No Balls, No Glory; A Polaroid Story
Yeah…. what can I say.
I’m sorry if I have mislead you in any way. If you follow me on Instagram (@Ouninana) you probably noticed the following picture coming through your timeline, and I noticed a lot of you guys got your hopes up a little.
If you are a true A POLAROID STORY reader you probably know how incredibly HUGE yesterday evening was for both me and this little blog. Unfortunately I didn’t go home with a Polaroid from this Nets mogul but I do have a great story to share with you.
This is how it all went down.
Not sure if you noticed but the blog has been a bit slow since this summer. Lots of changes came up both personal as professional. Add a move up to that and you may understand a bit better why I was a little of the radar but not to worry, I’m preparing a proper comeback as we speak. Lot’s of stories coming up.
All those reasons together resulted in having to put writing and blogging aside untill everything is stabilized again, but also completely missing out on buying tickets for Jay-Z’s stop in ‘Diamond City’ aka Antwerp for his MAGNA CARTER HOLY GRAIL TOUR. I literally moved 3 days ago and everything evolves around this now, you know how it goes right? Moving is exhausting. Therefore, I was constantly doubting if I would make it to the concert in the first place and secondly, was it really worth the chase and effort? The concert took place at the Antwerp ‘SPORTPALEIS’ venue, a location that has been on my ‘absolutely impossible’ category for years now when it comes to chasing Polaroid the old school way. You know; without any connections and just finding your way in through the venue. Last time I was there to see Jay-Z was for WATCH THE THRONE and well, you know how that story went? Absolutely nowhere.
However. Jay-Z is an extremely important target for me when it comes to this blog and the goals I have set for it, such as releasing my book and working towards a grand finale APS exposition. He needs to be featured on this blog, but the road towards that Polaroid will take time and in my opinion the gate to that Polaroid will be purely based on network and connections outside the box. I’ve put the intention of a Jay-Z Polaroid in the universe a very long time ago and I’m quite convinced everything will lead up to that meeting eventually. So the main question was: “Should I put my energy into something which most likely would lead to nowhere but a : ‘Went to the concert, didn’t have any connections, went home.’ kinda story?
I was still doubting when I suddenly received some very interesting news from the owners of a series of nightclubs here in Belgium, one of them called CLUB MAGIC. I work with them on a professional basis from time to time and they knew that the information they had might interest me. They told me that they received a mail from a very credible agency in New York, asking if the club would be interested in hosting the official MCHG after party for Belgium. Apparently one of Jay-Z’s best friends, New York Yankee baseball player Robinson Cano (who is also signed to Jay’s Roc Nation Sports department) would have a birthday party around the same time Jay-Z was in Belgium and the plan was to celebrate this joyous occasion at… Club Magic.
Honestly? I gave the Robinson Cano part some credit, but I seriously doubted that Jay-Z would come to this club in Belgium. Why would he do that if he could easily take a jet and fly to Paris? What else is there in Antwerp except Diamonds for Jay-Z? Unlike Kanye, the Antwerp/Belgian fashion angle is not a factor here because – clearly – the man likes TOM FORD. It didn’t make any sense to me. But it somehow looked like the universe was giving me little pinches so I would overcome my fatigue and go out and chase for a Jay-Z Polaroid, so I decided to give it only 50% of the effort I would normally put into preparation and slowly started thinking about angles to work from.
My first angle was VRT, which is – to make a long story short - sort of the Belgian equivalent for the BBC. A few months ago I have been approached by VRT who are currently looking into changing the way they are broadcasting anno 2013. TV is dying. Netflix is the living proof of that. People absorb content differently. By their own demand. Radio has the stiff competition from online radio & streaming platforms breathing in their neck. Broadcasting content is simply changing and VRT realises this. This resulted in a very interesting meeting with different individuals who are all very good in one thing: creating digital content in one form or another. This project is part of a brand new digital cell at VRT and is currently still in an extremely early phase. What does that concern this blog exactly? VRT proposed to facilitate me in whatever way I need to work better. Simply put; If I need something that would optimise the way I create content for this blog I can check up with VRT and see where they can facilitate me, whether it is providing me tickets, press access when necessary, access to proper video material, an edit room, etc.
