The Photographic Journal

Khalik Allah

Interview 033 • Aug 27th 2015

Foreword

As astonishing as Khalik's photos are, I found the man equally, if not more fascinating. His fearlessness in circumstances that would stop others dead in their tracks, his focus on elements far more esoteric than the merely technical, Khalik is a kind of photographer I haven't often come across, and it was a delight to chat him up for y'all.

Interview

In looking at your work, the first thing that really pops out at me is your use of color, is how vibrant those photos are. How much thought do you give to that element when you’re shooting?

Not too much thought goes into that, you know. After I’ve decided on the camera, the lens, the kit, the type of film I’m going to use. The rest is just, framing…it’s really all about my subject. Color and all of those things are very important features for my photography, people are always talking about them. But I kind of handle that all on my own, it’s pretty much set by the time I hit the streets. I’m pretty much using the same camera, the same lens, and Portra 160 film every time I shoot.

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Good stuff.

Yeah, so sometimes I use 400. I pay a lot of attention to the light that I use, which has an effect on those colors. I’ve been shooting on the same corner for going on three years. So I know the light sources to use; I know the light coming out of the pizza shop is gonna flood out the subject’s face a lot. If there’s a passing ambulance or police cars with their sirens on, I know to try and make some shots while that’s happening, because that creates a very interesting look on film, as well. So yeah man, it’s ultimately about my subject, and then those secondary things follow.

Did you give consideration to color versus black and white? Because I know a lot of the people doing street photography in New York are doing a lot of black and white. But I feel that color kind of gives it more of a…it makes it very present in the current moment. Black and white, it could be from whenever: 60’s, 70’s, 80’s – you don’t know when it’s from. Where I feel that your photos are very modern, because they use that color, because they’re not going black and white.

Man, first off, thank you for saying that.

You’re welcome!

What you said within itself was beautiful right there. I started out studying the great photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Klein, Robert Frank, Daido Moriyama, everybody. Everybody that I could find, William Eggleston- just so many different people. I was originally trying to emulate them. I mean, obviously Eggleston was a color photographer, but all the others I mentioned were all black and white photographers. In the beginning, I was trying to emulate them, because I just looked up to them so much. But after a while, I was like, “man, these candid black and white photographs don’t say anything about my life.” And they’re not really representing me. For me, that was part of my learning curve, to go through black and white, and learn how to process and develop black and white film. To learn about light through black and white film, and also to learn my camera through black and white film.

Right, totally.

Before I started shooting at night time at home, I was shooting in the lower east side of Manhattan, I’d use Ilford HP5, FP4, and those were my two types of film. And everything was candid; all of the shots were, like, the basic street photography styles of “nobody knows I’m here.” I’m like a ghost, a phantom.

There and gone.

I did that for like 2 years, and then I went into Harlem at night time, with black and white, I was using FP4 125 ISO film, at night.

Oof.

So from then, I knew I could use such a low ISO film, slow speed film at night, and still create an exposure. After a while, I was like, “let me just try some color film out.” And once I started shooting the 160 Kodak Portra, I was like, “man, psh, at night time, without a flash, this is it, this is going to me, this is going to be my resume from now on.”

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Yeah. Spoke to you.

Yes. And again, studying those great photographers that I mentioned, I knew that I needed my own theme. I needed my own voice, or my name, and my own signature of my own style. I studied those people, but I never really wanted to be them.

No, right.

I just wanted to know my history in photography. And that’s the benefit that they gave me. Now I feel, like what you just said, having that antiquated look from shooting film, but it still being timeless, but at the same time mine, that’s exactly what I’m going for.

Right. What was it that…I’ve seen some of this in other interviews, but what was it that made you decide on these people for your theme? You knew you wanted a theme, you knew you wanted kind of a guiding subject principle. Why 125th and Lexington?

