Los Angeles, California
How did you get your start in photography?
In 2008, I was working in corporate sales and won a camera through a perks program at my company. I had never picked up a camera prior or taken a class, but it began to become a passion almost immediately. I began to study about photography on my lunch breaks, read photography blogs after work and shoot on the weekends. After a while, people started paying me to shoot them. Although I didn’t need the money initially, I soon realized I could make a living off taking photos. Someone suggested I start shooting weddings and it took off from there. Within a year I quit my job and photography has been my life ever since.
How would you describe your photography style?
I do a lot of commercial and celebrity work. I think my photography style is fun and real. I try to uncover a different side of every person I shoot. I believe that is one of my gifts, not just photography but being a "people person."
What has been your most memorable project?
I got to shoot Sean “Puffy” Combs aka Diddy for his cologne campaign. As we know, Diddy is a very intense person. I had to meet with him five separate times before shooting with him. I never had the opportunity to meet with a client that many times before shooting. We were able to build a rapport through the many meetings allowed him to let me be really creative on set. I hired an amazing team; close to 80 - 90 people, and we created a dark urban play on Alice in Wonderland. We got to paint everything black and play with perspective. It was one of the highlights of my career.
You founded the platform, Creators of Color. What was the inspiration behind for this project?
I started Creators of Color two years ago during Sundance Film Festival. Every year I work with a really cool organization that is geared to promoting diversity in film called Black House. That particular year I wanted to give a gift to the organization, so I came up with the idea to set up a small portrait studio in the back of the Black House lodge during the festival. I made it super interactive, and it attracted a ton of celebrities from Journee & Jussie Smollett to Erykah Badu to Spike Lee. That became the catalyst for Creators of Color.
The lack of visibility of people of color behind the scenes also served as an inspiration for the platform. We usually see the actors, the singers and sometimes the directors, but we rarely know the casting directors, hair & makeup, or the audio engineers. Creators of Color is an opportunity to use the platform of the larger celebs to highlight the efforts and the expertise of the people behind the scenes.
What’s next for Creators of Colors?
We are currently working on a book that is set to come out very soon. We are still shooting a lot of celebrities. We are developing a “behind the scenes” series to feature a lot of dope television shows that are currently filming. The series will highlight three stars of the series and three people who work behind the scenes. We have a few shows confirmed already, and I’m really excited about it.
What challenges have you faced in pursuit of your career?
The biggest hardship I faced was before I move to LA. Being successful in wedding photography doesn’t mean you will be successful in commercial photography. The transition was really hard, mainly due to the fact I focused on what I didn’t want instead of focusing on what I did want. Most of 2011/2012 I refused to shoot weddings, but I didn’t shoot much else. I was super broke, super depressed and trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
A good friend of mine, James Bland, told me to come out to LA and sleep on his couch. The moment I moved to LA I began to focus on what I did want. One of the first things I did was reach out to Issa Rae (Awkward Black Girl/Insecure) and ask to shoot her for free.
The transition became easier when I focused on what I wanted. I came to LA doing free shoots, and then the money began to come. It all started with a change of mindset.
What photographers have influenced you the most and how has their influence shaped your craft?
Mario Testino, he is the master, in my opinion. He can do fashion, commercial, shoot the Queen of England, and ASAP Rocky just the same. That breadth of talent and career span is something I really admire.
Peggy Sirota, she frequently shoots for GQ Magazine. She captures an energy and fun that oozes from her imagery. You can tell from her photos that her sets are fun. That’s the type of energy I try to give to my shoots. She also works with a lot of a natural light as well, so to see this big productions set in the elements is truly inspiring.