Behind The Lens: James Asante

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Photography plays such a major role in documenting the multicultural and magnificent moments that take place in New York. Amongst many creative directors and photographers, James Asante stands out with a unique approach to capturing things that stand out to him. The Bronx-raised Ghanaian American is extremely talented, having taken photos of Tyler, the Creator, Rihanna, Common, and Saweetie to name a few.

James Asante has captured several concerts on film as well as the New York lifestyle and skate culture. His work really speaks for itself, bringing out emotions through the use of composition and lighting in addition to the phenomenal angles James Asante is known for using. Some other artists and creatives that he shot include Dave East, A$AP Rocky, Rick Ross, Kodie Shane, and the list continues. We need more young Black photographers like him paving the way for our next generation of creatives, thus why we chose to spotlight James and his work.

For this week’s Behind The Lens, James Asante chops it up with us about falling in love with his field of work, taken pictures of Rihanna, navigating through NY and so much more! Check it out below.

When did you start shooting and how did this love for photography happen?

With photography, I’ve been shooting for as long as I can remember even down to me being a child. When I was younger, we’d always have disposable cameras in the house, and on Sunday mornings my family would always love to get their photos taken for church. One day I took a very nice photo of both of my parents and I came back from school and they were like “my son knows how to take my photos.” It kind of psyched me out in a way because I was a kid, I had to be around eight and it stuck within me until I took it seriously at 15.

I feel like New York is such a big hub for multiculturalism and opportunity, how do you navigate through the area considering how many creatives there are?

It is a very saturated environment and there are a lot of photographers and creators. I try to take the scope of it, and not see it as competition, but more or so as a field where everyone can create. I base it strictly on networking and certain endeavors. With that being said, it starts to become more sectioned out or it forms a bond between the creatives that know each other. That creates opportunities within creativity and anything that happens!

In your opinion, what makes street or music photography so special for you?

What I do is pretty much lifestyle or editorial photography and I do creative direction. Photography makes me want to see the visions within what I see; it’s more than just a perspective. Growing up I used to watch a lot of movies and cartoons, and I would pay a lot of attention to how it would look. I would have this thought of how it would look as a picture, and so on. Me being nervous, I grew to love the reaction that people would give me when I take photos! It’s just beautiful to watch.

You got to shoot some photographs of Tyler, The Creator while he was performing a while back, what was the experience like being back outside after shows were delayed for the most part?

Well funny enough, Tyler is my favorite music artist. I have every album of his downloaded. New York is a hot spot for big artists to perform at. Just hearing the crowd’s reaction, and I couldn’t believe I was there. Me seeing the perspective from the picture… that’s how I visioned the entire performance. It was honestly breathtaking!

Out of your entire portfolio, which photograph is your favorite and why?

A lot of creators, especially me, tend to overlook my work. One of them is most recently, the Tyler photo is my favorite photo that I ever shot. My second most favorite is of Rihanna during her Fenty x Bergdorf Goodman collaboration. Those two photographs, I can’t wait to show my children and tell them about the experience I had.

Tell me the story behind the photos you shot of Rihanna—I feel like she’s very secretive so it was really dope to see those.

Rihanna is just… oh my god! That photograph was a month before the pandemic during New York Fashion Week. Through the experience and opportunities that I had, being in that room, there were so many Black creators. Walking in the room, you can feel the essence of what’s about to happen. Rihanna walks in and all the paparazzi are there. While she’s greeting other people, I wanted to capture the experience of her greeting them as well. A lot of people were like “oh my god, she’s amazing.” I even got to shoot Amy Sall. It was just a beautiful experience. Even Maliiibu Miitch was there and everything was just amazing.

In regards to photography and creative direction, do you have any goals that you want to reach in the next year or so?

Of course! I have so many goals. My goal is to document creative lifestyles and artists. I’ve shot a lot of concerts in my past and I know the back work that it takes to promote the songs that they put it. It’s something that I really enjoy. Creative direction is so important because you can control the artist’s whole image and if you have the control over it, it can go one way or another. I also want to shoot for more creative agencies and brands. With me being behind the lens, I feel like people will get a better experience in terms of what they want to see.

Elsewhere in photography, check out our interview with Tejah Coffey!