Kareem Black's Cast of Characters for Smirnoff
As a photographer, Kareem Black does two things really well. First, he loves a certain kind of creative structure. He wants to make sure every detail for a project is perfectly in line, using the right lights and making sure his set is in flawless order. The other side of him lets everything fall away during the shoot so that he can photograph what he refers to as “kinetic energy and unscripted moments.” When those two aspects come together, when thorough preparation meets authentic moments, you get a campaign like Kareem’s latest work with Smirnoff. The series of images feels improvisational and full of life, while as crisp and clean as if they were well scripted.
For Kareem, the secret of this kind of success is about engaging with his subjects and allowing them to speak through what makes them unique. He’d rather not fake it, instead opting for bringing in people who are what they say they are, who are what they look like. “There were characters that we were looking for, or character types,” explains Kareem. He suggested that they bring in the real thing. “If we’re going to have ravers, let’s have actual club kids. Let’s get them to bring some of their own stuff so we’re actually shooting these people and not our interpretations of what these types of people might wear. That authenticity added to it.” They blended their directorial elements with what their subjects brought and it combined into moments that were as authentic as could be.
Since Kareem and Smirnoff got models who were real people, all they had to do was be themselves. That’s what Kareem loves to do: engage his subjects and let their authentic selves bloom in front of the lens. “It’s about encouraging the models to let their personalities come out and just be free about it and not hold back. I’m making a safe, comfortable environment,” explains Kareem. “The whole campaign was a celebration of their character.” Those characters come through in Kareem's interaction with them (given fresh looks by Tiffany Patton's makeup work), he acts as our eyes and ears on the day so it's like we're there with them.
When Kareem and Smirnoff first sat down, the liquor brand had a wish list they wanted for an ideal version of the campaign. Kareem got his client all those shots but then he kept shooting. Sometimes the best images you get are images you don’t plan for (with a little help fro Rachel Stickley's props). “I would always rather have more than less,” Kareem explains. “The inflatable hamburger wasn’t even in the brief. That just sort of happened. All of the sudden now it’s part of the campaign. I think it’s important to get what the client wants and then have room for improvisation and inspiration.” When you provide for every detail upfront, amazing unplanned things can happen and those moments are good for everyone.