RESPECT Mag caught up with the man behind some of the dopest images of your favorite artist, Kalele Thumbutu. He gave us some insight on his art, the industry and where he finds inspiration.
When did you first pick up a camera and decide to pursue a career in photography?
My father has always had a strong interest in Photography so I have been around cameras all of my life, but it was right around 2006 when I decided to start shooting seriously and pursuing a career in photography.
I don’t think people really understand how much skill is required in professional photography; I know that you are self taught, Can you explain how pros and cons of the self taught photographer?
My parents exposed me to the visual arts at an early age by taking me to museums and art exhibits so I would have to thank them for training my eye and giving me the vision. As far as teaching myself shooting I just dove into photography and took to it like a fish to water. There is this wonderful thing called the internet and luckily it was around when I started because it answers most of questions that I have. I also utilize other photographers as a resource. I really don’t know the pros and cons of being self-taught especially since most photographers I know are self-taught. When speaking to individuals who have degrees in visual arts or photography I do find that in general they have more structure to their approach. But as long as self-taught and formally taught individuals are creating quality images there is no difference.
In the infancy of your career what did you begin shooting?
When I first started, I paid my dues doing a lot of photojournalism, documentary photography and event photography assignments. However, I have always consistently shot the same subject: NOUNS ( which of course are people, places, and things ) !
How did you gravitate towards live performances and hip-hop?
I was shooting documenting events. The events I kept getting sent to were the concerts, not just to capture the live performances but to also to capture the faces in crowd and backstage images. It was really a natural progression and paired with my love for music it was a perfect fit.
How did you turn your talent into a business? What advice do you give aspiring photographers on the business of photography?
It kind of just fell in my lap really, people started putting money in my hand saying send me that picture. I would advise aspiring photographers to study your craft and push a hard line.
What is your favorite shot thus far?
Hmm, that is a tough one… I will narrow it down to two:
I recreated the iconic image of Malcolm X standing by the window looking out the blinds with an M1 carbine using my son (who was around seven years old at the time) as the model. To me that image is just powerful, no words needed… By Any Means Necessary!
The image I shot of Bun B in the studio blowing smoke while holding a red Houston lighter. To me that is an Iconic image. That image was actually used for the “KEEP IT TRILL “ tee shirt collaboration with Stussy, UNDFTD, Ransom and Bun B that was exclusively released at the Stussy Toronto location and sold out almost instantly.
The shot with Nas in the studio. Can you give us the story on that one?
That night was a real adventure!! There was so much going on. It was June 2010 , Nas and Damian Marley were on their Distant Relatives Tour I shot the concert and got some awesome images of the live performance. That night also happened to be my Cousin Big E aka “It’s A Big E Beat”( who has produced songs for Bun B, Pimp C ,Waka Flocka, Kirko Bangz , Z-RO etc) birthday. After the concert I went to the club to turn up with my cousin and I got the call from Bun B saying come to the studio. I didn’t know why at the time but when we go to the studio and walked into the room Nas and Bun were hanging out, going through beats, writing lyrics and recording. I pulled the camera out and just started documenting history! It is like how often do you get a chance to watch two of the greatest to have ever done it in that stage of the creative process ! EPIC NIGHT for sure!
When you began shooting an artist what exactly are you looking for? Or is this an organic process?
There is not one particular thing that I look for when shooting artists, but I do always try to get a copy of their music before a shoot. I do this for a few reasons: So that I can play their music during the shoot which usually makes the artist more comfortable ;and to get my creative juices flowing and to make sure the visuals that we imagined are a good match for the image the artist is trying to push
What is the vast difference between candid shots and photo shoots? Do you prefer either or ?
Photography is not just a paycheck; it is my love and my passion. I am continuously improving my skills and trying new ideas as I master my craft. A photo shoot is usually pre-planned where I am creating images for a client. I keep my camera on me like a preacher does a bible so candid shots can happen any place at any time. Beautiful images are created in both scenarios. I do not particularly prefer one over the other however individuals are much more relaxed and natural when the “photo shoot’ title is removed and
Assuming you are a Hip-hop fan, what has your soundtrack been for lately?
I am definitely a fan of Hip Hop and in 2014 my soundtrack has included a plethora of artists such as UGK, Nipsey Hussle, School Boy Q , Kendrick Lamar , Jay Rock , YG , E 40 , tech n9ne , die antwoord , Vince Staples, Run the Jewels, BIG KRIT , Royce da 59, Slaughterhouse, Gunplay, Drake, Action Bronson, Fat tony and Doughbeezy
Who are some of the photographers that have inspired you?
I draw inspiration from a wide variety of photographers. The first being my father, who has been an avid photographer since before I was born. My OG, mentor, and friend the living legend Estevan Oriol inspires me in so many ways not just with creating awesome images, but by being a stand up individual who is built solid like concrete. I am also inspired by the images created by Gordon Parks, Jonathan Manion, D Nice, Van Styles, Mel D Cole, Jason Goldwatch , and 13th witness. D Ray (Who is best known for the images that she produced for Ozone magazine) inspires me because of the images she creates along with the relationships she builds with artists. There are also several awesome Houston based photographers that inspire me as well. They include but are not limited to Marco Torres, Quest, Fred Agho, Greg Noire, and Todd Spoth. These are the individuals that I see in the photo pits at concerts and around town and they are all creating some really amazing images right now.
I want to thank all those who have helped me along the way including my family (especially my parents), Bun B, Isiah Carey, Anzel Jennings of Double Dose Ent., Trill Gladiators, Rap A Lot, Morrow Potts, Helen Ashegbeyeri and the entire staff of Warehouse Live.
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