A long-time friendship between local photographer Ron Rocz and hip-hop dancer Lamar Hunter was the impetus for the Main Library's current photography exhibition, Moving Star, on display for the entire month of October. It's a series that started production only a year ago, but the relationship between Rocz and Hunter bloomed long before that.
The two met about 10 years ago when Hunter was nine. "We had a program here in Charleston called Kids With Cameras," says Rocz. "There were a bunch of us photographers who went out with the young kids from two different housing projects." It was here that Rocz met Hunter.
"He showed lots of enthusiasm about learning to use the camera and it turned out he had a damn good eye," says Rocz. "He had a good disposition and he was from a low-income family on Johns Island so I became his mentor for a few years."
As can be expected from most kids, Hunter's passions went through a series of changes. From photography he turned his attentions to animation then to video, and eventually to dance. But even with his change of focus, Rocz continued to mentor Hunter. "I just said to myself, 'Well there's no reason to stop,'" Rocz says.
Citing a quote from Colin Powell that was always echoing in the back of his mind, Rocz says, "If all people who were suited could just mentor one child, it would make a difference."
Hunter didn't have a lot of consistency growing up. His father was out of the picture, his mother was handicapped, and he moved around a lot, sometimes living with his grandmother, other times with different friends from school. "So I became kind of like a mainstay," says Rocz. And over time, hip-hop became another stalwart in Hunter's life.
"I was 11 or 12," says Hunter. "Me and my friends made a dance crew, but dancing was just a trend for me at first."
As Hunter grew older, he became more and more devoted to the craft. "I would practice about every day," he says. "I would record myself on an old Canon camera, and just watched and corrected myself on the movement I was doing."
Hunter would go on to study with a local dance instructor, even learning some ballet, which eventually led to his acceptance into The School of the Arts. But it was his experience at a dance academy in Miami that may have had the most profound impact.
In the summer of 2014, Rennie Harris, a choreographer, artistic director, and professor of hip-hop dance, was conducting a workshop at the College of Charleston. There, he met Hunter and personally invited him to his Florida dance academy.
At this intensive one-week program, Harris's words moved Hunter just as much as his dance tutelage. "He showed me the big picture of hip-hop culture and how it became what it is today," he says. But the dancing instruction proved invaluable as well. Says Hunter about Harris and the other instructors, "[They] remodeled the way I see, portray, and perform my movement." It's a well-honed style he's developed, as evident in the Moving Star exhibition.
A collection of about 25 photographs taken within the past year, "It was sort of like a creative collaboration," says Rocz of Moving Star. "Like, 'hey, let's just start going around to all the old murals in town, or the new ones, and you dance, you interpret what you see, and I'll photograph it."
Originally, the photo series was an excuse for long-time friends to get together. "First of all, it was just something that was going to be fun for us to do," says Rocz. "Then secondarily and maybe more importantly, hip-hop dancing really helped save his life. Just like blues players would sing the blues in order to get over the blues, the music and the movement became his vehicle for dealing."
Hunter confirms that sentiment. "[Dancing] was just there for me," he says. "When I knew I could run to it, it would just set off and open this whole world most people will never understand. So it's something I take seriously."
In addition to the month-long exhibition, the Main Library also hosts "MOJA: Aero-Vision with Roots" on Thurs. Oct. 6 at 9:15 a.m. inside the library auditorium. It will feature a performance by Hunter, showcasing his adept freestyle, hip-hop moves. And on Wed. Oct. 19 at 6 p.m. in the same auditorium, Rocz and Hunter will host "A Conversation on Hip-Hop Dance, Race Relations, and Creativity." Aside from a Q&A session and a discussion about the roots of hip-hop and its societal importance, there will also be a short video featuring Hunter doing a hip-hop interpretation of old spiritual music recorded by his distant relatives who were members of the Moving Star Hall — a historic African-American praise house on John's Island.
For all of its implications and social relevance, Rocz considers Moving Star to be mostly about Hunter. "It's sort of a commemoration of how far he's come and what he's doing now," says Rocz. "He's on his way to, I think, a good career out of all this. I think he is just an example of one black youth who found something he really believed in, through which he could express himself."