This blog is still a one woman show and if I want to evolve and go next level I need help so I decided to give it a shot and I’m currently in a test phase with them where I will collaborate with VRT when needed. I didn’t have enough time to send a dozen mails being stuck in my move so I decided that this might be the ideal test case to try out with VRT. What could VRT do for me? Tickets? Bring it on. Backstage access? Let’s do it. Pushing meet and greet requests? Done. Well…not exactly. It fast became pretty obvious that even an institute like VRT couldn’t do anything for me. They were a bit surprised how hàrd it really is, even for a big broadcasting network like them to reach a hiphop star like Jay-Z. The only answer they received was a simple NO. Wherever the question went, the answer was: no. Even getting tickets for the concert turned out to be a … well you guessed it right; no.
It made me realise even more how crazy it is to have the type of content I create with people who are so hard to reach, all on my own, step by step. Trial & Error. I don’t say it that often, but I have assembled a body of work over the years and I’m very proud about that.Anyway, VRT was out the game, on to the next one.
Another angle was Belgian photographer Kurt Stallaert, whom I know from back in my modeling days. I mentioned Kurt as a possible Jay-Z angle in my ‘Crawl Before You Ball PT II’ story. Kurt actually worked together with Jay-Z for D’USSE, a cognac brand from the Bacardi family that Jay-Z is affiliated with.
Exhibit ( photo + video courtesy of Kurt Stallaert )
I mailed Kurt and asked him if there was anything he could do, but he told me he didn’t really hear anything for a while from Jay’s management and I felt this angle would quickly turn into a dead-end swell. It looked like it was turning into one point, one angle that I had to look into and that was the magic angle, as in ‘Club Magic’. I was sitting in front of my computer, torn into a million pieces of doubt. The tired me want to stay in and don’t leave my apartment where I just moved into. The tired me wasn’t feeling clubbing on a Monday evening at àll. By the time I was ready with work I realised that I couldn’t get to the concert on time anymore. So I would miss the concert. Isn’t it weird to go the after party of a concert and not to the concert itself? It felt totally ridiculous.
I decided to reach out to Bart Roman who is one of the co-owners of Club Magic and told him: “Look. I’m killing myself over here. Please don’t let me come all the way to Antwerp for nothing. If you have the slightest doubt that Jay-Z will be there, then I have to know.” He told me: “Chances are up to 95% Ouni. They made Armand De Brignac Belgium deliver a 6L bottle Ace Of Spade. Timbaland is coming with them. Don’t shoot me when it eventually turns out to be a now show, but from how things are looking now, this thing is actually happening.”
Look, even it was only 50% chance he would show up, I knew I had to go. I imagined all the Instagrams and pictures and crazy status updates that would appear in my timeline and me waking up to that social mayhem. I would never forgive myself that I didn’t grab an opportunity because I was too exhausted. Sometimes you simply have to roll with the punches.
So. I dragged myself together, opened some boxes to find some jewelry, a blouse and some high heels. Plastered my post-move face with a decent amount of make-up and to the club I went. I arrived at the club around midnight and when I met up with Club Magic’s owner Bart Roman he said: “They are on their way, ow yes, and Timbaland is joining the party, everybody is really in the mood, they want to come over to party asap.” He was a bit nervous and I started to realise that this might actually happen. A half hour and a gin tonic later the unexpected did happen. The VIP section reserved for Robinson Cano was cleared out, servants with glasses came to the table, a bottle of Armand De Brignac was served at the table and 4 or 5 tall women walked into the VIP section. Minutes later Jay-Z, Jigga Man, HOVE casually walked in Club Magic like he was doing a lazy sunday stroll in the park. My jaw dropped to my fucking knees. Pardon my french. Seconds later Timbaland walks in the club, a bit tired but clearly in the mood for a party, followed by Robinson Cano and his entourage. The atmosphere in the club was comparable to a giant black balloon being blown up minutes before exploding. When I looked around me I saw everybody looking a bit flabbergasted, myself included, until everyone realized: ‘Roc Boys In The Building Tonight’ like, literally, and the club bursts out in cheering and everybody grabbed their cameras to document this moment. I grabbed my Polaroid cameras, finished my gin and tonic and went to work.
