Roots in Film Photography: Khaleeq Alfred Interview
Khaleeq Alfred has been known for a while for his outstanding photo work in the longboarding scene, having been published in a few different magazines and shooting regularly for Bustin Boards. The Skate Slate Longboarding Magazine just featured some of his best black & white work from 2015 in the Photo Annual. While curating the photos with him, I chatted with him on the phone in January while he was on break from school. He was about to go to Peru, from which he’s already returned with more excellent photos. His film camera came along with him, allowing him to tap back into his roots of photography. All of the following photos were shot on film during his trip to Lima, Peru and scanned digitally back in Chicago. Enjoy!
After saying wassup and how ya doing, we talked peer to peer about being a photographer. We commiserated about the itch to travel and wanting to broaden our own experiences. At a certain point, I started asking him about his upbringing and experiences thus far.
Jon Huey: You’re from Harlem, right?
Khaleeq Alfred: Yep, born and raised in New York, same apartment all my life.
Wow. So do you feel like it’s a big part of your identity? Do you feel it is something that stays with you?
Oh yeah, definitely. Harlem, in particular, is my life. So, I know it all really well. But Manhattan as a whole, especially skating through the city, is something I know like the back of my hand. It’s definitely something that resonates with me. If someone asks me to say something about myself, I’m probably gonna say I’m from New York.
How long have you been skating?
I’ve been skating/longboarding, whatever you wanna call it, for about six or seven years. I started at the end of middle school when a friend got me a short board for my birthday. I think about two years later, I looked up a longboarding video and when it popped up I was like, “this is ridiculous!” I kinda had this crew of friends in high school at that point. So I got this Riviera with some Native American design with Retro Big Zigs and the first day I got it, it goes into the Hudson River. I was pissed. The board was so smooth. We had this other board we thought was fast at the time. We went to the park and I just went back and forth saying, “I love it. This board is crazy.” Every one was like, “Oh I’m gonna get a longboard now. It’s so much better.” We went by the river, getting wheel-bite, board’s right behind me, I see it go over the ledge into the river, and then, ahhhh, my heart hurt so much. It was like $250 – $300.
So you obviously got another one and continued pushing around. Did you start learning slides like a lot of people that get into longboarding nowadays?
Well, I got a Madrid after that, but I didn’t find the scene until like my junior year. That’s when I started seeing people had certain set-ups for pushing and downhill sliding. At first, I didn’t really do any of that. I was just pushing around and shooting the scene, if anything. Then I started getting into it and seeing how easy sliding was. I started upgrading my set-up and got what I needed. That’s when I started sliding and all that.
Ok, so how long have you been interested in photography?
I’ve been doing photography for six years. I started junior year with a black and white film class and I loved it. A month or two after I started doing black and white film, I got a digital camera. I just saved up and was like, “I have to do it.” I got a Canon 60D and then I started shooting skate stuff, I think, early senior year. It was easier since it was digital and I love it too. Whatever small meet-ups would happen in New York, I’d go to it, I’d shoot it. People started to know me around the city and whatnot. That was five years ago now.
That means you were longboarding and then the photography came right after that?
Yeah, I was skating before I really picked up photography. I always loved photography. Like if someone handed me a camera, I would take a photo, and they’d be like, “oh, that’s a nice picture.” I liked photography, but I was just never given the tools to really do it. Finally during my junior year, after two years of trying to get in, I got into the class and I loved it. I never really thought of putting the two together. I finally had my digital camera and I saw there were these people riding their longboards well and I was like, “this is awesome.” I started shooting and people would say they’re good (I have to say now those photos are horrible). So I kept up with it and that’s what I’m doing now.
So, you had a black and white photography class in your junior year, but are you self-taught after that?
Yeah, pretty much. The school provided cameras we could check out for the semester. So I learned aperature, and shutter speed, and all of the basic stuff, how to load film, how to develop it, and how to print in the darkroom. Not a lot people took it further, but I was one of the people who did. I got a digital camera after that and I kept shooting black and white and I just loved it.
