Diwang Valdez: the five photos that shaped my career

Four men in matching red tracksuits praying around a table.

The famed photographer and Atlanta member discusses his five favourite works from his portfolio 

By Corinna Burford   Images courtesy of Diwang Valdez (above image: Goodie Mob)   Friday 22 May, 2020    Short read

Atlanta-based photographer, Diwang Valdez, has spent the past 18 years documenting hip-hop scenes across southern America and beyond, taking candid photos and striking portraits of everyone from J Prince to Rick Ross and Cardi B. 

After settling in Atlanta post-college, Valdez got his professional start working for the now-defunct hip-hop magazine, The Juice, in 2002. There, he started as a graphic designer, but quickly began contributing photos to the publication, as well as assuming the role of Creative Director. When the magazine folded in 2005, he decided to make photography a full-time pursuit – to great acclaim.

Valdez’s photos have since been featured in The Fader, XXL, Paper Magazine, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and The New York Times, among others, as well as campaigns for iconic brands like Nike. He is also a member of the artistic collective, Motion Family, with video producer and photographer, David KA, and director and cinematographer, Sebastian Urrea. Together, the group has created music videos and ad campaigns for artists including 2 Chainz, Rae Sremmurd, Schoolboy Q, Jeezy, Kevin Gates and YG. 

Here, Valdez reminisces about five photos that shaped his career and shares what makes each one special.
A group of men celebrating with bottles.
BMF crew
‘This photo was taken in Miami during a New Year’s Eve party in 2006. I learnt some invaluable lessons working for Juice (owner of The Juice Magazine), who teamed up with BMF Entertainment to handle their marketing. She really knew how to take risks and give it her all when pursuing her goals for the magazine. Working at The Juice, I got to see my photos and work as a graphic designer all over Atlanta on billboards, and I still have a ton of working relationships that I made during that era.’
A man with smoke coming out of his mouth holding up a gold chain with a pendant shaped like a cartoon boy.
Gucci Mane with Bart Simpson chain
‘I shot this image of Gucci Mane at Patchwerk Studios for a mix tape cover that DJ Black Bill Gates commissioned. It wasn’t until years later that I realised the importance of this time period – the late 2000s – for a lot of artists. I was eventually able to license the majority of this shoot to The Fader magazine and for Gucci’s autobiography. Also, before I even knew what they looked like, I got to shoot both Zaytoven and OJ da Juiceman, who were also in the room.’
A boy with a cap on a bike.
Justin Bieber
‘I had previously shot Justin Bieber the day he got signed to Usher and LA Reid. Scooter Braun had brought him to the rapper Asher Roth’s house, and I happened to be shooting Asher for a graffiti magazine. I snapped some photos of Justin, too, just because Scooter told us he was going to be the next big thing. About a month later, I got a call from Def Jam asking me to shoot Justin’s marketing photos. The images from this shoot were used for his merch, and this was the first time I got to see my photos on posters, hats and bootleg dealers in New York. I definitely thought I had made it at that point.’
Scissors cutting a man's hair.
Boosie Fade
‘I had the opportunity to shoot the album packaging for Boosie’s Touch Down To Cause Hell, which was his first album after getting released from jail. This image was from the inside of the album, but it’s still one of my favourites.’
A man lying on the ground.
Post Malone for Rolling Stone
‘This photo was for a two-page spread in Rolling Stone. I had wanted to shoot for them since I got into photography, so when I got the call from the Photo Editor, Sacha Lecca, I was super excited. All of my favourite photographers had shot for Rolling Stone, so this was definitely a milestone.’