Lenny “Kodak Lens” Santiago is seemingly everywhere. Anytime there’s a powerful candid moment to be captured in hip-hop, his sharp lens is often nearby.
Recently, he’s captured some of music’s most striking moments. When Jay Z, DMX, and Ja Rule reunited? Check. That convo between Hov and Gucci Mane? Done that. Beyoncé’s “Formation Tour?” You guessed it. And that’s just in the last six months alone.
Look further and you’ll find more snapshots, iconic moments, and stunning candids in Lenny’s camera roll. “I’m just trying to capture the moments,” he tells Rap-Up. “I’ve always had a camera in my hand from when I was in grammar school through high school.”
“People think it’s an amazing camera that I’m using, but sometimes it’s really just my phone.”
He still has that passion, even as his career reaches new heights. Now, as the Senior Vice President of Roc Nation, he’s able to capture moments that few others have access to. The same high school kid who left “running to the studio or to an in-store signing to meet an artist” is often at “every video…every show…every press junket,” still capturing special moments.
“I’m in awe,” he adds. “I’m one of the biggest Jay Z fans in the world. I’m a fan of everybody I work with. I don’t care if it’s DJ Khaled or Fabolous, Mack Wilds, Justine Skye, or Vic Mensa, I’m a fan. I work with them because I love them. I love their music and their artistry. That’s just something I do.”
While he values his artists, he doesn’t put too much stock in which camera he might shoot with. “I use a Canon, I use a Sony,” he says. “I use my phone a lot of the times. People think it’s an amazing camera that I’m using, but sometimes it’s really just my phone.
“I’m gonna capture that moment. Believe that.”
“As I’m doing more management now,” he continues, “I’m doing a lot more work and I just don’t have all the time to stand around and capture photos. Before, I’d be at the shows just hanging out and I could catch everything. Now, I’m doing a show with DJ Khaled and there are like nine artists about to come on stage. I’m making sure they come in, I’m making sure they get their passes, I’m making sure everybody’s good. I can’t really do the photo thing…But I’ve always got something on me. I’ve got my camera on me or my phone on me and I’m gonna capture that moment. Believe that.”
Here’s a look behind some of Lenny’s most Kodak-worthy moments yet.
Kanye West x Rihanna x Jay Z
“My favorite picture I ever took in the world is of Jay Z, Rihanna, and Kanye West. It’s a photo of them from the video set of ‘Run This Town.’ It’s just iconic. It’s just three living legends, three icons, standing in this stance, looking directly at me. They all just seemed so tall and powerful and vibrant. It’s also the first photo I ever had that went viral, but besides that, even if it had never gotten out, it speaks volumes. Different people like L.A. Reid and different people who’ve seen the photo have been like, ‘I need a copy of that.’”
“There was a time I was in Cabo San Lucas with Fab. We were on a boat, on a yacht, just going out for the day. He leaned up against the side of the yacht and I caught the reflection of the water, against the yacht and him. It’s one of my favorite photos. It’s on the wall in my office.”
Jay Z x Beyoncé
“It was one of the Barclays shows when Jay first opened the Barclays, I believe. He did sold-out shows back-to-back, which was incredible. He was walking to the stage. I usually take that walk with him just to capture a moment or to support…They support each other. That’s not nothing that’s a secret. At [Beyoncé’s] shows, he’s there supporting. At his shows, she’s there supporting. I just thought that was dope. I kind of have this thing I do with my photos. I’m always around a lot of big people, great executives, tastemakers, and artists, so it’s so weird because in so many of my photos, the focus is always on somebody really great and important, but then in the background…Like, I might have a picture of Pharrell talking to Fab and in the background LeBron James is talking to Magic. You know what I mean? But they’re blurred. I kind of ran with that as well. In that photo, it’s ironic because he’s clear and she’s not but she’s more important to him. You know? She’s his support system, his rock, his everything. I have photos of the opposite of both [she’s in focus, he’s blurred]. I just thought it was dope. I didn’t want to focus on her. She was just being there to support. I don’t like being intrusive or taking advantage of that moment. She just happened to be behind him, walking to the stage, supporting her husband, and I just snapped. The picture came out amazing. I did a post and it was actually about her, how important the women are that are behind or beside men. All women, in any relationship, are really a big support system behind the man, how he moves, his decisions, and how he gets through life. They’re the most important.”
Beyoncé x Jay Z
“That one’s after. The one where she’s blurred, they’re walking to the stage. [This] one was after the show. You see the champagne in his hand. They’re looking at each other, smiling. She’s giving him that, ‘Ooh, you killed it [look].’ Like, ‘Oh, that show was great.’ Different emotions. That’s what I like. It might be a bit more serious beforehand, but afterwards, it’s more celebratory.”
Kevin Hart x Chris Rock
“My friend Kevin Hart had just sold out Madison Square Garden like two or three days in a row. Chris Rock was there. He was kind of just talking to him about the show. Just giving him feedback. I caught that moment of Chris Rock giving Kevin Hart feedback. That’s on my wall.”
Gucci Mane x Jay Z
“They were just kicking it. I don’t like to speak for Jay or any artist, but I honestly didn’t hear what they were saying…They were just kicking it. There was no specific intention. There was no ‘meet you at the studio later.’ They really were just kicking it as two entrepreneurs, as two businessmen, as two trappers, as two rappers. Again, it’s just a moment I like to catch, man. Everybody else — a couple of people that were there — they caught the one of them posing. That’s cool, I have that too, but I want to give the public, the fans, the people who love this culture the cultural moments, the man-to-man talking, smiling, just being men, just being good guys. I want to give that moment. Those moments matter to me. I let everybody rock with the posed one and that’s cool. After that, if I have it — sometimes I don’t have it — if I have it, I’m gonna go with the one that people are gonna admire.
Like you said, it makes everybody wonder. That’s the whole purpose of that shot. It’s like, ‘What are they talking about?’ Nobody knows. You know what I’m saying? That’s what I want to put out. The posing moment? Hey, man. It’s like you see a celebrity in the street and ask them for a picture. It’s cool. It’s great. It’s a different thing when you’re actually conversing with an artist and somebody catches a picture of that. It’s a bit more intimate. That’s what it’s supposed to do. Pictures are worth 1,000 words. That’s what it’s supposed to do. The posed photos are cool. That’s fine. Those are not the ones that are worth 1,000 words. The ones that are worth 1,000 words are the ones where you’re like, ‘What are they saying? What are they thinking?’ When you capture somebody with their head leaning against their hands and they’re distraught. ‘What are they thinking about? Are they stressed? Are they happy? Are they tired?’ You just don’t know.”