Whether it’s Kanye West or the Burger King, Kareem Black finds personality in every subject he photographs. Some part of this probably has to do with the fact that Kareem is a very social guy. I mean very social. Sure he goes out to party and drink like you and I do, but Kareem is the type of guy that puts a helmet on and stage dives at a Karaoke.
Yep, that type of guy.
So when you give him the opportunity to talk about his use of social networks to brand his photography, it gets pretty damn interesting. Self-promotion has always been one of Black’s strong suits. Basically, he was social networking before social networks were even born. Before Twitter and Facebook, before all that, Kareem and his fellow photographer friend Matt Salacuse were plastering their stickers all over Manhattan. One of Kareem’s read “To Wed Lindsay Lohan” and spoke directly to the celebrity culture we are living in. He reached out to everyone. And by doing exactly this, he also garnered the attention of the industry. Ill- conceived.
Now that Twitter, Facebook and other online blogging platforms are widely available, Kareem added them to his promotional arsenal. He Tweets, Retweets, Facebooks and Tumblrs amongst other things. Around a plate of Atomic Wings, he explained to my Friend Stephanie Terlinden - who is writing a thesis on the matter - how he does it and how if used correctly, social networks can drive traffic to your websites and supplement your traditional promos.
Everybody read. Words of wisdom ahead.
Stéphanie Terlinden - So, Kareem, tell us what is your job exactly?
Kareem Black - I’m photographer and a director and I shoot mostly advertising and music celebrity. Yeah, I’m a portraitor.
S. T. – Before we get to social networks, I assume you must have a website where you display your work right?
K.B. - Yeah, I mean actually… I’ve got a few websites. My main one is WWW.KAREEMBLACK.COM, and mostly my commercial work is on it. It also has all my celebrities, advertising, and music stuff. It also has all my current contact information.
I have another site called WWW.KAREEMBLACK.COM/LIFE and it is sort of like a photo blog. I started /LIFE originally because I end up in weird situations regularly.. I don’t know how but… You know, just crazy parties or just crazy situations and I always have my Cannon G-10 on me? So I had all these photos in my iPhoto that no one ever saw except if they are coming in my house and I wanted to find a way to put them out there… At the same time I was thinking of the proper way to do that, I mean people started to hire me to shoot campaigns that were based on people going out, people having fun, etc. It was interesting that people were hiring me for that. So, I decided to make this other part of my website that would be like a night life/lifestyle site, with things I see, weird little details, pretty people… you know? It’s not so much about people kind of posing, it’s more about things I see. So, that’s KAREEMBLACK.COM/LIFE. It is a lot simpler, there are a lot fewer explanations, there are no different categories, its very stripped down…
What I am trying to do with this site is not to show that I’m a good photographer rather its to show who I am and what I do at night etc. It’s part of my branding which I think is important. If you are a photographer, it’s important for you to brand yourself as not just a person that takes pictures. Of course you take pictures.. but who are you really? , what do you like?, what do you do etc? Who are you as a person? this is a piece of what I attempt to answer with /LIFE.
S. T. - Speaking of branding, Social networks are an active component of your promotion, can you explain us in a few words what Twitter and Facebook are for you?
Facebook is promotion and contact. It’s promotion, first, and then contact, second. Like you stay in contact with people you might not be able see but want to stay in touch with, you know? But mainly it’s promotion.
Twitter is I think just promotion for me and my brand.
They are both communication, you know? But if I have to communicate with my ‘true’ friends, I will probably not do that through Facebook or even Twitter, I will just text them. Twitter and Facebook are definitely for my promotion and branding.ing.
S. T. - How long have you been on Twitter and Facebook?
K.B. - I have been on Twitter since September 2008 or something. And Facebook? I’ve probably been on Facebook for like a year or so… I mean I was on Facebook before but I couldn’t really figure out how to use it for a minute ha! So… One day I just noticed that everyone was on Facebook so I figured that I probably should embrace it as a platform for promotion etc.
