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  • Lizzy Grooves

    “What do you do?” is arguably the most annoying question to ever ask a passionate, multi-talented creative.  I certainly have been bombarded with similar inquiries, and simply answer: “I’m just myself, 24/7.”  Lizzy Nicholson is in the same predicament as she maneuvers between the photography, writing and music world.

    Born in a British coastal town called Weymouth, Nicholson has always been the type to go against the grain. “The seaside is beautiful, great place to raise kids, but the people down there aren’t so inspiring. Folk in small towns talk about doing shit but they don’t actually do shit,” she admits. Underwhelmed by the lack of esprit in her hometown, Lizzy still managed to have fun with a select group of friends.  Nicholson was exposed to illustrations and paintings by reading a lowbrow art publication called Juxtapoz Magazine, which propelled her to fly all the way to San Francisco at 17 years old to visit all the galleries it featured.

    Two years after her U.S expedition, Lizzy decided to permanently move to London. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the U.K,” says Nicholson. “Although it’s getting more and more expensive to live in, London is still such a grassroots city - it’s so ahead of the curve when it comes to developing new music, birthing subculture divisions and spreading trends across Europe.”

    The home of Big Ben truly satisfied every bit of Lizzy’s artistic hunger. Her first foray into the creative realm was as a writer, working for publications like Wonderland, and several independent blogs (i.e Eve Without Adam and XXYO). Writing then motivated Lizzy to refocus on photography and even sharpen her musical ear.

    I recently sat down with the multi-hyphenate millennial to further discuss her love for London, creative process, numerous job titles and the current state of the culture as a whole. Check out our conversation below:

    FRENDY:  Prior to being immersed in the art world, which activities kept you sane in your hometown?

    LIZZY:  I’d spend all my free time searching for obscure records online; namely Jazz-Funk and early Hip-Hop uploaded by some vinyl nut who had recorded his entire collection. We didn’t have NTS back then either, and local radio was shit, so I’d find 1990’s pirate radio rips on some archaic website and listen to the old shout outs over the jungle, wishing I was in London.

    FRENDY:  For those who don’t know, what is NTS?

    LIZZY:   So, NTS is an online radio station which started in London that allows DJs from all over to curate some pretty interesting shows. It’s our generation’s pirate radio, made in DIY spirit and as a protest to the conventional media channels. There are tons of online stations popping up all over the world now, it’s really great to see people taking matters into their own hands and making their own thing happen.

    FRENDY:  Very interesting.  Did your parents play a huge role in determining your choice of music?

    LIZZY:  *Laughs* Nope. Actually, I would steal my mum’s old punk cassette tapes. But really, no.

    FRENDY:  Who were your favorite musicians growing up?

    LIZZY:  Oh man, that’s so hard to answer concisely. My favourite tracks were always by some unknown artist, like weird little garage vocal tracks by somebody who put out one record once and it got lost in the abyss. I’m into slower stuff these days; 80s slow jams, really early R&B, and always Lonnie Liston Smith. I had a Sade day today. She was so sensual, don’t you think?

    FRENDY:  Don’t get me started with Sade - most of her songs were the soundtrack to some pretty “interesting” moments of my life *Laughs*. But that’s another story. At 17 you were heavily into painting and illustrations by discovering Juxtapoz.  Did one of your friends introduce you to the mag or you simply stumbled upon it?

    LIZZY:  Yeah, I found it by accident in a Japanese bookshop, and it introduced me to artists like Barry McGee, Ryan McGinley’s photography and weird lowbrow art which inspired me back then, and I guess it was a catalyst in that sense, ‘cause connected to art is music, and so on. I haven’t picked it up in years though.

    FRENDY:  Were your parents terrified when they found out you were heading to San Fran?

    LIZZY:  Nah, they were chill I guess.  They were the kind of parents who would take the piss out of unrealistic Hollywood movie scenes and taught me to think outside of the box for sure. But I haven’t told them some of the places I’ve visited since...I’ve been persuading my mum that Iran is a cool holiday destination.

    FRENDY:  Did you know anyone living in London prior to moving there permanently?

