One of the most telling signs of a tourist is that they look up. In the midst of a crowd of NYC professionals pushing to get to their destinations, tourists are the only ones with their necks fixed to the sky. Who else do you know who will leave themselves vunerable on the street staring at a building (of all things)? New Yorkers are known for keeping their heads down and keeping it moving. The Big Apple residents have gone numb to all the attractions that foreigners to the capital of the world marvel at. Every New Yorker’s seen Times Square. Every New Yorker’s seen the city’s loud, busy streets. Every New Yorker’s seen the city’s bright lights in its skyline. Or so they thought…
Detroit transplant Akhil Sesh has been uncovering sights of the city unseen by the glazed eye, one shot at a time. Now living in New York, the photographer is turning the city on its head and giving it his own #Seshedup spin. Known for working with A$AP Mob and, in particular, capturing A$AP Illz‘s unique high-fashion street essence, Sesh fittingly utilizes a style that gives a refreshing subtly dark, but vibrant take on the Rotten Apple. Opening the eyes of the oblivious, Akhil Sesh’s work captures the city in a way that gives New Yorkers a reason to look up again.
Let’s talk a little about your background.
When I was five, I started doing theatre and taking piano lessons. I continued with that all the way up until college. In between, I would dabble in photography with a disposable camera or like a Sony camcorder; whatever my dad had around. I was painting, kind of into the arts, but my main hustle growing up was piano. I even competed in national events, theory and performance. I use to do quite well, but then, I got away from that in college because I was trying to do my own thing. My background is actually Indian so, Indian parents give a lot more importance to education than arts. Even though my parents were very supportive and my mom was actually the one who got me into arts, the primary focus in Indian households is usually education. I went to college pursuing that, but I ended up having some health problems and dropping out of school. That’s when I realized that I’m just going to start pursuing my passions and what I really want to do, which is art. So, I started taking the music, photography, videography, and writing more seriously to the point that it was my solitary focus…Also, I produce and I sing, as well. I put my first project out online. It was getting positive reinforcements from the blogs and my friends. I was even able to open for Bobby V, Ryan Leslie, and even, Cam’ron last year in New York. These days, you can’t just do music. It’s a whole package: the videos and the imagery are extremely important. That was a natural transition for me because I started directing my own music videos and I started doing it for other people. Social media was a big thing too because I use to have my own blog. I was big on Twitter. So, basically, doing art and putting it out there and getting positive reinforcement propelled me to keep on doing it and keep getting better at whatever I was doing.
What made you first pick up a camera?
I think it was just capturing a moment. I always say, it’s like telling a story. For some reason, I’ll see or notice something and inside my head it will be very cinematic. I just want to share that with the rest of the world by capturing that and telling that story so other people can appreciate that moment and maybe seeing my representation of that moment, as well. What you take away from it is up to you, but what I strive for is creating that discussion amongst the people, which is the main thing. I think the worst thing, as an artist, is to create something that no one has an opinion on. For me, it doesn’t matter if you like it or hate it; as long as there’s a discussion about the art, I’m happy.
What kind of aesthetic and emotion are you trying to capture when you shoot?
Just whatever the authentic and raw emotion of that moment is. If you’re shooting a burning house, it’s going to be a different theme than kids on spring break or at a concert. The vibes are going to be completely different. I think it’s the photographer’s job to capture those vibes in that moment, right? Whether it be in the editing process or whatever it is. If it’s a dark scene, you’re capturing the darker vibes and so on and so forth. You’re giving the viewer a sense that they were actually there. It’s not only a visual experience, but an emotional one, as well.
What’s your creative process like?
Photography is a lot of research and people don’t understand that. A great picture sometimes takes a lot of work because you need a great location most of the time, as well. It’s not just taking a picture on a white wall with a mundane background. You have to have a good location, as well. Sometimes researching these locations and figuring out how to get there, it takes some time. Sometimes you just run into certain locations when you’re out, but for a good starting point so you’re not wasting your time, I definitely do research to see, “Ok, what type of shot do I want? Where can I get this kind of shot?” and go from there pretty much.
You work with A$AP Mob’s A$AP Illz a lot. How did you to end up working with each other?