Because the people are so beautiful and they’re all characters. When you’re a photographer, man, you hope, you wish to walk into a scene and just find something interesting. A photographer can burn through many rolls of film before he finds anything that’s interesting to him. I found that this corner was saturated with interesting content, for me. And then I also understood that so few people would enter into it, because of fear of what’s there. So then I felt I had a monopoly on this extremely interesting subject matter, that most people would never into because their fear would prevent them from doing so.

Right.

So once I really got settled into that realm, into that world, and I started developing relationships with many individuals, and I started hearing their stories. It’s just the type of thing where I knew I was going to be there for at least three or four years, or longer. Now it’s three years, but I know no matter what I do with my career, as a filmmaker and as a photographer, I’m always going to shoot 125th and Lex, always. Until the neighborhood completely changes, and it becomes a very rich area.

Are there other areas you are feeling you want to explore now?

Yeah, I’ve done a project…I’ve been working simultaneously in Jamaica.

That’s where your mom’s from?

Yes. You may have seen my short film “Khamaica.”

Mhm.

Yeah, so basically I made that film, and released it, June 1st, 2014. But since then, I’ve been back to Jamaica, I’ve actually started making “Field Niggas”, if you’re familiar with my movie.

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Yes.

A “Field Niggas” type documentary in Jamaica in the hoods. And I’ve shot about seven days of it, so far. But when I came back from Jamaica in January, “Field Niggas” just blew up. I started traveling with it, I went to True/False Film Festival with it. Since then, it’s just been a roller coaster, and I haven’t really been able to pay that to the new Jamaican movie enough attention, but the good thing is that “Field Niggas” has been getting so much attention, that people want to give me money and support to go and finish my movie in Jamaica.

I like money.

So yeah! I’ve kind of been slow to try to do too much work on it, in the meantime I want to work out those grants, set everything right. And then hopefully by, I’d say by late fall, I could begin working on it. Because really, I’m booked. I’m going to France tomorrow.

What?!

Yeah, bro, this shit is so real, man.

Nice!

You know, my encouragement, my words of advice to anybody that’s a photographer or filmmaker, or someone like myself that’s both, is like: yo, make as much work as you can that has enough of you in it, and put it out for free. Just keep putting it out, don’t worry about it, just keep sharing your work, make it all come from the heart. Release it on the internet; on your sites, whether it be your Facebook, or your Tumblr, or your personal website, and watch what happens, man. We’re living in that world now where you can put yourself on, you know what I mean?

Right. What’s in France?

France is the FIDMarseille, the International Documentary Film Festival, in the south of France. Field Niggas is part of this international competition. What’s amazing is that they don’t really select too many American films.

Oh wow.

I think I’m the only American film, or one of two American films that’s playing in FIDMarseille this year. And the other thing is, to have a film with this many black people? I know it’s unprecedented for them. So thank you to Melanie Augére and the entire FIDMarseille collective, that is bringing me out there for this, this is amazing for me, you know?

That’s dope. With the Jamaica work, what is it you’re looking to capture back there?

Aw man, I think that Jamaica reflects the work that I’ve been doing on 125th Street, because there’s another world in Jamaica, which I know a lot of people never go into. Again, because of fear. There’s worlds in Jamaica that even I was like, “holy shit, I’m going into this zone?” The thing is, there’s a high level of common sense and spirituality that Jamaican people have, that is prevalent in even the homeless Jamaicans, even the people that are indigent, still have a level of common sense and spirituality which I don’t even see in New York, I don’t really see in America, period. When I’m speaking to people in Jamaica, especially the older people that aren’t part of the new age with modern technology, they have so much wisdom to offer me. When they see that I’m coming to them for wisdom, they open up on a tremendous level, and I’ve been able to record that. It breaks the boundaries of different religions, and different ideologies. There’s a common truth, which the people of Jamaica have always been able to give me, which gives me a lot of comfort, for myself. To capture that, I mean, I was trying to do it in “Khamaica” by way of my grandfather, who used to be a deacon in the church. And I kind of gave him the voice to narrate throughout that film. When I made that movie, he had already been passed away for two years. I never mention that in the film, because I don’t believe in death.

I dig it.

