He’s photographed some of the hottest stars in the music industry, had dinner at Diddy’s mansion, attended the 2017 Grammy’s red carpet, and has BTS access to studio sessions with hit maker Murda Beatz. Professional photographer Armen Keleshian caught my eye while scrolling through media website Genius’ Instagram. Having been their first ever ‘Photograph Takeover’ participant, Armen took over Genius’ Instagram, posting a number of his shots and explaining a story behind each of the photos.
The Boston born talent grew up in Lebanon in an Armenian household, only moving to LA 7 years ago. At 16, Armen began his snapshot lifestyle, learning the tricks of a picture-perfect shot in just a year. He would sneak into music concerts and snap his favourite artists, where his passion began to grow further and further into a career. Contacting artist managers and even artists themselves, Armen was determined to make more out of his talent than simply a hobby.
Becoming familiar with his more recent work I contacted Armen, becoming to understand the man behind the camera.
You grew up in an Armenian household, what is it about the culture that you love the most and did it at all play a part in your passion for photography?
I think growing up in a traditional Armenian household had greatly impacted the love for our culture and history. I take pride in being Armenian and bearing it on my name. I don’t think my culture had directly impacted my passion, but I will say that it has helped me get exposure in the Armenian community, which has always shown love and support for what I do.
Armen travels from place to place, often visiting the UK. In a video conference with Armen, I took full advantage of the moment blaring to him some new UK rap. Young Bane’s ‘Vroom’ played as we both nodded to the beat.
It’s great how the UK music scene is integrating in the US markets, Drake has had London rapper Giggs on his album and has praised other British talent, he’s a big fan of the UK music scene. Do you listen to any UK artists?
For sure, Skepta, Krept and Konan, Giggs to name a few.
Travelling all over the globe, is there a certain place that stands out, where you have drawn photographic inspiration from?
I love Europe. I’ve been all over it, and my favourite cities are Amsterdam and Paris. They are so diverse but also packed with so much culture. I love being there and seeing how people live their lives every day from the perspective of someone else. I get inspired to shoot more people that way.
You were asked by Genius to do a photograph takeover on their Instagram, which was so insightful as to what was behind the shots, how did you feel about being asked to be part of such a focal music corporation?
I was completely surprised that they reached out to me. Genius has always followed my work and supported by always sharing my shots. I was truly humbled when I was asked to be the first photographer to do a takeover on their Instagram page. It gave me so much exposure and helped me reach thousands of other people that would not have seen my work otherwise. I am forever grateful for their opportunity and I look forward to work with them in the near future.
In your takeover, you explained the story behind only a handful of your skilled work, is there a particular story behind a photograph that you will not forget throughout your career?
I can particularly remember walking into Dr Dre’s dressing room backstage at Diddy’s Bad Boy Reunion tour in LA, and I remember the moment I saw and made eye contact with Dre. There was a heavy yet calm presence in the room, you could sense a legend was there. I reached out to him and he shook my hand. On my way out, I asked to have a photo with him and he gladly posed. To my luck, the photo had come out blurry, and I said “Ahh it came out blurry” as I was walking out of the room. Dre called me back, posed again and took that photo for me one more time. He is one of the most humble and nicest human beings I’ve ever met. I am truly blessed to have experienced that.
How do you get yourself in these scenarios where you take great shots…for instance P.Diddy’s lunch?
I’m privileged to have managed building a relationship with top music executives and management through shows and conferences, which has helped me get in the current state where I am today. I am specifically grateful for Steve Lobel for giving me the opportunities that have changed my life.
Armen was featured on Pigeons and Planes ’30 Music Photographers You Should Follow on Instagram’. So, in natural social media fashion, he gained great attention and built a fan base off of his recognition.
How did you react to the Pigeons and Planes article?
It’s crazy, it was a Wednesday and I had just woken up. I checked my phone and I had got over 120 followers, and I was like “What the hell’s going on?!”. I ended up sending multiple people direct messages asking them how they had heard about my page, and they all said it was because of the article. I was literally in shock when I found out and I have to thank P&P and Complex, my work has gone viral over the internet.
You have shot with a lot of musical figures, Post Malone, Chance The Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, and there are a lot of aesthetically pleasing/photogenic music artists out there, e.g. Lauren Jauregui, J.Balvin & Rihanna etc. Who would be your dream photoshoot?
To be honest, I am a big Drake fan. I love his music, what he does, how he’s put his city on the map and how he’s the GOAT. I would love to shoot him, just to have the experience of being in a studio or a venue with him and his energy there.
Armen is undeniably a huge Drake fan, and considering his established connections in the music industry, it’s a wonder a collab hasn’t happened yet! Armen’s closest client Murda Beatz has produced many tracks for Drake, e.g. ‘With You’ ‘No Long Talk’ and ‘Portland’ to mention a few. Having also produced for the likes of Migos and PARTYNEXTDOOR, Armen has sat the studio sessions where hits are made. So, amongst the memorable experiences his talent has presented him with, I asked him amongst his captured memories, what he thinks makes a great shot.
I think the honest reaction of any artist and being in the moment, being around them in their own space, is what helps me get the shot. I love being able to show the world exactly what it felt like being in the moment right there.
Lastly, you attended the 2017 Grammy Awards last year, what was the highlight of the evening?
Being on the red carpet, seeing musical idols that I look up to, to the newest artists and celebs passing by. Also having a chat with Skrillex and Steve Aoki, alongside Celine Dion. It was the most diverse, celeb packed, inspiring and lavish experience. I loved being there.
Armen has previously worked with marketing agencies, working with artists to rebrand their image, as well as on promotional materials such as tour recaps and social media content. More recently, he is currently working on a project for Apple Music’s ‘Next’ artist and is touring with some major Hip-Hop artists in coming months. He is heavily involved in the creatives for Murda Beatz and is expected to release some interesting content surrounding the great Hip-Hop figures of today’s music industry.