Ahmed Klink – The People’s Photographer

A photographer with a PhD. For real.

It’s Photography Month here at the ADC, a chance to showcase the picture takers in our community. Whether they’re veterans with a Hasselblad making a living, or newcomers with an iPhone who love to shoot on the side, we’re picking their brains. Not everyone featured during Photography Month began as a photographer. Take our next featured ADC Member Ahmed Klink, who moved to New York by way of Paris to get his PhD. Below, “Dr. Klink” (as his friends refer to him) enlightens us on why he traded the lab for the lens and what he loves most about being a profesh photographer.

New York, NY



When did you first become interested in photography and how did you foster it?

The first memories I have of photography is my dad carrying around his Minolta-film camera around when I was a kid. He was taking pictures all the time. He’d take it on vacation, skiing trips, swimming. He’s a surgeon but his camera was always handy. He also painted at home and my parents educated me a lot about art in general. I remember visiting the estates of Monet and Van Gogh in the South of France, where I grew up. That definitely played a part in developing the left side of my brain and physiology would have it. I used to read about these artists, about their lives and learn how they created light, how they composed their paintings and so on. I was probably 8 years old at the time when I tried to emulate them. Unfortunately, I really sucked at painting and drawing. When I became a teenager, I started taking disposable cameras on school trips. The first time I ever came to the US in 1996, Miami then New York, is when I took my first photos. I still have them! I would being lying if I said I’ve always wanted to be a photographer. I grew up wanted to be an astronaut. Looking back, the passion for images making was probably always there.

Do you remember the first photo you ever took? Tell us about it.

I remember being on a ski school trip in the French-Alps. I was looking through the window of our hotel room that overlooked a small village. The sun was setting. It was a gorgeous view. I grabbed my disposable and pressed the shutter. When I got the film back a few weeks later, I was really excited and I was looking for that shot so I could shot it to my parents, but I couldn’t find anything that resembled it! I was so confused…It turned out that the flash had fired as I was taking the photo and thus, had reflected on the window. No sunset or village in sight – just a flash on a black window and a glimmer of orange in the darkness. Needless to say, things have evolved dramatically since!

What type of photography would you say is your specialty and how did it come to be so?

I love shooting people. Whether it’s celebrity portraiture or lifestyle. I love the nuances of facial expressions, the details in faces. Meeting different personalities is fascinating. I love capturing a moment between my subject and I. There is a performance aspect to it that I enjoy a lot. I’ve always been around people since I was a kid. My parents have something like 23 brothers and sisters. I’ve always been a very social person, so I think that’s what attracted me to shooting people. It was a very natural thing for me. I approach each photo shoot as a social experiment in a way. It helps a ton to be able to get a feel of what the person you are photographing is like. Almost 100% of the time, it’s the first time meeting them and what I consider the most important part of the shoot is reading into their personality or mood they happen to be in that day. I like to get that to lead the way. For example, if my subject is animated, I play off of that. Quiet? I let them be quiet. The best shoots I’ve had are the ones where I can really play off my subjects. I always try to get a picture of them they haven’t had taken before. It’s not always easy but, I enjoy people who like being photographed. It creates a bond, a collaboration, a dance.

Define your photographic style in 5 words or less.

Fun, spontaneous, sincere and colorful.

What’s your favorite camera to shoot with? Any other ‘must-have’ tools?

It depends on what tool is right for the job. Right now, I love my Sony a7r2. It’s pretty phenomenal and versatile. I can shoot portraits and lifestyle with easy and with an insane resolution in a small body. For commercial jobs, I love me some Medium Format. My go-to is the Hasselblad H5X, coupled with a Phase IQ250 Digital back. Other than that, my iPhone and my Canon point and shoot when I’m on the run our out with my friends.

Rumor has it you are a doctor. Explain!

Yes, it’s all true. I originally moved to New York to get my PhD in biomedical engineering. I studied for 4 years at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. I did research with nanoparticles and wrote a bunch of papers that yielded a 350 page thesis on how contrast-enhanced MR nanoparticles can help effectively diagnose heart disease. I graduated suma cum laude. At my thesis defense, the jury asked me “What’s next?” I told them: “I’m going to be a photographer.”