I don’t think we really need to focus on death, I don’t really look at it like that. I look at it as, you’re not your body, anyway. You’re eternal anyway. So now, the project is not just dealing with my grandfather, but more of the entire island, going around to different parishes, speaking to different people, and what I have already blows my mind. The audio and the video that I’ve been able to capture…just last January was nuts, and I kind of want to edit it, and kind of want to start working on it now, but I’ve just been so busy, you know. I want people to see, like, “Damn, this is Jamaica? We didn’t know Jamaica was like this, we had our own idea of it from whatever we’ve seen on YouTube, whatever we’ve seen when we’ve traveled there ourselves, as tourists. But holy shit, we never saw this part, we never knew that part was there.”

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

That’d a through line in your work, generally, showing a different side to people that the audience may not have seen before.

Yeah, for sure.

And that’s something you’re conscious of? Let me ask you this: who is it you’re trying to educate?

Everybody. I look at a 60 year old man who’s well read, I look at him like he’s still a baby. We’re all still children, you know what I mean? We come to this planet to learn the lesson of forgiveness, you know, and the lesson of unity. The fact that you are more than your ego, we’re more than our bodies, we’re even more than the self concepts that we have assigned to ourselves. So my work, ultimately, is an attempt to go beyond the ego. When you see “Field Niggas”, you hear me in that movie, and I didn’t want to be in that movie. At first, I wanted to myself out and cut my questions out, and just let the answer be heard by the audience. But in looking at it and first doing it, it was taken out of context. When I cut myself out, it was taking it out of context. And I analyzed “why do I want to cut myself out?” Oh, I don’t like how I sound.

Hahahaha, I know that feeling.

That’s just me thinking it’s going to be taken a certain way, or perceived a certain way, and that’s nonsense. The result was, people loved my presence in the film, it ended up being a real good thing for it. So really it’s pushing me to grow, in many ways, it’s expanding my comfort level, and it’s showing the light in the darkness, that there really is no darkness anywhere, there’s light everywhere. It’s always present, even in the darkness. My audience has been so varied…I played my movie at NYU one day, and there was a Muslim woman in a hijab, and next to her was the old manager of the rock group The Clash, sitting side by side. So I don’t really know who my demographic is. It’s everyone. I try my best, especially with my film, with that film, to make that work…and even my photography, to make it, not a political thing. It’s not political, it’s not even a guilt thing, it’s not about pointing fingers at guilt. There’s themes of poverty, drug abuse, drug addiction, homelessness in my work, but those themes are also balanced with themes of equanimity and love and consciousness and those types of things. It’s really for everyone.

Do you…when you’re photographing these people, does your interest begin to stray towards the root causes? I look at the photos, and I see these people, do you ever think about examining where it’s all coming from? Like, how do they end up here? Do you begin to wonder about how they got to the places they are?

Yeah, you know what though, I do, but not in a special sense, in the sense of making their specific story special. Like, “What’s your history with your mother, what’s your history with your father, what was your economic situation growing up?” I don’t go into those things. I go into the type of things in the sense of 125th and Lexington is a microcosm of the entire planet earth. And their suffering is a mirror of all of our suffering in a pictorial form, where you can see their suffering. But everybody that’s in a physical body that’s on the plane of the physical dimension is suffering. It may vary in different ways, but we’ve all chosen…my, and to answer that question, we got to get into my spiritual understanding of life and what this world is, and it’s that this world is really an illusion. The son of God looking for himself outside of Heaven, in a world where now he’s fragmented into all these separate bodies. We’re all one, your name is Lou, my name is Khalik, we just met just now, but that’s not the reality. The reality is that I’m speaking to myself. The reality is that you’re hearing yourself when you hear me talk. We’re all one. We see each other in such a limited perspective that we can’t see it from an aerial view, where it’s like oh that’s just one being, a body has many cells. You’ve got cells in the brain, cells in the kneecap, the cells that function in the eyeball function differently than the cells that function in the kidney; they have different jobs. But they’re part of one body, you know what I mean?