    LIZZY: I don’t think I did you know. People who move here say it’s hard to meet people who are actually from London, but most of my friendship group are Londoners and I now consider it my hometown for sure. It’s a super diverse city though and I’ve got people around me from Rwanda to Siberia.

    FRENDY: It’s a blessing to have an eclectic group of friends. How did you start writing for mags and blogs out there? Did you have an Editor plug?

    LIZZY:  I had an in via a mate and like all freelance work it escalates once you start developing a portfolio. But really, I got into it ‘cause I despised most of the ‘throw away’ content that I was reading and wanted to change it. Publications that were supposed to be collecting the alt-cultures would dumb everything down and repeatedly feature artists being quizzed about the same generic topics over and over again. The coverage was usually just skimming the surface anyway, you never really got to see inside the artist’s head. Wouldn’t you agree?

    FRENDY:  Truss mi mummi *said in my sincerest British accent* I know exactly what you mean. Are you currently writing?

    LIZZY:  At the moment I’m really focusing on my visual work ‘cause that’s where I started - photography - and mainly working within the music industry. I feel like visual is default for me. Right now I’m working with an R&B singer and a British hip-hop group. This really interests me because I can find an image that works with their sound, and all the genres and subgenres that are referenced in their work have their own visual cues. I never fancied going down the fashion route, although I dabbled in it and found everybody I met was just interested in pushing products and had little to say about the world.

    FRENDY:  Amen!  What caused you to focus more on photography?  What was your first big break in that industry?

    LIZZY:  I’ve gone hard on photography because I feel like I’m more satisfied when I make visual work; I can easily articulate how I see the world this way. There’ll be a style that I want to explore based on something I’ve seen, heard or researched and I’ll need to get it solidified. At the moment I’m obsessed with the colour brown and woodgrain. People don’t wear enough brown - It’s flattering and sexy.

    I don’t think I’ve had a big break though. My ‘big break’ was 10 years of me busting my ass! Success certainly doesn’t come from one set event. Learning how to deal with people is the most important thing I had to learn to make my work, work. As a photographer your interactions with the subject are going to determine the fate of the image - I’ve worked with 14 year old agency models who were so shy and nervous (and I mean, no wonder, they’re children, so having your picture taken by a ‘fashion photographer’ would be dead scary). You have to be good at reading people and working with their emotions.

    Sometimes egos are a bitch though and the person being photographed likes to try and be an art director.

    FRENDY: Who’s your favorite photographer?

    LIZZY:  I’m way inspired more by cinematography than other photographers’ work. I’m really into films by Wong Kar Wei - Fallen Angels I’ve watched about 245 times, no word of a lie and it never fails to make me want to produce work. The framing, music and atmosphere are so spot on, I feel like he saw into the future and made it for me. 

    FRENDY:  It’s safe to say you’re shooting way more than actually writing?

    LIZZY:  Definitely shooting is where I’m at, though last year I was interviewing artists a lot.  There are a few topics that are sitting in the back of my mind, like how music has become less and less political over the decades, which I think needs to turn into something. It’s funny trying to define what I do, I think as long as I’m working within my interests, the method of work can be anything. At the moment I’m working on a magazine with a few friends here, which combines everything.

    FRENDY:  How do you gain your muses?  Word of mouth or through an agency?

    LIZZY: Most people have found me via somebody that I’ve shot already; there’s this girl who made a documentary about women with shaved heads (S/O Charnah Ellesse) and I took her picture a while back, so since then all these bald women have been coming to me on Instagram for collaborations - which is great, they’re all super interesting and have great characters for the camera. 

     

    Cynical people who bash the Internet and say they want to retreat to a cabin in the woods are shit heads, the Internet is a wonderful thing. It’s free education and connects artists who would never have found each other otherwise. I also street cast, I rarely use agency models as I find they make images look vanilla or something. If you follow photographers, you end up seeing the same expressionless face on your social media feeds over and over and over again.

    FRENDY: *Laughs* Vanilla faced.  Who’s on your bucket list to shoot?

