Sthaddeus “Polo Silk” Terrell is a venerated photographer whose work has been invaluable in capturing moments in New Orleans hip-hop, club, street, and second line cultures. Soon, he’ll launch a merchandise line called Bac In Da Game (B.I.G.). It will feature shirts at first, showcasing some of Polo’s most memorable Polaroids from bygone eras of the city. There will eventually be notebooks and other items. After decades of taking photographs of both the anonymous and the well-known, Polo has become the subject of attention himself. These days, you might see people approaching him to take a picture. He’s incessantly humble, but obviously prides himself on the years of work he’s put in. Today, he keeps the hundreds of Polaroids he’s taken in shoeboxes, but he’s got his sights set on museums.
How did you get started taking pictures?
I started on Easter 1987 at one of the first teen clubs in New Orleans. I was taking pictures of people at the club and rappers like Bust Down and Gregory D. I was taking pictures of rappers who eventually became famous like Magnolia Shorty, Soulja Slim, Cheeky Blakk, UNLV, Mystikal, Fiend.
You’ve become notorious for documenting second lines. What are some of your favorite memories of your early days doing that?
I love the culture. It’s just fun. B.G. got a line in one of his songs, “Second line Sunday is a day about stuntin.’” Everybody comes dressed to kill, they got their whips shined up. Before Instagram got started, you could come out there with your CDs and stuff and promote yourself. Your fans get to see you there.
Was it important for you to document that culture specifically?
Yeah. I had just been doing club stuff, nightclubs. Eventually, people I knew became part of Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, and they knew of my work and wanted me to shoot them at second lines.
You recently made history with a Reebok shoe deal, designing your own sneaker. Did that come out of the blue, or was it something you worked for?
The Reebok thing happened because retro is in style now. Soulja Slim, Juvenile, B.G. and all them would talk about Reeboks in New Orleans. Chase N. Cashe told the people at Reebok about my work documenting throwback culture and so they contacted me. It was kind of strange, because people call me a legend and stuff like that. I just enjoy doing what I’m doing.
Why is what you’re doing important?
Giving somebody a picture and seeing a smile on their face. It might be a loved one that passed, and they don’t have an image of them. Just giving them that is amazing.