By Brian Coulton
When he shoots you he’ll take your energy and walk away with it — just like he did to Sean Paul, k-os, Faith Evans and Lloyd Banks.
“I will shoot anyone, anytime, anyplace,” said Che Kothari from his Toronto studio. The Ryerson photography graduate (although he technically still needs a liberal credit, he points out) is only 23, but already his portfolio includes shots of some of urban music’s biggest artists. His medium-spanning work includes editing the urban culture website Earwaks.com and founding Manifesto, an organization that promotes Canada’s hip-hop community.
And despite his accomplishments, Kothari said the key to his premature success lies in his own hard work.
“Even when I was at Ryerson, I started hustling,” said Kothari. After moving to Toronto from Guelph at 17, he convinced people of his talents through persistence, which earned him a job photographing shows at The Guvernment nightclub — even though he was too young to get in. “With a camera, you can gain access,” he explained, “access into peoples’ lives and access into remote spots where you’re not allowed to be a lot of the time.”
Kothari said access was only the first step towards branching out. Using connections he made through Toronto’s club scene, he pressed commercial magazines such as Urbanology to let him be the photographer on some of their shoots. To his surprise, the first job the publication gave him was a photo shoot with platinum-selling hip-hop and R&B artists Common and Faith Evans. “I said, ‘Hell, I’ll do it!’” Kothari remembered. “I hadn’t shot artists like that in my life.”
Following through always includes making contacts, even if you don’t get the job, said Kothari. He recognizes the need to network and build relationships with his clients. He says this involves knowing how to provide for people because you never know when they will be able to help you in the future. “I want a snake? I know a person with a snake. I need a crazy car? I know a person with a crazy car.”
Yet more important than his exposure to the industry is the foundation he has built around him. He considers the team of people he works with, whom he calls his family, both central to his success and the reason behind his motivation. “What I am is all of the relationships I’ve built. Without my core team, I couldn’t do this.”
One of those team members is Ryan Paterson, 25. Paterson graduated from Ryerson’s image arts program in 2005 and has worked with Kothari since they met in their second year. At Ryerson, the two worked together on Function Magazine, the student-run publication of the School of Image Arts. Today, they are co-founders of Hightop Studios, a creative service company that works in web design, photography, marketing and consulting.
“You could hustle all day long with the wrong attitude and get nowhere,” said Paterson of the high-pressure photography industry. The difference with Kothari is the positive energy he emits that makes those who work with him feel comfortable. “People start to find that not only is the photograph good, but Che and his team are very enjoyable to work with,” he said.
Paterson identifies with Kothari’s hard work ethic. “Che works by not waiting around and seizing the opportunity on the spot.”
Kothari will speak at the School of Image Arts building in room 307 on Wednesday, Mar. 14 at 6:30 p.m. as part of the ongoing Student Lecture Series.