Interview Nabil Elderkin
One of the most sought-after photographers and video directors (Lil Wayne, Frank Ocean, Bon Iver...), Nabil Elderkin is also the appointed witness of one of the last great mysteries of rap: The Life Of Kanye West. Illustrated by his works, our interview follows Nabil's path, between V.I.P. snapshots and photo-journalism.
Abcdr Du Son: I'd like to propose you the following : I show you some pictures you made, and we talk about it. Let's start.
Nabil Elderkin: This is a picture of my family, I must have been like 5 years old… As you can see, I was really tough, and I got a pretty cool family [laughs]. Actually I think two people wore glasses on the original photo, and I repeated them on the others – it's Photoshopped.
I grew up and lived in Australia till I was eighteen, and I didn't take any photo until I was seventeen… Actually I started by making surf videos. My friends and I were doing a lot of surfing; they became much better than me, even professionals. So my job at the beginning was sitting on a beach with a video camera, film them and sell the videos to the companies they were riding for. I took interest in photography by discovering the amazing photos made with water-housings, which looked surreal… So I went to the photo teacher of our school; I never enrolled to the class but he was very nice to me, he let me borrow a camera. I started shooting photos, and I was like “Whoa. This is what I want to do”. For my final exam, I even took some kind of art and photo class. And I failed.
N: Well, I think what I did was rather ridiculous, but at that time I thought it was cool [laughs]. I was experimenting with Photoshop 1 or 2, and I didn't know much. I emulated the classic skate sequence photos: when someone is doing a trick and you put the whole split sequence on a single image, just like the posters in Thrasher magazine. I did a couple of these and proposed it for my final exam, but my teacher didn't think it was that cool [laughs]. To be honest there was also a Photoshopped picture of me riding my dog [laughs]. I just did it because I thought it was hilarious. I didn't really care about school. I was just surfing, and trying to do ridiculous things.
Six months later my parents told me I had to go living with my mother in America , and concentrate on other things than surf. So I ended up in Chicago, in the middle of America.
From there I just started taking photos. I went to a local college, used their dark room and their cameras, I learnt how to develop photos… I also worked for local model agencies; I was making composite cards for their models. About a year later, in 2003, I heard the music of Kanye. And I instantly felt it. It was on a mixtape for Akademiks, Jeanius Level Musik vol.1 . He was just a producer at that time; nobody knew who he was, really. The mixtape had " Through the wire", before they made the video. I instantly liked it, and I wanted to meet the guy and collaborate with him. I tried to get in touch, but there was no contact info anywhere. So I searched on the internet if he had a website. And, to my surprise, I found out that the domain name “Kanyewest.com” was available for sale. So I bought it for like 20 bucks [laughs].
Months later, I get a phone call from Roc-A-Fella Records. "We've signed this artist named Kanye West, and we've seen that you own the Kanyewest.com . What do you want for it?". I answered that they'll get it for free if they could arrange me a photo session with Kanye. "Really? This is all you want?". I said yes, and three days later, I had a photo session with Kanye at a studio in Chicago.
A : How old were you? What was this first session like?
N: I was like 21, and it was very cool. We instantly got along. I asked him what he was into, he told me about his "Louis Vuitton Don" concept. There was a red jacket, he had a Louis Vuitton backpack; so I made a picture where he was looking slightly from below and we could see the bag. Maybe you've seen this picture, they used it for several years after that. It was made during this very first photo shoot. After that, we kept in touch. Then Kanye asked me to do his promo pictures; then I followed him on tour and during the studio sessions.
A: Quite a life-changing meeting. So you documented the whole rise of his career?
N: Yes. I have tons and tons of pictures that we never released. Hopefully, in the near future, we'll do something with them.