    LIZZY:  OMG, what a great question! People who have lived long lives and actually contributed to culture; wisdom translates through the lens, you can see it in people’s eyes. Maybe I’d pick Sonny Rollins, Lonnie Smith... and like I mentioned earlier, Sade, her vibes transmitted so well. I’d dress her in her signature red lips with big gold YSL earrings and a sheepskin bomber jacket.

    FRENDY: Gotdamn! sounds like a classic pic already.  Are there any other publications out there you would want to write for in the near future?

    LIZZY:  Nah, they’re all pretty dead but there has been a rise in people making their own zines as an alternative, which is really cool to see.

    FRENDY:  As far as music, not only do you shoot musicians, you DJ as well, right?

    LIZZY:  I’m learning.  I’ve learned to beatmatch by ear but I’ve yet to put it out into the world, I have so much music and like to enforce my music taste upon other people *Laughs*. I like the idea of curating music to a concept. It’s just another avenue for creativity.

    FRENDY: What do you do for fun during your downtime?

    LIZZY: I like to go to the cinema alone. I’ll go to the tiny theatre at the ICA in Piccadilly and watch a depressing Syrian film or whatever they have going that night, then I’ll go and eat Japanese from my favourite place in Soho that looks like it’s been there since the 1980s. Time alone is important to me, I don’t get people who are afraid to eat out alone.

    FRENDY:  What’s the best advice you ever received about how to be more creative?

    LIZZY:  Well, you have to know the reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. An artist sees wrong with the world and wants to change it - if you don’t you’re just pushing buttons for a job.

  • Ken Jen

    Two names that abruptly come to mind when discussing top-notch celebrity jewelers are Johnny Dang, also known as “TV Johnny,” and Koreatown’s very own Ben Baller. Not only do they share an affinity for providing high-grade gems in extremely rare forms, both bling connoisseurs are of Asian descent.  LA-based jewelry designer Ken Jen is meticulously molding and polishing his own diamonds to shine bright in the industry, just like his OGs from the Far East.

    The 24-year-old entrepreneur’s come up is nothing short of spectacular. Born in Taiwan, Ken moved with his family to Shanghai at the age of seven.  After receiving a green card eight years later, Jen and his brother (sans parents) flew to the states---Austin, Texas to be exact.  “I was not a big fan of living in Texas,” Ken admits. “The culture is way different from China, but it wasn’t what I expected.  I was pretty young at the time so no complaints.  I was really there for school and to learn english.”

    Although he disliked the new setting, Jen managed to graduate High School with honors. As a matter of fact, his studious ways helped him gain a full scholarship to the University of Texas. During his freshman year, Ken was presented with the opportunity to work in the retail/wholesale industry by an Instagram buddy, which prompted him to immediately drop out of school and move to the West Coast in 2013.

    The city of Angels served as fertile ground that enabled Ken’s wildest dreams to bloom.  He became the COO of his comrade’s retail company in just two years. In 2015, Jen’s interest in the jewelry industry blossomed and Ben Baller himself eventually gave him a shot to work under his wings. Fast forward to now, the former apprentice is flying high all by himself as owner of his three months old custom jewelry company Adamant & Co.

    I recently sat down with the young CEO to further discuss his rise in the jewelry industry, celebrity clients, favorite pieces and fashion industry past. Check out our conversation below:

    FRENDY:   Where did you and your older brother crash when y’all moved to Austin?

    KEN JEN:  We moved there in 2008 and stayed with my dad’s friends, who were our guardians at the time.

    FRENDY:  What was so off putting about living in Texas?

    KEN JEN:  I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I moved to Texas mainly to learn English. I wasn’t sure what I would be doing after.

    FRENDY:  I came to the United States when I was seven years old from Haiti so I know all about the culture shock that you felt.  What HS did you attend in Austin?  Were you able to make a lot of new friends?

    KEN JEN:  I went to Crockett High School in Austin. I didn’t make many friends my first year and a half because of the language barrier. Eventually, I made some.

    FRENDY:  How long did you know the person from Instagram that blessed you with the opportunity of working in wholesale?

    KEN JEN:  Instagram is great for our generation to link with people. We were friends for about 6 months before he offered me the job.

    FRENDY:  There are tons of catfishes online, what made you trust in him so much?

