It’s hard to know for sure why adult coloring books have recently enjoyed such success. One possibility is that a coloring book stirs nostalgic emotions, reminiscent of a simpler life of coloring inside the lines, juice boxes and nap time. “Back in the Days,” a 2001 photography book by Jamel Shabazz of early hip hop culture, also transports viewers to the streets of 1980s New York. So it’s no surprise then that Powerhouse Books paired this concept with Shabazz’s body of work to release the Back in the Days Coloring Book, a 32-page black-and-white illustrated book using the photographer’s pictures, illustrated by Chuck Gonzales.
“In essence, all of my work is nostalgic, so almost every photograph I took during that time period, could have had a place in the book,” Shabazz tells TIME. “For me personally, I knew that images reflecting the old subway trains and classic fashion were important ingredients.”
The idea of a coloring book came to Shabazz from Powerhouse Books publisher, Craig Cohen. The two first met in 2000 when Shabazz showed Cohen his photographs. Cohen immediately connected with the work because of his own upbringing in Brooklyn. Together, they published Back in the Days. “It seemed like a natural project to convert to a coloring book with dramatic poses, bold throwback styles and interesting details and backgrounds,” explains Cohen.
In 2015, Nielsen estimated that sales of adult coloring books reached 12 million, up from 1 million the previous year. A closer examination of the niche genre showed that millennials are 29% more likely to buy an adult coloring book than anyone else.
After first posting news of the coloring book on social media, Shabazz heard interest from people across the world, not just graffiti writers and fashion aficionados. Because of his roots in the neighborhood, the young photographer was able to record an intimate, unguarded side of New York City life that gained critical recognition in the art world. The coloring book, he hopes, can introduce his community’s story to a new audience. “It would please me to know they can use it to learn more about the history and culture of the people represented in it,” says Shabazz. “The subjects are more than people just posing. They are representatives of my community that were often deemed invisible and irrelevant.”
Back in the Days Coloring Book by Jamel Shabazz, published by powerHouse Books is available on Amazon. August 2, 2016.
Tara Johnson, who edited this photo essay, is an associate photo editor at TIME.
Michael Bucher is a contributor to TIME LightBox.
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