Photographer Michael Schmelling: Living & Breathing ATLANTA

Tuesday, 04 January 2011 14:20 Written by  Ebony L. Morman

Like most people, photographer Michael Schmelling set out with a plan, an idea for a book that he wanted to publish. Using Outkast’s record, “Aquemini” as inspiration, Schmelling’s initial intent was to publish a photo book that would somehow mirror or pay homage to Big Boi and Andre 3000’s hard work that came in the form of their 1998 hit.


While Schmelling’s approach to his initial idea would’ve presented Outkast’s work through a different artistic outlet—that is through images—his purpose changed. What would’ve been just a photo book evolved into something bigger with photos, written text by the New Yorker’s Kelefa Sanneh, elaborate essays and interviews with some of the most influential people in Atlanta’s hip hop culture.

With the help of GQ Associate Editor Will Welch and Sanneh, Atlanta easily became a portrayal of the city’s hip hop culture: past, present and future. Schmelling and his colleagues landed interviews with Ludacris, The Dream, Gucci Mane and of course, Andre 3000 and Big Boi. While interviewing the city’s well-known rappers may have been fulfilling, Schmelling broadened the caliber of his interviewees by including the city’s underground talent who are making a name for themselves on a local level.

Even though Schmelling’s focus changed slightly as the project progressed, he was still able to capture exactly what he sought out to find, especially with the underground artists.

“It was interesting learning the city and finding the little pockets where people were making music,” Schmelling recalled. “I went into people’s homes where they had studios in their bedrooms; some people had mics in their closets.”

During two years, Schmelling submerged himself into the city’s hip hop culture, taking multiple trips so that he could get an accurate feeling of what it’s like to live in the center of such an amazing hip hop way of life. He admits that there may have been a few bumps in the road, but the key was being persistent within the various aspects.

“It wasn’t easy, but we got it done,” he said.

Schmelling’s persistence proved to be beneficial and his curiosity about the city seemed to be the force behind the progression of it all. Before starting this project, he’d never been to Atlanta, but he heard so much about it. Fast forward more than three years later and the final product is not only done, but has left Schmelling with nothing but good reflections about the city.

“Atlanta’s very interesting,” he said. “It’s a city that‘s very fluid in a way. It’s not uncommon to see people like Luda or T.I. walking down the street or in a club.”

The fact that Atlanta is a place where hip hop artists are little more accessible made things slightly easier for Schmelling when it came to examining the city’s hip hop music scene. The music that comes from Atlanta is so different, he explained. While a place like New York is a bit traditional with one type of music and a general sound, Atlanta offers something different.

“The best part about it is that there are a lot of different styles in one city,” he said. “Crunk music, swag music and pop music can all co-exist.”

This unorthodox way of integrating different forms of music is undoubtedly what makes the city unique.

“Atlanta is amazing,” said Schmelling. “The hip hop culture is so rich. If you’re interested in hip hop at all, then it’s an important place to go.”

Ebony L. Morman

Ebony L. Morman

GMO's Senior Editor Ebony L. Morman received her B.A. in journalism from Northern Illinois University and her master’s in journalism from Columbia College Chicago. The Chicago-native enjoys writing about almost anything, but since she also has a passion for music, writing reviews of albums has become one of her favorite past times. Aside from GMO, Ebony freelances for a variety of publications and volunteers in her community.

Ebony can be contacted at
Follow her on Twitter at @EbonyEyes_GMO


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