Chance the Rapper playing in the background, I had a sit down cigarette in Bushwick, Brooklyn with Hip-hop loving, ex-UFC fighting photographer Koa Pennock.
(interviewed by Christopher Klimovski)
Thanks for meeting with me for this cigarette buddy.
Anything for you.
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do:
I want to first thank you for asking me first who I am, and THEN what I do. I’ve never liked being defined by the latter. I’m Koa. I moved from Seattle when i was 20 and now I roam around New York City on foot day and night doing whatever. Eating, dancing, taking pictures. As you can see, I’ve mentioned my necessities in life. I’ve been here about 5 years now.
What got you into photography? Was it a certain image or the practice as a whole?
I remember buying a camera in high school, not for art or fashion, just to document daily life. I specifically remember being the only one with a camera too. I shot my friends at parties, camping trips, football games, pep rallies. I never knew what I wanted to do with it all, but I knew I wanted to document it all. I have some awesome pictures from concerts I went to when I was a teenager. Ludacris, Lupe Fiasco, Nas. Others I can’t think of right now.
What/who would you say your biggest photographic influences are? Why?
I’ve always been drawn to iconic photos that Ricky Powell & Jamel Shabaz had taken. The way they captured a definable era, to me, is unparalleled. Jonathan Mannion has cataloged an epic collection of photography in hip hop, growing up during those times was huge. And he’s still going crazy. Estevan Oriol is a GOD. I see these photos that my boy JK takes over in Seattle and I get super excited. He’s documenting our generation in a very dope way. Nothing like anybody has ever seen before. But I have to say I think Alex Lee’s “Sleeping Beauties” is probably my favorite series right now. He’s basically trolled about NYC and taken photos of people asleep in raw but beautiful circumstance. He has such an original vision.
What is the toughest thing to overcome with your type of photography?
Lighting. Always lighting. I’m never guaranteed “the” shot. Because I shoot mostly candid, I might have a millisecond, if I’m lucky, to frame, focus and capture the image. When I’m on set with someone I’m usually the 2nd camera just like laying low in the back trying to be unseen trying to capture some natural moments… one way or another I always get something I’m excited about.
What is the craziest type of photography you have come across to date?
Have you seen the guy who’s been taking selfies from on top of buildings and whatnot? You’re crazy. I would never do that.
Because fuck that, that’s why.
What is the greatest image you believe you’ve captured to date?
I woke up at 8am on a park bench in the east village one time. My belt was missing and it felt like my leg was broken… but I looked through my camera (after recovering it from a group of police officers huddled around a church) and found that I had these two really great shots of A-Trak who had played Webster Hall that night. I think the photo of his Jordan III’s I took on accident. That may be my favorite photo to date. There we were, me and a buddy of mine being lead backstage and I remember walking out from behind a curtain and BOOM. Literally on stage, 10 feet away from A-Trak in the middle off his set in front of like 2,000 people. I was kind of shocked. I didn’t want to be obnoxious but I had to get some shots. At that point I had been taking pictures for a while but nothing ever to that magnitude, so it was kind of a new frontier for me. A very special moment for sure but looking back, I did it all wrong. Funny stuff. I don’t drink rum anymore.
Do you think it’s important to be based in NYC? Why? Why not?
Yeah absolutely. Traveling around is great, I miss Seattle, but most everything I love culturally is happening in New York. The people, the music, the fashion. It’s all in excess here. I imagine it’s always been like that too. I’d be taking pictures anywhere but I’m glad I’m living here doing it.
Who would be your dream subject to take photos of? Why?
I had a chance to go to this Eminem concert when I was younger but my parents wouldn’t let me… I wish I had photos of that. I’d like to shoot with Tyler, the Creator. I feel like he’s always doing something off the wall and just doing exactly what he wants.
*Takes a puff of his cigarette and as if remembering something that had completely slipped his mine interjected*
OH! I was in the front seat of a cargo van the other night driving down by West 4th street and I saw Glenn O’Brien hailing a cab dressed up wearing these amazing green pants. I wish I had my camera on me to capture that.
What would you name your photography method? Does it have a specific name or is it reflective of other photographers?
I want to say ‘dope’ but that’s been through a period of overkill. Low light, no flash, natural, candid, behind the scenes, interrupted. I don’t know if it has a name but I just want it all to be as real as possible. I want to be able to look at a photo I took and feel like I’m there again.
What do you think is the most important information to hand down to would-be photographers reading this interview?
Oh I don’t know… be good. Just like, be a good person. It’s easy to abuse the power of a camera. And not EVERYTHING has to go on the internet. shit.
And put your damn iPhone down at the concert! Living in the moment is more important that getting a picture of it sometimes, you know? This is what makes us good at what we do. Differentiating between the important and the life moments that simply need to be lived.
What slogan do you live by in your life?
Do exactly what you want.
Thanks so much for the chat and cigarette hombre!
See more and go follow Koa Pennock:
Interviewer Christopher Klimovski: