He’s a photographer, an author, a publisher, a web designer,…Chris Bell, aka Black Ice is an artistic butterfly who refuses to stay in anyone’s cage.
I’ve known Chris since high school, and am sad to say that I never knew the genius that lived within his minds eye. But just like so many who walked the halls of Chamblee, he has refused to live by anyone’s rules…choosing instead to rewrite them. And boy has he. So without further adieu, here’s The Black Ice.
GOTB: When did you decide that the regular route was not for you?
Black Ice: Whew, I guess High School graduation. Not a lot of people know this but I was living out of a hotel our senior year. I was staying with a couple of guys that we went to school with after leaving my house just a couple of months prior and then I signed up for the Air Force. I had a hectic lifestyle. Anyway I took everything from film to photography; I had like six electives because I only needed one class to graduate. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to do something creative. And of course I was working with Emmanuel, Trevor and Raafiq. But my breaking point was at 17 years of age when I figured out what I wanted to do, and it wasn’t school.
GOTB:So you actually did not go through any formal education?
Black Ice: When I was 21 I did one year at a community college in Mississippi. But I hate telling people that.
Black Ice: Because I hated it!! It was so bad. They had a million dollar studio, in the country, in Mississippi. With Avid systems Macs and a recording studio; they had it all. But they had nobody there to teach us, who knew how to use the equipment. The teacher wanted to give us a bunch of book work. But this is a hands-on, communications program! I’ve been in and out of the military by this point and I am paying out of pocket because I didn’t qualify for aid, and I was mad that I wasn’t learning anything. So I complained to my teachers, no response, the department head, no response; and then I went to the Dean everyday to complain about the fact that I was not learning anything. Not that the teacher was giving me too much work but that I wasn’t learning anything. Nobody wanted to stay in that class and write essays all day. They all wanted to be rappers; they wanted to be in the studio, so they dropped out. Over the course of that semester our class went from 20 people to 5, and I was one of those five. This teacher taught 4 out of the 5 classes I had that semester. And at the end that teacher gave me all D’s. So I went to the Dean again and was like you know that I am not trying to come up in here and tell you that “I didn’t know” or anything, I was like “I’ve been here every day”. So my Dean had all of my grades changed to B’s. Then I had to take the same teacher for the next semester, and this teacher did it again, and I dropped out. I mean I wasn’t learning anything. So I told my parents and family and they wanted me to stay in school. But I was like…
“I’m not Learning anything!”
So I dropped out. Actually I did learn one thing, I learned basic photography. But everything else I needed to learn, I learned by Google-ing it, or finding it on YouTube or in a bookstore or by asking people. I took initiative to accomplish what I wanted to do. Besides I learned that stuff 10X faster by myself than waiting for the class to show me.
GOTB: So your first big creative project was with?
Black Ice: Yeah I did two books with Trevor Terry, Emmanuel Taati, and Jason Phipps. I moved away from Atlanta shortly after high school. And our two books were called “The Queen and I” and “Destiny’s Theory”. We got those books done in three years actually. I managed to get them independently published and both onto Amazon. And I think that that was a great accomplishment seeing as I didn’t know the first thing about publishing. But I’ve just learned over the years that if you want it bad enough you will figure out a way to get it done.
I told them to worry about nothing, but to just get me the stuff that I needed, and that I would figure out a way to get it done. And they trusted me with that. That was all under the Total Experience name. And I came up with that name because I was trying to figure out what to call everything that we did together, creatively. Because we did multimedia, art, poetry, website design; books and everything. So I was watching the 60’s Black-exploitation movie Dolemite2 the Human Tornado and they had this dance studio called the Total Experience , and I was like “That’s IT!!” Yeah.
GOTB: You did all of this while you were in the Military?
Black Ice: Yeah I was doing this when I was in North Carolina. I was 19. Every time I got a page done, I would pin it to the wall, so that I could see it all coming together. Sometimes you can get so down thinking that nothing is coming along, but with it on the wall I could see it moving along that kept me motivated. The original version had art on each page. But Emmanuel couldn’t keep up so I had to strip them out except for the book cover. Also with the publishing I couldn’t afford to do the color pieces on each page. At the time Emmanuel was doing watercolor and they were some really nice pieces.
