Barron Claiborne has photographed such cultural luminaries as the Notorious B.I.G., Eryka Badu and Aaliyah. But on Saturday, he’ll be setting up shop outside Crown Heights’ Kingsborough Houses, offering to take free portraits of residents and passersby.
“I’ll photograph anyone,” the 49-year-old Clinton Hill resident tells The Post. “I think I like taking photos of people because I like people.”
The event is part of “Africans in Brooklyn,” an interactive art installation curated by actor Gbenga Akinnagbe of “The Wire” and “The Deuce,” for the Weeksville Heritage Center, site of one of the first free black communities in the country.
Akinnagbe tells The Post he came up with the idea for the project while riding his bike around Brooklyn.
“I was struck by the beauty of these Africans walking around in Brooklyn, and I wanted to show that beauty,” he says. “I wanted the people, particularly at the Kingsborough Houses, to be shown their beauty, and I knew Barron could carry out that vision.”
Claiborne was born in Boston and got his first camera — a large-format 4×5 — at the age of 10, from his mom.
“The first thing I took a photo of was me and my friend on a trampoline,” says Claiborne. “We would jump over the camera and I would snap a picture. It was hilarious.”
He came to New York in the late ’80s, teaching kids photography while knocking on the doors of magazines with his portfolio. Soon he was shooting for glossies such as Rolling Stone, where his portraits had both a grandeur and an offhand familiarity.
Claiborne photographed Notorious B.I.G. twice — once in a dapper white suit in space — but his second picture, which ended up being the last portrait taken of the rapper, has become iconic: a close-up of Biggie wearing a crown.
“I used to tell him he looked like a king, a fat king,” Claiborne says, adding that many in Biggie’s entourage said the prop wouldn’t fly. “When I originally put the crown on his head, Puffy [Sean Combs] got mad because he said [Biggie] looked like the Burger King.”
But Biggie was game. “Biggie was supernice — he wasn’t the way people think. He was just a big nice dude. Pretty quiet — he didn’t talk a lot. He was always open to my ideas.”
Three days after the session, the superstar was killed in Los Angeles.
“I still have the crown,” says Claiborne. “People ask me all the time [if I will photograph them in it], but I never will.”
For Saturday’s photo session, Akinnagbe, who also makes furniture, has designed a set using his own African textiles and upholstered chairs, where subjects can pose alone or with family members and friends.
“I always try to make people look dignified,” says Claiborne. “I always loved those photos from the 1800s where it was more of a process; people were dressed; photography was more rare.
“I want people to look their best,” he adds. “I don’t want to add to the ugliness in the world.”
Free. Saturday, 1 to 6 p.m. Portraits will be framed and available for pickup at Weeksville Weekend on Oct. 14. Kingsborough Houses, Bergen Street and Buffalo Avenue, Brooklyn.
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