    KEN JEN: The Internet is a dope place --- it brings a lot of dope people together. You just have to trust it.  We just had similar interests in certain things like fashion, music etc, and he was in the business I wanted to be in.  It was a win-win situation for both of us to work together.

    FRENDY:  Is it safe to say that you weren’t enjoying your stay at the University of Austin since you decided to dip from there at the drop of a dime?

    KEN JEN: All day!  It was one of the biggest decisions of my life. It’s all about trusting the process...taking risks.  Everyone thought I was crazy when I dropped out *Laughs*. I didn’t have a major in college nor did I know what I wanted to do in life.  I got into college on full scholarship, but I kinda went for my parents, you know.

    FRENDY:  Were your parents informed about the big move prior or after moving to LA?

    KEN JEN: No.  I booked a one way ticket to Los Angeles, logged into the wifi on the plane, facetimed my mom and told her the news. Of course my traditional Asian parents weren’t happy with my decision, but they didn’t say much because I was already on the plane.

    I knew I would make it in LA, if not, at least I tried. I mean, I was 20, I had nothing to lose *Laughs*.

    FRENDY:  *Laughs* Talk about taking initiative. What was the first order of business when you moved to California?  And was it difficult for you to flow with LA’s pace?

    KEN JEN: First order of business? Make money! It all came pretty easy for me because my mentors put me on.

     

    FRENDY:  What were your initial job duties in LA?

    KEN JEN: At the time, my friend and I were attending trade shows like Agenda, buying from other brands and then resale.

    FRENDY:  Where did you guys do the resale?

    KEN JEN: Online and physical shops in Asia.

    FRENDY:  What sparked your interest in the jewelry Industry? And how exactly did you get acquainted with the legendary Ben Baller?

    KEN JEN: I was always a fan of jewelry, but never thought I’d become a jeweler. When I was working with the guy from Instagram, we had a grand opening in China. We flew Ben out for the opening as a guest.

    FRENDY:  What made you depart from the business partnership with your Instagram friend?

    KEN JEN: Failed business because the resale industry wasn’t doing so well. Ultimately, I had to do what was best for me.

    FRENDY:  You said you didn’t get involved with the designing aspect of jewelry while working with Ben, as you only focused on the marketing/sales aspects of things. I see you’re with celebs now, molding their teeth for grills etc.  Are you currently involved with customizing pieces?

    KEN JEN:  Yes. Now I own my own company, where I'm hands on with all aspects of the business.

    FRENDY: Who do you run Adamant & Co. with?

    KEN JEN: I have two partners who are like family.

    FRENDY:  How do you obtain clientele? Word of mouth?

    KEN JEN: Absolutely!  Word of mouth is the best way to promote in the jewelry business. But at the end of the day, as long as I have good product and keep doing the right thing then we’re winning.

    FRENDY:  Do you remember the first person you helped make a piece for?

    KEN JEN: Yeah, it’s been about 2 years and I actually spoke to him just the other day.

    FRENDY:  What’s the process of making a custom piece?

    KEN JEN: To start we need a clear design, and then we will cut the wax of the design. After it is casted into gold. After the gold is done, we discuss diamonds. Last step is polishing/finishing.

    FRENDY:  What are some of your favorite jewelry designs?

    KEN JEN:  Machine Gun Kelly’s championship ring, Kendall Jenner’s grill, Lily Rose’s Chanel logo grill and my personal Bathing Ape piece. I like them because I was with the company I was working for, where I got to see them before the public.

    FRENDY:  In your opinion, what’s the biggest trend in the Hip Hop jewelry world right now?

    KEN JEN: Custom jewelry is changing the game. Jesus pieces, cuban links, iced out Rolex, tennis chains and custom grills are always trending.  The biggest one in my opinion are custom grills.

    FRENDY:  Most people reading this are aware of Nigo’s immense impact in the streetwear industry and jewelry culture. If he ever contacted you to provide him with a custom piece of your own creation, what would it be?

    KEN JEN: *Laughs* I would probably make him an iced out Chinese To-Go box.

    FRENDY:  Are your parents aware of your increasing success?

