How did you find your way into photography?
I was a star athlete in track in high school and ran year round, so I didn’t have any other hobbies. But I developed Exercise-Induced Asthma and had to give it up. When I got to Penn State I started hanging out with different types of people. I was strolling around with a girl who wanted a new profile picture. We did a little shoot with my iPhone. She posted on Facebook and got great feedback. Then people started hitting me up to do shoots for them. We’d come up with something theatrical, way more out there than what I do now and since I just had my iPhone, I rented a camera from the school library. I then decided to transfer to Temple because I wanted to be in a more metropolitan, artistic area to study advertising.
What would you say was your break?
I got noticed on Instagram by a modeling agent. After shooting one of his models, he asked me to shoot the rest. I didn’t get paid, but it helped my portfolio and he introduced me to some of the big modeling agencies. I was traveling to New York about every other week and staying on your and Maiah’s couch. After I graduated I met a writer from Vogue through Instagram who really liked my work and I think was excited by a Black photographer since there aren’t many of us. He told me he wanted my first editorial to be in a big publication so that it would catapult me and it did exactly that. Since then, everything has snowballed.
What has been your most memorable assignment thus far?
I was still living in Pennsylvania and had photography jobs, but nothing close to fashion. I felt like I was getting away from my art, so I decided to make the move to New York. It was a really big struggle. I was bartending and hardly making rent. Seemingly out of nowhere, I got a contract with a designer and she wanted to do a shoot in Italy. I remember thinking how crazy it was for me to be there once the shoot was over. Having shot for Vogue Italia and shooting in Italy both were huge for my career. They weren’t my favorite shoots, but helped build my clout and provided me with confirmation that this is what God wants me to do.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
It’s hard for me to describe because I see so many differences in my body of work. I take pride in being able to shoot all types of people in various settings. I will say that my work is usually provocative. A lot of others say that it’s clean and people often tell me that my photos look likes ads, which makes sense given my background
What is your creative process?
I come up with ideas for shoots very quickly. The process then gets complicated a bit by bringing in hair, makeup and styling. When I’m shooting, I have a clear vision of what I want and don’t stop until I get exactly that. I used to look at the photos right after because I would be excited to edit them. But I’ve learned the importance of looking at my work with fresh eyes. If timing allows, I take at least a couple of days before going back to photos.
What approaches do you take to your work that you think have propelled your career?
You have to be precise. I’m a huge perfectionist. Nothing that I do in any of my shoots is an accident – down to the model’s nail color. You can’t let anything just be whatever. I always acted as if I was shooting for professionals when I did anything. Even if I was shooting someone in front of a wall in their apartment, I would try to make it look like the cover of a magazine. Just make sure that everything you’re doing is really well done. You’re only as good as your last job.
What is some practical advice you have for fellow photographers?
I’ve learned from so many different people. I meet them by going out to events. That’s how I’ve met photographers I assisted and others who became mentors. If you can get to Fashion Week, that’s a huge networking opportunity. Instagram and social media matter in my field. I don’t even use business cards. Pay attention to what your audience responds to. Use hashtags, but after the caption. I hate them in the caption.
What do you shoot with?
I shoot with a Nikon D200 and a 17-55mm lens. I have a newer camera too, but I prefer the heaviness of the older one. As someone who wasn’t really technically trained, I don’t place a lot of emphasis on the gear. Controlling for image quality, you can take a really good photo on a shitty camera.
What is something you didn’t expect about the fashion industry?
There isn’t as much money as you probably think. If you pursue this you should want really want it and be willing to struggle for a while until you make it. Things can change quickly though. From January to November, I’m turning new contracts and scheduled for travel to Nicaragua and Greece. But it’s important to understand the business of it. People will make things look better than the are.
What do you do to become a better photographer?
I consider myself an artist more than a photographer. There are people who know way more about cameras and the technical aspect than I do. I think I’ve done well in this realm because I can draw and paint. I did when I was younger, so I know composition and vision. But in terms of growth, while I’m always trying to work, I also need time to myself for an energy bump. I like to get out of the city, go back home and watch movies, listen to music and look at art. I also talk to people who don’t love everything I do. You can’t be very sensitive about it and should encourage constructive criticism. You can fix what needs to be fixed or disagree with what they say.
What’s next for you?
I want to have more editorials now that I have access to dope stylists. It’s a chance to get away from the more risqué photos I’ve done. That’s a part of me and my brand, but I want to do something weird, not fashion, more artsy. Start directing films and music videos. Collaborating with people and working with celebrities, which is happening now. I just want to do more and always challenge myself. I want to be a serious, well-respected photographer. One who is known to be Black, but a household name that transcends Blackness.
How do you stay motivated as your pursue your goals?
My biggest motivations are God and my mother. My mom pushes me and even though we butt heads, she knows how to make things work. And I’ve always been a person that has a go big or go home mentality with things I’m good at. My motivation is to be my own best competition. I try to be humble, work hard, pay my dues and help others get found.