Photographer Nabil Discusses Working With Kendrick Lamar for Reebok Classic: Exclusive

Nabil Elderkin
Kendrick Lamar photographed by Nabil Elderkin. 

What is it like snapping flicks of Kendrick Lamar? "A breath of fresh air," says director and photographer Nabil Elderkin. The American-Australian dual citizen, who now calls Los Angeles home, was recently tapped by Reebok to shoot Lamar for his recent Reebok Classic campaign in East London. "I think of Kendrick as a fine grain, sometimes course, but real -- like film," he adds.

Nabil -- who has helmed visual work for the likes of Kanye West, Travis Scott, Skrillex and John Legend -- returned to shooting on different types of film for Lamar's Reebok campaign, his go-to technique when he started in photography. "When I started photography, I used film and I wanted to go back to that," he said, noting that he employed multiple 35mm Polaroids and 6x7 cameras.

"I’m shooting with the exact same camera I used for the first shot of Kanye [West] in the early 2000s," Nabil added. Growing up in Chicago, Nabil met up-and-coming producer/rapper West and boldly purchased the domain name for kanyewest.com. Rather than seeking cash from West's label, Roc-A-Fella Records, Nabil wanted to meet the Chi-town rep and photograph him. The two ended up shooting and have been working together since on tour photography and music videos.

Nabil's current gig with Lamar also serves as a win for Reebok. "As a brand we have always worked with trailblazing music artists, but Kendrick represents something deeper," Damion Presson, Reebok's director of entertainment marketing, tells Billboard. "Reebok and Kendrick are united through our shared passion of inspiring others to reach their true potential, and this message holds true in all of his designs for the brand. Ever since high school, Kendrick has been wearing Reebok Classics and so it's a pleasure to work with him on new collections and groundbreaking projects that connect to people."

Billboard spoke with Nabil to discuss his diverse upbringing, why Kendrick is a perfect fit for Reebok Classic and his upcoming projects.

Kendrick Lamar Sends a 'Message of Unity' With New Reebok Collaboration

What was the inspiration behind the campaign with Kendrick Lamar and Reebok?

Reebok asked if I wanted to shoot Kendrick and I said "hell yeah" because I always wanted to work with him. The shoot was for Reebok Classic, and they wanted to keep it classic and original so I shot everything on different types of film. I still have these old ass cameras I haven't used in forever but wanted to use. We just wanted to keep it super simple -- no retouching and no digital corrections. Basically what you see is what you get. I thought it fit perfectly with Kendrick, and I thought the creative approach was a great idea so we rolled with it.

Why do you think the Reebok Classic campaign fits perfectly with Kendrick?

He is this authentic, classic dude, who’s like a clear breath of fresh air. I think in the music industry, especially in hip-hop we are bombarded with a lack of quality and added digital noise. I like to think of Kendrick as a fine grain, sometimes course, but real -- like film.

How did you approach this shoot?

I just approached the shoot how I wanted him to be -- real clean and simple. Just him, not posing and trying to overdo anything, just hoping to get a sense of him, which you'll see in a couple of the outtakes. In the three-minute film debuting next week, I shot on 35mm, and he's walking and talking. We're having conversation about the Reebok Classic collaboration.

Tell us a little more about the shoot and collaborative process.

Kendrick was in London and Reebok flew two guys out from L.A. to East London where we shot half in the studio and the other half on location. It was pretty quick, only a few hours with two outfit changes. It wasn't about the styling of the clothes as it was about the shoes and his comfortable nature of what he wears. There's a lot more motion, which I wanted to capture the way he moves. I think a lot about an artist’s expression is how they carry themselves and how they move and he really moves fluid and natural. A lot of these kids I'm shooting now are mad awkward. [Kendrick] just has his own thing so it didn’t take me to tell him how to pose. He just did his thing and I captured it.

You’ve been able to work with major music influencers including Nicki Minaj, Frank Ocean, and of course Kanye, as well as political figures like Nelson Mandela. What’s next for you? Any exciting upcoming projects you can share?

Yeah, I'm working on a movie called Gully that fits in the same world as all these artists. It's a full feature movie. Imagine A Clockwork Orange set in Central L.A. It’s a reflection of society today, the youth and what’s going on in America’s socioeconomic situation. I'm also working with Vince Staples, who's a friend. I've been talking to Kendrick about some new videos for his new project and working with Travis Scott right now. I'm helping produce, direct and help with photos for Travis. I have about 40 things going on. 

You have an interesting upbringing. You were born in Chicago, grew up in Port Macquarie, Australia, moved back to Chicago and you’re now based in L.A. How did living in these different regions influence your work?

It did 100,000 percent. I think that’s everything. You hit the nail on the head; it’s my whole inspiration with everything I do. Within the last 10 years, I went to a lot of conflict zones including Congo, Somalia and Palestine. In all these places, I got to experience many different cultures and experiences that basically give you a perspective with everything. That’s the beauty with traveling  -- you get to meet new cultures, experience people and really have wider perspective. That definitely translates into my inspiration with all of my film work, especially. I try to keep my photography more portraiture and try to capture the subject’s essence. When it comes to film, it’s where I dream and imagine. All those thoughts come from my travels and experiences of living in different places.