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Sure. My mother says we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Yes, yes. And I would go to say that the human experience was chosen. It was chosen because we felt it was going to be necessary for our growth and development, in one way or another. We choose the very womb we reincarnate into. We choose the time and location of our birth, we choose the family that we’re born into, so these things can facilitate our learning, as souls. So the people on 125th and Lexington, the choices that they made to facilitate their learning that they need, are extreme. The choice to become a drug addict, the choice to grow up without a parent, without parents. Some may say these aren’t choices, these people are victims of circumstance. But I don’t believe in that, and I feel that everything is your choice.

Does that view…does it make it easier to walk into situations that are unfamiliar to you, or that other people might fear?

Yes it does, it does, because I’m not crying. I’m not looking at the suffering and crying about it. My form of empathy doesn’t join in suffering, and thus lighten the suffering by joining into it, and sharing it. That’s what most people do: “oh my mother died,” “Oh my mother died too, I feel so bad for you!” Somebody tells me that person died, I’m going to tell that person that death is not real. Obviously, I’m going to say it to them in the most tactful way that I can, I’m not just going to try and hit them with some philosophical jargon while they’re going through mourning, but at the same time, I’m not going to join into their suffering with them and try lighten it by sharing it with them. I’m going to teach them that suffering is not their reality, it doesn’t exist. So, when I’m empathizing with the people that I’m photographing, it’s always to bring a smile to their face, and to lighten their burden by telling them their burden isn’t really as heavy as they believe it is.

Right.

I’ve had people crying in front of me and start laughing, or people give me a hug and have different responses to the things I’ve said to them, because a big part of my work is not the picture. A big part of my work is just being there and listening and speaking when I can to them. It’s not a one-way street. I learn so much, they’ve been able to give me so much. That’s why I have to say to people, homelessness is nothing. Poverty is nothing. When you look at what makes a person a person, it’s always their spirit. The things that the body needs, that the body depends on, which is food, clothing and shelter…those are the things that the body needs. The spirit needs what it needs, and the body needs what it needs. There’s a difference, there’s definitely a difference.

Your mother is Jamaican, and your father is from Iran?

Yes.

Do you feel having been the product of two different cultures helps you navigate different scenarios like this? Going to 125th and Lexington, go down to Jamaica, hang out in France. Do you feel like you have a wider perspective because of having grown up in a multiple perspective home?

Yeah, man, I think I do. It’s kind of weird, that’s a big part of it, having a Jamaican mother and an Iranian father has been a big part of it. But also the high school I went to was so racially mixed where you had 40% white people, 40% black people, and then 20% different Spanish, Latino, Asian folks, and so on. But the way I grew up, the amount of friends that I had from different cultures and different backgrounds and different races, and me being almost racially ambiguous to some of these folks, I was so many different zones. I would be in a mansion in Huntington, in the north shore of Long Island, chilling with some white girl…

Hahahhaha!

…and the next day, I would be in the thick of the hood smoking weed on the corner with my boys, my brothers in the street. I knew that they weren’t doing that, I knew that they weren’t traveling to these mansions on the north shore, fucking with these white girls the way I was, you know what I mean?

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Right, right.

Not to diss them, they were my brothers, but the juxtapositions that were happening in my life, all throughout my life, expanded my mentality to include all of these different varieties of different people and places. So even to be shooting primarily on 125th and Lexington Avenue, and then be taking the film that I made on that corner to France, to the south of France, is a high level of contrast. But I’ve been dealing with this level of contrast in my photography, when you look at the saturation, when you look at the light up against the deep black background that’s in so many of my night time images, you see this contrast. When you look at the expensive film and the expensive camera, in an environment that is saturated with poverty, that in itself is a contrast. When you look at me using film, the choice to use a manual camera in this digital age, that’s another contrast. Then, when you think about it on a technical level of using 160 ISO film at night time, that’s daylight film; using that type of film without a flash is causing the film to struggle, it’s making the film struggle, and that same struggle parallels the environment that I work in. So there’s a lot of layers of thought in my work that could go unseen, that maybe only I know. But I feel that people know it on an intrinsic level when they look at the work, something in the work says, “oh shit damn, I see this picture, but what am I looking at, there must be more to this.” Hopefully that’s the result.

