Words: Kazeem Kuteyi Photography: Kahlil Hernandez
I’m drawn to Naskademini’s work because of this aesthetic that screams “I LOVE HUMANS”. The portraits of people and the frozen scenes of places draws you in and makes you want to be a part of it. It makes you want to beg the question of “What’s going on in that scene” or “Can I know a little bit more about this person?” And maybe that’s why he’s gained a huge following on social media. Perhaps that’s why he’s spent most of his time on a plane throughout this year flying coast-to-coast shooting the most influential people in music and fashion. We were lucky to catch him at his studio in Montreal a couple days after arriving from San Francisco. In the interview below we talk about his inspirations, the definition of creativity and his views on education.
How did you get into photography?
It’s always a weird question for me. I think I’ve always been a creative since I was a child and photography is just my current medium of expressing myself. I would say Instagram has had a huge part in taking photography more serious than I did because I had a new outlet to show off my craft to a larger audience right away. I would say I started to take photography seriously in 2005. That year was when I said ok let me dust off my film cameras and get back into creating. I’ve developed film in dark rooms before. I’ve always had this joy for that creative process but there wasn’t really an outlet until Instagram came about. I mean you could build a website and go online which I did but it was more, lets say instant gratification of putting your photo out and someone likes it and it’s ‘woah’ someone liked it- How do I do the next one? and keep building from there.
With Instagram, there seems to be a surge of people trying to make things. And I guess it’s caused a quite a number of people to start to pick up cameras. I, myself pay attention to how I post on there. Do you think that’s a good thing? You think there’s a lot of noise going on ?
Yeah, I’m not mad at it. I would compare it to the disposable camera era. When our parents used to buy disposable cameras, take photos and throw them in the photo album nobody complained about them crowding the space of photography. That was the Instagram back then- it wasn’t as instant but everybody was a photographer. The only difference between now and then was that no one was seeing it. Smartphones created it that people started paying attention to the world around them, you look around you look up and say “hey, there might be a photo here. So I actually like that people have awoken their dormant creativity.
The only negative side of it all is that if you come from a world where you have never worked in a studio and you don’t know how that works or how lighting works and you’re an Instagrammer that gets a following for using an iPhone to take photos and then a company hires you to shoot a campaign for them, you may be at a loss because you might not know the technical aspects of photography or be able to achieve what the client is looking for. And then now it makes it harder for the next guy to come up because if a company hires an Instagrammer to do photos and they’re not professional or they don’t come on time, companies will find it hard to contact a guy off Instagram to work because they’ll think all of them are unprofessional. It’s kind of like how blogging started and real editors – I hate that word but editors and people from the media didn’t like the blogging phenomenon. It was like, “who are these guys?” They just do a two sentence post.” Now blogging is the forefront of media. People go to blogs opposed to going official websites for their news. And then there was a disruption between the new school and the old school. I welcome the noise man.
I think it pushes people to be creative and it allows older photographers to take away from these new guys because you don’t know the rules and the foundation, your naive and that allows you to just dream big and do whatever pleases you. And that might inspire people who have been doing it for years with rules set in place. [They] might say “hey, that’s a cool concept because he’s breaking all the rules by not knowing them.”
What’s creativity to you?
Creativity to me is anyone who creates. The minute you create something, the minute you attempt to create something, I think that inspires creativity. It’s really literal. It’s really taking a chance. A lot of people sit back and don’t create anything, not that you have to but we all have, I believe, a creative gene within us. It might not be as developed as everyone else’s but we have the ability to create something. So whether you’re the brainchild of something or you’re sort of creating something behind the scenes and you’re not physically touching it yourself; or, perhaps you’re creative directing. I’ve seen guys in boardrooms come in with just a notepad and talk to a bunch of other people say, “we want this, this and this,” and something comes out of that. Is he creative? Yes. He’s putting his thoughts and ideas together. It’s really the will and power to create something. Are all creations equal? No. Are all creations great? No. But I would never fault someone who attempted to create. I wouldn’t go out and attempt to disrespect someone’s work because they deserve props for starting something. Do I dislike some photos? Absolutely. It’s a matter of choice. Art is supposed to speak to you in a certain way but at the same time I don’t know that person’s creative process. For example, the rules in photography is that pictures should be in focus, but if you as a photographer decided you want that photo to be out of focus who am I to say your photo is horrible because it’s not in focus. That’s what you intended your audience to see. It’s not for critics to criticize work; it’s to create a conversation.
There’s this humanity that in your photos that I really like. What inspires that?
Travel has been a huge inspiration for me overall and it’s allowed me to be around humans and capture humanity and see different moving parts of the globe. I put all those experiences in a frame. I’m freezing time, freezing motion and creating a scene. I want the person looking at the photo to know what’s going on in that scene.
You think school is essential for anyone who’s trying to get into a creative field?
Absolutely. I think school is really important to get that foundation. As I was saying before, without that foundation you can’t break the rules.
But then from the people we’ve talked to they feel school kills creativity.
I don’t agree. School is designed to give you formal education on any topic right? So within that, you go in and extract all that data and information given to you to then help it to guide you on your own path. Structure is always good. That basis is always good. It doesn’t stifle creativity. I think it’s just an excuse that creative people use- “oh, I dropped out of school because I was too creative for my class.” Yeah I get it, it makes for a good movie. You can teach law school to a five year old but the system is set up in place to break what you’re supposed to learn into years and years and years, whereas at that young age you’re able to absorb all this information. If you want to teach a five-year-old kid, Spanish, Japanese or Italian, he or she would learn it, absorb it and be fluent in it. So I think the only thing about school is that it’s the time that it takes.
And with so many people doing the same thing, how do you find your voice?
I think the hardest part being a creative is finding your own voice. Your voice is not gonna come to you in a year, day or month. People try to fast track that. I think your voice comes to you when it comes to you. It’s not something you should rush. Yes, you should find your own identity, people have once told me, “hey whenever I scroll up Instagram, whenever I get to a picture without reading the name, I know it’s you.” This was years ago and I appreciate that but my style has changed since then. It’s evolved. I think the voice or what the critics like to attribute to artists as opposed to artists themselves. Basquiat did stick figures; did he find his voice before he died? I don’t know. He didn’t have the success that he has now. I think just keep creating until the voice comes to you and when you realize that you want spend all your time doing polka dots as an art piece, then that’s your voice.
Do you believe in back up plans? I feel there’s not much stability in creative careers
I don’t think I agree with that statement. There is stability, it depends who you are. You can be a creative director to a fashion house or a magazine; there is stability in that. I work full time as a photographer and I’m stable.
I guess I’m referring to people who are just starting out.
I would say when you do have a job, do something on the side. I would preach that. Don’t get caught up in the rat race where you become a zombie working 9-5 for the rest of your life. Start building your empire or whatever you’re working on, on the side. When you come home from your 9-5, work on your real passion and when you’re good at it and you stick to it, your passion would surpass your 9-5 and that’s when you will leave that alone. I don’t recommend anyone quitting his or her job and not knowing what tomorrow holds.
What motivates you?
I’m motivated by not knowing what the future holds. Waking up every morning trying to do good work and see where it takes me. It’s the unknown that motivates me.
Would you still do this if social media didn’t exist?
Yes. I love to create. I love art and photography. If there was no social media, it will equalize the world. That’s why I try to exist in both worlds. I exist in the real world and online.