Today we are bringing to you an interview with photographer, railroader, tech junky, motivator, teacher and gamer Jaleel King, who is based in Philadelphia.
Jaleel is in a committed relationship with Chocolate Cheesecake, Häagen-Dazs Green Tea ice cream, Sushi, Manga, and Anime; but not in that order! As a tech geek, Jaleel first entered school to study computers, however, he felt art was his passion so he enrolled in The Art Institute to pursue a career within video production. During each of these journeys it was photography that stood out the most to Jaleel, and it was photography that had his heart.
As a wheelchair user since age 8, Jaleel is a photographer who has a different perspective on how he visually sees life. Allowing him to never accept the “whys” as excuses and going for “why nots” as the challenges in order to overcome to them, as seen within his work. Jaleel was led into a world that is beautiful and challenging at the same time! A world filled with raw emotion and randomness that makes each moment and click of the shutter so UNIQUE!
Join us in this interview with the motivating and ever so inspiring Jaleel King. Have a look at the wonderful wedding and street photography that he captures, have a glimpse into his life by watching the video below! And read through the questions and answers to find out what inspires Jaleel, how he manages to stay positive so often and stay in tune with that mindset. Jaleel shares with us the obstacles he’s had to overcome to get to this point, his proudest achievements so far, and his plans and goals for the future. Jaleel is a wonderful, amazing, and inspiring photographer that we can all learn something from.
Before becoming a photographer you were very into other lines of work – such as working with computers, and in video – but you say that photography has always held a special place in your heart. How did you become interested in photography? And how did you transition into the career of a photographer?
I don’t know what ignited my love of photography? It was fun and I always, thought I saw some interesting things. However, things didn’t take off until I got my first SLR, a Canon AE-1, from a friend of my mother’s.
After graduating from Art Institute it was tough finding jobs in video production at least in Philadelphia. I shot mostly street photography but, I also had people who were interested in paying me to shoot various things for them. However, my fears of messing up got in the way when talking about taking money (How much do I charge, Is it too much or too little?, Etc). That is until I went on a shoot for a reality show that one my best friends and I were trying to put together for a disabled music producer. On the first day of shooting he was getting a professional photo shoot done on the streets. This was the first time I was exposed to something like that. Seeing the photographer in action made me believe that photography was something that I truly could do! She came out with single light and did everything on her own. After seeing the image I had a “holy shit moment” which also set the stage for the standards that I wanted to achieve.
When you were transitioning into the career of a photographer, did you have a hard time getting started? How did you stay self-motivated to succeed?
The hardest part of making the transition was knowing that digital was on the way in big time. I still had a bunch of film cameras but was in need of a digital SLR. Being on the somewhat poor side, it was tough trying to come up with the funds to go semi-professional digital. My motivation was that if I took great photos no one would care about my wheelchair. Also, I thought I would meet pretty girls who would like a guy they could push around too; I kid though!
What inspires you?
I think what inspires me, in relations to photography, is every frame you capture is potentially a new adventure, a new story, and a new moment! You truly never know where this will lead you nor the amazing people you will connect with. Most of the time connecting while never even meeting.
What obstacles have you had to overcome to get to where you are today?
There were a few obstacles that I had to overcome before I became a working photographer. The first one was gear, of course, due to the unique nature of my challenge. I had to get gear that would work for me not necessarily because I wanted to but because I needed too; that became expensive, fast. Second was embracing the fact that, well, I had a physical disability and it wasn’t something that could be overlooked or would be regardless of how good my photography got. Lastly, the mental road blocks that I put up before myself, this is something that I fight with, even now.
What is on your gear list? (camera, lenses, software etc) And what is the #1 item on your “wish list”?
Oh don’t give me a wish list! I have so much that I would wish for. I wouldn’t mind upgrading to Canon 1Dx or 5D MK3 in order to take full advantage of my Canon 600ex-rt flashes. I’d love to try out either the Sony A7 or RX1 for my street work. Really love my RX100 which is why. Also on the list would be the new ProFoto B1 500 Air, no cables to roll over! At the top though, I really want to try out a digital medium format camera! I think it would be so cool to see what I could do with one. I’m sure if I thought about it more I could come up with more goodies like anyone else. 🙂
What is your proudest moment as a photographer? (so far :))
My proudest moment as a photographer has to be knowing how many other photographers and other artists that I’ve touched, both with and without disabilities, by not giving up. I’d be lying if I never said I wanted to quit, or shit was harder than it needed to be but I’m stubborn.
You shoot a lot of wedding photography, and you are amazing at it – but this all didn’t come natural at first.
When you first started shooting weddings, as said in the video on your homepage, you were always subconsciously afraid of “something”, whether that be someone standing up, or getting in your way. How did you get over that “something”, and build the confidence and ability to just power through and shoot the wedding?
I was honestly dragged, literally, kicking and screaming into shooting weddings by a friend who needed a second shooter. Despite everything that I feared and conveyed to him he still wanted me to come along. After shooting the wedding I thought I did well, actually better than expected, but there was room for improvement. Luckily this friend was blatantly honest with me and told me everything that I did wrong and how to improve. This is where being able to take criticism and having good friends who are honest with you comes in handy. By the time I s=shot for my 2nd wedding ,I started to find my groove. I was more comfortable with the challenges faced while shooting weddings and it was at this point that I became comfortable with rolling down the aisle and moving anywhere I wanted or needed to be to capture those moments.
What do you personally get from shooting weddings? (what do you enjoy most about shooting weddings?)
Well, as a single guy, I enjoy watching fun and loving couples and capturing their day. I’m always smiling and having a good time capturing couples who love so much that their exposed. Those seem to be my best clients and the types of wedding that I enjoy the most! It’s all about the connection!
