Interview: Cognito, Mos Def’s Documentiarian and curator of Ecstatic Moments

Photo provided by FroLab

If you’re in Los Angeles this weekend, do yourself a favor and head over to the HVW8 Art & Design Galley, right off of Melrose Avenue. Enter the small, square shaped gallery and you will find Mos Def: Ecstatic Moments, a collection of photographs from the past two years of Mos’ travels as he promoted his Grammy nominated album, The Ecstatic. And it was during Grammy weekend that the exhibit opened, to pay tribute to the man behind over a decade of hip-hop hierarchy.

We caught up with Cognito, the man behind the lens and the curator of the event, during a sunny day in Los Angeles earlier this week.

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You’ve been working with Mos Def for 12 Years now. How did you get to become his personal documentarian?

I was doing college and record promotion for Rawkus [Records}, and I was doing event promotion down in Atlanta. In fact, I was the first person to bring the Lyricist Lounge to Atlanta. Mos was supposed to host it, but he missed his flight or some shit so Talib and Hi-Tek ended up hosting it. For the next one we did the next month, that’s when Black Star came out and he came down. And I pretty much started documenting him from that point on. When Black on Both Sides came out, I toured with him.

Describe for me your photography style.

I’m not really a pose photographer. I like to capture the moment how it is. I like to be that fly on the wall, to capture the real essence of what’s going on. [The photos in the gallery] are only two years worth of work, starting from the recording process, to the trip that we went to in South Africa in April, culminating to the shots we did at Jimmy Fallon and Dave Letterman over here. And he’s not really the type of person that would really allow people to photograph him. When fans would take photos he would be like “Nah, chill.” He likes to keep his private space. But we’ve just grown a rapport and every time I was around I would just always take shots.

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Do you shoot film, digital or both?

I shoot both. Film and digital. I’ve been documenting him from a video standpoint as well too. I’m an industrialist. I might have a video camera in one hand while taking pictures in the other.

So will this documentary be released any time soon?

Quite possibly.

We talked earlier about how you put this exhibition together in under a week. What was your inspiration for putting this together?

With him getting two Grammy nominations I thought it was a perfect time to honor his presence while he’s here. We’ve had a lot of our greats pass away in the past couple of years, be it Dilla or Bataan, or whoever, and now everybody wants to talk ‘Dilla Dilla Dilla’ or whatever, but you weren’t saying that while he was alive. Let’s praise our heroes while they’re alive. Let’s stop waiting until they die. It’s not about immortalizing him, but fuck, it’s Mos Def. What’s he’s saying, people want to see.

Mos Def/Frolab

Did Mos come through yet?

Yeah, he was actually here the first day. The crazy thing about this wall is that  these were the lyrics for Casa Bey. He came in and was like “wait a minute, that’s not right. You got a sharpie?” And next thing you know he was going through scratching out and editing his stuff [on the wall]. I could’ve scripted that. I could’ve never messed the words up on here and have him come in and do that. It was meant to happen. And it coincides with this photo here. This is the verse he was writing for the new Madvillan album. When I took this flick I was watching him do it and I was like damn, that’s a page out of his rhyme book right there.

Mos Def/Frolab

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Mos Def: Ecstatic Moments runs through February 6th at the HVW8 Art + Design Gallery in Los Angeles. More information can be found at Frolab. Also, follow Frolab on Twitter.