Kwaku Alston has photographed some of the most famous faces in the world, from Hollywood luminaries like Jamie Lee Curtis and Denzel Washington to sports stars such as LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal, as well as President Barack Obama. A veteran advertising photographer, Kwaku has worked for clients including Coca-Cola, i.am+ BUTTONS, and the History Channel. His personal lifestyle photography projects include the series “Fatherhood,” inspired by the birth of his first child; “Volkslivin,” comprising photos of vintage Volkswagen buses; and “Venice,” featuring spontaneous portraits of people and places he encountered as a longtime resident of the California beachside neighborhood. This is his second year teaching at The Workshops. His website is www.kwakualston.com.
This year Kwaku with be teaching Creating an Iconic Portrait June 30 - July 5, 2019
We had the opportunity to talk with Kwaku about his approach to photography:
SFPW: Your work clearly has a distinctive style and point-of-view. When did you first start to understand ‘who you were’ as a photographer and what you wanted to do with it?
Kwaku Alston: It wasn’t until I was in my 30s and woke up.I was already creating work that I’m proud of, but knowing who you are comes with time. The process of becoming a photographer is different for everyone. As I move forward in my life and career, how I see the world has changed, which directly affects my artistic vision.
SFPW: The world of editorial and celebrity photography can be fast paced and exhausting. How do you maintain a balanced creative approach with the high demand and volume of the job?
Kwaku Alston: It comes down to time management and knowing how much work you can take on before you start to break down creatively. Artists have to figure out how to refill their creative well and that’s different for everyone—it could be hiking, yoga, dance.... Traveling is my favorite way to recharge, and doing personal projects that I’m passionate about. When people take on too much work, it takes away from everything else in their life.
SFPW: Do you have different approaches to photographing a ‘celebrity’ as you do someone who maybe isn’t as well known? What methods do you use to have people open up in-front of the camera?
Kwaku Alston: I photograph everyone all the same, regardless of fame. My methods include using music, how I approach them, making them feel comfortable in the space with their favorite flowers or food, and doing research to learn of any new projects they’ve done or anything you can relate to. It’s about getting them out of their shell and helping them feel comfortable to engage.