Late last year, Chronicle Books released the first-ever career-spanning book of photography celebrating the work of iconic auteur Spike Lee. Titled SPIKE, it features hundreds of never-before-seen photographs by David Lee, Spike’s brother and longtime still photographer.
With its colorful purple cover emblazoned in giant gold letters, this bold and beautiful 360-page book is comprised of a striking collection of both personal and professional photos that paint a portrait of Lee as a young artist coming into his own. Featuring the kind of striking photography strewn about this article, each page of SPIKE offers vivid insight into what made Lee one of America’s finest modern directors.
The book documents Lee’s early years at NYU, where he found his main collaborator, Ernest R. Dickerson, who would go on to become a famed cinematographer and director himself. But back then, he shot Lee’s breakout student film Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, which went on to win a Student Academy Award.
The book takes us on a journey from this breakthrough moment to Lee’s 1986 feature debut She’s Gotta Have It, which was released amid the fertile ground of low-budget indie cinema in the ’80s, and ultimately helped usher in the American Independent movement. The film, and the hustle that Lee showed in getting it made, no doubt inspired countless filmmakers over the years.
There are stills from the making of Lee’s catchy Nike ads with Michael Jordan and his second feature School Daze, both of which are wonderful precursors to his 1989 classic Do the Right Thing, a one-of-a-kind, kaleidoscopic portrait of race relations in New York City that sadly remains just as relevant today as it was back then. Not only is SPIKE’s gold foil cover inspired by the Love/Hate brass rings that Radio Raheem wears in the movie — and which Lee wore at the 2019 Academy Awards — but the book features handwritten pages from Lee’s Do the Right Thing script as well as an introduction from President Barack Obama that addresses the film’s importance within Lee’s career, so it really does offer something to savor if you’re a fan of the director.
Of course, Lee continued to make provocative films that pushed the envelope, all of which are represented here, including Mo’ Better Blues with Denzel Washington; Jungle Fever starring Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra, and Samuel L. Jackson in an electrifying early performance; and 1992’s Malcolm X, which boasts one of Washington’s most powerful performances.
SPIKE explores the entirety of Lee’s filmography, including ’90s titles such as Crooklyn, Clockers, Girl 6, Get on the Bus, 4 Little Girls, He Got Game, and Summer of Sam, plus the misunderstood Bamboozled; the post-9/11 classic 25th Hour with Edward Norton; She Hate Me; the box office hit Inside Man; When the Levees Broke; Miracle at St. Anna; Red Hook Summer; and Oldboy.
From there, it shifts into the modern era with the kickstarted Da Sweet Blood of Jesus; Amazon Studios’ first original film Chi-Raq; his Netflix series adaptation of She’s Gotta Have It; his career-capping Oscar win for BlackKklansman; and his acclaimed drama Da 5 Bloods featuring the late Chadwick Boseman; plus his most recent feature, the documentary David Byrne’s American Utopia.
SPIKE collects images of timeless artists whom Lee has collaborated with over the course of his career, and not just the Hollywood stars who acted in his movies. There are images of Terence Blanchard, Prince, and even Nelson Mandela, who had a cameo Malcolm X, plus behind-the-scenes images from the powerful Public Enemy video, “Fight the Power.” Lee’s works are always forward-thinking, thought-provoking, and most importantly, at least in relation to this book, visually stunning.
Overall, SPIKE is a phenomenal and insightful portrait of a living legend, and a worthy addition to any serious art/film book collection. There is currently an exhibit at the brand new Academy Museum that features some of the same imagery contained in its pages, and it’s definitely worth checking out in person.
To purchase a copy of SPIKE, click here. It’s a link to MahoganyBooks, a Black-owned independent bookstore that believes in social entrepreneurship and takes a leadership role in the African American community by promoting reading, writing, and cultural awareness as tools to improve self-esteem and self-love. The company was founded in 2007 to meet the literary needs of readers nationwide in search of books written for, by, or about people of the African Diaspora, and in 2017, it opened its doors to its very first physical location in Washington, DC.