“Actually, Photography is what I feel I was born to do”
Every Monday and Tuesday night in Long Beach, CA you can practice at the famous Homeland session spot where DJ Ervin Arana mixes vinyl for the B.Boys and dancers. Ervin has been spinning at Homeland for years, a DJ for 10 years, and a B.Boy for even longer! His B.Boy name came from when Crazy Legs of Rock Steady Crew, Stuntman and others would play with his name and nickname him Swervin, Serv Gotti, & finally “Servin Ervin” just stuck like glue. Ervin’s passion and dedication to Hip Hop is definitely on point. But after talking and interviewing him, I can tell you that without a doubt his true passion is photography.
Born in 1980, Ervin tells me stories of back when he was a little kid and would pay close attention to details and would observe everything. When there was a family snap shot opportunity, he would always be the eager one to volunteer and want to take the picture. Ervin studied photography in highschool, but when he went to college he really fell in love with it. – “I tied photography with everything I’ve done. I really like documentary style photography. I try to capture the essence in everything I do. I’m always looking for that one image that can define Hip Hop.”
His goals and desires with photography guided our conversation, painting me a picture of his dreams for the future-“My life goal with photography has always been that when I’m an 80 year old man, I can explain to my grandchildren what it is that I did with my youth by simply showing them my photography. Sort of like “A day in the life” type portraits of people that inspire me. If I can take images that can give you an inside to a person’s personality, I’ve done my job.”
I was so curious, I had to ask Ervin out of everyone, who he would want to follow around to document their life? He immediately answered Mos Def- “Mos Def is just all around fresh! He’s a sick lyricist and an incredible musician. He does what I call ‘Grown Up Hip Hop.’ It’s not just ‘here are some beats and I’m gonna rhythm over it’. He thinks about the add-libbs, the presentation, and what he’s saying is thought provoking. A lot goes into it. It would be dope to follow him around for 5 years or so and just shoot his everyday life. Like the guy that followed Mohammad Ali around and produced all those incredible images of his life. That inspires me.”
While we sat out back of the Homeland studio in the dark watching the photo shoot crew set up, we got onto the subject of B.Boys starting to break dance just to get girls. He has a cute story to share with me. A story passed down to him by one of the originators- “Part of my education in Hip Hop is trying to understand the mentality of Hip Hop, when it first started. So Mr. Wiggles, who is incredible, told me that their main motivation when they first started breaking was to go to a different burrow, SMASH the crew running that burrow, and take their girls. That was their main motivation. So thinking back to my experience when I first started breaking, I got my first girlfriend going into a circle and impressing her. I think at first, everybody goes into it trying to get girls. Even girls trying to get guys.”
Servin Ervin was part of the important documentary project “Bouncing Cats”, a close look at the Breakdancing Project of Uganda in Africa. This amazing journey took Ervin (and other well-respected B.Boys) into the depths of a country stricken by war, poverty, and death. This inspiring documentary follows Abramz, the founder of BPU, who gave the people of Uganda the tools to create a better life thru breakdancing and Hip Hop. For weeks, Servin Ervin got the chance to teach break dancing workshops to hundreds of kids, orphans, adults, and anyone else who wanted to learn. The experience for Ervin was life changing, and at the same time help change lives. To contribute donations and for more information visit www.bouncingcats.com.
Q & A
WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE LIKE IN UGANDA?- “Before I even left for Uganda, I worked with children, teaching breaking and hoping that it could do for them what it did for me. I had that mentality going into this project. I didn’t know what to expect. I actually tried not to expect anything. I tried to go and absorb everything I would experience. While I was there, I met Abramz, the guy that created the Breakdancing Project of Uganda. He blew me away! He teaches breaking and Hip Hop to different tribes for free. He does it in hopes that the different tribes will get along and the orphans will have something to hold onto. It was a really, really deep and I would not be able to do it justice to try to explain it.“
WHAT WAS IT LIKE COMING HOME AFTER THAT EXPERIENCE? ““Before I went to Uganda, I always felt that Hip Hop could change lives. That it could make you think differently. Make you successful. But when I came home from Uganda, I realized that Hip Hop could save lives. I really can’t put it into words.”
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A HIP HOP PHOTOGRAPHER?: “ Yes, I shoot anything that I think is dope . I am a life photographer. I live hip hop everyday. My photography can be; but is not limited to; hip hop photography.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO SHARE WITH YOUR PHOTOGRAPHEY?- “For the past 16 years, I’ve shot bboy culture. I used to work for a magazine, so I provided images for stories that they ran on Hip Hop events like, B.Boy Summit, Bboy Masters Pro Am & Rock Steady Crew Anniversary. TIME magazine also published a couple of my images for an article. I have a lot of photos that I haven’t even gotten to. Eventually I’ll have a photo show.”
WHAT IMPORTANT ADVICE CAN YOU SHARE WITH BBOYS? “People now a-days are trying to be students, you know? People have been saying ‘be a student of Hip Hop. Learn Hip Hop.’ But I think now, people are taking that advice too literal and are trying to hard to be a student. It’s good to learn, but don’t forget to experience it. BE HIP HOP.”
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO ASK OF THE HIP HOP COMMUNITY? “First and foremost, I would ask the Hip Hop community to pay attention. Just pay attention to what’s going on in life. In your life and in the life of people around you. I think once you do that, you will know what to do. You will know who to reach out to and what events to be involved in. I feel like a lot of people are really not paying attention. They’re on some big ego thing like ‘this is great, I’m somebody now’ and it’s limited to that. So I say, pay attention, change the world!”
ANY LAST WORDS YOU WANT TO PASS ON? – “I believe Hip Hop comes from struggle. It could be cuz you are struggling to pay bills, or simply you have some emotional struggles that you are going thru. But if you can connect that struggle with your art, no matter how you approach it, it’s going to be REAL. But, if your watching YouTube and trying to idolize & emulate different people? If you’re trying to put on a Hip Hop costume, people will see right thru you. Its cliché to say ‘Keep it Real’. But for real, pay attention. Be in touch with yourself. There is a quote, Bruce Lee says ‘Express yourself honestly.’ That hit me like a ton of bricks. So I say ‘don’t forget to be HONEST!”
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF AND ATHLETE OR AN ARTIST? “A lot of what I do is considered athletic, but I don’t have an athlete’s state of mind, I’m an artist. I don’t dance to win a competition, I dance to be FREE.”