Does having come from having lived in such a diverse upbringing make you more comfortable in a variety of spaces?

Yeah, but I still like to be alone a lot, too. That’s just because I’m deep, I like to think and be in silence, but I’m comfortable, I can go anywhere pretty much. That also had to do with being pushed to do certain things. For instance, I’m more comfortable in Q&As than I am when I have to get up and freestyle a speech, or give a speech. But I’ve been having to do that more and more, you know, I was the keynote speaker at the French National School of the Arts here in Queens, in Astoria, Queens. They just wanted me to get up and talk to the school. And I was like, “Alright!” I accept things, I always accept things, and then I figure out how I’m going to do them. You know, I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t really shook to do it, but, like I said, now I’m good to do it, now I’m so comfortable. I could speak in front of 10,000 people or I could talk to you on Skype, it really makes no difference, because I’m just looking at all of it as one anyway. Like, yo man, I’ve gotten to a place where I’m not sweating the world, at all.

Right.

Not sweatin’ nothing in this world, this is a dream state, and being that it’s a dream state, it’s my choice to think and to dream what I want to have here. So a millionaire is working just as hard as a bum on the street, and the homeless bum or indigent, or whatever they’re considered is working just as hard as the millionaire, but what’s the difference? The result. The result is the difference. To sleep outside, to maintain for years outdoors, that’s extremely hard work. That same energy could be focused to become a stockbroker. It’s the same exact work ethic, same exact energy, but it’s going into two different places because of two different mentalities, and understandings of what life is and of the world, and what they themselves are. Your life is a reflection of your self-understanding.

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Yeah. Do you wonder about what happens to people after, you know, after they leave your camera’s view?

Yes. That, to me, has been one of the most interesting things. Three people who have been prominent people in my photography have died so far. One person’s name was Solomon, and he was actually younger than the other two folks, and Solomon fell onto the train tracks, and hit the third rail. And I didn’t know that the third rail was still active, in New York.

It is, yeah.

He died on the tracks. This was a man…I had photographed a week before him hitting the rail and dying. Those are some of the more negative stories, another person is Frenchie, who was probably the most prominent person in my photography. Frenchie is the dark-skinned, older gentleman…he’s in so much of my work. He was going in and out of hospitals, he even got hit by a train and survived it. One of the interesting stories about Frenchie is that he used to sleep on narrow part of the subway platform, and one day he had to take a shit, and where he used to go, he would squat and shit on the tracks, and a train was coming while this was happening. In his emaciated state, his weak state, he couldn’t get back onto the platform, and the train hit him. What’s so interesting is, his emaciated state made him thin enough not to get killed, it just ripped his ass cheeks and broke his pelvis. In his damn near dead condition of being emaciated, that’s the thing that ended up saving his life, cause if he would have been any bigger, he would have died.

That’s crazy.

So things like that, I’m going to put into my movies and put into my narrative of stories as I make them, in the future. And then, another prominent person, I just want to shout her out, is Sapphire, which she’s been on a lot of my publication and publicity stuff lately, promotional material, rather. She’s been on a lot of that stuff lately, and she died going through withdrawals. She finally got checked into a clinic to go through detox, and in the withdrawal process, she died. So these are the things man…but I wouldn’t have it any other way, meaning that, I wouldn’t want to be around a different type of people or different type of environment, right now, with the exception of what I’ve been doing in Jamaica. I wouldn’t like to do that right now, because my mission in photography isn’t really an artistic mission, it’s more of a spiritual mission. I would like to surround myself with who Christ would surround himself with, and you know, those were always the indigent, those were always the whores, the prostitutes, the worst of the worst – or who society considered to be the worst.

So I sense there’s a kinship between you and your subjects?

Definitely.

I definitely see this in the work, that there’s not as much of a separation between you and your subject as there are between other documentary photographers. Do you know Mary Ellen Mark, you know her work?

