Spotlight: Kwaku Alston

Kwaku Alston.

Kwaku Alston has photographed some of the most famous faces in the world—from Hollywood luminaries and Grammy winners to President Barack Obama and the First Family—for editorial and advertising clients ranging from Crate & Barrel, Coca-Cola, Blackberry, Target, and Verizon to The New York Times Magazine, Real Simple, and Time. His portraits have a fresh, unaffected feel, yet they celebrate the extraordinariness of his subjects, striking a balance between contemporary documentary photography and classic celebrity portraiture.

Kwaku launched his career in New York City, where he moved after graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology School of Photographic Arts and Sciences. His success was almost instantaneous, and he began shooting for major magazines and ad agencies while still in his early 20s. He now splits his time between New York and Venice Beach, California, where he has expanded his celebrity portraiture while donating his time to a variety of charities and nonprofits, including the DesignACure Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, the Black AIDS Institute, the Smiley Faces Foundation, and the Venice Family Clinic.

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Kanye West. Photo by Kwaku Alston.

Jennifer Aniston. Photo by Kwaku Alston.

First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo by Kwaku Alston. Click image to view the portfolio "Barack Obama and Family."

From the series "Volkslivin." Photo by Kwaku Alston. Click image to view more photos from this series.

Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes. Photo by Kwaku Alston. Click image to view Kwaku's "TOMS Shoes" portfolio.

Portraits by Kwaku Alston for a recent Crate & Barrel ad. Click image to view the portfolio "Recent Work."

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In late 2009, he traveled to Ethiopia to document a shoe drop by TOMS Shoes, which donates footwear to children in need worldwide. And in 2010, he once again traveled with TOMS, this time to Argentina for the company’s one millionth shop drop. “I love making photographs,” Kwaku says, “but I also feel the need to use this creative process to teach, share, and help others by volunteering my time with the camera.”

To that end, he is currently shooting a documentary film called Feet in First, about autistic and other special-needs children learning ballet. “Ballet helps them discover the power of movement and body control,” he explains.

The movie is a logical next step for Kwaku, who has long pursued ambitious personal projects in his spare time. In 2006, he exhibited work from his “Moto Saigon” scooter-inspired series shot in Vietnam (CineVegas also screened a short film he made about the project), and in 2010 he showed images both from “Horizon Court,” which centers on a hardscrabble section of Venice Beach, and “Volkslivin’,” which comprises his “portraits” of vintage Volkswagen buses. He has also been continually adding work to his “On White” portraits of everyday people. He started the series in Venice and—after a year of shooting the “One Woman, Two Looks” feature for Real Simple’s “Style” section—has now expanded it to New York.

“I shoot people regardless of their celebrity status,” he says. “It’s about making people feel comfortable with the process of picture-making.”

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Here’s a look at Kwaku’s work:

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Beyonce Knowles. Photo by Kwaku Alston.

Christina Aguilera. Photo by Kwaku Alston.

Drew Barrymore. Photo by Kwaku Alston.

Mark Wahlberg. Photo by Kwaku Alston.

Don Cheadle. Photo by Kwaku Alston.

Toby Keith. Photo by Kwaku Alston.

From the "Life Project." Photo by Kwaku Alston. Click image to see view the portfolio.

From the ongoing series "On White." Photo by Kwaku Alston. Click image to see more photos.

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