Kareem Black: Interview

Portrait of celebrity and lifestyle photographer Kareem Black by Tony Ward copyright 2024
Kareem Black. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2024

Kareem Black: Interview

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TW: Do photographers continue to drop off print portfolios these days to potential clients, or is that way of getting assignments a thing of the past?

KB: I think there is no one way of showing work. I think that these days most photographers do prepared digital presentations on an Ipad or laptop.. I personally really like having a really nicely printed analog book and promo pieces.. one of the reasons I like this technique is specifically because most people aren’t doing it that way. I do also have a digital presentation that can augment the analog stuff. But, at the end of the day, each photographer chooses his or her own way really.

TW: Can a NYC photographer make it without an agent or does word of mouth continue to be an effective business strategy?

KB: I’d say that there isn’t one way for doing these things. I have done both and also a hybrid of both. When I didn’t have an agent, I would hire agents to negotiate my fee once I got a client that was calling and inquiring about a big job. I don’t like to negotiate about my work and then be on set with the same people I was just negotiating with. I like to be the good cop. Also, I think it really helps to have someone on your side that is current on all the legalities and usage ratios and concepts. I take pictures.. I want someone on my team that deals well with all of that other stuff, That being said, I know photographers and other artists that are wildly successful without agents. i’ve just preferred to do it the other way.

TW: What is the responsibility of a photographers agent?

KB: Well, Ideally and most importantly they deal with all the technicalities.. usage, percentages, being the bad cop in negotiations. I want my agents to know more people than i do. I want thoier scope of the politics of the industry to be wider than mine.. or at least different. I want them at the parties im not at. i want them to be working while i sleep ha. Contracts are so complex these days that i NEED them and the team at teh agency to be able to make sense of all the legalese. Agents are meant to make the photographers job easier.. The photographer’s job is to be a photographer.. not a lawyer or any such thing. Photographers are problem solvers and I think it’s logical to delegate the responsibilies that we may not be the best at.I deally the agent is another set or sets of eyes on the photographers work. Sometimes agents see trends in the industry that we as photographers don’t. There are many photographers who have work that begins

TW: Do you own the copyright to your images? Or do you or your agent sign work for hire agreements?

KB: Depends on the usage for the job. In most cases yes, I own the copywrite.. but part of usage negotiations are exactly that. Most of the time it is not an outright buyout in perpetuity.. Clients usually dont do that because it’s costly. Most of the time they negotiate an exclusive arrangement that overs a set amount of time (2 year exclusives seem to be popular). Fun example: I shot a campaign for MGM Grand right before the pandemic hit. there was a two year exclusive on those images.. Meaning, the brand could do whatever they wanted with those images within that time frame. the images were of lots of beautiful people having a good time in the enclosed space of the casino. the pandemic hit and all those kinds of images could not be used.. They just weren’t a realistic portrayal of what the world was like during lock down. Once the pandemic subsided, MGM wanted to used them.. but by this point the 2 year exclusive had expired and they had to pay me my fee AGAIN to use the images! free money is the best kind!

TW: How often do you ask your subjects for model releases and in what context?

KB:  Most of my subjects tend to be celebrities or people who we casted specifically for the job. The releases in those cases are handled by the line producer at the agency or magazine. If I’m shooting ” real” people, I generally ask them to sign a release depending on what’s going on on the shoot.

TW: How much can a photographer expect to earn for a billboard ad on Times Square?

KB: Well, its not really calculated in that way. fees are usually a product of usage ( where the ad will run and for how long ) If the ad is running in Times Square, its likely that it is running elsewhere and the usage has some detail in it that says the ad can be used outdoors etc. So, it kind of runs the gamut.. the first as I shot that ran in Times Square I think I was paid just a few thousand dollars.. I got a 70k day rate for another.

TW: Has AI had an impact on your workflow regarding commissioned assignments?

KB: Not in a major way. I do use the Adobe Ai in photoshop on occasion.. “Generative fill” certainly saves time in retouching. I feel that AI is a buzz word that encompases a bunch of stuff.. most of which isn’t “artificial intelligence” and most of which has been with us in some form for a long while.

TW: For celebrities, do you prefer to shoot in studio or location?

KB: Both. Either. All of the above depends on the story that needs to be told.

TW: Who is or was the most influential photographer that inspires your creative ambitions?

