“The burger king shoots are always amazing and a lot of fun. I do those with the awesome people up at Crispin Porter.”
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: In your early years of high school, were you involved in the yearbook? What sparked your interest in photography? Do you recommend all the weekend photographers out there to initially stick with the subjects they know and build from there? Do you have any suggestions on how to build that progression? How did you progress to where you are today?
Hmm.. Lemme try to get to all these questions… when I was in high school I was a painter and I took pictures of my subjects so I could paint from the pictures when my subjects couldn’t sit for me. That’s how I initially started taking pictures. I think that photographers (weekend or otherwise) should shoot what they love.. If they like to shoot people they should shoot the people that are interesting to them… people who look interesting to them. Even if those people turn out to be perfect strangers. The more you shoot the better you get and more refined your vision becomes. You also need to not be afraid to let the outside world in and to not fear its influences.. One mistake that I made a few years ago was that I stopped looking at other peoples work.. I stopped going to magazine stores or art shows. That was a blunder and I think that for a period my vision suffered.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Do you still have photos taken from the early years when it all started? What were your subjects? Are the pictures online to share with everyone to compare with your work today?
I have tones of prints and negatives and archived material form the ten years that I’ve been shooting professionally and even a lot of the stuff from high school and college that I did. It’s interesting to look at that work. I’m not sure if I would say that it was similar to the work I have now in that I think that a lot of my goals with that work was different… back then I believe I was learning HOW to take pictures in a very technical sense.. I was figuring out light, how to navigate the industry, I think in the early years of my professional work I was much more concerned with my upward mobility in the professional photo world than I am now… now I’m interested more in the feeling of the images.. not as much how perfect the light is. Now I’m more interested in the story of an image rather than how this image will make me famous.. I think I’m just more mature and complete as a person now. I also think I am more confident in my work and I no longer think that the value of my work is dictated by who ive shot and how famous I am. I’ve shot so much in my short career and there is a lot yet to do but I know that I can do it.. Back then I wasn’t so sure.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What books did you read at the beginning of your photography career that helped you prepare for today? Title of book, author and price of book please…just messing around, the title of the books should be fine thanks to google search. Do you recall any other resources that you referred to heavily to help you prepare for the photography business? We want to know what the must have resources are to fully equip ourselves when and if we ever plan to take that leap of faith.
London and Uptons “Photography” was required reading at SVA.. I read the entire thing many times over.. Its very technical and I’m sure that its been updated many times since I was in school.. but that was like the bible when I was in college.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What was your very first professional photography job? Was this purely out of luck that you were at the right place at the right time? Was there a hidden plan to penetrate the market from within? Would you recommend it to new photographers trying to break into the market and that are having difficulty breaking in? Once you had your first job under your belt was it difficult to get another gig? What did you do to acquire more work besides providing awesome images? Have you ever considered being agency represented? If you are agency represented how did you attract a photography agent?
OK well that’s 7 different questions disguised as one question… I’ll do my best. When I first moved to NYC from Philly I was a skateboarder and I was sponsored by this skate shop called Swish that used to be on St. Marks. I was in college at the time and the owner of the skate shop Knew I was a photographer and I “hired” me to shoot the ads for the shop. Of course I didn’t get paid but I was just thrilled to have anything in print at the time.. I was the only kid in my college class that did. I did those ads for a few months. After that my next job was with On The Go magazine. Which was awesome because the gentlemen who made that magazine Were friends of mine from Philly.. It’s all about who you know sometimes I suppose.. (I know there are like 6 other questions I didn’t answer there but ya know..
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What else is there that keeps you rolling in the dough? Your brand is possibly a huge factor to your longevity? Am I right? You have definitely built your brand with your website and giving back to the photographic community like what you are doing here right now.. Do you have any recommendations on brand building for weekend photographers and/or Photographers in general.
I think a photographers “brand” is incredibly important. Much more so than a lot of photographers realize. Your brand is what you are. It’s the work, and the experience that people have when they work with you. As far as advice that I would give to any photogs trying to build a brand I’d say. Stick with what your good at and shoot what you love. Sounds pretty simple but I think that those are the basic rules that dictate how you should begin to build your image a photographer.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What is currently in your photography bag? Please be as detailed as possible for those starting out photographers that want to be just like you. From your photography equipment arsenal, what do you bring most of the time for your commercial shoots?
