Aidan Cullen is New York’s Nicest It-Boy

Aidan Cullen is New York’s Nicest It-Boy

Meet the photographer who befriended A$AP Nast and shot the J.W. Anderson x Converse campaign at just 15.

Meet the photographer who befriended A$AP Nast and shot the J.W. Anderson x Converse campaign at just 15.

Text: Megan Kasselberg

Everyone wants to be Aidan Cullen. Whether he’s capturing young skaters in London, A$AP Rocky backstage, or a wild party, the motion, sound, and energy of his photographs are magnetic. One of his most immediately recognizable traits is a fundamental authenticity in what he wears, how he speaks, and the humbleness with which he carries himself. While some photographers chronicle youth culture to sell it, he’s creating memories. “I feel like my friends and I do cool stuff, and part of my role is documenting that. Hopefully in 50 years we can all look back on growing up, and I can still feel like I'm in that image.”

Photo by Aidan Cullen

Aidan is not quick to reveal information, and he’s far more interested in inquiring about others than talking about himself. It took 45 minutes to realize he had started a zine production company, created a clothing line, and worked at an LA sneaker shop when he was only 13 years old. Aidan's done plenty more he won’t say out of modesty, and that’s part of his intrigue: he's a refreshing presence in an age of Instagram and clout. Although he hangs out with “cool” people, he’ll never jump to bring them up. Most of his success is born out of an earnest interest in other people, and an intense kindness that he extends to everyone nearby.

Take, for instance, how he met A$AP Nast. Young Aidan approached an unknown guy at a party in New York because he liked his outfit. They got to talking, and it turned out the stranger was a rapper who was coming to LA with nowhere to stay. “Him and his friend Barter came to LA, and it turned into like a month at my mom's house," Cullen explained. "A$AP kind of grew up around that scene. At the time Nast and Bari and Rocky were together in a sick place in LA. Swoosh brought me there, and that's how I met all of them when I was like 15 or 16. It was very organic. Nast and I clicked the most and started hanging out every day for the last year and a half. After a while we were like, ‘Why don't we do something creative?’ Now we're still building on our creative levels and we're working together.”

Photo by Aidan Cullen
Photo by Aidan Cullen

If you know Aidan, you know how much he values relationships and everyday interactions. “I have a lot of friends who make music—it's just somehow worked out that way. We hang out for hours, weeks or even years before I start shooting them. Getting a feel for them and, whether it's me shooting while we're out doing stuff or an actual choreographed shoot, I feel like it just comes from our relationship, and knowing who they are.” He stresses communication and a group process. “I always ask my friends ‘What do you want to do today? What have you been into lately?’ When we shoot it's fun. It's just us hanging out like we always would, and I get the best photos when they're comfortable and being themselves with me.”

Photo by Aidan Cullen

Yet, photography was never the plan. It was some combination of his childhood pursuits, an intense drive, and fate that landed him behind the camera. Perhaps this is part of why Aidan’s maturity reaches far beyond his age. After making nationals for baseball and soccer and playing on the Olympic development team, he was diagnosed with several serious illnesses at just 14. While Aidan’s friends and teammates continued life as usual, his own pursuits had to be squashed for the time being, and he spent weeks in bed.

They say the best art is born out of suffering, and Aidan’s gratitude for every moment is obvious in the images he takes. ”My bad health really made me appreciate life more, as corny as that sounds. As a 15-year-old, I was having so many health issues that I didn't know where my future was going. My dad surprised me with a camera and I fell in love with photography. I grew up in Venice Beach, and I started shooting my friends skating, the clothes we wore, and stuff I thought was cool. I'm still learning about the technicalities of photography, but if you just give me a camera, I'll figure it out.” He is obsessed with the people around him, and insists that he has far more to learn. “I never sleep. I love being around people, and I walk everywhere and talk to strangers. I've had people chase me down the street with knives and crazy stuff, but at the end of the day I got the sick photo."

As a freshman in college, he’s already had a billboard in Times Square, shot campaigns for Converse, and helped to design One Star shoes. After Converse reached out to A$AP Nast to collaborate on a shoe, Aidan created the visuals to accompany his friend’s release. “Nast, our friend Elia, who helped to design, and I sat in a room for two weeks and brainstormed. Nast is super obsessed with midcentury furniture, and the midcentury in general. His house is filled with freaking Eames chairs. The campaign was called ‘Somewhere in Midcentury.’ They gave me full creative control, and they let me take a risk and use a Super 8 to film it, which was fun. It was actually kind of scary because I had never used that format before. I was like, ‘Is anything going to come out?’ But it went really well. So we dropped the shoes and they sold out in a couple minutes, which is awesome, and I had a billboard in Times Square with my video. It was a dream.”

Photo by Aidan Cullen

If this sounds like something out of a movie, you’re not far off. Aidan is a product of the LA film scene: his mom is a writer, his dad a writer, producer, and director, and he grew up “learning from the camera guys on set.” Much of Aidan’s inspiration draws from directors such as Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg. His interest in American aesthetics is apparent in his love for contemporary photographers David LaChapelle and Olivia Bee, along with grittier '80s New Yorkers Martha Cooper and George Condo, and visual artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. The playful, dreamy colors in his recent One Star film are youthful and whimsical, while his portrayal of classism reveals what lies beyond a perfect facade.

“A couple months later Converse gave me a call and said ‘Yo, we want you to shoot this JW Anderson x Converse collab.’ and I was like ‘What?’ They were like ‘We think you're a sick kid—do whatever you want in 10 days.’ I went to the drawing board, called up some friends and made it happen. The shoes are called ‘Glitter Gutter’ and it's like Converse is the street side and JW Anderson is the higher fashion side. I wanted to play up the juxtaposition of those two worlds colliding. I brought a bunch of friends with clothes they'd wear on the Lower East Side into very posh environments and then we went into the projects in Brooklyn and they were all wearing suits. My idea was to show that you can coexist in both worlds tastefully and look good in both. That was really fun, and my relationship with Converse has been building and building. We went to London this past weekend to the One Star Hotel and re-released our corduroy One Stars. Nast hung out with kids and I was there just taking photos. It was my first time out of the country, and I was so stoked. I was like 'Oh my god, what's going to happen when I have to go back to reality?'” But this is Aidan’s reality, and he’s creating it one click at a time.

Credits: Banner image courtesy of Owen Kerr.

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