by LAURA FRENCH
For Tahir Coleman Register, his road to becoming a one-man talent show all began with some inspiration from a certain musical icon.
“I’ve always wanted to be an entertainer. Michael Jackson is the reason why. I mean, I was addicted. I still am – God rest his soul – addicted to Michael Jackson,” says Register, sitting down for an interview in a Laurel Hall conference room at Ramapo College of New Jersey.
Register – singer, music producer, actor, filmographer, photographer, artist, and recent Ramapo graduate – never imagined not doing what the late King of Pop inspired him to do – and then some. The 23-year-old founder of Tahir Coleman Photographi, creator of The B.L.A.C.K. Media blog and recipient of the Create Change award, makes it clear that he was meant to do it all – to create and perform.
“I’m not conventional – I don’t want to get a regular job because I want to be an entertainer. I want to be big – a big entertainer – so in order for me to make my money, I have to do a lot of work to get to that point,” Register says.
Big dreams and beginnings
Register grew up as the middle child of a crowded but loving New Jersey household. His big dreams found their first chance to blossom at Newark Arts High School, the oldest arts high school in the United States. While Register’s experience there might not have included the Hollywood image of musical numbers breaking out in the hallways, it did include a lot of challenges, and a strong pressure to succeed.
“It felt like college,” Register says, “because the stuff that we were doing, no one else was doing at a high school level.”
In his second year of high school, Register also did something that very few others have done at such a young age – he started his own company. Originally called Photo Kings Photography, the business began in 2005, and was branded in 2010 as Tahir Coleman Photographi. Now the company is Register’s main form of income as he hones his other talents in the hopes of one day becoming a well-known music star.
“The music that I make, I have to make sure that it’s so perfect, so good, so professional-sounding, that when I put it out there for people to buy, they buy it,” Register says.
“That’s all I do,” he says. “Photography and music, every day.”
On the job
A day in the life of an ambitious, aspiring entertainer is, according to Register, hectic. His full-time occupation is his company, which is based in Newark and offers “the celebrity experience for the common person” through a diverse selection of photo-shoot packages.
As a photo-shoot commences, tripods and metal light stands are slid and snapped into position. Translucent white umbrellas are perched and angled to wash the client in the perfect amount of light. Or, if it’s an outdoor shoot, sunlight and shadows are captured just right to compliment the model’s pose or expression. When the photo-shoot ends, Register has a glowing computer screen to look forward to, as he rolls and clicks his mouse, retouching the photos to make them flawless.
Working for himself and managing his own company requires a huge amount of focus, effort, and versatility.
“You have to be everything,” he says. “You have to be the marketing person, you have to be the advertising person, you have to be the promoter, you have to find work – you really have to hustle.”
Register has the help of Aja Johnson, his makeup artist, whom he prefers to call “a creative consultant.” Johnson’s company, Say “Eye” Makeup Artistry, partnered with Tahir Coleman Photographi in 2011, after Register worked on a photo-shoot in which Johnson was a model.
“It was my time for the photos to be taken with Tahir, and we just, like, we had a connection.” Johnson recalls. “We worked well with each other.”
Now, Register says, Johnson is an indispensable part of his business, providing not only makeup artistry, but lots valuable creative input and assistance during the busy and difficult process of pulling a photo-shoot together.
“She’s like a right-hand man,” Register explains. “If I don’t know what I’m doing, or need help, she’s right there. Or if I don’t – if I’m unsure of a direction, creatively, she’s there to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ And I trust what she says. ‘Cause, you know, it hasn’t failed me thus far.”
Together, Register and Johnson put together a look for each client, and when it comes time to shoot, Register captures anywhere from 50 to 500 frames in order to get the best final product possible.
“It’s really hectic. It’s so nerve-wracking,” Register says, describing how he often feels behind the camera. “I trust my talents and the gifts that God’s given me, but you just never know.”
Despite the anxiety that Register feels on the job, every successful photo-shoot forms the silver lining that makes it all worth it.
“It’s a lot of things to think about, but then when you take that picture and you finally get that shot, you’re like ‘Oh, this is golden. This is beautiful.’ So it’s a – it’s a rollercoaster,” he says.
About working with Register, Johnson says “My favorite thing is the passion. Definitely the passion of him being able to see something and know how he wants things to go.”
From his home in Newark, Register studies, practices, and searches for new opportunities, often recording and releasing songs via social media.
“As far as acting and singing and music production and filming and those things go, I have to study those constantly,” he says.
Social media is, according to Register, an extremely important part of his career, and the best way he knows of to get noticed in the industry. After some fruitless experiences with networking parties – a more old-fashioned way of connecting with other artists – Register decided that turning to the Internet made much more sense.
“It’s contrived. It’s all for show and I don’t find going out doing that necessary,” he says about old-fashioned networking. “But social media on the other hand – you post something, a picture or a song, you can share it to thousands of people instantly.”
