Ashani Allick: Photographer | Brooklyn, NY
Interview by Atoosa Moinzadeh Photography by Quan Brinson Ashani wears Last Resort Signature Jacket
Ashani Allick found his calling as a photographer just a year ago, and is Creating Paradise with images that resemble movie stills. After making ties with Cinematic Music Group in 2015, Allick has worked with artists like Joey Bada$$, G-Herbo, D.R.A.M, and others, meshing hip-hop photography with documentarian work. Currently, he’s touring with The Smokers Club (featuring Herbo, Cam’ron, and others) across the country.
“I was working in the Cinematic office one afternoon when Joey Bada$$ came in for a quick meeting. It was May 2015: I had just picked up photography, and was finally in a creative space and putting ideas in motion. He tapped on my shoulder and said “Hey bro, let’s go take some shots.” Instantly, I thought, “What the hell am I going to shoot?” I was totally unprepared. But I was ready—I was eager to really prove myself as a photographer. So we went outside and started walking around, and eventually we got on the R train during rush hour.
The train happens to be empty, so he starts doing all these crazy acrobatic stunts. He started hanging off the rail upside-down with a bandana on his face, and the minute I pressed the ‘click,’ I knew that was the photo—I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that’s the money shot.’ And since then, that’s how I’ve felt behind the camera. It feels like a part of my hand.
I tried college for a while when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. College wasn’t really for me—my parents come from the Caribbean, and their idea of success is going to school, getting a degree, becoming a doctor or lawyer, that kind of thing. I was doing it for them. When I was in school, I decided I wanted to start a blog and dreamt of opening up my own store one day, BarrelhouseBKLYN. I went through the motions and it didn’t end up panning out, but my idea of success has always been being happy and doing whatever it is you’re passionate about, so I feel like it was a part of the journey. I always had a camera for my blog, but I picked up photography more seriously just last year. Now, it’s how I make my living. And I’m not saying I just picked up a camera and was dope at it, because it really takes time to hone in on your craft. You’ve gotta say to yourself, ‘this is what I wanna do, by any means,’ and see what it takes.
We live in the 21st century, where you can teach yourself whatever you want. You can go on the internet and really study your craft. You can just go outside and shoot. I’m pretty much home taught and taught myself how to do things through YouTube—when I edit my photos I try to make them look like a still from a movie, I go with what feels right. I’m big on shadows, colors, feel, grain, because that’s what gives you that ‘feeling.’
"I’m not intimidated when I’m around these photographers with big lenses and using all these terminologies, it’s cool, but at the end of the day, your shot won’t look like mine because I’m bringing my own feeling. I try to stay true to that as much as possible."
You have to keep that emotion, the ‘feeling’—a lot of people do what their teachers say. Technically when you do that, you’re ‘right,’ but you’re just following the rules. Rules are meant to be broken. Anybody who did anything that was of importance in the art world broke rules. They did it unconventionally, they went against the grain, and they made some noise.
The first big tour I went on as a photographer was with Chicago’s G Herbo. When you’re a hip-hop photographer on tour with an artist, it’s you and your crew against the world. You’re with these people every day—you’re eating together, sleeping together, smoking together, drinking together, performing together… you protect one another because you’re moving as a clan, as a unit. I eventually got a hang of it, and the rest of the tours started to come like clockwork.
I want my work to tell a story. I want people to see my photos and feel motivated to do whatever they want in the world. I know I’m a ‘hip-hop photographer’ right now, but I really want to move into telling stories of my people. Stories of the struggle, telling stories about what’s going on with my generation. A lot of these kids are strung out on xanax and lean. I have a firsthand, front row seat to it, and that’s what hip-hop is about right now, it’s about getting fucked up. Lean’s like the new heroin. A lot of these kids are overdosing and dying. I don’t want to just be this photographer that takes pictures of kids getting fucked up. I want to document what’s happening and show that it needs to stop.
Photographers have a social responsibility. As a Muslim, ‘Paradise’ is very near and dear to me. My idea of Paradise is living every day and taking actions that bring me closer to Allah. As follower of Mohammed, it’s my duty to give others happiness, whether it be financially, with food, or with my vision of photography. Anything I do, I want it to be in the name of charity—giving my gift of photography to better the world and the lives around me...that’s my definition of Paradise. It’s making the world a better place in my own way.