IN HIS FIRST PUBLISHED INTERVIEW, FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER AHMAD BARBER DETAILS INITIATIVE, INFLUENCE, AND WHAT IT’S BEEN LIKE IN A CITY NOT KNOWN FOR FASHION.
COCAINE PRETTI : How did you get into photography? What were your influences?
AHMAD BARBER : It was my outlet. When I was in high school, photography was a way for me to say how I felt. I would do these crazy self portraits and put them on Facebook so if I was depressed, you’d get some mysterious shit. If I was happy or feeling myself, you’d see that. When I came to Morehouse, it turned into a way for me to escape biology but more formal. I was around all these different types of people I’d never seen. Being from Detroit, fashion wasn’t something that came natural to me so coming to Morehouse and seeing formal fashion and crazily dressed people made me want to photograph them. Before there was Instagram there was this thing called Flickr. That was my shit. I was kind of Flickr famous for a minute. Photographing people at school turned into me reaching out to actual photographers and learning fashion photography to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. After a while, I started growing. I’m completely self taught so when I would see a photo I liked, I would keep trying until I got it.
CP : Was it the same with retouching and developing your style?
AB : With retouching, it was more so trial and error and understanding what was marketable. What was considered high end versus low end. What people got paid to do versus what wasn’t it. Coming into Atlanta you know, the beat face no pore thing, I thought that was cool.
He shows me photographs of his first fashion shoot with a vintage designer and states that it was very ‘Atlanta’.
It was very Atlanta, I don’t even know what’s going on there. After I took this photo and posted it on Flickr, I started getting all these responses and thinking “I am a fashion photographer.
We both laugh as he goes into more detail and reminiscence over how he viewed his work then.
iPhoto is what I use to edit all my photos in, you know, blur the skin. [laughs] Then it came to a point where I was like okay, let me learn Photoshop. It grew from there.
I didn’t learn higher fashion photography until I was a sophomore at Morehouse. I started meeting the fashion kids like Kyrell and Jovel, all of these people that eat, live, and sleep fashion. I payed attention to what they were drawn to, but then I would research who was shooting these campaigns and who were the creatives behind them. It started as an escape at first, but then I liked it more than what I was escaping from.
CP : Once you researched and look into to the people who were shooting these editorials, who were some of those people?
AB : Nick Knight. He’s always been my top idol, mostly because of his uniqueness and his creativity. You know a Nick Knight photo from anywhere. It doesn’t matter what campaign, what client, or what celebrity, you will know a Nick Knight photo. I really appreciate that from him as an artist. After researching and looking behind the scenes, he don’t take no shit. Whatever his vision is, that’s his vision. And that’s what people pay him for.
After that, it would be Mario Testino because of his sensuality. I really enjoy the way he captures sexy and makes it okay. He could show you an ass crack and you would be like... [nods head].
And then I would say over the past five years, Tim Walker. He’s my secondary obsession because of his storytelling. It’s so weird and dark, but you still love it.
CP : How do feel about certain edit requests from publications that take out what makes people real?
AB : I use do it because it’s the client. But over the past two years, I’ve become more comfortable saying this is my vision. Accept my vision. I stray away from drastic body manipulation because I think we as people have to get away from this idea of perfection and accept what makes us, us. Some publications have a different process for retouching photos. I’ve been asked to do this and refused to work with certain publications because I don’t agree to it. After the photographer leaves set, they ask you to turn over the photos and they do whatever to them. So sometimes the photographer may not see the final photo until it’s in print.
To me, that’s not a representation of what you do. That’s not your work. Post processing is big part of putting that final stamp on your work. If you turn that over, how is it still your work? When people do that, it just, hurts me a little bit.
CP : I can definitely relate to that. You mentioned that you’re originally from Detroit. Did you move here because of family?
AB : I originally moved here for school. Morehouse was in my top three school choices. After getting here and learning a little more about Atlanta, I understood that it was a budding media sector. I stayed after graduation to jump into that and it worked. There’s nothing in Detroit that’s like Atlanta so I wouldn’t be the same the photographer today if I’d stayed in Detroit.
CP : Starting from when you came from Detroit to now, how do you feel about the growth and development of the creative scene here?
AB : When I first came down here, I was a social butterfly. You could get me at every event. Somewhere in-between now and before, I turned into a hermit. If you see me out, it’s a great occasion that I really care about. I would say the scene here has created that for me in multiple ways. One reason is it’s very clickish. I’m not a clickish person, I can go in any room and talk to anyone. What Atlanta has forced me to do is stick to myself so I’m not in the clickish thing. Beyond that, I think Atlanta has a lot of talented people here. There are a lot of under the radar people flying in and out spreading culture, but they reside in Atlanta. Yet Atlanta isn’t known for that even though we’re all here. So I think there’s this underground, genius scene here that we’re not talking about.
CP : And why do you feel we’re not talking about that? Why isn’t that in the
forefront of conversations in local media or amongst peers?
AB : We don’t stand in numbers. We’re all doing it by ourselves versus creating a collective or a united front that we can all say “hey, we’re here.” We’re “I’m over here, you’re over there” even though we’re all in Atlanta. I think once we get that united front, we can become known for having super creative people here.
CP : What do you think is the first step in getting to that point?
Dropping our pride and not being worried about whose better than whom. Like me as a photographer, I’d like to be able to do what Inez Vinoodh does. Have two photographers on set creating one editorial. Why can’t that happen with us as young creators? If we could get passed the ego, I think we’d be able to do it.
CP : Going beyond photography, you have multiple creative outlets.
AB : Yes, I’m the art director for Upscale Magazine. A client remembered me and my work, and when one art director transitioned out I got an email stating I was the new art director. There was no process, no application. Now that I’m fully into the role it doesn’t hit home that I’m the art director for a national publication until I see someone reading it. Beyond this, I’m the managing partner of a media agency called Streamline. Me and my good friend started partnering on random projects. Last year we went full force with it and this year we’re working on a creative app for black creatives. Stepping outside of Ahmad Barber I do creative direction, video work, and graphic design. I do a lot.
CP : You’re basically a full media house.
AB : Well that’s my end goal. I would like to create a Showstudio for the younger generation. That’s why I’ve taken on all these different facets to understand each world so I can relate to different creatives.
CP : What are you striving for and looking forward to this year?
AB : Letting people know that I’m here and introducing them to my work. I’d like to create a creative space here, a fashion studio, and broaden my horizons. I’d like to get out of my comfort zone.
photographer: ahmad barber
creative director/stylist: skye lin
production assistants: jack lac & joyce lac
models: clare of ludlow scout/img nyc & skye lin
hair: roberto guzman styling assistant: sharon lee
mua: christine dompier