The good thing about knowing the owners of the club; I didn’t have to work my way in towards the VIP, which is a necessary time save. They notified security that I was allowed in the VIP area and 5 minutes later I was standing only meters away from Timbaland and Jay-Z ready to get what I came for. My first Jay-Z opportunity in 4 years. Seconds later I was holding a glas of Armand De Brignac in my hands offered by a gentleman called Alltagracia who actually spoke Dutch since he was from Holland and somewhere involved with Robinson Cano’s camp.
What happened next is best to explain in the following excellent exhibits. (image courtesy by Club Magic. )
Let me be clear. It is not easy to work and drink. Yesterday that was almost a necessity to blend in. I was too exhausted to not drink at all and being so close as I was, I had to soak up their party atmosphere instead of being a serious wallflower. Wall-flowering draws attention and not necessarily the good kind. So I juggled my ‘turnt up mode’ and ‘work mode’ as good as I possibly could and waited for my moment.
You couldn’t really take any Iphone pictures, they let you snap some for 30 seconds but then security made it very clear to stop doing so. Everybody respected that. Jay-Z and Timbaland made very clear to the club owners that photo ops weren’t a focus for them, they just want to party and have fun together, which is basically very normal. I’m at this point in my life where I hide from the camera instead of search for it when I’m drunk, let along I would enjoy a dozen iphones documenting my process from being sober to waisted. There was a constant interaction with DJ JUS SKE, Jay-Z’s current tour dj, who was behind the decks and constantly checked upon his group how they were feeling and hyping the atmosphere. Timbaland was jumping on boxes, passing some of his new beats on his iPhone to the DJ and looking how the crowd ànd Jay-Z responded to his beats.
For the record. The music sounded really dope, with a classic Timbaland production that reminded me of his days with Magoo. Then again, I was intoxicated, so please don’t take my word on it. My judgement might have been a little off.
I will never forget the moment where I was standing next to Jay-Z, blurring out the lyrics from Drake’s ‘All Me’ track. I mean. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. He also obviously really liked that track. But, all the party and bullshit aside, I wasn’t there to get drunk and party next to Jay-Z. I needed a Polaroid picture and I really waited for the right moment to get it. I didn’t see him taking pictures with anybody and getting him alone against a wall was nearly impossible and would only work once he left the club on his way out. I needed a way to introduce myself in a casual way.
When Jay-Z and Robinson decided to go to the main dance floor, which basically is a very tiny old-school dance floor with tiles that light up in different colours I knew I had to take my chance. It took the crowd only seconds to realise that this was Jay-Z’s way to tell everybody that any photo opportunity was NOW.
Exhibits (pictures via Club Magic)
It quickly became super crowded and I found myself standing in front of them, just as close as the angle of these pictures here above, but their security was constantly pushing me and my camera away. I really don’t get it, is there a secret international security code that finds Polaroid cameras extremely threatening?I have the worst camera of everybody out there for christ sake, what the hell can I do wrong with that thing?
So when I felt that it wouldn’t work like that, I reached out to Robinson Cano and made clear from a far that I wanted to take a Polaroid picture from him and Jay-Z as a birthday gift. I sometimes do that, mostly that happens àfter I take my own shots, as a token of my appreciation but in this case it was also a bit strategic. I really wanted Jay-Z to associate my face with a Polaroid camera, how insane that must sound.
