Interview with Photographer KN

by May Chen

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KN: I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in photography with an emphasis in art and culture at SENAC University in 2007 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

AF: How did you get your start in photography?

KN: Ever since I was a boy, I enjoyed playing with the family camera. When I was 9 years old, my dad gave me my first camera for my birthday, but I forgot it in a restaurant in that first week, and I never got to see the results of my first roll of film.

After that, I didn’t get another camera until I was 15. I was coming to the USA to study as an exchange student for one year in Kentucky, so I had to have a camera to capture the unique moments of that amazing experience. I shot over 600 pictures on film! Back then, digital cameras were popping up everywhere, and it was my dream to have one of my own, so I bought two, just in case, because in Brazil, the prices were so high. One was Kodak, and the other one was Samsung, both amazing toys at only 1.2 megapixels.

When I returned to Brazil, I carried my cameras everywhere, taking pictures of friends at school, street photography, and posting them online. I even created a website where my friends could have access to the pictures I took of them. When I turned 18, I had to make the hardest decision of my life, choosing my college major. I was deciding between Architecture and Fashion. I didn’t know that there was a bachelor’s degree in photography in Brazil until I bought a student guide and saw an ad. I decided to go for photography, and that was it.

During college, I assisted some photographers. After college, I started working for Getty Images Latin America where I stayed for two and a half years years as editor and sometimes as a photographer, too.  In 2011, I decided to quit Getty Images and began as a freelance photographer. My first important client was Starbucks Coffee. The company was arriving in Brazil and needed a photographer.  I was at the right place at the right time!

AF: Why is photography important to you?

KN: Photography for me is all about memories. It’s an object which can freeze a moment of your life and keep it with you for eternity. You can travel in time just by looking through your pictures.  Photography is a touchable memory.

The final project for my degree was a project I called “Little Memories” that talks about photography as a source of memories. I went through my childhood albums and picked the pictures that somehow would bring back strong memories, smells, and feelings. After choosing the pictures, I turned off the lights in my bedroom and with the camera in B mode, I highlighted with a flashlight the details of each picture that would bring me those feelings, details that would make me travel back in time. I searched for the ‘punctum’ of Roland Barthes. Very nostalgic for a 22 year-old guy, but I was able show my emotions through that project. My pictures were selected for an exhibition during the International Photography Festival in Paraty (Rio de Janeiro), and an editor saw the exhibition and contacted me to feature my pictures in his magazine.

AF: Who or what influenced you to become a photographer?

KN: My mom. Ever since I was a child, I remember her carrying the camera and taking pictures of us everywhere. Sometimes it was very annoying and embarrassing, because everywhere she was asking us to pose for a picture. Could be in a park, restaurant, shopping mall, having ice cream, having hot dogs.  Everything was a reason for a photograph. Now I understand that it was an attempt to freeze those precious moments in our family, our childhood.  Instant moments that will never come back.

AF: Do you have a favorite photograph or photographer who inspires you?

KN: I like the work of Francesca Woodman.  After my second year in college, we had to decide between two qualifications: art and culture or applied photography.

Art and culture had the focus on the history of photography, museology, conservation, preservation, dark room, and historical process of photography such as Van Dyke, Cyanotype, gum bichromate and salted paper. Applied photography would go more for the technical part of photography like lighting, studio, architecture, and retouching.  I was so involved in the artistic and experimental type of photography that I decided to go for art and culture.  I did a lot of self-portraits, and Francesca Woodman was my inspiration.

AF: In your opinion, what makes a good fashion photographer?

KN: A good fashion photographer has to be a good photographer. The only difference is that in fashion photography, we cannot forget that the focus beyond all things in the scene is the clothing. A good photographer will be independent of the assignment or equipment. A good photographer must have a good eye.

AF: What do you enjoy photographing most?

KN: I like photographing beauty, models; but I also enjoy taking pictures of street scenes. Nowadays, with our mobile phones, we have a camera available anywhere and anytime; you just have to take it out of your pocket, and press a button to create an image.  In less than five minutes, you can publish it on social media, and it can be seen by people all over the world.

