SHARP & Range Rover
It’s not a stretch to say that Elie Kimbembe is a photographic phenom.
His big break came in 2014 when he shot The Weeknd’s XO clothing line. The project launched him into superstardom and brought on other work commissioned for musical acts, film stars and global campaigns.
And while celebrity status would be a perk for any ambitious entrepreneur, pigeonholing Kimbembe as a photographer who’s hungry for fame would be a mistake. Expanding his portfolio, Kimbembe created an intimate gallery exhibit in Toronto in 2019 that spoke simplistically to his love of travel and the everyday beauty that crossed his path. Equipped with creative depth, sensitivity and empathy, Kimbembe’s evolution as a photographer — and a human — is a higher priority than seeing his name in lights.
And that evolution is still a work in progress, he says. “While I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with prominent figures in my early twenties and creating intimate gallery exhibits, I recognize that there’s still much I want to achieve in the realm of photography,” says Kimbembe. “Internally, I know there’s room for growth in honing my craft.”
That process is something that’s constantly under construction, too. “My work has undergone a significant evolution over the years, largely driven by a combination of experiences, mentorship and learning from past endeavours,” he says. “One key aspect of this evolution has been my openness to seeking help and guidance when needed. Embracing this approach has sharpened my skills and allowed me to view my work from fresh perspectives.”
Finding a fresh perspective is an unending goal in Kimbembe’s pursuits – something that’s woven into the fabric of who he is, how he grew up and what inspires his work. Kimbembe’s early life was full of travel and adventure. Born in the Congo, Kimbembe has lasting childhood memories of travelling across France and Europe with his aunt, and immigrating with his mother to Canada. These experiences instilled both empathy and gratefulness into Kimbembe that would last a lifetime – and inform how he views his career.
“My journey started with challenges, being born in the Congo and immigrating to Canada at a young age with my mother, who was in her late thirties at the time. Given our circumstances, every achievement and opportunity I’ve had in my career feels like an incredible accomplishment, and I take immense pride in all of them,” he says.
To this day, travelling still shapes Kimbembe’s work and processes. “One aspect of travel that profoundly influences my creative process is the feeling of starting fresh. Each journey feels like leaving something behind and welcoming something new,” he says. “The act of boarding a plane, landing in a new destination and immersing myself in a different environment serves as a mental reset button, rejuvenating my energy and inspiring me to pursue my passions with renewed vigour.”
In his creative process, Kimbembe’s ability to harness his sensitivity and respect for others makes for a strong starting point in any work. “Typically, the process begins with personal reflection, brainstorming on paper and engaging in meaningful conversations,” he says.
And this isn’t the only way collaboration comes into play as Kimbembe creates; in fact, he views working with others as instrumental when it comes to making the magic happen. “Photography is inherently a collaborative endeavour, even when it begins with a single individual and a camera,” he says. “Building a conversation around an image with others and assembling a talented team to bring a creative vision to life adds layers of depth and complexity to the work. Whether I’m embarking on a solo project or collaborating with others, engaging in dialogue with fellow creatives consistently offers fresh insights and enriches the work.” Finally, how his audience engages with and interprets his work offers a powerful summation to the collaboration process.
Over the last few years, Kimbembe has been back in the spotlight to shoot pro athletes, but he knows his evolution holds wild success across other mediums, too — something he’s been putting some muscle behind recently. “Beyond photography, I have aspirations to venture into directing and explore various creative projects,” he says. “In the past two years, I took a significant turn in my career, transitioning into roles as a growth strategist at TikTok, and later joining a gaming company, OpTic, in Texas.”
He views these transitions as intentional — so that evolution can happen naturally. “Intention plays a significant role in my approach to evolution. I believe that by setting clear intentions, it allows for the natural evolution of certain aspects,” he says. “Some elements flow effortlessly, while others require more deliberate effort to achieve.”
But whether he’s behind the camera or expanding his horizons, it’s his signature sensitive, curious and empathetic nature that’s in the driver’s seat. “As I continue to evolve, I find great joy in exploring different creative mediums,” he says. “With age, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of establishing my own creative hub, a place where I can undertake more significant and ambitious projects.”