It was pitch dark, I barely could see anything and I almost didn’t get them in the Polaroid frame with all those people surrounding me but I managed to take the picture and gave it to them. If there is ànybody who was there that night and would have this moment captured on camera, ( me taking a Polaroid picture from Jay-Z and company) PLEASE send them to email@example.com? I didn’t have an assistant because everybody normal is in bed at 2AM on a monday evening and this was a very last minute thing, so I couldn’t provide the exhibits I normal have since their wasn’t a photographer nonstop by my side.
Anyway, immediately the Polaroid picture was held by a friendly woman from their entourage, who held on to it the entire night. I didn’t even get the chance to check if the shot turned out ok, but hey. If you see a black and white Polaroid appearing on the net, it’s mine! When Jay-Z was making his move back to the VIP corner I asked Robinson if it would be possible to take one from Jay-Z alone and he told me that I should ask the third individual who was also in the Polaroid I took of them, but I still don’t know exactly who he is. So I asked this man if I there would be a possibility for a Polaroid shot and he told me that I could take one, once they are back in the VIP section.
Once back in the VIP section everybody continued partying and I didn’t really dared to disturb them. Remember, It’s ok to be hungry, but you can’t be thirsty. Jay-Z was asked a few times for pictures I think and he didn’t engage in any of them. He refused politely with a smile but quite determined in a way. I must say, I have seen other responses from artists. It was so refreshing to witness this man, who literally came from ‘rags to riches ‘ and remaining very humble in his attitude towards the people who approached him. Time was ticking, they were already a few hours in the club and when I saw security gearing up a way towards the exit of the club I realised my last opportunity for a Jay-Z Polaroid was finally presenting itself.
I immediately left the club and posted myself a few meters from the door where Jay-Z would come out of. Seconds later he came out the door, I walked up to him, looked him straight in the eyes and asked if I could please take a Polaroid picture. He continued his exit, walked towards me and said very friendly: ” I’m sorry, no.” There you have it. A loud and clear Hola Hovi-No. And that’s where it ends really. It’s my main code. If I have the opportunity to personally walk up to an artist and ask him for a picture and the artist says no, I hàve to respect that. Period. I’m not a paparazzi. It’s a two-way street. I need the artists to engage with my camera. The guy who told me that I could take a Polaroid in the VIP section, came up to me and said: “You already have your Polaroid dear.” and their crowd passed me by.
Then it hit me. Ok I was granted one shot, but that was a gift for Robinson, which was very clearly communicated. I decided to run after them and while they were all stuffed in the elevator they all looked at me when I came in front of the elevator and said slightly hopeful; “But I gave that Polaroid to you guys tho.” looking at Jay-Z hoping he would change his mind for some magical reason. They all looked at me while the doors of the slowly elevator closed in front of me and that was it…
I decided to make the best out of it so I am very glad I can still introduce you to two very interesting individuals from Jay-Z his team. On Polaroid that is:
DJ JUS SKE, the official MCHG tour dj.
Exhibit (shot by Nikolai Kokanovic)
and none other than OMAR EDWARDS who is Jay-Z’s very own music director but also works with The Weeknd, Rihanna, and many more.
Exhibit (shot by Nikolai Kokanovic)
Definitely check out this video if you want to find out more about Omar Edwards.
And that’s it folks. Am I disappointed? Yes and no.
I am so grateful to have lived the experience of being so close to Jay-Z. Ok, it was in party atmosphere, I’d rather have a Zane Lowe type of conversation with him, (lol) but still. Partying with Jay-Z, who is pretty much an icon of this era is not something that happens very often. It’s pretty epic if you are a fan of this man and I’m very grateful for that moment. I think I approached the whole evening in a very respectful and professional matter and I hope that this will translate into another opportunity someday, somewhere. True, I was very close to completion, then again, it usually takes me three stories to capture artists this big.
Jigga said no this time and I don’t really have a million ways to get it, but on to the next one it is.
Special shout out to the following people who all helped me in some way or another with this feature; Julie DR, Bart Roman, John Noseda, Nikolai Kokanovic, Lesley Demunck & Hans Dreesen.