    KEN JEN: Yes. I’ve been taking care of them since I was 21.

  • Justin's Vision

    I was fortunate enough to become friends with the exceptional photographer Justin Amoafo, right before his ascension into elite lensman status. Justin was only 15 years old when we initially met but his tremendously poised demeanor and go-getter mentality positioned him light years ahead of his peers.

    Born and raised in Queens, New York by Ghanaian parents, the multi-talented visionary was instilled with an immense value for education.  As a matter of fact, at the age of 11 Justin suggested that he should attend boarding school. “I was always an outcast and wanted to expand my horizons, experience a new environment,” says Amoafo. With his parent’s approval and a lucrative scholarship, the young adventurer was enrolled at the prestigious Eagle Brook in Western Massachusetts. 

    Justin was one of only six black kids in the entire institution but the statistic didn’t cast a shadow of fear on his pursuit of enlightenment. Amoafo was so in awe with the refreshing scenery at his new abode, he decided to freeze it all in time.  Using his roommate’s state-of-the-art camera, Justin began to take pictures of the beautiful landscape surrounding Eagle Brook.  Since then, photography instantly became Amoafo’s primary focus. He started posting photos on Flickr, which ultimately led him to gain fans across the world.

    Immediately following boarding school, Justin attended Brooklyn Tech HS with an increased passion for snapping.  After a year of saving up lunch money, the bright-eyed shutterbug was able to purchase his very first camera, the Canon t2i. Mastering the art of Flickr, Amoafo leveled up to Tumblr, where he garnered even more admirers.

    Justin is currently attending NYU Shanghai with a major in Interactive Media arts and Business but that isn’t stopping him one bit from putting work in behind the lens.

    FRENDY: What compelled you to study abroad after high school?

    JUSTIN: As a kid, I always dreamt of traveling the world. After a summer abroad in high school, I made it my business to take advantage of every opportunity to see a new place. Naturally, I had to pursue college options outside of the USA.

    FRENDY: Is it difficult for you to find a balance between schoolwork and photography?  Are you able to find steady shooting gigs in Shanghai?

    JUSTIN:  One of the most difficult things for humans in general is maintaining a balance. Whenever you find yourself in that comfortable place, life switches up your situation. Thankfully, my major at school and my real life career/hobbies are intertwined, so usually it’s not too difficult.

    Work in Shanghai has been steady, thankfully. People here show a lot of love. When they see you doing great work, they’ll always go out of their way to help you get gigs. As usual, staying hungry & seeking out opportunities is also a great way to close gigs.

    FRENDY: You’re one of my favorite people to follow on Snapchat due the display of your worldly adventures. Are your travels for leisure or work?

    JUSTIN: Both. Living internationally already makes it much easier to pick up clients that require me to travel or have an opportunity abroad. I’m always itching to travel regardless, so most of my free weekends and ‘vacations’ are spent visiting a new city.

    FRENDY: How did the relationship with your muse Sira P Kante come about?

    JUSTIN: *Laughs* She’s definitely my muse. A modern day Naomi Campbell.  Sira and I met through one of my good friends. We met up for a test shoot one day in Summer 2016 and the rest is history.

    FRENDY: I admire your effortless ability to network with the industry’s finest. I noticed that you’ve been shooting superstar musicians and promising actors who are from the motherland. What set of events lead to such astounding opportunities?

    JUSTIN: Every connection I’ve made, both business & personal has been organic. I never force relationships, but I’m definitely not above a cold email or intro. That being said, the world is smaller than we all think. It’s so often you want to work with someone and a friend (or friend of a friend) can make the connection for you. Organic networking is the best, especially when you’re already social.

    FRENDY: What are the top 3 pictures you’ve ever taken?

    JUSTIN: I don’t think I have 3 strict top favorites but here are some that I like -

    FRENDY: Are you planning to take your creative talents into new heights?

    JUSTIN: I’m always striving to be my best self. Photography is one of my passions, but by no means is it my only means of expression. I am working on expressing myself fully, with no filters or limitations. We’re in the era of the multidimensional artist and I think that’s so great. Everyone should be able to create with no filter.