In the video above (posted at the beginning of the interview) you say that no matter what you’re dealing with, you say to yourself that things will get better, and if you see someone having a bad day you will try your best to make them feel better as you know that this “feeling bad” will pass.
How do you manage to stay so positive all of the time?
I’d be lying if I said I never have bad days but I do. I just choose to not allow them to control me. I surround myself with positive people who don’t seem to know how to leave me alone to wallow in my own misery! They are such horrible friends I tell you! 🙂 They won’t even let me make excuses when it comes to one of those mental road blocks I mentioned. However, the reality is I can’t control everything and sometimes we all just have to move forward from the things that we can’t change. It’s the adversities and challenges that we face and how we choose to handle them that define us not only as individuals but also as people.
What advice do you have to give to the many of us out there who can not stop thinking negatively? How strongly do you believe that simply having a new or different perspective on life and the way we see things, can change the way ourselves and others around us think?
No matter who you are and what you do life will always throw curve balls at you and there will be times when you fall down, but you must always get back up! Its okay to get mad at the things that we don’t have control over but we must never wallow in them for long. Most importantly, always, always remember to smile and laugh even when it’s hard.
Saying hello to perfect strangers, as well, as a healthy dose of hugs, given and received, helps a lot too!
Scars by Jaleel King
What is your favourite photo that you’ve ever taken?
Do I really have to just pick one? Seriously though, it has to be “Refreshment”. I shot it with black and white film when I still didn’t know what the hell I was doing, I’m self taught, but every time I look at that image it reminds me of why I do what I do and why I love it so much!
What is the most memorable photoshoot you’ve ever done?
I was in Asbury Park, New Jersey with a group of photographers for a workshop style shootout. The hotel where we were shooting had a balcony area that wasn’t wheelchair friendly. Friends offered to help me over the little lip and through the tight door but I said no, because I had to be ready to think outside the box if I’m ever faced with a similar situation on a real shoot. I ended up coming up with a few interesting shots of my own based on accepting this challenge. After that, as we moved around, many of the photographers and models started going to the beach. Now wheelchairs and sand don’t necessarily always mix but I thought to myself what would happen if I had a client who wanted to do a shoot on the beach? So, I pulled out my 70-200mm and shot from the boardwalk! Did I get everything that I wanted, No, damn sand, but it taught me a valuable lesson about making do with what you have and can do vs what you don’t have or can’t do. This can apply to anyone.
Can you tell us about your experience about working towards the non-for-profit organization “Help-Portrait” founded by Jeremy Cowart? How many years have you been participating in Help-Portrait, and what’s a day of shooting this event like?
I’ve been working with help portrait since it started, and its where I met a lot of awesome photographers as well as that I found out a lot about myself in relations to perfect strangers. It’s probably one of the most rewarding things that I do each year and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love connecting with people so that helps out even more. Especially when you see the smiles and gratitude on their faces after we hand them their images! Some people I’ve shot haven’t had a good photo taken in 20+ years.
What is your “dream job” or “dream gig” as a photographer?
I so would love to try to shoot a major ad campaign or a couple of celebrities. It would also be cool to see some of my street work featured somewhere like in a museum or something. I really don’t know? Whatever it is I just want to make sure it’s something that I love or something that other people can find a connection with.
Tell us about your experience of being interviewed by Fox 29’s Thomas Drayton? It looked like a ton of fun, and you got some amazing shots!
That story came about after I submitted a video for the WPPI “I want 10!” contest. I was one of 6 finalists and the co-winner with Mike Allebach who did the first BrainBash video of me. A couple of friends who work at Fox saw the video and pitched the idea of doing a story on me and the rest is just awesomeness! However, it’s the stories I heard from 3rd parties that made the story even stronger for me. One of my brothers told me about a lady, he knew, who had seen the story and pulled her camera back out after more than 10yrs! She didn’t know he was my brother as she told him why she was cleaning up her gear. I can only imagine who else decided to do something like that or more. Oddly enough I found out that the story won a local Emmy back in September 2013; how cool is that!? I never would’ve imaged that would happen!
Who are some of your favourite artists and/or photographers?
I love the works of Gordon Parks, Kareem Black, Joey L., Vivian Maier, Michael Penn, Zack Arias, Jeremy Cowart, Jeff Newsome, Jerry Ghionis, Henry the Worst just to name a few. I’m sure there are many many more. I’m always introduced to ” to new me” artists that have always been around until someone noticed them. The one thing that sucks about being self taught is not being introduced earlier to some of the greats. However, I will say it’s fun discovering them.
What do you spend your free time doing when you’re not behind the camera or editing?
I’m such a nerd! I love anime and video games.
Where would you like to see yourself and your photography go within the next 5 years?
I would love to see my fine art street work published in a few magazines, even a cover, or having something on a billboard that would be awesome! I know I want to try self publishing soon so it will be great to have a strong enough body of work to have a hard cover edition published too. 🙂
And finally, do you have any advice to offer specifically to us fellow photographers?
Photography is about capturing moments no matter what the moment is; good or bad. Don’t fear getting out of your comfort zone, it allows you to learn new tricks but more importantly it allows you to learn more about yourself. Accept the challenges for what they are not what you want them to be; not every shoot will go the way you want but you still have to make it work. Also, make time for personal work something that you create just for you or because you can or to just to get out of a rut. Lastly, don’t forget to get yourself a few of those crazy things called friends. They annoy you but will always love you and the great ones won’t kiss your ass just because everyone else does. LOL I love connecting with people; so beautiful!