Ricky Powell was always hanging out with a camera around his neck, part of the greater metropolitan Beastie Boys world. He took pictures, but he did so without assuming any professional airs about it, or even expressing any sense of artistic ambition around photography. His obvious progenitors were Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsberg, both of whom I had seen move through crowded nightclubs (Area, Danceteria, the Michael Todd Room of the Palladium, the World) with a little camera clutched in their hands like a shield. They took snapshots in the spirit of someone collecting material for a private scrapbook that would be put into the service of their art—visual, verbal, cinematic, or otherwise. Ricky had that same aura, except there was no obvious larger project of which it was in support, other than the project of being Rick the Rickster.

Ricky Powell with his trademark Puma Clydes and ubiquitous camera.

It was an aesthetic that eventually filled four published books of photography and a soon-to-be-released documentary, though the locus of energy would always be associated with the Beastie Boys/early Def Jam era of New York. Looking at Ricky’s pictures from that time feels as though you have drilled down into a Manhattan street in the same way scientists drill out a core of Arctic ice, and found there among the layers the distinct flavor of 1980s hip-hop and nightclub culture, probably the last period of time this culture was specific to New York City, before it spread across the globe.