“They’re speaking to the younger Blair from Tyler.” Raised in a small Texas town, Blair Caldwell began his career with flip phone photoshoots and Googling photography college near me. Once he arrived in Los Angeles, shooting weddings for 0 and creating designs on his sister’s school supplies transformed into touring with Normani and countless iconic Beyoncé portraits.
Firm gravitation to capturing faces and deep-rooted passion for music manifested into Caldwell’s unintentional subject niche: Black female artists. “I constantly think about that,” he shared. “How did I end up just shooting Black women? But I’m not mad about it. I love it.” Caldwell attributes this calling to his very first celebrity client: R&B’s Chrisette Michele.
Taking him on the road as her personal photographer led to Caldwell’s meeting Normani of Fifth Harmony. “They had just released ‘Work From Home’ and ‘Worth It.’ When I was taking photos with her, she would tag me on her posts. And that’s when most of the pop world started looking into what I was doing,” noted Blair. “I guess the way I shot her inspired other Black women with either the same complexion, or just the same vibe, to feel like I was a go-to guy for them. They saw a little bit of themselves.”
Who exactly decided that Caldwell was a fresh go-to? None other than Beyoncé herself. “I thought I was going to be surrounded by security. Like, ‘don’t go six feet towards her’ and stuff like that, but it was super laid back,” Caldwell told CR about his first time working with her. “I was shaking the whole time and it turned into me being there the whole day. It was really amazing. I feel in my heart—I don’t know, nobody ever told me—that I was on a trial basis.”
But no pictures ever came out, and Caldwell remembers feeling anxious for about a month, wondering if ruined his shot. “Wait, did I do a good job? Did they like me? Are they going to post? Was this a dream? I had no way of showing anybody that I even went, because I had nothing. I had no photos. They always took the pictures after I shot.”
Out of nowhere, Blair finally heard from Beyoncé’s team—with an invitation to shoot Coachella rehearsals backstage. And thus, a multi-year relationship began.
“It’s so cool for people to say I’m her go-to photographer. Even though I worked with her so many times, I never was comfortable. I never was secure that it was my job,” confessed Caldwell, laughing. “And that’s the cool thing about it: that made me work really hard. It made me grateful every time I went in, because they never offered me a position. It never was like, do you want to be her personal photographer?” Blair would hear from her team one day in advance, or sometimes just hours before.
Ever since his early days with Chrisette, Blair has been hooked on music-related photography. “That whole combination—loving the artist’s work and getting to shoot—is just explosive,” expressed Caldwell. “I love the rollouts. Since I was young, I always look at the rollouts when people come out with an album. They go to bookstores and sign the albums, get billboards maybe. It’ll be in Times Square, and on the screens during TV shows when they do interviews. Seeing my work—everywhere—attached to the music that’s going to move people is just something so magical to me. That’s what I’m on the hunt for right now. I want to do somebody’s album cover.”
And Caldwell’s breadth of music release-related imagery does not stop at photos. Black & white camcorders were the primary tools of his childhood tinkering, only to come full-circle in SZA‘s “Good Days” music video featuring VHS footage shot by Blair. “I literally was in college first to do video direction and be a music video director,” he explained, prior to switching majors. “Now I have the opportunity to relive and redo that.” Often with old cell phones or point-and-shoots.
Evident through his use of “outdated” cameras and Y2K roots, Caldwell centers in pulling inspiration from bygone eras. “I love the seventies. I think the photography back then was really cool, dreamy,” Blair explained. “Donna Summer and Cher, a lot of their photos were kind of like some of the women I shoot today, with that same long hair. They want dreamy photos, soft skin.” His work with Normani is spot on.
Along with an inkling for vintage, Blair’s style is self-described as “neat photos.” Not much going on in the background, clean walls and clean portraits. “I want the photo to just fall so easily on the eye,” mused Caldwell. “So if you swipe or slide through my photos, it just seems so clean, not messy, no crazy lights.” Perfectly complimenting his aesthetic, according to Blair, is his favorite brand to capture: Prada. “I just like how clean and sleek they are.”
But above all the design elements, Blair Caldwell recognizes his power as a photographer of Black women—to augment and provide a visual rendering of what each individual artist wants the world to see. On Brandy, Caldwell stated to CR, “She’s already an amazing, beautiful human, and I know how to amplify what’s already there. I want to make everybody see her the way that I see her. That was my goal.”END
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