It really depends on the shoot to be honest. I never leave home with out my Canon G10. My favorite products camera wise at the moment are cannon products. I love the 5D mark 2. I also shoot with a Hasselblad with a phase back or something.. But I don’t know exactly
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: When I enter your site the first thing I see are the Burger King ads you did. That seemed like a fun photo-shoot to participate in. How did you land that job? Did you have creative input in the burger king concept or did the art director handle that side of the photo shoot?
KAREEM BLACK: The burger king shoots are always amazing and a lot of fun. I do those with the awesome people up at Crispin Porter. I think those shoots are the shoots that I laugh the most on. The vision that BK and the art directors come up with is bizarre and sometimes I can’t believe that there are actually people that sign off on the concepts of what we are doing! I mean, there have been a ton of times that I’ve photographed “the King” naked. I mean, the guy is just walking around the set like that with the mask on!
Sooo much fun!
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Is having your own studio space essential for any commercial photographer. Do you have a photography studio of your own? If so, what do you look for in a photography studio?
KAREEM BLACK: NO, it not essential at all. I don’t have my own studio. Mot photographers rent studion when they need them and that what I do.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: What types of commercial gigs are you currently involved in now and how did they surface? What are your recommendations on how we photographers diversify their product offering from Commercial and stock in today’s marketplace?
KAREEM BLACK: I’m shooting a lot of stuff for Burger King now.. Strangely enough I’ve been hired to shoot for a major competitor of theirs also. I’ve been working closely with this band that I admire called Dynasty Electric on a bunch of their projects. I’ve shot a few things for dynasty and also directed their newest video… The video should be out soon (if it doesn’t kill me editing it). I try to never forget to shoot my own personal work as well.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Already a major player in the advertising photography space, what is next? What are your immediate goals as a photographer and artist? Are you planning on releasing any how-to books? What are your recommendations to people thinking about starting a photography book?
I honestly just look forward to doing fun stuff… be it advertising, video or editorial. I like shooting things that are humorous and make people laugh. I’d like to also direct more video.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: I think it is safe to say you have a good following of photographers wanting to be just like you. Will you start offering workshops in the future? I know TIME is not your friend, but there are ways to get around that maybe offering internship opportunities to intern with you for a small fee during one of your paid shoots. Or maybe provide an opportunity to be a spectator for one of your weekend shoots? I would definitely be interested in that and sure there are others in the same boat.
KAREEM BLACK: I take on new interns all the time and although I have a group of assistants that I work with regularly I always try to make my self available to check résumés etc. There are shoots that I do that are like parties the entire city is invited. Next time I do one of those I’ll certainly let you know.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: I am sure you’ve read many articles discussing how in the future video and photography will be one? What are your thoughts on that and how will you evolve to the new morphed medium? I know you currently do some video work but how do you plan on taking that to the next level?
Video is certainly something that I’m trying to figure out. I like the medium and I agree that the two are merging and I think it will be increasingly important if not required for photographers to also have experience as directors. As of now I’m just trying to master the craft and learn how to tell a story with that medium. I’ve directed a few things here and there and I’m starting to get a feel for it.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: Ok so thinking about the future is very important in any endeavor especially the photography business. What do you suggest photographers do in the future to solidify their presence in the industry? What will you do to ensure that you remain on top, not taking into account your photography niche?
KAREEM BLACK: I think it’s important to always be shooting, even if it not work related.. (especially if its not work related) this is something that a lot of us forget to do, my self included. As photographers we need to keep growing.. If we don’t then we become irrelevant.
LAWRENCEATIENZA.COM: KAREEM thank you again for your time and giving back to your fans and followers. What would you like to leave for us photographers to think about when moving forward with photography for the future? If you have any words of wisdom will be appreciated.
KAREEM BLACK: in the words of one of my most respected mentors: “shoot what you love”.