Words & Interview: Alex Khatchadourian
Up until last June 2016, Mark Nguyen had never left Los Angeles. He'd been working for a small fashion brand called Future Replica, shooting fashion and lifestyle photos, but was unsure of the path he wanted to full-heartedly pursue.
After the end of a six-year relationship, Mark decided to take the leap and go full on with his photography, hoping to somehow use the medium as way to stay in the fashion industry and get into the music industry. It was during a trip to Coachella in 2015 that Mark met a barber named Carlos who cut UK rapper Danny Seth's hair. After finding out that Carlos cut hair at Frank's Chop Shop on Melrose in LA, he started to frequent the spot every week, forking out $50 bucks a cut in the hopes of making some cool connections with the high-class clientele that came through the shop. "I met a pro skater there that rides for Emerica and was telling him about my photographer," remembers Mark. "He asked for my name and Instagram and that’s when it clicked, that that barbershop was a hot networking spot, where a bunch of people passed through that had clout."
Mark got a fresh cut every week and eventually the owner asked what he did for a living. After telling him he was a photographer the owner booked him to shoot photos for the business' catalog. While shooting for the catalog he happened to snap a few photos of Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs' social media manager. He loved Mark's work and showed Puff, who also loved what he saw. After some months Mark got an email from Puff's camp and was asked to have a meeting in July 2016 about a potential photographer position. It took about a year’s work before he got noticed, but was eventually brought on to document the daily life of Puff on his huge national tour last year. Mark spent six weeks in Puff's inner circle, shooting candid behind the scenes photos of Puff and his well-known friends like DJ Khalid, Rick Ross, and Puff's son Christian. We talked with Mark about the unlikely opportunity he was given to go on tour with P. Diddy and how it's helped him foster a now thriving career in photography.
You went on tour with Puff and have had the chance to shoot photos of him and his circle of famous friends. Tell us about your approach to shooting lifestyle photos like this?
I’m usually always trying to remain in the background. I try and just capture the genuine moments he’s having. He brought me on to shoot photos of him and really document his life. He feels he is getting old and he feels as if it all needs to be recorded. He needed everything to be documented. He says so many quotable and crazy ideas that go through his head throughout the day. People might think that the things he says are crazy, but after being around him for so long, he just sounds determined. He’s so in the game, and hungry all the time. It’s no wonder he’s going to become the first billionaire in hip hop. He’s so business minded and the one quote that has stuck with me since knowing him is, “I’m up at 3am thinking about what I have to do at 7am.”
Tell us about that photo of Puff and his son getting ready in the bathroom of their hotel. It seems like a really nice moment between the two of them.
That was shot on tour; I would always go and hang out in his dressing room before and while he’s there. His son Christian was on the tour with us and would perform his single throughout the whole tour. If there’s one thing I’ve realized while being around Puff is what a great dad he is. He really looks out for his kids and gives them as many opportunities he can. He always wants his son around, and enjoys teaching him things, but also lets him be his own person. But that photo was just the two of them getting ready before a show and Puff was asking Christian which chain he thought would look best. They both really respect each other’s styles.
How long were you on tour?
It was about six weeks, 35 days, and around 22 shows in 19 cities and 2 countries. The vibe was totally crazy. Puff would fly to each destination with his main photographer, and then I was on the tour bus with management and his entire team. My job was to get to the next city before Puff did and make sure the room was set up with all everything from his sponsors. I would edit photos all night, sleep from 8am to noon, and then go explore the city and take photos of everything. Before all of this I had never left Los Angeles, so I was excited to explore and take it all in.
Which city was you favorite?
Oh man, definitely New York. I just love the vibe and it’s the center for the scene. The vibe was so real there. New York people just blurt out everything they have going on in their head. Plus they’re always hustling. Any moment in particular that stand outs to you? Well in New York, I go to meet Kanye. I got some cool flicks of him.
What’s next for you?
After tour, I started moving on to other things, but still do freelance work for Puff. I do gigs for Ciroc and DeLeon, and any other projects they may need help with. I also got a gig with the rapper Belly. I was with him for like a month, doing studio photos, and shooting his album release. I started to do some more of my fashion stuff at the time as well and deigned a couple shoes that I hope to come out with later this year.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you on this journey?
Getting recognized. Getting people to know who you are what you do. It’s not about who you know, but rather who knows you. You can know anyone, but they really have to know who you are. You have to really immerse yourself in the scene that you want to be a part of. What’s your favorite place to shoot an artist? I think in the studio. It’s the one place they’re the most comfortable and vulnerable. On stage they’re putting on a show, but in the studio you get more emotions out of them. My style of shooting is really organic; shooting people in the moment and candidly. I don’t like people posing or anything and I think I get that candid moment best in the studio.