Nitin Vadukul, Inventive Photographer of Hip-Hop, Dies at 52

Nitin Vadukul, Inventive Photographer of Hip-Hop, Dies at 52

“He understood hip-hop, he was collaborative, and he made it fun,” Eminem wrote of Mr. Vadukul in an email. “Chain saws, blood, a face full of nails … he was in.”

David Curcurito, a former creative director of The Source, said that after photo shoots Mr. Vadukul would hole up in his apartment for days, turning pictures on his computer into painting-like visions. Wyclef Jean, LL Cool J and other performers began requesting him for their own shoots.

“Before all of the photographers were using Photoshop, he was certainly a pioneer in manipulating photography digitally,” Mr. Curcurito said.

Nitin Shantilal Vadukul was born on April 20, 1965, in Nairobi, Kenya, as a British subject of Indian heritage. His father, Shantilal Karsandas Vadukul, was a traveling camera salesman and amateur photographer; his mother, the former Shantaben Vara, was a homemaker who later worked in crayon and wiring factories to supplement the family income.


Mr. Vadukul armed Eminem with a chain saw in 2000, evoking a horror-movie villain.

Fearing violence, the family fled the country in the 1960s after Kenya had gained independence and legislation was passed preventing tens of thousands of non-Kenyans from working, an action that heightened racial tensions. Leaving behind their material possessions, the family emigrated to England in 1969, settling in Enfield, a northern London suburb.

Mr. Vadukul attended Enfield Grammar School, but by age 15 he had decided to pursue a career in photography instead of higher-level studies, hoping to build on his pocket-size portfolio of Kodachrome slide transparencies.

Ray Massey, an advertising photographer who used special effects, took him on as an assistant.

By 1985, Mr. Vadukul was pursuing freelance advertising and editorial assignments in London, and later in Paris. While he continued to shoot ads for companies like Nike and IBM, by the mid-1990s he had moved to New York and was also taking on assignments for the youth-focused magazine Details.


Pushing the limits of portraiture, Mr. Vadukul had the singer Iggy Pop hold a dove to the sky.

James Truman, a former editor in chief of Details, said that in a typical 30-minute photo shoot, Mr. Vadukul “would try all kinds of crazy things.”

“Usually,” he added, “it was the crazy things that delivered the memorable pictures.”

For Details, Mr. Vadukul experimented with the limits of portraiture: In one instance he had the singer Iggy Pop hold a dove to the sky; in another, he created intentionally grainy shots of the actor Tommy Lee Jones.


In a digitally enhanced photograph, the rapper Dr. Dre was portrayed bursting through flames.

Nitin Vadukul

He went on to become the first-choice photographer for The Source, for which he portrayed Dr. Dre bursting through flames and Queen Latifah exhaling a viper’s tongue of cigar smoke. Several of his cover photos were featured in the 2002 coffee-table book “Hip Hop Immortals Volume One” and were part of a global traveling exhibit.

At the same time, rock artists like Ozzy Osbourne also began collaborating with Mr. Vadukul for albums, and Newsweek featured his portraits of Barack Obama, then a senator, in 2004.


Mr. Vadukul produced this portrait of Barack Obama in 2004, when he was an up-and-coming senator from Illinois, for Newsweek.

In 1997, Mr. Vadukul married Marianna Morrison and moved to the Hudson Valley, where he pursued fine art photography. By the late 2000s, he was exhibiting his conceptual photographs internationally. In one series, “The Art of War,” he portrayed military gear as shrouded by death.

His marriage ended in divorce in 2010, and in his later years he struggled with alcoholism, which his brother said he overcame.

Mr. Vadukul eventually moved to Los Angeles, where he photographed local musicians and directed music videos for them.

In addition to his brother, his survivors include his children, Nitin and Aysha Vadukul; his mother; and a sister, Nilam Kumari.

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