It’s probably too late for a belated footnote to my list of the best photo books of 2003, but just try and stop me. Big Up (Princeton Architectural Press), a hectic insider’s view of the past dozen years of urban youth culture by London-born, Australian-raised Ben Watts, is too wild and too idiosyncratic to go unmentioned. “I’m excited by photography,” Watts writes, but what really excites him is his subjects, who include kickboxers, skate rats, club kids, break-dancers, wrestlers, and members of the hip-hop elite, from Nelly to Missy. The spontaneity and verve Watts packs into his pictures are perfectly mirrored in the book’s oversize scrapbook-style design (by the photographer and Deb Wood, in obvious debt to Peter Beard). Cut up, collaged, crayoned, and tagged with markers, the photos feel less like fixed, flattened documents than little time bombs about to explode. This sense of terrific, barely contained energy makes Big Up big fun, and the ideal time capsule for a style moment that just won’t quit.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 20, 2004