AF: How did you end up starting your photography career in NYC?

KN: I am still trying to get it started.  I came to NYC four months ago to take fashion photography summer classes at the School of Visual Arts.  I was supposed to go back to Brazil in mid-August, but I decided to stay a little longer, and take a chance.  It’s still too soon to evaluate my results; I am still making my connections in NYC. I came here all by myself.  I didn’t know anyone nor had any family here.  Every single accomplishment is a victory to me.  I had no idea that I was so brave.  I’ve been through tough times in this city, but I faced every challenge as a new lesson learned. I was kind of homeless during the week of the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week due to an apartment rental scam.  Suddenly one morning, I was in the streets with my luggage, sitting on the sidewalk, having breakfast and fixing my hair to go to fashion week.  It was a crazy, funny thing.  On the streets in the morning, and later the same day I’m attending glamorous fashion week events.  Today, I laugh about it, but at the time, I was so desperate. I could have given up and taken the first plane back to Brazil, but I never thought about giving up. I didn’t come so far for nothing.

AF: Which countries have you been to?

KN: I have been to the USA, Japan, and Argentina.

AF: What are some ways that you connect with different models?

KN: When you start working for the fashion industry, you end up getting to know models and designers, and your friend is a friend of somebody, and you always end up knowing someone. It’s all about connections. I worked on the Brazil’s fashion weeks since 2009.

AF: Where did you get your creative ideas/inspiration?

KN: I like getting ideas from fashion magazines, music videos, movies and from the internet, but also the everyday scene is a good source of inspiration.

AF: How many people do you have on your team?

KN: I usually work with a make-up artist, hair stylist, and fashion stylist.  Here in NYC, I got to know a Japanese nail artist, so I try to get her in all of my projects because her nails are amazing.

AF: What is your favorite asian food/restaurant in NYC?

KN: I like Gyu-Kaku and Terakawa Ramen.The Japanese nail artist introduced me to Gyu-Kaku.  It’s a yakiniku place, and I felt like I was back to Japan.  Terakawa is a small ramen and curry place. I used to go there a lot because it was just across from the place where I was living. The chicken curry is so delicious!

AF: What is your next step/destination?

KN: If things don’t work out here in NYC, I think I will go back to Brazil for a while, and then, I want to go to London.  But I have a feeling that I will stay in NYC.  If for some reason I don’t stay here, I know I will come back soon. When I first arrived here, nothing really impressed me.  It was my first time in NYC, but it felt like home from the very first day I walked around.  Everything seemed so familiar, I never got lost, and I was even giving information to tourists. I feel so comfortable in this city.

AF: What are some challenges you face as a celebrity/fashion photographer?

KN: In the beginning, nobody wants to pay you. The designers want you to do the pictures for them, but they say they don’t have any budget for photos.  When you are a beginner, it’s okay because it’s good for your portfolio, but after a while, you get tired.  Photography is my living, not a hobby.  Being a photographer is not cheap, every single accessory or equipment costs a lot of money.

AF: Which fashion designers do you like and want to shoot next?

KN: My dream is to shoot for Marc Jacobs. I like his designs, and I think his campaigns are very creative and fun. I also would like to take pictures for big publications like I-D magazine.

AF: What is it that as a photographer from the East you find fascinating/interesting about photographing in NYC?

KN: Actually, I am from the West.  I was born and raised in Brazil.  In NYC, the rhythm is fast, and you also have to be fast to make things happen; go with the flow, or you will get stuck in time.  I also love the variety of locations that we can use for a photoshoot; it’s a very photogenic city.  I love the lights of NYC during the night, the nature of beautiful parks inside the city, the charming brick-walled buildings, and the many stunning bridges that connect Manhattan to other places.  My favorite place in NYC is the East River.  I used to exercise by the river every night during the summer and watch the moon and the city lights reflecting on the water.  It’s priceless.