KAWAI MATTHEWS: PICTURE THAT..
Kawai Matthews is the real deal. She is a world-class, award-winning photographer whose work raises the bar in photographic art and work ethic in the entertainment industry. Her grind and her eye for capturing the moment show in her work.
Kawai’s client list is a who’s who of celebrities and public figures including Kanye West, Trey Songz, Angela Bassett, Kerry Washington, Queen Latifah, Snoop Dogg, Al Sharpton, Pamela Anderson, Whiz Khalifa, ?uest Love, Kat Von D, Common, Nick Cannon, Derek Luke, Janelle Monae, Dr. Cornel West.. there’s more, I’m just tired of typing. Suffice it to say Kawai’s work is well known and highly respected. She’s also been featured and made appearances on WeTV, BET and VH1. You can preview her portfolio at www.kawaimatthews.com. It was a pleasure to tap the mind of this industry lion.
Personality-wise, Kawai is the rebirth of cool. Her flow is charismatic and confident and it draws you in. You simply WANT to do business with someone who makes it work for herself the way she does.
“While attending Narbonne High School, my interest in photography was sparked. Not at all professionally, but I was introduced to the camera & darkroom and loved it. I was exploring the world around me through the assignments and occasionally photographing friends and family. I kept up my hobby throughout college, but my time was limited with my academic and athletic workload. In addition, my eyes were set on working as an executive in the music industry. It wasn’t until I graduated and began working with a music management company, that I began to photograph musicians. And me, being the entrepreneur that I am, decided to design flyers to make some side cash shooting headshots as well. A few of my close friends in the entertainment industry began to really get in my ear about doing it professionally. That’s when I started to really consider becoming a full-time, professional photographer.”
Kawai did her research and attended a life-changing conference on this aspect of the photography industry and saw the vocation as a way to earn a living and express her creative eye as art.
Kawai expanded on her photography journey when she formed Air Philosophy, LLC in 2006. Air Philosophy is a full service multimedia company specializing in photography, video production and graphic design. Kawai heads Air Philosophy making excellence look easy with edgy, trend-worthy digital content production for various client types.
From live event coverage, interviews, how-to videos, epks, media kits and more , they are one of the hottest creative production companies and come highly reccomended.. www.airphilosophy.com
Teaching is another aspect of Kawai’s career scope. She does seminars and training sessions for students and other photography professionals in Los Angeles and New York. She started off teaching a youth entrepreneur afterschool program for middle school & high school students in NY. Kawai decided to reach out to schools and photo retailers in L.A. after the great experience on the east coast. She now teaches at Los Angeles Center of Photography and is interested in creating classes and expanding on their curriculum. Kawai secured a lighting company sponsorship with Broncolor and taught lighting seminars and workshops through this company as well.
PBI: Tell me about the discipline you exercise as an entrepreneur.
KM: I’m very demanding of myself. It’s like you’re your own coach. I have to juggle day-to-day operations, produce content, educate myself about what’s happening in the industry, etc. I have to understand the business fundamentals from finance, products and services to management and marketing. On top of that, I have to recruit and manage a strong team to help move my projects and business forward. Although I carry a lot of the workload, I’m happy to say that I’m delegating more and more tasks to team members. It’s a mistake to try to do it all yourself for too long, you won’t see any real growth doing that.
PBI: Speaking of that, who does your team entail?
KM: I have a finance/business manager, social media manager, photo/video crew, editors, and finally a sales/marketing team I hired recently. Depending on the scale of production, I hire trusted freelancers and independent contractors to support in execution.
PBI: What obstacles have you observed being a black female in your field? (My fav answer)
KM: For one, I try not to make it about being black or female. Your creative ideas, your work ethic and your professionalism speak louder than anything. People are willing to pay you for good work that is delivered on time and beyond their expectations. I find that we often make race and gender a barrier instead focusing on what really gets you hired – the work & your hustle!
PBI: What kind of projects do you take on?
KM: I specialize in creating content that visually and strategically brand companies and individuals. My clients count on me to fully understand their brand or campaign message and fully execute a production that achieves the goals set. I work with small businesses, corporations, non-profits, business professionals, creative artists, musicians, fashion designers, it doesn’t matter. Collaborating on so many different projects also serves as an invaluable learning experience for me and my crew as well. There are a lot of amazing people on amazing missions and we get to be a part of that!
PBI: How do you build your own brand and customer base?
KM: Wooooh! There are so many components to building a brand and establishing a customer base. I’m still learning everyday. Branding and marketing is a non-stop exercise. It’s a promise to your clients/customers that stands on the legs of trust and delivery over time. For instance, when you establish a visual identity or process for your company, you commit to that identity or process on all levels. Your customer “expects” to see it, to experience it and to participate in a valuable exchange, so you must deliver just that. The customer’s experience with you is major and the referrals are what will grow your customer base faster than anything marketing scheme. Of course, handing out business cards, postcards, one-sheets, newsletters, social media and networking events are key, but the best sell is always word of mouth. My clients continue to support me by referring me to their colleagues, friends and family.
PBI: What plans do you have going forward?
KM: As I grow in business, I’m always looking at where my strengths are and what aspects of my business generate the most revenue and repeat clients. I want to focus on and target more of those types of clients, trimming away at the fat in my service offerings. When you first start a business you want to offer everything under the sun to get your cashflow going and to test the market. There is just a lot of uncertainty. Now, I am refining and streamlining my company to partner with specific types of clients and projects. Currently at Air Philosophy, we have a lot of clients that use us for live event coverage. My marketing and sales strategy is to find and reach out to more clients that are seeking those types of services. As far as my commercial/editorial photography work, I will continue to photograph entertainers and I’m currently branding and setting up a big sales/marketing push to launch Kawai Matthews Photography. I finally had to separate the identity for Kawai, the photographer, from Air Philosophy, the multimedia production company. I was smothering the artist inside of me by not giving myself a separate place to create, away from the company work.
PBI: You probably have a lot of people that want to intern with YOU now, huh? You have any advice or information for new photographers or students?
KM: My job is not just about photography and video, so I let them know up front that that’s not all they’ll be doing. I run a business, so the interns I’m interested in are not just creative, but professional, can write, communicate and can work without me micromanaging them, etc. One of the big things for me is the drive to self-educate and taking initiative is very important. I’ve had people ask to intern that haven’t even read their camera’s manual yet! Of course, reading books, researching lighting online, taking workshops and experimenting with the creative tools will be time-consuming, but the more you bring to the table, the more likely you are to get hired. I will never bring someone on set that doesn’t have a clue to what they’re doing. My clients are way too important to me. So, whether you’re in formal school or not, take responsibility to begin to educate yourself. Seeing that drive in a person is what I’m looking for – a self-starter! That’s the kind of person I can teach and grow with.
If you can't tell yet, I'm very impressed with this company and its driven founder. It was a pleasure to chop it up with Kawai Matthews. The positive energy is quite contagious.