Rishi Deka has his own sartorial style as well as sharp photo skills.
Rishi Deka has his own sartorial style as well as sharp photo skills. Image via Deka

The supergroup Mount Westmore — including hip-hop legends Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, E-40 and Too Short — performed Thursday at San Diego’s Pechanga Arena. So did UC San Diego’s Rishi Deka.

He didn’t sing or rap, but his artistry is on display via The Associated Press and Shutterstock.

Deka was at the foot of the stage taking photographs.

A postdoctoral scholar in radiation oncology at UCSD, Deka was introduced to Times of San Diego readers in April 2020 when we posted some of his haunting and moving abstract images.

How did Deka earn a prized shooting spot at Pechanga (the former San Diego Sports Arena)?

He explains in his latest Q&A, edited for length:

Times of San Diego: How did you get to photograph Mount Westmore?

Rishi Deka: I feel that there was a confluence of factors that led me to photograph Mount Westmore. First, I received a press award for my coverage of Black Lives Matter, and I photographed BLM co-founder Alicia Garza when she spoke in La Jolla. Her appearance was the first set of my visual documentary work that was used by Associated Press.

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Snoop Dogg performs with Mount Westmore at Pechanga Arena in San Diego. Mount Westmore is a hip hop supergroup that includes Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, E-40, and Too Short. They will be releasing their debut album later this year. Photo by Rishi Deka/Sipa USA.
Ice Cube performs with Mount Westmore at Pechanga Arena in San Diego. Photo by Rishi Deka/Sipa USA
Too Short performs with Mount Westmore at Pechanga Arena in San Diego. Photo by Rishi Deka/Sipa USA).
E-40 performs with Mount Westmore at Pechanga Arena in San Diego. Photo by Rishi Deka/Sipa USA

Second, I have extensive experience shooting a myriad of African American, Black British and Jamaican entertainers. This includes Cynthia Erivo, John Legend, Tiger Woods, Laurence Fishburne, George Benson, Herbie Hancock, Common, Pharrell, Slash, Smokey Robinson, Questlove and Black Thought of The Roots, Busta Rhymes, Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa, J. Cole, Jaden Smith, Stephen Marley and Shaggy.

More recently, I shot Jamie Foxx and Snoop Dogg last October, which gave me a direct connection with Mount Westmore. Third, I currently investigate numerous health disparities and outcomes in racial/ethnic minorities which includes a publication in JAMA on the effectiveness of a treatment option (active surveillance) in African Americans with low-risk prostate cancer.

Fourth, I have published gothic poems in a number of outlets including Times of San Diego and Poetry Quarterly. I posted a video on my website reciting a recently published poem “Cry of The Wolf,” which I feel resonated with the group. 

Why do you like Mount Westmore?

First, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, E-40 and Too Short commonly sing about socioeconomics, identity and underrepresented communities. All of these themes are very prominent in my own visual documentary work. Furthermore, some of their lyrics revolve around having fun!

In my opinion, we only have one life to live, so it’s important to have as much fun as possible!

Second, I like the group’s fashion style which incorporates black/white outfits accessorized with sunglasses, hats and other eclectic items. While my style is more extreme with black metal and hardcore punk influences, we do share some fashion similarities that may not be as obvious upon a cursory glance!

Third, I like that Mount Westmore includes group members from Southern California (Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube) and Northern California (E-40 and Too Short). A true testament to West Coast hip hop!

Although I live in San Diego, I was born in Mountain View and went to undergrad at UC Berkeley. I was actually in Berkeley last November to cover a news story on People’s Park – one of the shots ended up getting published in Invisible People, a nonprofit organization that educates the public about homelessness. 

Did you have any interactions with Mount Westmore?

My interactions with their team were limited to email. I have only recently been able to meet entertainers in-person. This started with Snoop Dogg and Jamie Foxx last October, David Spade this past March, and Dennis Quaid this past May.

I am the first approved photographer to take Mount Westmore’s concert shots for both Associated Press (based in New York) and Shutterstock Editorial (based in London). Thus, I wanted to focus on responding to these questions and taking powerful photos that will have significant global reach instead of meeting the entire group in-person.

I feel it’s better to focus on a few things and strike hot instead of too many things and strike cold! However, I do plan on meeting more celebrities I work with in the future either before or after shows as you can get some very exclusive shots through that avenue!

What was the shoot like? Any technical challenges to overcome?

The shoot was sick! First, I would recommend bringing multiple lenses to get a variety of perspectives. For example, during the first half of the shoot, Mount Westmore was sitting in golden thrones at the back of the stage, which required the use of my telephoto lens; during the second half, each member of the group moved to the front of the stage to perform a solo song, which required the use of my wide-angle lens.

Second, it’s critical to have the basic technical aspects of photography down such as shutter speed, ISO and aperture. After that, the technical challenge is crystal-clear focus, which I employ through manual focus. Third, the main challenge in entertainment photography is to make sure the still frame you create conveys visceral feelings. In order to do that, I like to go for unique angles with riveting lighting that underscores strong emotions. Something that really stands out in a sea of shots! 

Any advice on how to photograph hip hop stars/celebrities?

I feel that I am able to photograph hip hop stars/celebrities due to two distinct yet interconnected aspects. First, my visual documentary work encompasses areas such as socioeconomics, identity and underrepresented communities.

This includes BLM, economic inequality, environmental sustainability and neurodiversity such as the autism rights movement. I feel that all this work really connects with a plethora of people.

Over the past two years, I have crafted some very distinct abstract psychedelic art which has caught the attention of many editors around the world. Thus, my advice is to create something novel, something avant-garde! It doesn’t even need to be in media/art as I have also done so in medicine/science.

Think outside the box and don’t be scared to do/try new things. There’s no point being cookie-cutter! Don’t expect anything, but with time the world may respond appropriately back!