“I’m that guy you think looks like someone you know, but I’m not him,” writes T. Hopkins on his MySpace profile. This may be why he is so good at making people comfortable around him, letting him capture more than their image. Hopkins has a great laugh that people can hear, often, as he talks and you get the sense that he could make friends with almost anyone.
In his ten year career, T. Hopkins has amassed a very impressive resume. His list of clients includes Rolling Stone, Spin, The Source, XXL and Vibe, and those are only his magazine clients. Hopkins establishes himself firmly in the world of hip-hop photography, shooting countless artists along the way.
Recently, Hopkins has been branching out. Directing a commercial for Pelle Pelle and starting his own company to make the documentary, Memoirs of an Emcee, showing that Hopkins had talents that he was not making known.
“I love to photograph people’s personal style. It helps to bring that person and their character forward in a photograph.”
Format: Please explain how you were introduces into photography?
Hopkins: Actually, I got into photography because it was a hobby of my father’s that I picked up along the way. When I went to college the bug came back. It went away for a while. But then it came back when I was in college.
Format: You forgot about it for a while?
Hopkins: Yeah, I really didn’t really do anything with it and then once I got to school and picked up a camera again and started playing around with it, then it started to get a little serious.
Format: What were you in school for?
Hopkins: I was studying finance.
Format: So completely unrelated?
Hopkins: Completely unrelated.
Format: What value does photography give to the musicians, artists and other stars you shoot?
Hopkins: It gives them the visual to their craft. So if you’ve always wondered what your favorite musician looked like, this is what photography can do, to show you. It can also add to their dream factor. It basically helps to place a face with the music or the name.
Format: What kind of a person excites you the most to take photos of?
Hopkins: Everybody. Everybody I come across excites me in one way or another. I love new musicians. That’s a hard question to answer, because everyone excites me in one way or another. It just depends on their personal attitude towards their craft. Usually I find a commonality in everyone I shoot.
Format: Is it ever hard to bring out that exciting part of people or is it easy for you and that’s what makes you a good photographer?
Hopkins: I think sometimes it’s not as easy for some folks as it is for others. Some people find it a chore to be in front of the camera and you kind of have to coax the best part of that person’s self out for the shoot. I don’t usually have problems, because I’m personal, myself, when I shoot so we can find some common ground when I shoot. Basically, I try to put people at ease. When I’m working, I joke a lot. I’m like the biggest jokester imaginable when I get on set, because it’s fun, it keeps people light hearted. I’m grateful for the job I have, so I have to take it seriously, but at the same time you can’t take it too seriously. I make it the most fun atmosphere I can and it usually brings out the best in people.
Format: What do you respect the most in a person?
Hopkins: Their character. Someone who’s genuine. Sometimes it’s difficult when you shoot musicians and artists a lot â€“ they don’t allow their true character to shine through. When their character does come through and you’re able to make a connection, that’s amazing!
Format: How does someone’s personal style affect how you photograph them?
Hopkins: It doesn’t necessarily affect what I do at all, because I love to photograph people’s personal style. It helps to bring that person and their character forward in a photograph. Also, on a secondary level, it’s almost like a time capsule, too. If you look at historic photographs you can say this person was into this style at this time. It was indicative of the type of person they were then and also of the work they put out, the craft that they were in. If you look, I’m trying to think of a good example, OK â€“ if you look at LL Cool J, he’s 180 degrees as to what he was when he first started and it’s interesting. You can see him progress and you can see him moving from teenager to adult and, at one point, teenager, again. But now he’s back to adult. So it shows a progression and being a photographer allows you to capture that moment in time. It’s definitely a way of knowing your subject. And if you’re a fan of music, which I am, it’s great to see that progression, as well. And also be happy and satisfied that you helped capture that part of time.
Format: What’s in your closet now, what are you wearing?
Hopkins: I’m all over the place right now. I’ve got clothes from everyone you can think of. I’ve got clothes from Massive Revolution. I’ve got clothes from, like The Gap. I have a ton of fucking sneakers, a ton of Nike sneakers. I’m a little bit of a sneaker freak. Lately, I’ve been going through, I guess, a preppy phase right now. Right now, I have on a collared Tommy Hilfiger shirt with a V-neck sweater and a pair of jeans and a pair of Kenneth Cole boots â€“ I’m all over the place!
Format: What’s on your playlist right now, what are you listening to?
Hopkins: I listen to everything. I listen to new stuff. I’m listening to Justin Timberlake, I’m listening to a lot of electronica, lately, like Air and Hot Chip. I’m also listening to a lot of old soul like Curtis Mayfield. I listen to everything from rock to classical to hip-hop to everything. It’s a combination.
Format: Other than music, what else influences your work, where do you draw from?
Hopkins: For a long time, I never really paid attention, but I look at film, a lot lately. Also, the environment around me; the studio’s in Brooklyn. Sometimes the outer environment can influence my work, as well. But lately, it’s been a lot of movies, old movies and documentaries, too.
Format: Does the urban setting really help you?
