My Favorite Artist, Favorite Photographer
By Mary C. Johnson
Before they grab the microphone, they stand off to the side in the dark waiting for their cue and you know from the moment they touch center stage that they’re going to erupt and the crowd will go into an immediate frenzy. Sweat drenched and exhausted, you’ve witnessed history in the making and no one’s more necessary than the person that hovers and snaps, and snaps until the very moment your favorite song pours through the speaker and you get the quintessential head bang that lets you know the artist feels the song just as much as you do and for a moment you go through an ethereal trance that cannot be explained unless you were in the same room. Capturing that moment provides the perfect glimpse into a world that you were momentarily a part of.
The photographer in the midst of magic will recognize it and the end result is our generation’s most iconic moments. A musically transfixed crowd will encourage a brave leap into the front row that carries the body like a surf board through a tunnel of waves. From a shirtless Tupac as he gives a fan one of those mischievous toothy smiles to the overly exaggerated Nicky Minaj in the midst of channeling one of her six stage personalities, a photographer like Johnny Nunez is always positioned and ready to capture it all.
With legendary and internationally acclaimed photographer Anthony Barboza who has worked with the likes of Oscar Award Winner,Halle Berry, Cher, and Michael Jackson, to name a few, as his teacher, Johnny Nunez was exposed to the world of photography as an art and also as a portal into the glamorous world of celebrities. “The first celebrity picture I took was of Tracey Lee in 1997 at Vibe Magazine whose hit “The Theme (It’s Party Time)” was number one at the time,” he explained while humming the tune to me. “I was really excited because I was able to sell the picture for $85. It doesn’t seem like much but going from living in your car to selling a picture is a big deal.” A big deal indeed, coming from his humble beginnings as a child growing up in Brooklyn. Now Nunez is the one photographer that is asked for by name. “I get to see a lot, in fact, I was just at the Gordon Parks Awards Dinner and Auction where I was invited personally, and saw Karl Largerfeld, who’s this big fashion icon, give Russell Simmons who’s a hip-hop icon give each other a big bear hug while Spike [Lee] stood beside them laughing – which was great.”
Not interested in taking unflattering pictures of his subjects, Nunez has built a reputation amongst celebrities by showing them the way their fans expect to see them- PERFECT. “I’m not interested in making them look bad,” he says sincerely. Taking good pictures is how he makes a living and jeopardizing the long standing relationships he has built over the years is neither good for business or his accessibility.
A paparazzo is notorious for sticking their lenses where they are not wanted, but they are not to blame for all the craziness some celebrities get themselves into. “A paparazzo only knows information that they are given, yeah there are popular places that celebrities hang out at but they get calls from publicists and representatives of different celebrities and that’s why they show up. And it’s the same person that gave you the call that will be covering the celebrities face saying ‘no pictures please’ he explains. “If I’ve been invited to an event and I’m told not to take a picture of a specific celebrity then I stop immediately and I go so far as to delete whatever picture I’ve taken of them.”
Nunez has learned a lot over the years and some of those lessons had come from former co-founder of Roc-a-Fella Records and mogul Damon Dash. Nunez spent a year following Dash around the world getting the most intimate moments and recalls some of the things Dash taught him. “He [Damon Dash] is a good man and he wouldn’t ask you to do something that he wouldn’t do himself and it was to always to make you tougher. A great leader goes into battle with you.”
Adopting some of Dash’s business ethics and developing strong relationships with Russell Simmons and 50 cent, who called during our interview, has given Nunez a great platform to launch his own company, Nubuzz Photography. “I make sure my employees are never put into situations that they can’t handle.”
The subject of the 2009 documentary Shooting Star(s), directors Daniel Frei and Axel Ebermann put Nunez on the receiving end of the camera which won the 2009 San Diego Black Film Festival Award for Best Documentary.
With his thriving business and deals with New Era, whose launch of the Limited Edition Johnny Nunez baseball cap and now with New Balance who’s releasing the Limited Edition Johnny Nunez sneaker, he feels lucky to have the opportunities that he has been given and wants to share his fortune with those that are in need. Nunez’s Eye Can Foundation has raised $40,000 for families of blind children and children in foster homes. He intends to lend his celebrity to The Children’s Trust Heart Gallery to raise awareness about adoption. “I want the pictures of every child up at the event so that the people who attend know that these children are ready to be adopted.”
For More information about Johnny Nunez please visit: www.nubuzzphoto.com or follow Johnny Nunez on twitter at @JohnnyNubuzz.
Images courtesy of Johnny Nunez