Artist Spotlight: Nehemiah Brent
UMass alum Nehemiah Brent on the ups and downs of being a photographer in New York, the importance of color and anime.
March 25, 2021
Connections mean everything. A distant relative could be the reason you get your foot in the door at a record label, someone you met at the park could be behind your art’s display at a gallery and a friend from college could be responsible for you getting your first paid gigs as a photographer.
Nehemiah Brent entered the University of Massachusetts undeclared as a freshman in 2015. Over time, he gravitated towards kinesiology and decided that due to his passion for helping people and interacting with others, being a physical therapist could be a viable option for him.
Fast-forward to 2021: he is a photographer living in Queens, New York, with the path towards kinesiology far behind him.
Photography wasn’t something that he always knew he wanted to do, but something that came to him his junior year of college when he realized he wasn’t fulfilled by his major.
“I needed something creative to keep my mind going,” he said. Amidst his studies he was looking towards something to energize him, to make life less dull.
Brent found inspiration on his visits to New York to see his friends and cousins. On Afropunk 2018 in Brooklyn he said “I got to see all these beautiful people, and their beautiful outfits,” said Brent.
He recalls the colorful fabrics of people’s clothing, the way the light hit the streets and the people walking on it. He realized these ephemeral moments were something far too alluring to not capture. When his birthday rolled around, he asked for a camera and began exploring the world of photography.
His friend, Hardy Jean, was on the board of the Student Organizations Resource Center (SORC.) Seeing his interest in photography, Jean worked with Chantal Barbosa, a supervisor at the time, to create a job for Brent in which he would photograph events around campus such as Noche Latina and HASA/CASA. He also began photographing concerts at UMass.
“Music is a big part of the things I love to do,” he said. “I wanted to be around it, but I also wanted to take pictures of people.”
After a while, Brent realized he wanted to work more closely with people and extend his talents beyond merely covering student events. He started off with practice projects for himself, such as shooting his friends and helping people with headshots. He mentions his friends as driving forces during this time to continue pursuing his art.
“My friends Tristan, Rohan, Brian and Dezmond all pushed me to keep working,” he said. “I would not be able to be a photographer without my friends—they are always rooting for me. They are the reason why people even look at me now.”
One of his closest friends, Dezmond Dane, is a fellow UMass graduate currently living in New York pursuing music. In their years at UMass, Dane would help Brent with sharpening his craft.
“You can really be creative in a lot of environments, you just have to dig deep,” said Brent. The two would experiment with studio lighting in the Studio Arts Building and found various spots around campus to do shoots.
“Dezmond is one of the main reasons why I was able to grow as an artist. I’m always taking his pictures.” said Brent. “As I learned more and more about his angles, it helped me put together what worked for future projects.”
Through the knowledge he gained from working with his friends, Brent began conducting photoshoots in his hometown of Lynn, Massachusetts. Lynn was easy to navigate for him, as it was near Boston where he had access to studios. But he realized he wasn’t able to accomplish all he had in mind in Lynn the way he could in a bigger city.
“I’m a free spirit. I couldn’t be home too much,” he said. After his graduation in 2019, Brent made the move to New York, where everything became more elevated for him and his career.
He began working with models, stylists, creative directors and learning from other photographers, such as Emiliano Granado. He connected with Granado within his first week of moving to New York when he reached out to Granado on Instagram, and Granado replied commenting on the quality of Brent’s work.
“The best advice I’ve been given was by Emiliano Granado,” said Brent. “He made me realize I should always be open to advice, and to never stop working.”
Brent remarked on how easy it is to lose track of your progress and feel like you’re behind everyone else in the creative industry due to how quickly everything moves, making a consistent work ethic crucial. Yet, the pressure creatives put on themselves to constantly churn out content to prevent being left behind can be poisonous.
“You have to be patient with yourself. It’s hard being a creative,” said Brent. “You push yourself through so much mentally just to give content to people. Of course, you want to be an artist, but at the end of the day what’s really important is your mental health.”
Being an artist comes with a wide array of challenges, from picky clients to poor communication in terms of what people want. Yet something that every photographer, including Brent, can empathize with, is when a client disrespects your work through manipulating your photos.
“Why would you ask me to do all this?” asked Brent in regards to people changing the composition of his photos. “It just discredits my work. I would rather you work with me than go behind my back and change my whole picture.”
Social media is another point of conflict for the 24year-old creative, as it is where almost all collaborations are made, yet it can be incredibly toxic for one’s psyche.
“Social media stresses me out,” he said. “We’re always subconsciously comparing and judging ourselves to other people.”
In September of 2019 Brent found himself exhausted with digital photography, to the point where he considered quitting altogether. Then, he discovered film.
Fellow photographer Brian Fernandez helped him to learn the fundamentals of working with film, and he found himself more inspired than ever. Brent now prefers to shoot with film cameras such as the Mamiya RZ67 Pro II and the Canon A1.
“Shooting with film makes you very intentional with every shot, because you only get one chance,” he said.
Brent’s creative process is usually born out of an idea cultivated from an interesting find on Instagram, Pinterest or some fashion magazine. Magazines are where Brent draws most of his inspiration, alongside anime movies and television and music videos.
“A lot of anime [is] very colorful and I love color,” said Brent. “Some of my shoots are inspired off of [sic] anime I have seen with their color themes.”
Color is a significant component of all of Brent’s work with captivating, saturated visuals washing over every frame. Brent refers to the “Someone That Loves You” video by Honne as his favorite music video due to the enthralling use of colors.
Brent has a lot of work currently in motion, such as behind-the-scenes shots for some videos with up and coming musicians. In the future, he wants to move towards more editorial pieces.
“I want to see my work in fashion editorial magazines,” he said. “I want to go on tours, I want to be booked for magazines like “Complex” or “Paper.” I just want to able to live a calm life doing what I love.”
“I like anime. Favorite color at the moment is purple. I like mangoes. I like to read. I just love my family and friends, if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here at the moment.’
Keep up with Brent here.
Astghik Dion can be reached at [email protected]