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Friday, December 20, 2013

Howard Huang: The Photo Hit Man

Influenced by graphic novels and science-fiction movies, Howard Huang’s vibrant urban fashion and celebrity work is turning heads from here to China

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Words like gritty, graphic, action-packed, moody, sexy and mesmerizing can all be used to describe Howard Huang's style. Above: Huang has worked extensively with hip-hop diva Nicki Minaj, and their collaboration has contributed to her extraordinary talent for inventing multiple identities.

Taiwan-born, Hawaiian-raised, New York-based Howard Huang considers himself an urban fashion/celebrity photographer. Comics and Japanese anime are building blocks for the fantasy sets he creates for musicians, models and actors, from Lil Wayne and Jacki-O to Ice-T and Nicki Minaj. Huang often composites photographs to achieve his inner vision or an art director's storyboard idea.

Huang creates color-bursting magazine features for publications ranging from VIBE and Billboard to Maxim and The New Yorker. His corporate clients include Panasonic, Nintendo and Verizon. His book Urban Girls, published by Taschen, shows off his work in the niche market of African-American and Latina bikini models, collectively known as "urban girls."

DPP: Where do the ideas come from for your vibrant, high-energy setups?

Howard Huang: I grew up in Taiwan and was fascinated with comic books and anime, so a lot of the ideas come from that. As I got older, sci-fi films like Star Wars, Blade Runner and such also had an influence on me. While most little boys wanted to be a fireman or an astronaut when they grew up, I wanted to be a graphic novel artist or a hit man.

Busta Rhymes on Wall Street.
DPP: A hit man?

Huang: Action films and comic books portrayed hit men in black suits or trench coats with sunglasses and guns. I think I was more into becoming an Armani hit man with a flair for fashion. Maybe I should say that I wanted to look cool and feel like a superhero. I was never a bad boy. I grew up in a very normal middle-class Chinese family. If anything, I was the bad ass among nerds. I never thought I would be a photographer.

DPP: How did your evolution into photography develop?

Huang: I actually wanted to be a fine artist when I was in high school, you know, the kind that smokes and drinks at a café all day, has an attic studio in Paris and paints beautiful women for a living. That was, of course, an unrealistic fantasy to my Chinese parents at that time. So the middle ground of what my parents thought was good for me—going to school and majoring in business versus my fantasy of being a fine artist—was that I learn graphic design as a real job skill to prevent me from ending up on the streets. My design courses led me to discover photography. Once I did, I was hooked.


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