Published: September 22, 2021

Last Updated: August 5, 2022

Behind The Lens: Kai Tsehay

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Photographers deserve a lot more credit than what they’re given! Whether it be music or editorial, photographers and creatives such as Kai Tsehay are leaving a huge impact on Black culture through their works. Originally from Washington, DC, but currently based in New York, she has a long list of works that all stand out from one another. Tsehay is carving out a catalog of memories that will last a lifetime at such an early age, sharing her unique perspective one picture at a time.

Kai Tsehay has shot some of today’s most notable and recognizable names across music and lifestyle including Rico Nasty, Killer Mike, Trouble, 2 Chainz, Mike Will Made-It, and many more. Her ability to capture muses in a way that is both true-to-self and captivating to those in front of the camera has proved to be a unique talent that she’s praised for. “I used to obsessively watch music videos. It stems from that but I also love artist development whether it be musicians or photographers,” she shares.

Amongst her various accomplishments, we got to talk with the photographer about staying motivated, the ups and downs, and working with artists like Rico Nasty and more. Check out our interview with Kai Tsehay below!

What are you up to these days? Is there anything that keeps those creative juices flowing or keeps you motivated?

I’ve been shooting this whole weekend! You have fashion week, so I’ve just been shooting a bunch of events. I got to shoot Teyana Taylor and her PrettyLittleThing collab so it was fun.

You recently shot some BTS with Rico Nasty a bit ago, what’s her energy like?

Working with Rico is a lot of fun. She’s so dope, Rico is one of those people who you don’t have to tell her how to pose. She’s on go, she knows what she’s doing. Working with Rico is a lot of fun, her music is so dope. I usually work with her with my director friends in Atlanta, Spudd Mckenzie and Ryder. She’s perfect, you don’t have to guide her and she knows what she’s doing!

What fascinates you about photographing moments in music and the cultural archetypes that people paint musicians as?

I guess what excites me about working with artists, I used to obsessively watch music videos. It stems from that but I also love artist development whether it be musicians or photographers. That’s part of the reason why I’m an A&R at Collective Gallery because I’m helping find photographers. I love watching other people grow and seeing them go from the bottom to the top. Aside from photography, I love music and going to concerts so it’s a big part of my life.

Do you feel like, with the Internet and everything going on now, that photographers get the respect and credit that they deserve?

I think it’s still getting there! I feel like recently, with the COVID era, a lot of photographers started getting more opportunities. I’ve been seeing an influx of Black photographers in particular. I’ve also been seeing more campaigns highlighting photographers and people behind the scenes. I think when photography first started they actually had more respect and then it went away because of how oversaturated it can be. Now I feel like the respect is coming back but in general, every industry has flaws where people don’t understand how much people put in. It’s not just taking a picture.

With that being said, is there a dark or maybe dull side of photography that often goes unnoticed?

People don’t understand photography isn’t just pushing a button. Also people not wanting to pay you, especially for music photographers. I feel like they’re some of the most underrated photographers; they’ll shoot for free or out of the love of the industry. Sometimes the industry doesn’t love them back but you just have to navigate through it and understand your worth as a photographer. There are perks to it too though!

I saw you also shot the cover art for Westside Gunn’s project last year—how was that experience?

It was dope, it was really off the fly but I’m happy I got that opportunity. It really helped push my portfolio and make more connections so yeah it was dope!

What qualities or ideas do you hope your portraits convey above all else?

Currently, this summer I’ve been focused on shooting Black people having fun. I’ve been shooting a lot of events and I’m usually not that type of photographer, because in the past, I wouldn’t just go to an event and start shooting. This summer I have made an effort to do this while having fun at the same time. I’ve also been working on my editing style recently, I am really inspired by the Neo-Soul and Afrocentric era so I’m trying to give my edits that nostalgic vibe.

If you enjoyed our interview with Kai Tsehay, check out our chat with James Asante!