GOTB: Did you keep the artwork?
Black Ice: Yeah, they’re somewhere.
GOTB: Are you going to try to use those pieces in your magazine now?
Black Ice: No, Emmanuel has improved so much over the past 10 years. But I did want Emmanuel to do the cover for my magazine when I started last summer. But he had other projects on his plate, so he wasn’t able to meet the deadlines for INSPIRE. That’s why I started to shoot my own covers. And that started to push me creatively because it wasn’t like a normal photo shoot or anything. Especially since every cover was so different. But the door is always open for him or for Jason to do art for my magazine, but I have to keep pushing forward.
GOTB: You were in Mississippi when you doing photo shoots right?
Black Ice: Yeah, I moved to Mississippi to do photography and I did so on Greyhound with two boxes and a dream. Mind you I didn’t know what I was doing once again. I quit my jobs here in Atlanta and just up and moved.
GOTB: Why did you move there?
Black Ice: Well I still had a couple of friends from my one year in Community College, and one night they saw a big billboard in Jackson Mississippi with the words “Chris Bell” and they got to wondering where I was and they tracked down my number here in Atlanta gave me a call to see how I was doing. Little did they know that for the three months prior to their call, I had been feeling very uneasy and unsettled here in Atlanta. I knew God was trying to tell me that some change was about to happen. So when they called me up, I had a week of vacation saved up and I used that to go down and check out the scene down there. So when I went down the guys were like all of the rooms are taken but the living room is yours. There was crap and filth everywhere in the living room!!! But when I saw it I saw my studio. So I came back home, and I received confirmation to move and to say the least, it shocked my parents.
The only thing I had was $300 to my name which was a Love Offering from my church. And as soon as I got off the bus I went to WalMart to buy cleaning supplies, paint, and curtains. Within that first week, I had a studio. I painted the walls gold, and put up burgundy curtains. I wasn’t supposed to paint…but I did. I used a separate curtain to cut off the energy from the living room to the studio, and a corner desk for my computer. I mean the only thing I was missing was a camera. And it just so happened that another friend of mine from that college; it’s so funny how God works because I really did not like that college; but he had a camera and equipment that he was not using and he gave that to me. So it was just like, boom-boom-boom. I found further confirmation right there, because it was crazy.
I had very limited training from my mentor in Atlanta prior to me moving, so I had to continue training on my own to learn what I needed to about studio photography. I had to keep going until I got it right. My plan was to NOT get a full-time job because I was trying to run a company and that would be too big of a distraction. So I put my resume in for part-time gigs, but I was overqualified for everything. From my experience in Atlanta, to the way I spoke, everywhere I went they wanted me to be a manager and I was like “NO”. So I took a chance and I turned down all of those job offers, even though I knew that my $300 was running low. I mean I have no idea how I paid for rent those first two months, but money just came. I did a few odd jobs, like shingling a roof and what not. But ever since I quit my job in Atlanta I have never clocked in since then, and that was in November of 2006. I don’t even know what a W-2 looks like anymore.
Then I changed my name to Total Experience Unlimited, because TotalExperience.com was already taken, of course. And Emmanuel, Trevor and Jason were doing their own things. So I started doing things in Mississippi with guys down there. It went from TEU to The Cool and then to INSPIRE, which is where the name is now.
GOTB: So is this going to be the last name change Inspire?
Black Ice: Yeah…I always think that it is. I mean I thought that TEU was the last name change and then The Cool came about. The Cool was a collective of six individuals with our own different companies. I had TEU and another guy had a different company and another guy another company. But whenever a project would come along we would collaborate to get everything done under The Cool brand. We would work with different rappers who had not done their marketing yet, and in one place they could get their album cover, their press kit, fliers, your press release, your photo shoot, your bio, print up your cd’s. The Cool came about one night from listening to The Coolest from the album The Cool, and I stayed up until five in the morning coming up with the logo and everything. It’s gotten so that coming up with a brand is nothing to me. Anyone can come up with a name, but it takes drive and consistency to give it meaning.
