At Big Rock Photographer Party, Tom Wolfe Channels Thorstein Veblen in Discourse on Hip-Hop

"Hey! There’s Tom Wolfe," said the photographer Mark Seliger at the Ralph Lauren store in Soho last night where he was celebrating his latest book of photographs, The Music Book.(Mr. Seliger’s built a noteworthy career as the staff photographer for Rolling Stone from 1992 to 2002, a tenure during which most of the photographs in the book were taken.)

Mr. Seliger, looking like a rock celebrity himself in dark jeans, motorcycle boots, and a leather jacket, was excited to spot Mr. Wolfe and his tidy white suit. Not only has he shot the author on numerous occasions in the past, but Mr. Wolfe was also kind enough to write the foreword for the book.

"Tom and I are friends. He is a lovely guy-a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant man," said Mr. Seliger. "You know he’s a journalist? So he’s got that very nurturing, inviting personality. He was super comfortable when I shot him."

During his career shooting Rolling Stone covers, Mr. Seliger has worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Nirvana, The White Stripes, John Mayer, and Willie Nelson. And while he now has an exclusive contract with GQ and Vanity Fair, the Daily Transom wondered if he would be comfortable ever again shooting for the new, downsized Rolling Stone or even having his photographs published online since that is the general direction of music magazines these days.

"Photography can absolutely work online," said Mr. Seliger. "That said, the real idea of a photograph has to do with printing, and that’s the way I studied, so for me it really has to do with looking at a real tangible thing. However, we receive information in a very different way now, so I think you have to find ways to adapt. It’s not my favorite way to show photographs, but it’s bound to evolve. I unfortunately cannot do work for Rolling Stone right now, but who knows. There could be a return and my pictures could get smaller."

Mr. Seliger recalled one of his most memorable experiences shooting for the magazine. He was scheduled to photograph Nirvana and had asked that they show up wearing t-shirts with no writing on them.

"I was really worried how this cover would come out and I had heard that Kurt was very difficult. So he showed up with a T-shirt that said Corporate Magazines Still Suck," said Mr. Seliger. "I thought I had screwed up the whole thing, but I came back and they loved it."

Nearby Mr. Wolfe was surrounded by fans wishing to shake his hand. (One giddy Ph.D. student approached him, swore she had quoted his writing in her thesis recently and pulled out a copy of The Bonfire of the Vanities for him to autograph.)

"Mark is very bright. He once worked all day long for a photograph–the one of Sean Combs–reading up on Thorstein Veblen. In the world of photography, that makes you a Ph.D. and I just think that’s the greatest comment on the world of Hip Hop," Mr. Wolfe told Daily Transom. Entertained by Mr. Wolfe’s musings on Hip Hop, we begged him to elaborate.

"In Hip Hop, no matter how much money you make–and Combs has probably made a lot–you have to act angry, you gotta scowl, you gotta still be a street guy," explained Mr. Wolfe. "Mark knew that Thorstein Veblen said that there are two leisure classes–one is at the top with people having enough money to buy leisure and one is at the bottom and they don’t want to work anymore than the people at the top, but they don’t have money. So they have street hustling instead. I just thought that there are many brilliant photographers who kind of assess the situation, but I don’t think they run it through the left hemisphere of the brain like Mark."

Mr. Wolfe admitted that he’s not truly a fan of Hip Hop, but he finds its universe fascinating.

"I know that it celebrates that same leisure class at the bottom, that’s what the whole thing is about. You know like, ‘Kill cops!’ and ‘What are women good for?’ One thing! It’s all part of the pose," said Mr. Wolfe. "But I’ve noticed we’ve backed away a little bit in the last several years from killing cops and making girls lean over and all that." At Big Rock Photographer Party, Tom Wolfe Channels Thorstein Veblen in Discourse on Hip-Hop