LISTEN: Register’s original song “World Dance” – Register uploads most of his songs to his SoundCloud, where his fans can download them for free
Register says his 2000 Facebook friends, and the hundreds of others who follow his fan pages and blog, are more likely to pay attention to the work that he publishes, and can even end up helping him in unexpected ways. This summer, Tahir Coleman Photographi won the Create Change Award during National Small Business Week, an award Register credits his online followers with helping him achieve after he heard about the contest on a local radio station.
“I just was like ‘Why not?’ you know, ‘Let’s sign up.’ So I signed up and forgot about it actually,” he says. “I posted it, shared it to everyone, and nobody said anything back, nobody liked anything, nobody commented, nobody emailed me back. I was just like ‘All well, whatever.’”
Little did he know, his followers were paying attention, and he ended up being nominated not only for one award, but for all of the awards in the contest.
“I was like ‘Who even did this?’” he says, laughing. A combination of internet popularity and internet anonymity left him flabbergasted, but flattered. After winning the Create Change Award, Register was sure to post pictures of his trophy on Facebook for his adoring fans to see.
“To this day I still don’t know who was doing that,” he says.
The B.L.A.C.K Media
One of Register’s most ambitious Internet endeavors is his blog, called The B.L.A.C.K Media at theblackmedia.org.
“’B.L.A.C.K.’ is an acronym,” he explains, “and it stands for ‘Brown Leaders Artistically Cultivating Knowledge’.” Register, who is African-American, says he does not like to refer to his race as “black,” and considers “brown” to be a word that more accurately describes his skin color. His blog seeks to highlight and uplift artists and performers of African descent, countering the lack of positive representation they have in the mainstream media.
“I’m a connoisseur of television and media and it’s baffling to me, in 2013, there still aren’t enough – there still is not enough representation of someone who looks like me on television,” he says. Register’s co-writer on the blog, Kadiann Afflick, who is also African-American, feels the same way.
“We are very underrated as a people just in general. We’re very underrated,” she says. “You don’t see as many, um, black business owners as you see others. You don’t see as many black politicians as you see others. You don’t see as many black inventors as you see others.”
Register and Afflick met as fellow students at Ramapo College. One of the first creative things they worked on together was the Ramapo fashion show, in which Afflick modeled and Register coached and choreographed. Since then, Afflick has been a part of so many of Register’s productions that she’s practically lost count.
“I have been a leaf thrower, a winder of hair, I’ve been a prop, I’ve been a model, I’ve been an actress, like – I feel like I’m like a movie star half the time,” she says.
Afflick is also a writer. She changed her major from nursing to creative writing this year, realizing that writing was her passion. She has written and performed many poems, and hopes to one day write a book. This turned out to be the perfect talent for Register’s blog.
“We cover everything, and it was like I was a news reporter, and it was so difficult,” Register says about trying to run the blog himself. “I was draining myself, so I was like, who can I depend on? That’s what it boiled down to – dependency.”
Afflick had no qualms about working with Register once again.
“He’s really awesome,” she says. “And he always has, like, a message that’s, like, really, really capturing.”
Together, Register and Afflick hope to capture others with The B.L.A.C.K Media’s message of empowerment and inspiration. They have covered fun topics, like Grammy Award nominations and the premiere of the movie “The Best Man Holiday,” as well as serious topics, like the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The blog contains articles, reviews, and promotions, and Afflick often contributes her own original poetry to the site. The pair’s combination of perspective and talent has drawn greater attention than expected.
“I thought of The B.L.A.C.K. Media, started the blog, and the first person who read it was India.Arie,” Register says. “I almost fainted.” The famous soul and R&B singer-songwriter noticed a review that Register had written for one of her songs, and showed appreciation for his work. Since then, The B.L.A.C.K Media has caught the attention of others in the music industry, including Anthony David and Algebra Blessett, and gained an international audience with viewers from the Caribbean, Canada, and Brazil.
For someone not even half-way through his 20’s, Register has accomplished a lot – in entertainment, in business, and in activism – but he says he still has much to do before achieving his ultimate goal.
“My ultimate dream would be to be so wealthy, from hustling, and independent work that I did myself, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in the name of my people.”
According to Register, “wealthy” does not solely imply monetary wealth, but also spiritual wealth, and wealth in happiness. In order to gain that wealth, he says, he needs to really make a name for himself in the music and entertainment industry.
“I want to go into the back door first as a music producer, a songwriter and background singer first, so that I’m able to still do my acting and my photography and things like that, but also satisfy my biggest need, which is music and performance,” he says. “And I really would like to be a background singer. Ledisi, call me!”
As he takes his steps towards the next stage of his life and career, Register would like to leave behind an important piece of advice for those going through the same stage he went through just a year ago. To college students, especially soon-to-be college graduates, he says – take a full month for yourself, to think about what you really want to do for the rest of your life.
“When they say you don’t know if you’re going to live in the next hour, or tomorrow, it’s not a joke – it’s a actual, serious thing,” he says. “So take your life seriously enough to care about what your heart desires and what your passion is.”
WATCH: Extended video interview with Aja and Tahir