Oh yeah, I love her!

Yeah, there’s definitely a connection between her work and yours, in that there’s that closeness in the subjects, that there isn’t as much of a wall as you might see in other documentary photographers. How do you think you work to try and create that? Or remove that wall?

Yeah, that comes from being sincere. That comes from being genuine. On a technical level, that comes from using a prime lens.

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Right.

I wouldn’t consider myself a serious photographer if I used a zoom lens, and tried to zoom in on these people’s faces from across the street, and take a portrait.

Hahahaha, right.

I mean, come on, that will get you killed. People who do shit like that, that’s more dangerous than doing what I do. But, in my photography, man, I’m talking to the person. There’s a dialogue, there’s a whole discussion, if time allows it. Sometimes it’s only a few seconds if somebody is on the move and they let me just take their portrait real quick. But usually, there’s an ongoing discussion. The people that I’m photographing, many of them have seen me before, even if I didn’t photograph them before, they’ve seen me before. I go to the woods, often, you know what I mean, I’m going to the woods, and I’m just walking around, and I know that there’s so much shit that’s seen me that I haven’t seen. Like the deer, they’ve seen me already. The raccoons, they’ve seen me already. I don’t see them, they see me though. It’s the same thing with shooting photography in an environment like 125th and Lexington. Over time, everybody has seen me. I may not know them yet, but they know me now, and that kind of broke people’s shields down. Also, in the beginning, I was coming around at 2 in the morning, 3 in the morning, 4 in the morning. That gave me certain stripes, whereas, it was like, “shit man, we could rob this person right now, but he’s being so honest, we don’t even want to fuck with him. We want to actually embrace this person, because he doesn’t have to be here right now.” All that has really enabled me to gain entry into where I am now, know what I mean?

Yeah.

And look man, I just want to add this one last part: after “Field Niggas” came out, the New York Times did a feature on the movie, and it was just a big thing, you know what I mean? And it still is. But the brothers in the street had seen the movie, it was on YouTube at that point, and they were watching it every day. They were going over to one person’s house, who had a TV or whatever, and would watch the shit on YouTube or whatever. Then I took it off the internet, I took it offline because I started traveling with it. It just wasn’t good keeping it on the internet, because I was looking for a distribution deal and it needed to be privatized. So I come back out to the streets, and everybody’s like “yo, what the fuck, where’s the film at? We were loving it we were watching I want to show it to my mom…” So then, I printed about 50 DVDs, and I numbered them, I edition-ed them 1 of 50, and I autographed them 1 of 50. And when anybody asked me like yo what’s up with the film, I would just hand them off a DVD. So many people, after all of that, were like, “oh man, yo, this dude is real, he was just written up in the Times, and he’s still out here he didn’t get on some make-a-movie-and-not-come-back type shit, getting some Hollywood shit. He kept it real with us and he’s still here.” And I just want to shout out my brother Denair, he is such a good brother, man, my girl Michelle out there, obviously all the people who’ve passed away: Solomon, Frenchie, Sapphire. And there’s many people that I know, and many people that I meet for the first time, every time I go out there, there’s people that I’m meeting for the first time, because we cannot forget, this is New York City.

Heh, yeah.

And there’s a lot of people who come and go throughout the years, and shooting this area for 3 years, people have said yo, you ready to move on? Is there something else? You gonna go do something else? I’m like yo, there’s so much here. The deeper I go, the deeper I’m seeing it, the more I’m seeing it. It’s like a DMT trip, you know what I mean? It’s like instead of being 6 or 7 minutes…

Yeah, this is a lifetime!

Yeah!

So your heart, artistically, will always be there. Where do you see yourself going in the next few years, artistically?

More filmmaking. There will be a narrative feature, a fiction piece, coming from me, a feature length film, and I see myself doing more evolving with my photography, simultaneously, because I don’t want my film career to completely eclipse my photography career. If I’m not taking pictures in a long time, and I’m doing a lot of interviews and I’m doing a lot of traveling and I’m doing a lot of talking, but I’m not doing a lot of photography, then my creativity starts to dwindle. I feel that when I’m taking photographs, even if I’m real busy, whenever I go to the streets to take photographs, that’s my food. That is my recharge, that is my energy.

