For Jake Osmun, photography is a time capsule, shaking loose memories that might have been lost had it not been for his camera. From longboarding in high school and attending Columbia College in Chicago to touring with rapper Vic Mensa, Osmun’s best moments have been captured with his lens.
Though he primarily focuses his photography on Mensa and local Arizona band Injury Reserve, the 21-year-old Phoenix native has photographed big names in the music world like Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Justin Bieber. Now, in the midst of his continuing work with a plethora of musical artists, Osmun anticipates an even bigger year than his last behind the camera.
Osmun chats with Billboard about his biggest influences in photography, getting the perfect candid shot of Mensa and other artists, and expanding his title from photographer to art director.
Why do you focus a lot of your photography on hip-hop?
A lot of the people I work with are my friends, but I do like hip-hop and I’m drawn to that culture. The [creative] process is really cool to see.
What’s your favorite camera to use?
I have a bunch of cameras I’ve been using lately. I used to shoot on a Canon 5D. I was living in Beverly Hills with Vic and a bunch of other people and shooting with the same camera every day, and I was like, “This is f—ing boring. I’m not even having fun doing this because it’s the same perspective.” So I was like, OK, I need to get some weird cameras. Now I shoot Polaroid [and] I shoot with a lot with point-and-shoots. I still shoot on the Canon, but I change it up with cameras I have.
What kind of aesthetic do you look for when you’re shooting artists?
I don’t like stuff that’s doctored. I edit stuff a little bit depending on my mood. Some things could be more saturated, others could be black-and-white, but I like things candid and natural. I use flash sometimes, but I really like natural light. Even if the room is super dark, I’ll make the shot really grainy and leave it like that. I really like shots that are how they are in real life — how I see it in that moment.
How do you create a relationship with the artists where you can get casual, candid shots of them?
People are weird about cameras sometimes, which is fine. I understand that. The only way to make people comfortable with you is to be nice and be their friend. You also have to know your place. When I first started working with Vic, I wouldn’t say anything during his [recording] sessions because, at that point, I didn’t know anybody and I wasn’t going to overstep my boundaries. I recently got a couple of shots of Mr Hudson, who’s super f—ing talented and one of the nicest guys I know. I just befriended him and was like, “Hey, is it OK if I shoot?” and that was it. I just become a friend in the room with a camera. That way, you’ll get stuff that’s a lot more genuine.
What’s your favorite photograph you’ve taken?
I have so many, but there’s this photo I took of my friend Parker, who produces for Injury Reserve, and it’s crazy. It’s just his eyes coming over his laptop and there’s this crazy reflection. I also have a portrait of Bieber in France that I like, and then another one with Vic and Bieber together. We were turnt at the club very late, and it was pretty funny. Another shot I like is of Pharrell on the keys. But my favorite might be the picture of Kanye reaching down to the crowd [during his Saint Pablo Tour]. Once I got that shot, I was like, “Oh sh–, that photo is going to be insane,” and I just turned my camera off.
What’s the best event photography has taken you to?
The first thing that comes to mind is when Vic opened up for Bieber this year. I was shooting a whole Bieber tour with point-and-shoots. To be a part of that was absolutely insane. It was like six shows all over Europe. I never thought a camera would take me there.
Name a few of your biggest inspirations for photography.
There’s this really crazy French film I watched in college called La Jetée. It’s a silent film and it’s all photographs. One of my favorite photographers is Brock Fetch. He shot all of A$AP Mob’s early stuff. I’ve got to know him recently, and he’s probably one of my biggest inspirations. His perspective is really crazy, and I feel like a lot of photography in street and music culture now is definitely derived from his style.
Where are you planning to take your photography?
I did a lot of stuff in 2016 that I hadn’t done before. I’m making a platform for people to be able to purchase photos I shoot. I want to direct more videos for artists that I believe in, do more photo shows [and] shoot more album covers. I really want to make books too. I have all the content for it, but I just need to decide what looks best. I just want to do bigger and better things every time and keep moving forward.