KB: Too many to mention really. inspiration is everywhere if you seek it out. I LOVE William Eggleston, Avedon, Guy Bourdin is probably my favorite photographer of all time. I love Kwaku Alston, Terry Richardson, David LaChappelle, Tony Ward, Matthew Salacuse, Brooke Nipar, Guy Aroch and many many others.

TW:  If you were to pick one assignment that you’ve had thus far, which one would you say was your favorite and why?

KB: I really think that when I shot the 2017 trade campaign for Viacom that was a really big statement for me. It’s one of the biggest shoots I’ve ever done and one of the most fun. For two weeks I shot in ads  NYC and LA for ALL the Viacom properties. Viacom  ( now Paramount )  was MTV, VH1, BET, Cartoon Network, Country Music channel etc. the assignment was to shoot one celeb from each property each in complete and subversive situations.. This involved multiple set builds and hundreds of extras.. Lots of moving parts, VERY challenging. This shoot felt like something that I was training for for all of my career. ALL, the skills that i had acquired ended up being used on that shoot. and I love the way the work came out.

TW: You are an excellent karaoke performer.  How did you get into it and what do you like most about stage performance?

KB: I’ve learned many life lessons from Karaoke: the concept of selling an idea, getting people on your side, convincing people to be excited about what you’re excited about and finally, being able to just let go! That’s Karaoke. there are many ideas that Karaoke taught me that are VERY applicable to my professional photography. including how to run a set with dozens of people on it. Being a photographer can sometimes be like being on stage! 

I got into Karaoke through a friend of mine named Chris Goldteeth,  who ran a party here in the city on the Lower East side called Karaoke Killed the Cat. It was an amazing party and we even went on a world tour in 2007!

TW: If you were to make a comparison to your photography business and your chess game, what is your next move? 

KB: Chess has long been seen as a game that is a measure of intellect and intelligence. This is NOT true. Many chess players are idiots. Chess is more about pattern recognition and prioritization.

Chess teaches us to be creative in our solutions and being able to think and put yourself in your opponents shoes.. In that way, chess teaches a form of empathy. Chess also teaches patience.

In chess, one should never make a move without a reason. Good chess is very efficient that way. Energy and time should not be wasted on extra actions. When it comes to my career, I think many of these principles apply. I think I’ve played a good game so far. I think the overall strategy is: identifying patterns and trends, applying knowledge you have learned from past games and being aware of how they fit into the games of today and being able to adjust actions to fit current circumstances. Chess theory grows and evolves over time.  Yhe more we learn ,  the more novel concepts are introduced into the game. We must be flexible and tolerant of new ideas.. This applies to chess, life and photography.

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To access Behind The Scenes videos of the Kareem Black feature, check out our new YouTube channel here:

 

Behind The Scenes: Kareem Black Feature


Behind The Scenes: Kareem Black Feature

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Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2024

BTS Photography: Steve Feldman, Copyright 2024

BTS Video: Ted Kawalerski, Copyright 2024

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I’ll never forget when I first met Kareem Black in 1997. He was a student at SVA School of Visual Arts in New York. While finishing up his photography training at SVA he made an appointment to visit me at my studio in Philadelphia to ask my advice on becoming a professional photographer.  He often reminds me that I was the first real photographer that he met. During one of his visits, I asked him to model for a picture for an upcoming book, called Tableaux Vivant’s. The picture is one of my favorites from the book, of which Kareem received a copy during his visit.

Kareem Black in The Figure. From Tony Ward's book of Tableaux Vivants
The Figure. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2024.

Our meeting had an impact because when he left SVA and started a career as a pro, he took off! Kareem and I have stayed in touch remarkably 25 years later, and this month of May 2024 I’ve decided to reach out and celebrate his success by inviting back to his home town for a feature shoot.  Kareem was thrilled.  So was I and the results of the cover shoot speaks for itself.

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To access more behind the scenes with photographer Kareem Black, check out our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/0UEYAERF1IM

Tracey Olkus: As The World Turns

Illustration of grifter Donald Trump selling bibles by Thomcat23
The Grifter. Artwork by Thomcat23, Copyright 2024

Text by Tracey Olkus, Copyright 2024

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As The World Turns

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Conflict and climate change have brought about unprecedented migration from the Middle East, Africa, and Central America to Europe and the United States. The war in Ukraine , the war in Gaza, Iran , China, the overall normalization of totalitarianism, a growing distaste for western liberal ideals and mounting global antisemitism will undoubtedly have an effect on our elections in November. The global nature of today’s chaos is undeniable.