That’s what’s feeding the spirit.

That’s what’s feeding the spirit, I couldn’t have said it better. That is what is feeding the spirit. And when I come back to create anything on a different level, then I have the energy from photography. So, in the future, there’s so much…I’ve been respected as a photographer for a while now, for a few years now, but I know because I’ve done the research on Nobuyoshi Araki, Cartier-Bresson, Daido Moriyama, William Eggleston, Diane Arbus, all of the great female photographers, and photographers in general, I’ve done all of that. And I know that I got so much further to go. So much further to go with that. My first book hasn’t even been published yet.

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

A your work changes, do you find new inspirations?

Yeah, hell yeah. My inspirations, like I said, I like going to the woods. The part that I left out, I’ll go to the woods by myself, I’ll take an eighth of shrooms. I don’t consider these things drugs. But, even beyond that, my inspiration has always been the lightning. Every time I see lightning, I’m like, oh shit. That to me, I’d get to work. Any time I think back, when I was a child, the impressions I had of walking through the city with my mother, when my mother used to hold me by the hand and say “don’t look at that person. Keep walking.” Or whatever, not that my mother was a fearful person, but that certain environments that I would walk through, I was seeing people similar to who I’m photographing now, and now I’m photographing them. My inspirations also come from the books, the esoteric information that I was studying. This is, I guess, an art form, photography, but really it’s just the disimmination point for me to put that knowledge through. It’s just a prism, literally, a prism for me to depict the light of my mind from these early impressions of my childhood, and also the esoteric type of knowledge, and my love of nature, and also my love of people. I’m inspired by the people I photograph, so it just keeps coming. Inspiration can really come from anything; I’m inspired by the piano. I just went from mushrooms to the piano!

Hahahahah! Do you look at a lot of other current photographers?

Not…no, not anymore. And I don’t really know a lot of them, either. One dude I know from Tumblr, his name is Bernd Schaefers…he, I love his style, he shoots black and white. A lot of the photographers that I see on the internet that I really like are doing nothing similar to me, at all. They’re shooting black and white, contrast, and even some of them are shooting digital and I still love it. I don’t know too many names of too many of the current photographers, and I know that, when they read this interview, they’re gonna be like, “aw man,” because I do know a lot of them, I’m just drawing blanks right now. But I don’t really look to them for too much inspiration, I just look at them as more of a brotherhood, more of a, “oh shit we’re coming up at the same time.” Because Jamel Shabazz used to see Bruce Davidson on the subway. Bruce Davidson got a book, Subway. And Jamel Shabazz’s work, a lot of it was taken place in a subway, so they used to see each other, give each other a head nod, and just have that brotherly respect for each other, even if they weren’t close friends. But obviously, they weren’t living during the digital, internet age. So now, I’m seeing all the photographers in Australia, in Japan, in Norway, Austria…it’s not a subway car, but we give each other a little nod when we like each other’s pictures. I know some people are like, “oh shit, Khalik just liked my shit!” But to me, I’m like, man, shit, that was an ill fucking picture, by an ill fucking photographer, stop sleeping on yourself. Don’t be in awe of me, we’re equal. Like, your shit is crazy, too, just gotta keep pushing it. The thing with me is I kept working, I’m still working. I’ve got 20 rolls of film, undeveloped in my refrigerator right now, and I keep rolls…I’m getting like Gary Winograd.

He’s got hundreds of rolls when he died, yeah!

Exactly! That’s how we all should be if we’re serious about it.

What is it that you respond to in other photography right now? Like, what is it that really gets you going when you see somebody else’s work?