So you chose to go to college. Did you go right after high school?
Yeah, yeah I went straight out of high school. I originally wanted to do aviation, but school is not my strong point. I was like, photography is here and that’s what I’m into now more than anything so I just went straight outta high school to Columbia College Chicago. I’ve been here for four years and I’m ready to head out.
So you are about to graduate?
Yeah, I’m about to start my last spring semester soon.
Are you doing other stuff than just photography? It seems like nowadays you have to diversify your skill set to be valuable in the job market.
There are people that say it’s better to dabble in many things to be more wanted, and I hear others say I’d rather hire someone who’s really good at one thing. But, I definitely see that you have to dabble a bit. What I really want to do is keep shooting these events and whatever, but I also want to make my own ads. So, I have to know graphic design and positioning of certain elements so have to know Photoshop and all that. I think in the skate industry, that’s definitely something you need to know. You can’t just take photos. It’s something that I see that in forms of photography outside of the skate industry you might be able to just be a photographer and make it. But, why not? Knowledge is power.
So have you tried Indesign yet? Have you been designing ads yet?
Kind of. I’ve been playing around. My final this past semester was to make some mock ads. So I shot the product shots on my own, which was something that I’m starting to get used to and liking more and more. I never saw myself as a studio person, but thought I should give it a better try than I did a year ago and I love it. I did the product shots and I did the skate shots and I put them together side by side and put some text in it and made it look really real and nice. I really enjoyed it and I can see myself doing it in the future, for sure.
So for the ad that was in issue 27 of Skate Slate with Emily Pross on the cover, did Bustin use your mock-up and then change it for their style or brand?
Actually, I had the skate photos in stock already. Then I shot the product shots and I uploaded it to Bustin’s database and they used it. But, I hadn’t shown them my mock-ups yet.
I was just stoked on that, ’cause that was my first product shot ever published, period. I was like, “Oh shit, that’s really dope.”
It WAS dope.
I look forward to making my own ads. I feel more proud about the wheel shot than the rider shot. There’s something fulfilling to have everything that has to do with that page be all you. And I would just love that feeling.
Well yeah. So in the studio you have that ability to have full control, Whereas in the environment, there are a lot more variables. To me, it makes sense that you would enjoy that. So, you’ve been traveling a bit recently. What’s your experience with traveling?
I hadn’t traveled a ton before these recent trips, except for here and there. I went with my mom to the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago cause we had family there. Once I started shooting skating and found out there were events, I went and shot Windham upstate and I liked it. I wanted more and after I went to Maryhill, I realized what I want in life, which is to be constantly moving. I never want to be in the same place, doing the same thing over and over and over again. That’s how I figured out how I liked traveling. I loved it and wanted to keep doing it.
So, you’re going to Peru in a few days? [Ed. Note: he’s back from Peru now]
Yeah, I’m gonna go shoot Will Royce there. I’m stoked about it. It’s gonna be my first time in South America. It looks amazing. There are literally hills right and left, plus Will is a fun character to work with.
Yeah, I’m sure he’ll give you the low down since he’s been there a few times. Man, I love traveling too. Sounds exciting. I bet you’ll get a bunch of sick shots down there. So, what do you see yourself doing this year in 2016?
Traveling, a ton of skating, working with Bustin or whatever company. I just wanna shoot and put my photos out there on whatever platform it may be. I just wanna do what I love to do, photographing.
Shout out to Mama dukes! My EDL family, my Nyc homies, Chicago goons, the family over at Bustin Boards, the Skate[Slate] crew, and lastly to anybody and everybody who has ever encouraged me or has said anything positive for me to keep killing it…Thank you.
[Note: Kahleeq is back from Peru now! All of the photos were shot on film during his trip to Lima, Peru and scanned digitally back in Chicago. We hope you’ve enjoyed!