There are agents of chaos whose  relevance depends on maintaining conflict at any cost. At the top of this list (but not limited to it)are Hamas leadership , Netanyahu, Putin, and our very own Trump.  In my opinion, The Palestinians and the Israelis both have the worst leadership they have ever had. Hamas is a terrorist organization that brutalizes its own people.The leaders of Hamas have become billionaires grifting off the huge amount of foreign aid meant for their struggling people and started a brutal and unwinnable war (not that anyone wins in war). Their only post war plan is more chaos. Netanyahu’s blanket support for West Bank settlements, disregard for the  Palestinian Authority and miscalculation of the tremendous threat from Hamas caused incalculable damage. His attack on the Israeli judicial system brought on a sustained 40 week protest  which has begun again because of his disastrous handling of the war and continued detainment of Israeli hostages. He is facing fraud, bribery and breach of trust charges presently.  His iniquitous actions will see him headed to prison once the war is over. Putin, the puppet master , promises his people a return to the greatness of Imperial Russia. While he has become one of the richest men in the world, the average Russian’s standard of living has gone down. As a distraction he has to put  on a show of expanding the Empire at the grave expense of Ukraine and Russia’s own economy. Meanwhile, killing dissidents within and beyond Russia’s borders and using the Russian military as hired mercenaries in Syria and across Africa. If Trump is a clown show, it’s the John Wayne Gacy type. He has turned the Republican party into a cult of partisan hysteria that seriously threatens the legitimacy of Democratic values and norms. Never before have we had a presidential contender so hell bent on destroying western style liberal democracy with his promise to be a dictator, to jail opponents, to turn back hard won rights,and not just to abandon our European allies but also to encourage attacks from their Russian adversary. 

For these men, these agents of chaos, peace means disappearing into the dustbin of history. They rely on each other’s existence to maintain their own power. Hamas needs Bibi. Bibi needs Hamas. Putin and Trump need each other. And they all need the war in Gaza to rage on.

I  think that all of this is connected to a global rise in totalitarianism that goes beyond these players  .I am starting to believe that the Israeli and Palestinian people are simply pawns being used in an international game of chess where the goal is to extinguish the prevailing ideals of western democracy. This would explain why we are forced to focus on one tragedy and ignore others -like  the hundreds of thousands killed in ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen.The first step in this game is to create a nebulous enemy that serves as a boogieman for both the Right and the Left. The next step is stoking a deep political cynicism leading people  to disenfranchise themselves through apathy. This is where the triangulation of authoritarianism, democracy, and antisemitism comes into play.

In the US we like to break down current events into simplistic story lines where there are easy to differentiate “good actors” and  “bad actors”. The war in Ukraine seemed like an easy narrative;  An average guy (Zellensky) uses Democracy and the power of the vote  to defeat a corrupt oligarch. Then he courageously leads his country in an  existential battle  against a sinister foe who targets unarmed civilians and bombs their schools, hospitals, apartment buildings. The cherry on top is that Zellensky is jewish and the progeny of holocaust survivors.This story spoke to Americans. We love the David vs Goliath, oppressed vs oppressor story. 

 

Israel’s  predictable extreme response to the savage attacks on October 7th allowed  far right players to flip the script and present Jews worldwide not as David but rather as the monstrous Goliath, the oppressors not the oppressed. The story fits perfectly into old antisemitic tropes of  Jewish world domination and blood libel. And that fast- the Ukraine story disappears and the war in Gaza goes on a never ending news cycle fanning the flames of  ethnic and religious hatred.. . 

 Republicans have been hell bent on eroding if not completely erasing the major tenets of Liberal democracy. American Jews have been solidly aligned with these core values and strongly supportive of the Democratic Party. Republicans needed something to split the jewish vote and neutralize that powerful Democratic support system. Republicans also needed to fathom a spectre that would turn away from the Democratic Party, the very people that stand to gain from those Liberal ideals- namely Progressives, people of color, the LGBTQ community and  young voters in general. Republicans desperately need people to be so thoroughly distracted that they forget about losing their own reproductive rights, they forget about book bans and attacks on the LGBTQ community, they forget about disappearing DEI and voting rights,  they forget about the existential climate change crisis, forget about gun violence ,etc.These things would have to happen in advance of the 2024 presidential election. There are more registered Democrats than registered Republicans so a combination of gerrymandering , deflection, and the good ole’ “Divide and conquer” strategy would be  needed to allow the Republicans to snatch power. 

