Three years ago, not long after Christmas, Anthony Supreme learned that no beginning is easy. The rising photographer, born Anthony Thompson, was losing his mother to a decade-long battle to a debilitating illness. His final conversations with her forced a wake-up call on Anthony; he had to change his life. He enlisted in the military and served for six years, keeping himself afloat financially while carving out a purpose after her death upended his life.
“When my mom passed away, I had nothing holding me back. So I just went off and did something for myself. To pursue the unknown is to go beyond your comfort zone,” he says. “For the longest time I wondered what it would be like to travel across the world in a car. Right before she died, my mom said, 'You have to live your life, do whatever you wanna do.' If you die tomorrow or if you live 'till you're 60 you should have these experiences.”
"You have to live your life, do whatever you wanna do. If you die tomorrow or if you live 'till you're 60 you should have these experiences.”
That's when Anthony left town. One day he was in Monroe, North Carolina and the next he was selling his car for a Campervan, and driving across America to Los Angeles. “When I got to L.A., I slept in my Campervan," he recalls. "I still sleep in it every night, just grinding. Being in a car strips you down to the purity of things. I don't need as many clothes as I thought I needed. How much money do you really need? If you have nowhere to go to sleep it makes you less lazy. When I'm in the house I feel like I'm segregated from the world. It's like a prison.” The shedding of material things has allowed him to focus on the task at hand: developing his photography, a profession that documents moments—and Anthony wants to live in the moment.
Anthony travels the expanse of the greater L.A. area, always with his camera. From shooting the ocean lookout of the Sunken City in San Pedro to the leafy heights of Mount Washington on the city's east side, he's been using the L.A. as his palette for the past two years. “I like traveling around L.A.,” he says. “There's always something going on. L.A.'s full of entertainment. There's so many different types of elements here, from landscape extremes to different cultures of people. It's so much more diverse than where I'm from.”
Anthony began making music videos five years ago after dabbling in production. It was more a means of survival than some sudden artistic urge. At USC Charlotte, where he studied social work, he picked up a small camcorder and started filming his rapper friend outside of classes. “We did one or two videos," he recalls, "and after that second video these guys that were in Monroe were like, 'Yo, can you come by here and do a video for us for $700?' I was like, 'Oh damn! This actually makes some money.'”
Being around the rap scene brought out his old resourceful instincts. “I remember being in elementary school, going to the dollar store and trying to sell stuff at school for a little lunch money profit,” he laughs. Before USC, during his military years, he operated a side business offering haircuts for $5. “Just a simple fade," he says. "The drill sergeant would be like, 'Who the hell is giving people haircuts?!'”
Around Charlotte and Monroe, Anthony found himself surrounded by burgeoning hip-hop artists he could collaborate with. Some of them got signed, and what started as a creative outlet to help friends suddenly turned more serious. Noisey included him in a list of the best music videos of 2013 for his work on "The Woods," by OxyXMoron, a local artist from South Carolina. “That was a cool accomplishment," he says. "It made me realize that people aren't just affected by things sonically with music, they're affected visually too.” Anthony also learned about the power of communication. He started hustling for a piece of the action as hard as his artists were, cold emailing managers and labels, sparking connections and working for free. “Everything came through relationships."
"It made me realize that people aren't just affected by things sonically with music, they're affected visually too.”
The hustle continued when he arrived in L.A. and started working the directors' scene, making use of his prior Charlotte contacts. “I already knew Scott [Lazer, director] so I was jumping on sets, looking, seeing, watching. That's when he switched from directing to photography. He'd document the sets with 'crappy shots' and noticed that they were just as valuable to his subjects as his long-form video projects.
Despite coming across as calm and collected, Anthony says the new platform brought with it new stresses: “I was very scared—I didn't know what the hell I was doing!” Beyond getting past rookie mistakes, like saving time by editing on Adobe instead of an iMac, he needed to learn how to trust himself. “Taking risks in your creativity always comes with insecurity, especially in photography," he says. "The first time I did a photo shoot I was sweating the whole time, nervous. I'm still nervous almost every time. You never know what you're gonna get.”
The pin dropped when he met hip-hop maverick J. Cole through Lazer. Lazer had shown Cole some of Anthony's work. “Scott has more guts than I do!” he laughs. Lazer went on tour with Cole, further nurturing the relationship. As soon as an opportunity arose for someone to do visual content, Lazer put Anthony forward. “First time I met Cole he was like, 'Man, I love what you do.' That was kinda crazy.” It was the initial moment of true clarity for Anthony. “I realized that just by doing what I love to do, making things look how I want them to look, that gives people enjoyment. Cole felt some type of way about it.”
On December 16, 2016, J. Cole released 4 Your Eyez Only, his fourth album. The cover is Anthony's shot, picked from an extensive period traveling and shooting with Cole around their mutually native North Carolina. Their partnership has always been collaborative. The cover show's Cole's back, leaving the viewer to focus on the look of the child staring up at Cole's face. It wasn't the image Anthony expected Cole to use. “I shot it from that kid's perspective," he says. "He didn't know who J. was at all that day. To him he was just a regular person on the street and in his mind he was thinking, 'Why is everybody acting irregularly towards this person?' People in the street were going crazy.”
Anthony doesn't quite share that kid's refreshing outlook. He isn't comfortable thinking of himself as Cole's peer, so much so that when Cole wanted to give Anthony his phone number, he refused to take it. “I feel weird having direct contact with him,” he says with a smile. “Now I think about it, it's stupid. He makes like $1 million a week. What do you talk about at that level?” Being around Cole's team has been motivated him, though. “He's taught me about life. He's very open-minded, conscious of the world and is able to sit down with you side-by-side and have a conversation with you like he's your best friend. He's so focused. I know rappers who go out every night partying. Cole's more disciplined at this point in his career while making more money than he's ever made in his life.”
In terms of his own inspirations, Anthony enjoys crate-digging at record shops, going through Ice-T, Slayer, and Linkin Park album covers for inspiration. He's still brushing up on his historic photographers, but cites filmmaker Ridley Scott as an influence. Still, more relevant to Anthony are the scenes he sees in front of him every day. In L.A., he loves to shoot Skid Row and the desert. “Death Valley is godly,” he says. “When you see the mountains and the sunsets, it's overwhelming.”
Beyond L.A., Anthony has traveled Europe and the Middle East, often on tours. (Now, he's desperate to visit Tokyo.) The most challenging one to date was his first outing with rappers Denzel Curry and Deniro Farrar. “Dinero's crew made me road manager," he says. "So much stuff happened—the car got broken into, the window got smashed in, things got stolen. We got paid $150 a week and I'd drive 18 hours sometimes.” He smiles, happy those days are behind him.
Anthony Supreme's advice to upcoming photographers is simple: “Keep working hard, keep messing up and move forward.” And with that, he packs up his camera for the next location.