Hollywood photographer Carell Augustus recreated iconic movie scenes using Black actors and actresses.
By Jason Lewis
Celebrity photographer Carell Augustus has been on a book tour to promote “Black Hollywood: Reimagining Iconic Movie Moments,” where he used Black celebrities to recreate some of the most well-known movie scenes. He recently spoke about the creation of the book and his career during the monthly Los Angeles Standard Newspaper Camera Club meeting.
Like many Black people, Augustus grew up watching White actors in lead roles in mainstream movie while Black actors took on more stereotypical roles which did not portray them in a positive light.
“This is about imagery; this is about what you see reflected back to you,” he said. “I’m a product of the ‘80s and the ‘90s, and I watched all of these movies, but none of them really featured African Americans. I think that has a lot to do with how people, kids in particular, see themselves. The images that they see reflected back to them. Often time when you see us, particularly young Black men, they’re the gangsters, the thugs, they’re getting arrested, they’re running from a cop, and it’s my personal belief that it comes from just constantly having that image sort of played back to you. My book is kind of a rebuttal to all of that.”
Augustus has used Blair Underwood to recreate “The Shining,” Vanessa Williams as Cleopatra, Jay Ellis in “American Psycho,” and Omari Hardwick as James Bond.
As the lead photographer for celebrity gifting events, Augustus was able to cross paths with many celebrities, and he would pitch his photoshoot ideas to Black celebrities.
“With all of the Black artists, I would say, ‘Hey, I’d like to shoot you as such and such,’” he said. “The cool ones would say ‘I’m down.’ I asked everybody from Vivica Fox, to Shemar Moore, to Lauren London, both Vanessa Williamses, and nobody ever said, ‘Hey, why are we doing this?’ We all sort of get it. It’s about imagery.”
Augustus started these photoshoots in 2010, and this project was entirely self funded because he could not get a meeting with any publishers for this book. Each shoot would cost him about $1,000, as he would pay makeup artists and wardrobe specialists, and he would pay for props. At one point he worked at Smashbox Studios, so he had access to a high-end photography studio. Each photoshoot had to be of top quality to pique a publisher’s interest.
“When you have something that you want to turn into a book, a gallery, or a show, or you’re presenting it to publishers who will give you money as an advance, you don’t want the artwork to have any issues,” Augustus said. “I’ve been in this business for a very long time, and I’ve been on the entertainment side, so as a result you get to meet people, and learn whose assistants want to be makeup artists, and wardrobe stylists. In the beginning I was trying to do this all myself. But I am not a makeup artist or a wardrobe stylist. So I have to put out some money to do this.”
Augustus’ photography skills were vital for making this project work, and he has been honing these skills since he was a child growing up in South Carolina.
“What made me want to be a photographer was seeing pictures of Janet Jackson when I was a kid,” he said. “It really made me want to learn how to light people, and particularly Black people. Photos of her really inspired me to want to pick up a camera. I’ve had a camera with me ever since I was in the 7th grade.”
Augustus learned the technical side of photography at Brooks Institute of Photography, and he focused on studio lighting, commercial lighting, and editorial lighting.
“I love lighting pictures,” he said. “That’s what I do. I love figuring it out. Watching some of these movies and saying, ‘Hey, I wasn’t there when they did it but I can get as close to it as possible.”
During the Los Angeles Standard Camera Club meeting, Augustus was asked by a group member what camera brand he uses.
“Is there any other camera than Nikon?” Augustus said as he laughed.
Augustus posts behind the scenes videos of his photoshoots on his YouTube channel, “Black Hollywood Book Project,” and his work can be viewed at www.carellaugustus.com and on social media. His book can be purchased at www.amazon.com, at Barnes & Noble, and at Malik Books at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and the Westfield Culver City mall.