Left leaning Democrats are encouraged through social media and memes to turn their backs on their party. They are encouraged to believe  that all of the candidates are the same ( nothing could be further from the truth). The best scenario is a choice between the lesser of two evils so why bother voting at all . Republicans hope this group can be distracted from the important issues that affect their lives now and into the future.Their anti Israel sentiment has increasingly resembled straightforward antisemitism. And remember Jews embody the essence of Liberal democratic ideals so the left is being swayed to see the center of their own party (not the Republicans) as the enemy.  As we get closer to the election we are seeing printed sings decrying  “Genocide Joe”  -a name that seems to be sprung from the head of Donald Trump himself. 

 T.S. Elliott said , “between the idea and the reality is the shadow”. This is where American Jews are now. Former allies are now hostile – with anti war protestors becoming increasingly supportive of Hamas -even carrying signs that say “Rape Is Resistence”. There have been calls for boycotts of Jewish owned businesses, harassment of jewish students, and vandalism of jewish institutions. Republicans, are trying to capitalize on this. They point to the protestors as a sign that the Democratic party has exiled the Jews. Trump recently made a thinly veiled threat , “liberal Jews voted to destroy America.” (by supporting Democratic candidates and causes) ” Let’s hope you learned from your mistake.”.  Nick Fuentes, the untempered right wing extremist podcaster  who promotes putting the US government under authoritarian “Catholic Taliban rule” did not mince words when he  recently called for the execution of “perfidious Jews” as soon as Trump is re-elected. I never thought I would see anything like this. 

Against all odds, and to my utter surprise, Biden ,on the other hand, has been a great president. Our economy has boomeranged back. The stock market is hot. People are working. Wages have gone up. Restaurants are packed. Manufacturing is returning to the US, Infrastructure is being overhauled. And student debt relief has started to trickle in.  But this is the boring business of the Democratic  legislative process. We are not going to see memes with Pete Buttigieg singing JT’s “Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it”. And I worry that it’s the memes that move people to vote. 

I think that the Democrats are counting on women, black , and LGBTQ  voters to be motivated by the devastating reversal on reproductive rights and  attacks on DEI programs and LGBTQ rights and generally by a concern for the planet. That really should be enough but I don’t think it is. They also think that the average person is paying attention to the fact that things seem to be working well right now. But good news doesn’t sell as fast as bad news. I really hope that the jewish Democratic block stays strong. I really hope that women remember how essential reproductive rights are to every single aspect of their health and wellbeing and how dangerous a Trump presidency would be.  And I really hope  the anti Israel protesters do not hand over their future to an authoritarian by throwing their vote away over this issue.   Apathy could be the critical deciding factor in November. Historically speaking, increased antisemitism comes with an  uptick in conspiracy theories being taken as fact and an easier acceptance of authoritarian rule.  It seems the whole world is trending in this direction.  The entire Arab world is run by dictators. China, Russia and Belarus have brutal  dictators. Poland, Holland, Italy and Turkey now have far right wing governments. France is teetering on the edge. I’m sure I am missing many more here but this cosmic shift has my hair standing on end. And I have never wanted to be completely wrong about anything as I do now.

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Stylist Tracey Olkus photographed for The Vixens Series by Tony Ward
Tracey Olkus. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2024

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

For almost two decades, Tracey Olkus  has been transforming faces and elevating styles from her private studio in Philadelphia. Specializing in everything from everyday glam to commercial shoots to TV and film. 

 
Tracey’s artistic interests extend beyond the chair. With a passion for costuming, she crafts bespoke headdress designs available through commissioned works.  
 
As the curator of The Performance Salon, Tracey provides a platform for emerging and established artists to showcase their talents in an intimate setting. From musicians, to thespians, writers to chefs, The Performance Salon has become a hub for artistic expression with performances that leave audiences mesmerized.
 
But Tracey’s interests go beyond her professional pursuits . A dedicated patron of the arts and the finer things in life, she enjoys hosting extravagant dinner parties and whimsical camping trips…often simultaneously.
 
When it is time to escape, Tracey can be found exploring the world, talking to strangers, and collecting stories from every corner of the globe. And along the way, she is most happy to have has amassed an eclectic collection of friends that share her passion for the extraordinary.