What is the hardest part about making a living at this? Any advice for new comers?

I think the hardest part is getting started, getting your foot in the door, building your network and client base and getting your name out there. It is not easy and is not something that is taught in art school. You absolutely have to DIY. It’s paramount to your success in making a living as a photographer. It’s that thing where you could be the best in the world, but if you never tell anyone or show your work to any body, you’ll never be known. I would advise to show your work to anyone in a position that can get you a job. Be smart about it and know where your work fits. Does your aesthetic work for a certain magazine? If someone says they don’t like your work, it’s not always personal. It’s probably because it’s not the right fit. Ask them if they know anyone who would enjoy it. There are so many ways to share work; it’s less and less about “showing your book”. Take advantage of Instagram, Twitter, all that. Go out and meet people, shake hands, have drinks and show them what you can do. It’s all good fun! There is not right or wrong way to do it. I have never sent a single promo card in my entire career.

Is there a project of yours of which you are especially proud?

I’m really proud of the series I shot of Udo Kier for Adult Magazine. It was a collaboration with ADC YG Rich Tu, who was the art director on set. We flew into Palm Springs with the idea to make great photos with this immense actor. We had a rough idea of what we wanted to do, but no real expectations. Udo has been photographed by some of the most famous artists of our time; Helmut Newton and Andy Warhol included. I was a little nervous about directing him. When I met him, one day before the shoot, I asked him if he had seen my work. He replied “No, because if I didn’t like it, you wouldn’t be here”, which didn’t reassure me. I took a chance and showed him, and thankfully, he liked it! We spent 8 hours in the desert and really pushed each other. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had shooting. One photo from the shoot was selected the winner in American Photography 31. I am also really proud of the photos of Future for the cover of XXL. I wanted to do something psychedelic with colors and gels. I researched Jimi Hendrix covers and decided to incorporate elements of that. I wanted the images to be bright and poppy but also, a little weird. He took care of that part on set when he started hanging chains off his tongue and biting really big rings.

What would be your dream collab or client?

A few: Apple, Google, Snapchat, Nike, DJ Khaled. I’ve had the chance to work with great artists and clients so far, but I always want more! It’s always fun to see how Creative Directors and Art Directors want to use my work in unexpected ways.

“So you’re a photographer?” What’s the strangest or most common question you’ve been asked when someone learns about what you do?


What sparks your creativity?

Film, paintings, sculptures. Design too. I like to look at the lines, how designers use colors and complement them.

Fill in the blank: “When I’m not shooting I am_________________”

Probably on my computer, editing.

What photographers do you look up to and why?

William Eggleston, Richard Avedon, Helmut Newtown, Robert Mapplethorpe, Guy Bordin, Nadav Kander, Martin Schoeller, Mary Ellen Mark, Chris Buck, Philip-Lorca di Corcia and Daido Moriyama.

What gets you up in the morning and drives your passion?

I think it’s easy to get lost in the commercial world…Sometimes, it’s nice to step back and remind yourself why you are taking pictures. I try to shoot personal projects as much as I can. I think it keeps you grounded. That’s how I started, just going out and taking pictures of people because I love it. Because it moves me, emotionally.

For anyone starting out, what would you say to them?

Find what you love to shoot and never stop. Show your work. Don’t think about money. It will come. I’ve taken on a bunch of assignments when I first stated out and be mailed a check for $10. I’ve had covers on stands and at the same time, $15 in my bank account. But it should never be about the money when you are starting. Focus on taking the best picture ever and then show it off.

Lastly, how has being an ADC Member helped your creative aspirations?

Members ADC community are people I count as some of my best friends. Over the years, I’ve met creative directors, designers, illustrators and more. It’s really important to surround yourself with creatives that you admire and respect. It’s the biggest thing for me. Having a place like the ADC that gathers and recognizes the best of the best is huge.

Photography Month takes place throughout March, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!