S. T. - So, you are promoting your work and yourself on these social networks. How do you do that concretely?
K.B. - Everything I do is really connected to my Twitter. My Tumblr is connected to my twitter. Everything I post on there, which is usually pictures or something I find funny, will go directly on my Twitter and all my followers can see it. On top of that, my agency also have a Twitter. So, if I post something on my page, it will appear on their page and they will probably retweet it. Similarly, if they are putting something interesting about me or anything I like on their page, I will retweet it on mine. Any bit of press I get, I will probably put on my Twitter and I will probably put it on Facebook as well.
For example this girl was tweeting this morning - “My brother just had the last orange, now I’m pissed!” - That’s a bad way to tweet. I mean, if you want to tweet about that, that’s fine but I don’t think anybody will retweet about that. I think that if you don’t have anything interesting to tweet, it’s better not to say anything. And if you do tweet, do it in a witty way so people can react because they think it’s funny or interesting…. I mean, my twitter rules are by no means the word of god but I do try to keep it fun and interesting on my twitter account.
"If you do tweet, do it in a witty way"
S. T. – Haha, I see, I hate people spoiling my timeline with these type of tweets… So are you trying to reach a specific community, like people of your industry (Art buyers, photo editors etc…)?
K.B - Well, I’m trying to reach everybody. Because everyone knows every one. The world is becoming much smaller. I was doing Twitter before Twitter was Twitter. I did a sticker campaign. I put all these stickers all over the city. It was me as Uncle Sam etc. It was a street campaign designed to drive traffic to my website.You know what I mean? I really think the more people you are talking to, the better, Art Buyer or man on the street. For example, I accept everybody on Facebook because the people I really want to know, I already really know them. You know what I mean? I have their phone numbers and shit. So I call them or text them… I don’t need Facebook for that. I accept everybody on Facebook because its a promotional device. The more people hearing whatever it is you want to shout, the better.
S. T. - So, why using Twitter or Facebook instead of using these stickers?
K.B. - Well, I think the best is to mix and match.. getting creative with promo is fun. I’m actually thinking of doing another sticker campaign soon… Darth Vader is involved.
S. T. - Are these social networks a support to your websites?
Mhm…Yes, Absolutely! I mean like I said, the point is to lead traffic to your website(s) and to lead people to your work. All of these platforms are just different ways of reaching people, you know what I mean? I want people being part of all of it. I want to be as Google-able as possible (in a positive context)… That’s how it works.
S. T. - Do you make a difference between promoting yourself and your work?
K.B. - No, it’s the same thing. I’ve been shooting for a while, so I think that people kinda know my work… but once people know your work, I think it’s important for them to kind of know how you do it.. I mean there is a lot of photographers out there, I think it’s important for you to build your brand. Like, “this is what you get if you hire me”. So, it’s important for you to tell what kind of person you are. The work and your personality go hand in hand, you know what I mean?
S T. - Do you also post links of magazines or artists you like?
K.B. - K.B. - Yes, of course. It’s also a way to tell who I am by posting stuff I’m interested in. Also, I love posting about exciting things that my friends and comrades are doing. I love my family and I love supporting them. So, yes… I would totally do that. That’s all part of branding.
S. T. - Are you using Facebook as much as Twitter?
K.B - I’m probably more on Twitter than Facebook. I have more followers on Twitter than on Facebook. I do try to keep the content on twitter separate from the content I post on FB. I sort of want people to have incentive to follow me on both platforms.
S. T. - What are the pros and cons of Facebook and Twitter?
K.B. - The pros are that if you use them correctly, they are like a big megaphone and you can speak to many people that you may never actually meet. The cons might be that I can’t say anything I want out there. If you’re not smart with social networks, it can get out of control… I’ve seen photographers destroy their careers (or at least loose business due to bad twitter judgement). Drunk tweet > drunk dial.
When Twitter began, it seemed like it was me and my friends, so we were able to say tons of politically incorrect shit on it. Now, I’m very aware that some of the people following me are clients. My agent is following me. My mom is following me. So you have to try not to be too controversial… Hi mom!
Twitter is not really user-friendly for images and videos. My Twitter is connected to my tumblr so I don’t need TwitPic, TwitVid. If you wanna publish a ton of pictures, then Twitter is probably not the favored thing. Or it may be twitter linked to a tumblr.
Check out Kareem’s work on his websites, follow him on twitter and Tumblr, and add him as your friend on Facebook. The more the merrier!