Hopkins: Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Overall it does help, because it’s such a vibrant energy. Whether or not you want to be a part of it or not, itâ€™s got movement of its own. When you’re a part of it, you feed from it and itâ€™s a great energy to be a part of.
Format: Does it get distracting at times?
Hopkins: It can be, but if it is, it’s only for a quick second.
Format: K-OS recently said that he questions photographers, because they use other peoplesâ€™ images for a living. How do you respond?
Hopkins: Well I don’t necessarily take offence to it. I think that at the end of the day, what I do and what tons of other photographers do is a business. It can be said also that people make a living off music. Initially music was never meant to be a commerce, if you think about classical music, they didn’t make it to make money, they did it for the benefit of humanity. So at the end of the day people have to make a living, people have to eat. So if you can do it doing something you love, so be it. By the way, K-OS is also on my playlist, as well.
Format: Is there another talent you wish you had?
Hopkins: Gourmet Chef.
Format: Would you ever give up photography for it?
Hopkins: No, I wouldn’t do that.
Format: Do you think that there is a highest form of art, one that isn’t borrowing from anything else?
Hopkins: No, I don’t think so. If you look at arts now, in our current generation and timeframe, everyone is borrowing from everyone else. I don’t think that there’s one art form that’s untouchable that way. People make allusions that certain art is untouchable, but it’s hard to say that. I can walk into a museum tomorrow and see a Picasso painting and months down the line that art could inspire me to think a certain way. I might make something that is an homage to Picasso and unbeknownst to me.
Format: What are your goals for the next ten years?
Hopkins: Currently, I’m celebrating my tenth year as a photographer â€“ as a professional photographer, I should say. I started a film company about three years ago. I’m working on a documentary about music, it’s called Memoirs of an Emcee and itâ€™s in its final stages of production. I would like to continue to do photography for entertainment and music. I would like to continue in that same vein, be it directing, film, television, commercials, things in that nature, staying in the same genre while still being able to do photography. Also just try to live as best I can: traveling, having party when I can, having a good time wherever I can.
Format: Do you carry a camera with you when you’re out on the street and how does being a professional photographer effect your personal photography?
Hopkins: You know in actuality, I used to carry a camera pretty frequently. Recently, I stopped carrying a camera and there’s a very important reason why. I had to start looking at life without the lens, if that makes sense. When you’re a photographer, you want to capture every moment and sometimes you need to stand back and actually realize that you need to look at things, and not through a camera lens. It helps inspire you more that way, believe it or not.
Format: Which photographers do you look up to?
Hopkins: I have a really, really weird one. David Bailey is one of my favorite photographers, from a historical perspective. Henri Carter-Bresson is another. Also, Thierry le Goues. Mark Baptist â€“ I met him years ago. Actually, he helped inspire me to be in this business.
Format: How did he do that?
Hopkins: He tried to talk me out of it, believe it or not. Telling me, â€˜Hey, you don’t want to be in this business, it’s a rough business.â€™ In a weird way he became my unofficial mentor.
Format: Did he romanticize photography for you?
Hopkins: He didn’t really. It made me wonder why he said no. That question actually propelled me forward.
Format: Who has been really fun to work with, to photograph?
Hopkins: Over my ten year career, wow. Somebody who I actually found really interesting to sit down and talk to, recently, was Swizz Beatz. You tend to see a person in a box, given their image out in the world. I had no clue that he was an actual artist, a painter. They hang in his recording studio and I have a photograph of him behind one of his art pieces. I really admire that he’s allowing himself to be a true artist, a painter, a writer â€“ a music producer, of course. I shot a cover for a magazine called One World, it was a cover of Erykah Badu. She had just shaved her head. I think I was the first photographer to shoot her shaved head. So I had a concept that she didn’t quite like. And we sat down and joked about some things and I said, â€˜Why don’t you just go downstairs and scribble some words on your body.â€™ And I said it as a joke, because we were sitting there trying to figure things out and she actually came back with “Warriors Walk Alone” on her chest. That became the cover. We made the shoot an entire set of photographs that showed her emotions, how she is alone in some of the things she does and some of the decisions she makes as an artist. It was probably one of the most exciting shoots I had done, because it was off the cuff and very organic.
Format: Who would you want to shoot that you haven’t before?
Hopkins: One would be Bjork, because she’s one of my favorite artists, hands down. Love her work. I would love to take a portrait of her and sit down and talk with her until we can’t talk anymore. And, off the top of my head, Mandela would be someone I would love to photograph and sit down and have a few cups of tea with.
Format: What are some tips you can offer to young photographers that want to be a professionals?
Hopkins: The first tip that I can give anybody who wants to start doing this is: if your gut tells you it’s right, do it. That’s something that a lot of artists, themselves, don’t do. The second thing is: you might not want to do it, but realize that this is a business, as well. They have to be part businessman in this. You have to learn the art of negotiation, the art of contracts, you have to actually learn the art of sales, because you’re selling your product, you’re selling your brand â€“ you’re selling your self. So you have to understand the business end of this, too. That’s almost just as important as following your heart.
Format: Are you doing what you love?
Hopkins: Yes, I am. I’m doing exactly what I love.
More Info: http://www.t-hopkins.com/