Ken Nahoum was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. By the early 80’s, after apprenticeships with famous photographers such as Herb Ritts & Klaus Lucka, Ken was shooting photo spreads for magazines such as Vogue & Rolling Stone and top advertising agencies like Tarlow and McKann Erikson. By the end of the decade he was, and remains today, one of the top celebrity photographers in the World. Among the famous names that have stepped in front of his lens are: Cher, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Liv Tyler, Claudia Schiffer, Halle Berry, Whitney Houston, Gloria Estefan, Wynton Marsalis, Johnny Cash, Janet Jackson, Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, Demi Moore, Keanu Reeves, Michael Jordan, Robert de Niro, Sylvester Stallone and Evander Holyfield, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur, Mike Tyson, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Estella Warren, just to name a few.
His editorial and corporate clients include: Vogue, GQ, Cosmopolitan, Architectural Digest, Interview, Vibe, Harper's Bazaar and New Woman, Lucky Strike, Revlon, Neutrogena, Parliament, and Toyota. He is also well known for capturing images of Hip-Hop artists (Death Row, Run DMC, etc.), many of which have become iconic photographs.
After having established himself as an internationally known photographer, Ken made the leap into film, debuting with the legendary Music Video for Buster Poindexter’s song, Hot, Hot, Hot! (which won MTV Video of the Year Award). Along with Music Videos, Ken turned his photographer’s eye and energy into directing commercials for companies such as: Neutrogena, Revlon, Oil of Olay, Dr. Scholl’s, Maybelline, Victoria’s Secret, Viagra, L'Oreal, Clairol, HBO Sports, Showtime, Kodak, Pepsi, Sprite, Levi's, MCI and AT&T, Wonder Bra, Titelist. While known primarily as a fashion and beauty Director, Ken who is known for his sensitivity and versatility as a director has also shot many PSA’s such as the Adopt a Mine Program in Cambodia.
As Wendy Wallace puts it: As blunt and forthright as the photographer himself, Ken Nahoum's photos hide nothing from the soul's eye. His subjects are aroused by his lens into revealing their truth, and no one seems to mind doing so. Ken Nahoum cages beauty. Then he turns it into something deliciously carnal.
By: Wendy Wallace
As blunt and forthright as the photographer himself, Ken Nahoum's photos hide nothing from the soul's eye. His subjects are aroused by his lens into revealing their truth, and no one seems to mind doing so.
Ken Nahoum cages beauty. Then he turns it into something deliciously carnal.
"I take a certain mood and beauty and create the photograph out of that," explained Nahoum from his studio in Manhattan. "I don't know if I go for reality as much as I much as I adapt the subject to a certain mood I see in them and then evoke from them."
Ken Nahoum speaks with a brazen confidence ripened from a turbulent childhood spent in Brooklyn. His thoughts are those of a realist rather than an elusive artist. These decisive qualities have drawn hundreds of America's Most Famous to Nahoum
over the last fourteen years.
His portfolio is as seemingly infinite as it is varied. Supermodels Cindy Crawford and Tyra Banks, musicians David Byrne, Snoop Doggy Dogg and Robert Palmer, fashion designers Donna Karan and Todd Oldham, movie icons Demi Moore, Cher, and
Robert Deniro, as well as authors Erica Jong and Bret Ellis Easton have all allowed Nahoum to get close enough to do the telling of who and what they are in his understated photographic style.
"A lot of my best photos were the ones where I connected with people in a way that was very intimate. My best beauty photographs were of women who became my girlfriends after the shoot. The best photos of men were the ones who related to me as a person. Someone like Paul Simon, who hadn't done a shoot in ten years and was shy in front of the camera, felt comfortable with me because we share a common background. Howard Stern liked that I drove a convertible and that we drank together. Creating a certain feeling with a person helps you get into them more."
In his early twenties Nahoum wanted to direct films and decided photography would be the side door he would take into the world of motion pictures. In the early 1970's he took his first photography job at a catalogue house where he earned $70/week. The next rung on his career climb took him to still photographer Klaus Lucka whom Nahoum would follow from New York to Los Angles and work for as his assistant until the beginning of the Decade of Decadence. He assisted acclaimed photographers Herb Ritts and Harry Langton before he made his way back to New York.
In 1984 Nahoum opened his own studio with a new-found understanding that it was time to break free from the elaborate photo techniques his past employers turned mentors had used. He had a passion for autonomy which he poured into his own shoots. A freedom created from a oneness with his subjects, with no barriers in between, became the matrix for his work.
And it still is to this day.
"The rawness in my photographs comes from not letting a lot of outside things interfere with who the person is," said Nahoum. "I take away all the distractions."
When working with celebrities, ego clashes can be just as distracting as unflattering shadows.
"When Mike Tyson told me to go fuck myself and shoot quickly, I shot quickly. You can't have an ego unless it's a performance of style, and sometimes you have to do that to get people to respond. Most of the time when you begin to shoot the subject you have to put them on a platform and stand back. My ego comes out more when it's between me and my staff."
In 1988 Nahoum established Edge Films, the umbrella under which he has been able to fulfill his directing aspirations. Beginning with the classic Buster Poindexter energy-driven video "Hot, Hot, Hot", Nahoum has directed fifteen videos including those by Lenny Kravitz and Kenny G. He has also shot 35 commercials for companies such as Revlon, Kodak, Pepsi, and Levi's.
At the same time he's accumulated a stack of 600 print ads and numerous editorial spreads in magazines including Vogue, Rolling Stone, GQ, Penthouse, Architectural Digest, and Harper's Bazaar. He also has a collection of his work in the form of a
self-titled book in release.
As diverse as his assignments, his approach to photography is just as eclectic and versatile. Nahoum likes to work fast. He also likes to mix-up his choice of technology. From shooting with a candle and one 35mm camera, to using strobe lights and
massive amounts of equipment, he says he is comfortable with it all. For Nahoum, the exhilaration doesn't come from the intricacies of setting up a composition. It comes from getting inside the head of his subject and bringing out the unexpected.
"Sometimes when I shoot portraits I don't talk to people," he explained. "I'll just let a mood come out. There's no bullshit going on. They're just thinking and very quiet."
"But then there are situations like the one with Silvester Stallone. I asked him to be pensive and he said to me ‘Why should I look pensive and moody? I make $20 million a picture. I'm a happy man.' So I photographed him and his newborn daughter with a smile on his face."
With a sharp awareness and a command of light and form, Nahoum brings forward the sensuality of his subjects' reality. And if, after viewing one of his photos, the observer is stirred, Nahoum is pleased.
"The perfect photograph is one that moves people. Be it in a sensual way, or wanting to know who the people are and wishing they were there in the scene with them. I want people to feel something. I want them to feel as though they were falling in love with the people I photograph."