WORDS BY REDONAH ANDERSON
Kareem Black can never predict the outcome of his day. On his desk is a list of clients who want him to shoot photos for their upcoming albums. The phone rings and on the other line is Verizon’s advertising staff asking him to shoot their Super Bowl advertisements. He does this every year. After accepting, the celebrity photographer continues to spend the day booking more shoots in his New York City office. He caps his night off with some bar hopping in Manhattan.
Black is living the life, but his success did not come easy. After receiving a scholarship to the School of Visual Arts in New York City, Black began shooting images of people in the local community, which led to his big break working for popular Japanese publication Warp Japan magazine. Black’s go-get-em attitude has rewarded him a widespread résumé featuring notable clients including Sports Illustrated, MTV, Spike Lee, Clinton Portis and Venus Williams.
Now as a successful photographer, Black loves the business and competition of the industry. By engaging in personal pow-wows and bonding before a shoot, Black is able to produce images that better cater to his client’s desires and keeps Black in their pool of personal contacts. A good sport on and off the scene, Black continues to be the shinning gem that will light up the photography industry.
Kareem Black: Life was good. I was born in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I had great parents. My mother is a doctor and my dad is a professor teaching political science. One of the things I liked was that I never felt constrained or restricted because we were not always financially stable. I never felt like we were struggling.
Before my mom was a doctor, she was a secretary who worked to put herself through medical school when I was in middle and high school. I get most of my motivation and inspiration from my parents. It’s very amazing that they instilled that “anything is possible” mindset.
Black: I’ve always been an artist. I started out drawing comics and elevated to paintings, particularly oil paintings. I would have models come and pose in front of me while I paint them. But, because of the conflicting schedules and my lack of patience, I then moved on to taking pictures of the models and creating a painting from the picture. This is how I got into the desire of taking photos. I began to like the interactions that I shared with the models. From there I went to SVA [School of Visual Arts] in 1996 on scholarship and wanted to become a photographer, particularly for music and entertainment.
Black: Each shoot has different aspects and goals. My vision comes from the connections that me and the subject have. It is based on the level of trust that the subject has in my work and to know that I will make them look like royalty. Also, it depends on the theme of the shoot. For example, for the “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” photo shoot, there was a 1950’s theme, so we incorporated the 1950’s clothing, make-up, and the props related to that decade.
Black: I love to capture pictures of faces. I love every detail of a person; every freckle, every mole, every line and every eyelash. A person’s face is a big part of the story that describes who one is.
Black: My style comes from the places where I’ve traveled. I love variety. That kind of gives me inspiration to keep my work new and fresh. I hate taking the same picture twice. It’s like having a desk job where you expect to do the same thing every day. I hate that. So I always experiment and explore new things and places. Also, I love to take pictures with humor and I’m currently into taking black and white photos because I think it’s beautiful.
Black: Well, I believe that a top class picture is at the eye of the beholder. You know what I mean? It’s all based on a person’s artistic style. Different people like different things. What does an image mean to you? Is it a picture of some kind of historical significance or is it more of a documentary that can capture an incredible moment?
Black: Everything inspires me! I am fortunate to live in a place like New York that is full of wonderful friends who are artist and can arouse his creativity, which most of my ideas are formed. Additionally, competition inspires me to work harder on my craft. Whether it’s from other photographers or friendly rivalry (Whoever gets the photo shoot/client that we all were trying to get, the loser buys dinner). Traveling is another inspiration for me. I enjoy seeing things I’ve never seen and going to places I’ve never been. Witnessing different cultures and people of different nationalities are amazing. This is what inspires me to create images and helps me to provide a unique vision.
Black: Wow. I idolize many photographers. I love the work of Brooke Nipar and my ex-girlfriend Emily Shur, who is an amazing photographer and one of the people I admire as an artist. Also I love painters, Philip Corey and Phil Cotton.
Black: Leonard Nimoy and Lindsay Lohan! I really want to shoot them both but for different reasons. Actually, shooting the two of them together would be amazing, now that I think about it!
Black: I’m a big nerd. I love “Star Trek” and chess. I try to play chess every day and I’ve seen and/or own every episode of “Star Trek” and all its spin offs-except “Star Trek Voyager” of course because Voyager sucks! Other then that I love to drink. Is that wrong?
Black: You know that reminds me of what my professors at SVA would say to me, “shoot what you love.” You have to a have a passion for what image you are capturing. I was going to be a fashion photographer but I didn’t like or did not know anything about fashion. So, I went to music.
Also, one would have to move into a hub; meaning go to a place like New York, Tokyo, London and Los Angeles, where you can prove your talents and where networking opportunities and chances of success are at its highest. Fish where the fish are. Also, one has to be open to everything and willing to learn. One should never be afraid to embrace their abilities, explore and try new things. I had a shoot for Nascar then after I began watching Nascar and became a huge fan. That probably never would have happened if I didn’t shoot them.
For more on Kareem Black, visit www.KareemBlack.com.