An in-depth conversation with the NAACP winner, and entertainment and motion campaign photographer about doubts, triumphs and knowing his worth.
When taking a picture most of us care about a few things: the pose, the angle and the lighting. All of those things are constant and when you are a professional photographer it becomes second nature. The eye scopes each detail canvassing the story they want to tell and the image they want to capture. For more than 15 years, New Jersey native Clifton Prescod has had the vision and talent to photograph in places other photographers, to this day, claw to get a chance at. Behind the lens, Prescod is an everyday Black man striving for higher goals, surrounded by people who want the same for him.
Through networking and Prescod’s faith, the photos in his star-studded portfolio reflect the fruits of his labor. Photos that feature the likes of Nick Cannon, David Letterman, and Ali Wong. Additionally, Prescod has worked with the most elite entertainment clients in the game including Netflix, BET, and Variety, and he shows no signs of letting up. In an era where a photo has a few seconds before being scrolled through to the next sensation, an impact is what this photographer is looking to establish most. Continue below to read the full conversation The Reel Effect had with the entertainment, commercial, motion picture still photographer, Clifton Prescod.
Devon Townsend: You posted a status to your Facebook followers about a bad day 6-7 years ago where you and a friend had nearly, and I say this loosely, given up your dreams of film/entertainment photography. What was the titular cause that made Clifton Prescod question his future? Question his path?
Clifton Prescod: So at the time we were working at a rental production house in the city called Adorama. We were pretty much at entry level jobs. I was in charge of quality control of lighting gear that came in and out of the rental house. My friend Jared was doing the same in the video department but we both knew we were more than that. So we would just try working hard to hustle and utilize our position to network from that company. In doing so, we landed a pretty big gig with two European photographers and directors. I was going to be a lighting assistant and my friend Jared was going to be the [cinematographer]. It was a summer day and it was a major international fashion campaign and it’s a train wreck!
We’ve got the best cameras and whatnot but the operator that was working on our behalf was having a bad day. Gear wasn’t working. He’s showing us he’s really flustered and he up and quits on the job. It was just so bad, and it was a really bad representation of who we were, and us trying to get ahead and gain trust of top art directors, top photographers and directors. When the job finished after getting cursed out (chuckles) in Spanish, because the guys that hired us were from Spain, we left the job. We were down the street from Times Square and I forgot who suggested it between me and Jared, but it was suggested. The lights of Times Square was beaming that night and we’re walking down the street and we’re looking at all the artwork and noticing all the digital screens displayed and we’re [disappointed].
We sat down on a divider and just started looking up at the screens and we’re like we have a decision to make. Are we gonna let this day scare us or are we going to keep pushing and hope that one day our work will be up here? That was a moment. We had to overtly and audibly say yes.
I quickly went through the experience of the day but it was bad enough to question if we were built for this industry. If we were built to do what we wanted to do. That was a poor performance day where we had learned what not to do. There were things that day we can grab from that can make us better artists. I reference that day often because thank God it’s now to the point, where I believe, I’ve had 11 billboards in the past two years, and it’s like Yo! It’s a full circle moment because the same spot where I once doubted myself was the same spot where the industry and the players that are in the industry have validated me as an artist.
DT: There were two different interviews where one with ‘The Chundria Show‘ you said “You definitely hadn’t arrived.” Then last March you had an interview with BNC News with Mike Hill and you said “This was just the beginning”– What does success look like for you?
CP: Oh man! Everybody has a different version of success and for me it looks like you can be a respected person or people respect your hustle. But then no one calls you still and it’s like y’all love my hustle and love me but y’all aren’t calling me. Y‘all aren’t considering me for work. So I think it’s that merge between respect and the follow through of consideration where they hire you. I think that’s success. Because you’ve built your personal brand, you’ve built your professional brand. You’ve built your personal character in such a way where [clients] think of you to hire you and also follow through on it by putting their money where their mouth is by saying “Hey! I want to hire you.” And you do the job and everybody is happy and they continue to call you back. It’s a mixture of those inquiries and getting follow up work that’s success to me in a professional way.
I think success in a personal way is being aware of who I am and then seeing the areas that I need to be better in and taking action in that. As a man who is married and wants to have kids in the near future, and such. It’s making sure my family is good, that my wife is empowered, my future children are empowered because of the development and journey that I’ve been on as a man all these years.
In terms of success, I’m looking for a lifestyle of success where you’re just nonstop win-win-win. Even if it doesn’t pan out the way you wanted–the outcome is still a win in another way. I’m feeling a transition from being anonymous to being considered for gigs to actually being chosen.
DT: Based off of your Instagram photos you’re having lunch with your photographic hero Art Streiber, you’re standing in front of your key art image for the Netflix series ‘Kaleidoscope’ in Times Square and then you’re rubbing elbows with ‘The Best Man’ cast for their recently released series on Peacock. In those moments, where you’re in an out of body experience, how are those moments where you’ve taken a step back to process what you’ve done?
CP: I think I have to do that often and even today I’m in a group chat with a small group of friends of mine where we’re all on similar journeys, we’re all pushing each other, encourage each other. Everybody had really good news today and we’re happy for each other. Then, as you mention I start the year 2023 off with a mammoth sized billboard of a #1 hit show on Netflix. I had to remind myself to really be present in the moment and also enjoy the moment. I’ve realized it can be so easy to enjoy that moment and then the next day feel unfulfilled or unsatisfied because I’m always looking at what’s next. So I have to realize, like you said, and I have to take time to sit down, step out of myself and see where I’m at and what God has blessed me with because it is a blessing.
I had an old friend and family member remind me that there are people who you started with that haven’t made the same strides that you have and some people are just starting now that wish they could be where you are. It may seem like it’s not normal for a kid like me from Edison, New Jersey to be rubbing shoulders with some of the people that I’ve worked with. So I have to often take the time to process that. When I do that it fells great, and obviously it increases the level of gratitude and thankfulness that I have for what God has done in my life.
DT: How did you get to understand how much you are worth and how much your craft is worth?
CP: I feel like when I was working at Adorama, I want to say almost 10 years ago now. Content creation was there but it wasn’t as emphasized as it is now. It was always important, but wasn’t emphasized, and this is why I kind of jumped into entertainment. At some point, I realized I’m a photographer and I’m posting my work on social media but if Kim Kardashian posts a picture, my work is going to be forgotten in two seconds. Attention will shift to an individual, a thing, or an organization. People like me will get forgotten so how do I operate in my purpose and make a real impact on the world. I got into entertainment because I realized entertainment and entertainment history is forever. We talk about films that were made in the 50s, 40s, 20s and reference that. I saw an opportunity to use my skills and talents to contribute to television, film and entertainment history and music history through the gift and craft of photography.
I saw that my worth in this business was extremely high and people like me were needed especially when I joined the photographers union. I busted my butt trying to make an impression after having 12 or 13 years in the business but still being a small fish in a big pond. I decided I’m not going to switch ponds, I’m just going to become a bigger fish. I wanted people to see my work ethic, my eye, my vision, and my product. While, trying to deliver the best product that I can, while networking, even on set. So people can remember who I am and what it felt like to work with me. I know that helped develop my self worth, where then I was able to make certain demands and warrant things, like how much I’m paid because I’m Clifton Prescod, respectfully.
This interview was edited and condensed for the consideration of length and importance.
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