Subject matter. The subject matter trumps the framing, trumps the aesthetic of it. It trumps even the technology, whether you’re using digital or film. The subject matter, it doesn’t have to be something that is disgusting, it doesn’t have to be something that’s obscene, it doesn’t have to always be something sexual. And if you can do something that’s very interesting that’s none of those things, I would think it’s an even better photograph I think those are short cuts. I think that shooting sex, shooting homelessness, shooting big breasts, shooting even landscapes, are shortcuts to creating good work. I think that people need to be more introspective. When I’m looking at somebody’s work, and I can see, “holy shit, they were thinking,” or “they weren’t thinking and this is just an outpouring of their spirit,” then I’m like, okay. And that can occur with the picture of the nude woman, that could occur with a landscape, that could occur with a picture of an indigent person; I’m not trying to limit it, in any sense. I guess I’m trying to push myself to not to do anything that’s too simple, not to do anything that’s too blatant, in a sense. I guess maybe the people that I’m photographing are in poverty, but I’m going to shoot them in a way that they don’t look poor. But maybe if you do sense that they’re homeless, you’re going to think that “damn, this person has nice eyes still.” Or the look coming out of their eyes is profound.

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

What strikes me about your, among other things, one of the things that strikes me is that even though you’re using film, it’s not the fact that it’s film that makes it interesting. I think a lot of people use film as a crutch, and hope that the look of film will do the work. But for your pictures, the fact that it’s film merely accentuates, it’s not the reason the photo’s good.

Definitely, definitely. Right now, the room I’m talking to you in is my studio room. This is where I’ve done all my editing, and you can’t really see…all my walls in here, I just wrote, like when I was younger I just wrote, even now sometimes, I would grab a marker and wrote all over the walls. And I remember one night, I had an epiphany, and I just wrote over all over the place “it doesn’t matter what camera I use.” It was an epiphany. It sounds so simple, people would even tell me that. But for me, to realize it on my own was an epiphany. “It doesn’t matter what camera I use.”

You had to internalize it.

Yeah, I got to that point now. That night, I broke through and got to that point, and then I started shooting on disposable cameras. I bought twenty disposable cameras, I was just shooting them, throwing them away, developing the film. And I made some good work. Some of my pictures that got a lot of views and a lot of hits on the internet are done with that, and people don’t know that it was disposable cameras, people think it was my Nikon F2 with Portra, you know what I mean? So my choice of shooting film was really my choice just to break down one more barrier, because I feel that digital does have a barrier, by having a sensor. The sensor can never replace emotion of film, that’s what I feel. I feel that the film is the direct language that doesn’t need to be translated by…it’s more true to the language of light than digital would be, because digital is taking that light and translating that light by way of the sensor.

Right, into ones and zeroes.

Exactly, exactly. So film is responding to the light, like if you say something to me, I’m going to respond to it, but if you type something to me through an email, then I’m still going to respond, but it’s going to be translated to thinking about what you said a little bit more, how I want to come off, and I’ve got more time; it’s just going to be different.

And one last question, we ask of all our subjects: do you prefer the process or the result? TPJ™ 2015

Hmm, that’s a good question.

We worked real hard on that one.

Shit man, I don’t know. Say…that’s not a “yes or no” question, because if I was…I love shooting, like I said, that recharges me. But if I were not to shoot, and somebody would have just…or if I could just pull my images and have them and put them on the internet, I would be losing my shooting, but I would still have the great images. I know it’s just…I don’t know man, I would go with the process.

Okay, yeah.

For me, I’ve heard of other photographers who have gone out and tried to pick up girls, and they’re just shooting their camera with no film loaded in it.

Hahahahhaha

So for them, it was definitely a process…but I guess if it came down to it, it would be kind of the same thing for me. Because the result is the part that you share, that is the part that has given me notoriety, and I appreciate that part, but what the process has given me has been more, as far as human growth, spiritual development…and all the women that I’ve picked up!

Hahahahahha, never a bad thing. Alright, I don’t think we can find a better place to end than that.

Great man. I appreciate you man, thank you so much man.

Thank you Khalik, this has been great. I really enjoyed it.

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal

Interview 033: Khalik Allah for The Photographic Journal