Mikel Elam: Today is a New Day

Mixed media artwork by the great Mikel Elam for Tony Ward Studio
Artwork by Mikel Elam, Copyright 2024

Text by Mikel Elam, Copyright 2024

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Today is a New Day

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Today is a new day . This is part of my studio practice. I try to just keep going and exploring new avenues often. Don’t get me wrong; I use my best judgement as of today. However if I grow; I might even like yesterday’s actions . Although never any regrets. I am only making decisions on what I know at that time.  My core, my foundation are and will always be rooted in positive actions. However, being human is not always constant . We carry baggage and pain.  We also carry wonderful moments. I’ve learned if I am about to be negative in emotions I should stop – and take a deep breath, give thanks to The Divine for my existence and then whatever it was I was feeling will fade. I use art as a metaphor for life. Perhaps as a visual artist I recognize this as a gift and my unique connection to the universe . We all have gifts and shifting times is inevitable. Today is a new day.

About The Artist: Mikel Elam was born in Philadelphia. He attended the University of the Arts receiving his BFA in painting. He also attended the School of the Visual Arts in New York. He has been showing his paintings in numerous gallery spaces nationally and internationally for the last 25 years. Mikel recently exhibited his work at the University of Pennsylvania’s, Annenberg School of Communications.

To learn more about Mikel Elam’s art work, link herehttps://tonywardstudio.com/gallery/mikel-elam-painter/

Technology: VR and Shadow Boxing

A woman standing in a Paris park at night with shorts and fishnet stockings wearing VR glasses while shadowboxing
Shadow Boxing. Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2024

Virtual Reality and Shadow Boxing

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Photography and Set Design: Tony Ward, Copyright 2024

Creative Direction: KVaughn

Lighting Assistant: Anthony Colagreco

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In recent years, Virtual Reality (VR) technology has made significant strides in revolutionizing the way we approach exercise and fitness. One particularly exciting application of VR in this realm is the development of boxing programs designed to provide users with engaging and effective workouts. As of the latest information available, VR headsets equipped with immersive boxing simulations offer users a dynamic and entertaining way to improve cardiovascular health, enhance agility, and build strength.

The latest VR headsets boast advancements in display resolution, refresh rates, and tracking accuracy, providing users with a highly immersive and realistic experience. With improved ergonomics and comfort features, these headsets ensure that users can engage in extended workout sessions without discomfort or fatigue. Additionally, the integration of motion tracking technology enables precise and responsive gameplay, allowing users to execute punches, blocks, and dodges with fluidity and accuracy.

In terms of boxing programs specifically, developers have introduced a variety of VR experiences tailored to different fitness levels and preferences. Whether users are looking for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, skill-based drills, or immersive boxing simulations, there is a diverse range of programs available to cater to their needs. These programs often incorporate gamification elements, such as leaderboards, achievements, and progress tracking, to motivate users and enhance their overall experience.

One notable aspect of VR boxing programs is their ability to simulate real-world training scenarios and environments. Users can spar with virtual opponents of varying difficulty levels, practice combinations on punching bags, or engage in shadowboxing routines in immersive virtual arenas. The dynamic nature of these simulations keeps users challenged and engaged, making workouts more enjoyable and effective.

Moreover, VR boxing programs offer a level of accessibility and convenience that traditional gym settings may lack. Users can engage in workouts from the comfort of their own homes, eliminating barriers such as travel time, gym memberships, or equipment availability. This accessibility makes VR boxing programs particularly appealing to individuals with busy schedules or those who prefer exercising in a private environment.

In addition to physical benefits, VR boxing programs also offer mental and emotional rewards. The immersive nature of VR experiences allows users to escape from their surroundings and immerse themselves fully in the workout, reducing stress and increasing mindfulness. Furthermore, the sense of achievement and progression gained from mastering new skills or achieving fitness goals can boost confidence and self-esteem.

Overall, the latest developments in VR headsets and boxing programs for exercise represent an exciting frontier in fitness technology. With their combination of immersive gameplay, dynamic workouts, and accessibility, VR boxing programs have the potential to revolutionize the way we approach fitness and exercise, making workouts more engaging, effective, and enjoyable for users of all ages and fitness levels.

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A woman standing in a Paris park at night with shorts and fishnet stockings wearing VR glasses
Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2024