Under The COOL brand, we put on one of the largest fashion shows in Jackson that year at the MetroCenter Mall. It’s the largest mall on the South Side of Jackson. Through sponsorship with the mall, we were able to keep it free to the public, we started on time, we had the rehearsals on time; I told the models’ you miss two rehearsals and you’re cut, I don’t care how fine you are. I believe in solid logistics. We ran it so tight; that we got all of the clothes back to the stores within thirty minutes – with perfect inventory and no damage to any of the clothing – of the show ending. We did great planning and logistics. So for me, I know that we don’t need a ton of people, we just need 9 or 10 people to get things done correctly.
After the fashion show, a few of the members went their separate ways. The COOL to this day remains intact. Even with just a couple of members, we have done more than twice the amount of projects since then. The other main head of The COOL is Jeremy Bennett. He’s still based out of Jackson, while I’m here in Atlanta. I consider him more than just a business partner; he’s a brother to me. And despite the distance, the projects still move forward and we still work together often.
GOTB: What advice would you give your 16 year old self?
Black Ice: Ooo. Seek God first. I know it sounds clichéd but you have to do that. I am not going to lie, this is going to be the hardest decision you ever make in your life. I found this wise saying,
“You have to want success more than you want to breath.”
And that is so true. Like people like going to the clubs, you can’t do that. You’ve got to reinvest that money back into your business. You can’t do what everyone else is doing and expect a different result. It doesn’t work that way. Success is a lonely road. Honestly, my team IS my family. They know more about me than my own blood. You can’t have too many negative people around you talking you out of it. I mean most of the time they mean well, but if you know your God given destiny is different from what they’re telling you then you have to eliminate those voices from influencing you. A perfect example is Jesus, He had to dust off His sandals even from His own hometown. His hometown did not want to accept Him. And I had to do the same; I would go for months without talking to people because I was too afraid they would talk me out of it.
GOTB: What does success mean to you?
Black Ice: Success means sticking to Plan A. Sticking to it, sticking to it, it’s not giving up. If you stick to it long enough you will eventually see results. Even if it’s a slow progress and you’re only making baby-steps, it’s still a step and you’re making progress. Success is not being scared to get out there. I mean, you can’t expect to gain anything great without taking a risk. You cannot make play it safe and expect to make it big. So for the fact that you’re not playing it safe is success to me. You’re gonna be vulnerable if you put yourself out there. But to me that drive that’s within you that’s so strong that you can’t sleep at night; and knowing that you’re on your last fifty but want to keep doing it; I think THAT IS success.
GOTB: What are your goals for what you’re doing right now?
Black Ice: INSPIRE Magazine all day. Just a few months ago I was telling my friends, “Nothing is making sense right now”. I was frustrated by everything, and I couldn’t understand what it all meant. I had people telling me that “I was so talented”, and I kept getting pissed by that, because I felt like I should be so much further than where I was, but I wasn’t and that pissed me off. So I kept looking to God, and asking Him what this was all for? You taught me to build my own website, how to make my own layouts, how to publish my own writings, how to make my own fliers and do my own pictures; what was the point of all of that? I started shooting celebrities and I wasn’t aiming for that, I’ve shot Russell Simmons, Janelle Monaé, Lloyd Banks, Arrested Development, Fefe Dobson, and a couple others. But I knew I wasn’t going to stay in that too long. Everything that was happening was leading to INSPIRE Magazine. With INSPIRE, everything made and makes sense and I have full control over my product.
GOTB: So what is the rest of today looking like?
Black Ice: I have to do a shoot of Tonya Carter. And then I am trying to do an interview with Aleon Craft. He’s a very talented performer affiliated with the Dungeon Family. Then I’m going to their concert tonight at the Masquerade, where he’s opening for Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick is from Compton, and I don’t even listen to West Coast music but this cat is very talented! He’s from the mix-tape scene and has blown up this year. By the end of all of that, I won’t get done until like 12 or 1 in the morning.
GOTB:Any final thoughts?
Black Ice: Yeah, you know there’s something to be said for that Military saying, “Hurry up and Wait.” You have to always be prepared for opportunities that may come your way. Last week when I set up this interview I had nothing doing on today, but between then and now I’ve now got a full day that would not have been possible if I had a 9-5, nor if I had not trusted God and walked this irregular path.
So there you have it, a dreamer who has refused to settle for the mundane…I get inspired every time I read over this, and me thinks that, that is the point 🙂