Fashion and beauty photographer Kudzai King: ‘I love capturing genuine expression in concocted unreal worlds’

We had the pleasure of chatting with former model turned New York fashion photographer Kudzai King about why he switched to the other side of the lens, what motivates him to create art and his thoughts on retouching with Affinity Photo for iPad.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Kudzai King. I am a fashion and beauty photographer based in New York City. I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, deep in the heart of Africa, where seven years ago, I initially kickstarted my career. I then went on to gain acclaim that allowed me to travel across the continent. While living in Cape Town, I began travelling and creating works for magazines such as Vogue Italia, Elle Magazine South Africa, L’Officiel Lithuania, and many more. Eventually, I made the leap to the big apple where I live and work. Since then, everything has been a dream unfolding.

“I enjoy creating strikingly emotive images, inspired by a culmination of passion, feminine boldness and masculine tenderness, all encompassed by cultural diversity, social taboo and a touch of edgy yet purposeful controversy.”

I enjoy creating strikingly emotive images, inspired by a culmination of passion, feminine boldness and masculine tenderness, all encompassed by cultural diversity, social taboo and a touch of edgy yet purposeful controversy.

You shifted your work from male modelling to fashion photography—why did you choose to pursue a career as a photographer?

Deep in my thoughts of expression, I felt I had a story to tell, a craft to model. Modelling allowed me to be the art form and it turned into an amazing opportunity to better understand emotion, how mannerisms function and what they mean, and how to better project them to be captured by a camera. As my hunger for creative expression grew, the dimension I wanted to expand was building a foundation for not being art, but artmaking.

What does photography mean to you?

To me, it means the world. It’s a privilege to be able to craft a narrative using pure imagination and to essentially capture it on camera. I craft worlds seen and unseen, concepts that, at many times, are translated as a creative language that inspires the audience I have garnered along my journey in this industry. To be able to do it for a living and provide for me along with people I work with is even more of a blessing.

“I am not the type of photographer that would say I capture moments. Having grown up reading books and watching movies derived from the realms of fantasy and adventure, I love creating genuine expression in concocted unreal worlds.”

How do you get the person in front of the camera the way you want? How long does it take to get that perfect shot?

I am a very hands-on photographer, but I also allow each subject that I get to work with a great form of leeway to bear their soul and take part in the process of exhibiting emotion. I am not the type of photographer that would say I capture moments. Having grown up reading books and watching movies derived from the realms of fantasy and adventure, I love creating genuine expression in concocted unreal worlds. Since each session is different from the next, there is no average. It depends on the model, project, and what they all require to meet me at the point of artistic satisfaction.

Do you regularly work with the same team of makeup artists, hairstylists, etc?

I tend to gravitate towards the same stylists. A stylist and a fashion photographer are much like a shield and a sword. One cannot purely get their vision out in the highest form without the other. Once I form bonds with a few stylists, I tend to grow with them unless the project needs a fresh voice and vision, or if the client requests another individual. As for other departments, I often rotate creatives in regard to their offering, voice, talent, and presence for each unique vision.

What is your best photography tip?

I have two quotes to share. The first are words that I have lived by since I was a teenager, and they have never left me. The second are words I hold dear to my heart. They are the words of my mother.

  1. “Fall on your face, fail, fail spectacularly…because when you fail, you learn. When you fail, you live.”
  2. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”—Hazel Kutinyu
How much equipment do you typically bring to a photoshoot?

I tend to move quite light with equipment. I typically use two to three lights max on my shoots if I am working in a studio unless the shoot requires more. Along with the light, I bring my camera bag with my two trusted lenses—a Canon 25-105mm f4 USM Lens and a 70-200mm f4 USM lens. The majority of my work has been created with these. On location shoots, I often use one light or natural light.

What accessories can’t you live without?

It has to be my tethering cable that I connect to a laptop or iMac for live viewing, and also the iPad that I use for my shot lists.

What are your thoughts on Affinity Photo for iPad?

When I first discovered it, I was blown away. After years of working on either a laptop or desktop, I was eager to open myself up to some flexibility and freedom of movement. Retouching had become quite tedious, and I had to break away. Otherwise, I was going to grow into hating the process. When the latest iPad offering from Apple came out, I became aware of how powerful a tool it was. Instead of upgrading my laptop, I decided to buy one instead. I went on a journey to discover a suitable pairing for the device I had just bought, and I could not find anything on the market capable enough to meet my needs.

I have loved Photoshop for the longest time, and it still has an amazing reputation, but Affinity Photo on the iPad Pro is superior to the same version of Photoshop on the same device. I have retouched campaigns, magazine covers and retouched celebrity pictures in Affinity Photo on my iPad Pro. I have every tool at my disposal. I can retouch during a flight, on the bus, on a train and in-between photoshoots. I just can’t wait till tethering through the app is available. It could easily become the only app I process and retouch my work in.

“I have retouched campaigns, magazine covers and retouched celebrity pictures in Affinity Photo on my iPad Pro. I have every tool at my disposal. I can retouch during a flight, on the bus, on a train and in-between photoshoots.”

What are the biggest challenges of working in New York City?

I personally don’t believe in challenges and problems; I believe in solutions. There are many talented creatives in NYC and the solution I found is that if you want to be heard, you have to make noise.

If you had to choose a favourite photograph of yours, what would it be and why?

That’s a hard question. I don’t have any kids, but I feel this question is a similar version of a question that asks you to pick your favourite child. What I will say is this, “my best work yet is my last work.”

What does fashion and beauty mean to you?

For as long as there’s been human consciousness, there’s been the need to escape and transcend human consciousness, which is why small children spin around in circles until they fall, and grown-ups meditate, fornicate, and self-medicate until they fall. It’s also why I create fashion and beauty photographs. It’s aspirational entertainment, a contribution to human society, a distraction to the hardships.

Lastly, what motivates you to continue taking photographs?

My drive and ambition push me beyond my comfort zone. I love seeing each aspect of my work progress from the last. The ultimate goal is to keep photographing until I feel I have a greater understanding of human psychology as much as I can so that one day, I may be able to extend my vision beyond just photography to direct moving pictures.


To see more of Kudzai’s photography, check out his website kudzaiking.com. You can also follow his work on Instagram @kudzaikingphotography and Twitter @kudzaikingphoto.