Actually, it was on some chill stuff. Last year he walked for DKNY during the February show. One of my friends shot the behind-the-scenes for him. I had already been friends with A$AP Relli through a mutual friend. Relli happened to also go with him to the show and my buddy who did the behind-the-scenes, he was like, “Oh yeah, my friend’s staying in Midtown. You want to go over to his spot and chill?” So, Illz, Relli, and my friend came over, we kicked it, and we formed a bond, basically. Ever since then, Illz has been hitting me up like, “Oh ok, let’s shoot. Let’s do this and that.” Ever since, we just formed a really good friendship that’s also a good working relationship, as well. It’s pretty organic and I think that’s really important. In this industry, or in anything that you do, the relationships that you build are very important, but making sure that they’re real and organic goes a long way, as well… For us, this is what we love to do. So, regardless of what we’re doing, we’re going to want to shoot anyway. Sometimes we have certain locations that we think are gonna look good, but even if we’re just chilling or whatever, it doesn’t matter where we are, we’re just gonna be like, “Ok, let’s shoot a little bit.” He has his eye, I have my eye and I think we work well as a team. New York is a beautiful place…New York has an endless amount of possibilities for shots. It’s a really photogenic city. So, you could be anywhere. It doesn’t matter. In the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Harlem, there are great shots anywhere.
You capture NYC in a way that could make even native New Yorkers take a second look at their own city. Why is it so important to you to capture shots of the city when so many already exist? Do you consider yourself to be an urban explorer?
I think whatever I do, my main thing is, I don’t want to be lost in the sauce. Whatever I want to do, I want to contribute what I can in a unique way where I’ll stand out. So, the problem occurs when people try to be like others. We’re all unique, we all have a different fingerprint, so to say. It’s putting that mark down. Like I said before, staying genuine and authentic is a huge, huge thing. Even though I might be in the same location that I saw someone else in, I’m trying to bring my flavor, my style to everything that I do and that’s really important for me to really try to stand out from the crowd with anything that I do. It’s not a conscious thing that I think about all the time, it’s just, “What’s something new that I can bring to the table?”
I think explorers, in general, New York happens to be an urban setting. I was just in Japan. Japan has Tokyo, which is a huge city, but then, in Kyoto there’s kind of more temples and more nature. In Niseko, it’s more moutain ranges and stuff. I think it doesn’t matter where you are, I think you’ll find this in a lot of good photographers, also, but it’s just the need to explore. Not just the main streets. That’s how you get a feel for that local culture, by going down the side streets, talking to the locals, getting a real feel for that area and I think that comes out in your work, too. The only reason I’m reluctant to say I’m an urban explorer is because I’m not like a like a daredevil. I’ll climb things here and there, but I’m not like an adrenaline junkie where it’s like when I need to go out, I need to go underground or scale some crazy building. I’ll do it if I have to to get the shot, but I don’t think that’s what defines my style. I definitely do love exploring…I’m 27. I’m kind of older than some of these cats so, I’m not scaling as many buildings.
Your craft has already gotten you a DKNY editorial for Frank 151 and has taken you to Japan. Where do you see yourself going with your work?
This is the beginning for me. To have an actual career in the arts, you need to be consistent with your projects. Anyone can be on one day and then, gone the next. That’s just the problem with music, photography, or anything in the art field. I think it’s just staying consistent with my work and keep getting better, but consistently getting things published. Also, increase the scale in the projects. Like, if I’m working with certain brands now, tomorrow my goal is to work with bigger brands, hopefully. I want to be working for the rest of my life because this is my passion. Basically, just keeping consistent, trying to get better, keep taking on interesting and creative projects. I actually have an aspiration to write, direct, and score films. I had a short film come out last year. It screened at NY International Film Festival. That was just the first film that I ever did so I really want to get better at writing, scoring, and directing. It’s a long, long road ahead and the beautiful thing about art is you can keep exploring, you can keep practicing, but you will never get to the end. No matter how good you get, you can always get better. That’s my thing: just keep going and everyday try to keep getting better at whatever I do.
For more on Akhil Sesh, check him out Twitter and Instagram.
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