took me down and it was the first time I was in a hip-hop basement party and I got some weird looks at first. Then, they decided they were going to make an announcement that the photographer had arrived to the party, so everyone wanted their picture taken. It was a good time.
It seems that your photographic work revolves around violence and social issues. Why is that interesting for you?
I think I grew up as many young photographer wanting to be this war photographer, like you go overseas, you photograph war and then you come back and you’re famous. At what point in my younger career I wanted to do that and is almost selfish. There are so many issues going around in the United States and that people look over too much. So that’s how it started, I looked for stories that aren’t covered well enough. The aspect of violence and PTSD and people living in cities throughout the US is something that I am very interested in and drawn to. I don’t think we talk enough about PTSD and trauma and how it affects someone whose father gets killed or shot, or whose mom is on drugs and that will keep me interested for a while.
Do you think the context in which Kuntry and the guys form the Moneybag Movement live is kind of traumatic?
I really do. Even just with Kuntry’s life was really tough and he didn’t have a base at home and that’s why he turned to the gang lifestyle, you kind of get involved with that. His story is one of many that get involved in that kind of game.
What are you currently working on?
Just continuing the violence story. I can shoot the violence story anywhere really, any city that experiences violence, so I have been shooting here in New York and hopefully in Baltimore.
Any advice for starting photographers?
Shoot more, don’t be cocky and be honest and humble with the people you photograph.
Article by: Laura Rodriguez Castro