HoopsVibe Interviews The Best Streetball Photographer In The Game
We sit down to talk hoops, photography, and NYC streetball with Kevin Couliau.
HoopsVibe's Very Quick Call: You've got to know and love the game to shoot the game and Couliau delivers on both points.
Given the chance to sit down with renowned basketball photographer and streetball director Kevin Couliau, we jumped at the chance. Kevin is most known for his films "Heart & Soul of New York City" and "Doin It In The Park" as well as his gritty basketball photographs that have graced the pages of virtually every major basketball magazine in existence. Catching up with this jetsetter wasn't easy as he spent a lot of the summer in France, but one place you can always find Kevin is near a hoop.
HV: Have you always been a fan of basketball? Were you a player first or a photographer?
Kevin: I’m first & foremost a bball player, I started playing the game at the age of 6 years old the addiction just got worst getting older. I was lucky to have a basketball club 5min away from my house, so I would spent nearly every night training with my team, the adults and sometimes shooting on the side hoops while the women team was training.
How would you describe yourself as a player?
Kevin: I’ve been lucky to have great mentors who taught me the fundamentals of basketball on every position possible. Growing up my thing was dribbling between the opponents to create my own shot, but getting older I became a better shooter from behind the arc. I love scoring, so I still go to thehole a lot. One of my friend says I’m a sort of “Kirk Hinrich” , on a different scale of course, but still that’s a huge compliment because that guy is a great & smart player.
When did you decide a basketball career wasn't in your future, but that shooting it was your passion?
Kevin: At the age 16, I was among the top kids in my area, got selected by two schools to do a sort of sports-study program but I chose a different orientation as I was experiencing a parallel life. Life on a skateboard – it has opened my mind to the point that I didn’t walk on the path of pro -basketball. I grew up watching a lot of skateboarding videos & magazines, a creative sport where the imagery is so strong and evolved compared to other sports. My brother David, was a pro-skateboarder & videographer so he would be editing his videos in our living-room and destroying our VHS recorders. So I guess it had an impact on my creativity and vision of basketball. I started photography in 2004, my first photo was a dunk from my friend Hervé Conan (Slam Nation) on our local playground. I wanted to capture the aesthetics of dunks, his incredible suppleness and hang time. The photo ended up in Bounce magazine’s issue #2. – It all started from there.
How would you describe your approach to photography?
Kevin: My main motivation is to bring an artistic & raw vision of basketball, especially playground basketball – The NBA or The Euroleague are setting up the standards in terms of basketball photography to a point that every image is so formatted, so clean… that it loses its flavor and authenticity. That’s why I mainly shoot street basketball, because it allows me to capture the real essence of the game, in a different environment than an NBA arena, sponsor-less and sometimes crowd-less.
What is most unique about shooting basketball players and courts?
Kevin: It’s all about the variety of styles and landscapes. Being a ballplayer myself helps me a lot to capture the right move or anticipate an action. I pay a lot of attention to the style of some players, the aesthetics of their game. For the past 10 years I’ve been shooting empty basketball courts all over the world, It has became an addiction to the point where I became a basketball court hunter when I travel. I’m fascinated by abandoned courts & hoops, I always try to imagine the number of guys who played on this on this court, they are like sanctuaries for me.
What would you advise young photographers wanting to break into the business?
Kevin: Find your own identity & style, do something that nobody is doing.
Do players ever play differently if they see you're there taking photos?
Kevin: No, and I wouldn’t want a guy to play differently even for a commercial shoot.
What was the genesis for "Heart & Soul of New York City?"
Kevin: I was managing the French sales & marketing for the german brand k1x, I stopped my full time job for the brand in early 2009 to launch myself as a freelance photographer. The next summer I was hitting NY’s asphalt and bought a Canon 5D Mark II to replace my old 30D. My friends at k1x asked me to shoot some photos for their 4th Element collection. They were listening Red Cafe’s track everyday and asked me to shoot a video for it. I loved the track and instantly started shooting all around the city and on some basketball tournaments like Together We Chill, Kingdome, Lower Manhattan Classic & West 4th. We’ve had several appointments with the label to show our work and get Red Cafe on camera, he finally gave us 5 min of his time on the Hudson River Parkway.
Did it turn out has you had hoped?
Kevin: It turned out amazingly well, I wasn’t even expecting such a good feedback from the basketball heads & the hip hop community.
"Doin' It in The Park" got a lot of publicity. Were you surprised?
Kevin: Of course because as a Frenchman, I’m always pessimistic about the strength of a basketball project, because in France the game is not as much as a culture than in the States. Medias are barely interested in basketball and movies dealing with it. In the US, it’s a different process and we’ve been lucky to have great press from the NY Times, USA Today, Jay Z’s Life+Times, and NBC News. It’s already more than I expected!
How long did it take you to put the whole project together and what were some of your biggest obstacles ?
Kevin: It took us two years to create the master of the film. We started shooting in 2010, went on 180 basketball courts within the 5 boroughs, everything by bicycle with the camera & ball in the backpacks. We interviewed 60 people and started working on the movie structure in late fall of 2010. Once we got our first rough cut, we decided to shoot another summer and complete the editing at the same time in New York City. It was a long process because it’s a USA-FRANCE co-production so we’ve been editing the movie in Paris & in NYC. Doing a lot of back & forth trips when everybody was available to work on the project. Our film is totally self-funded, it’s a great thing because we have a total control on the storyline and content but at some point you realize how big of a budget you need to cover music & archive rights.
As a huge basketball fan what are some of the resources you check out regularly?
Kevin: I don’t spend that much time on basketball websites. Like everybody I follow the NBA, sometimes Euroleague and barely the French league… At some point nowadays you get pretty aware of everything via facebook – I prefer spending time on the basketball court playing or shooting stills and videos
Name your top 3 spots for streetball?
Kevin: Parc de Procé, Nantes, France – Because I grew up there.
Goat Park, Manhattan, NYC – My home away from home.
Sants, Barcelona, Spain – Concrete, Fiberglass & chainlink in a beautiful spanish park…
Do you any new projects your fans can keep an eye out for?
Kevin: DOIN’ IT IN THE PARK is our main project right now. We are having our World Premiere at NY’s UrbanworldFestival on Friday 21st September for those interested. We are also working on “Making Of” vignettes that you guys can check on our website : www.doinitinthepark.com.
What's the best place basketball fans can check out your work?
Photos Credit: Kevin Couliau