Photographer and Creative AJ Kosten on Classic Car Club, Tokyo, and Creating A New Dystopia
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AJ Kosten is a photographer and content creator based out of New York. With vibrant work imbued with neo-psychedelic and futuristic undercurrents, Kosten sat down with us to talk about his love of cars, Blade Runner, and lensing an increasingly digital-based world.
WHAT ARE YOU DRIVING RIGHT NOW?
Fortunately enough, I work at Classic Car Club Manhattan and have access to about 40 different supercars, luxury sedans, and track toys. I’m basically in a different car every day. But the car I've been behind the wheel most of the time lately is the BMW M850i. 523HP. 0-60 in 3.5 seconds. It’s everything you want in a car and a whole lot more. I’m a sucker for the burble tune they put in the new BMW these days.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR? WHAT’S A MEMORY OF IT YOU’VE NEVER TOLD ANYONE UNTIL TODAY?
I’ve actually never owned a car yet. But the first car I ever drove was a McLaren 570s. I didn’t have my license at the time and it was one of the most genuine days of my life. A sign that success is in the future and that this is just a quick taste of where I’m heading.
WHERE’S THE FIRST PLACE YOU’RE TRAVELING POST-PANDEMIC?
Back to Tokyo. Tokyo is the playground I dream of when it comes to creating.
DEAD OR ALIVE — WHO ARE YOU ROAD TRIPPING WITH? WHERE TO?
My girlfriend Victoria who I’ve been with for 4 years. We’ve been all around the world together. Despite how many countries we’ve been to we’ve never actually taken a road trip across the country. I would hop in a car and drive through as many states as possible throughout 3 weeks and get the true American road trip experience without a worry in sight other than what can I see today that I will remember for the rest of my life.
“I see a photo every day, every minute of my life. I was put in this world to create art.”
LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR CREATIVE HISTORY.
Back in 2013-2014, Instagram was still on the rise. You couldn’t even post videos yet. Crazy, right? I was a freshman in high school. I got my hands on an iPod Touch, not knowing how good the camera was at the time. I saw my one hometown friend Kenny shooting photos with his iPhone and editing them and posting them on Instagram — just simple photos of the city and streets around us. At that moment, something hit me that [sic] I would like to do the same thing. I was always into art, specifically graffiti, the skateboard culture, and iconic movies that cinematically portrayed the world I see when I was growing up. I deleted all the BS I had on my Instagram account and I started photographing my hometown neighborhood (Garfield, New Jersey). After shooting every corner of that town, I realized how easy it was to hop on a train and go to NYC (the city every photographer wants to shoot the most in the world).
I saw the opportunity of having the most iconic city in the world just 20 minutes away and started doing that almost every day: go to the city, shoot all day, come home, edit the photos, and then post on Instagram. I was addicted to shooting photos. I was addicted to the thought of having an online gallery that people are following along with. I was a young teenager seeing all the likes, comments, and attention I was getting for going on rooftops and getting “unique perspectives of the city." I had news networks and other types of people writing about my work. The followers just kept coming in and then I started getting job opportunities via email. People were willing to fly me out to different cities and pay me more than I can ever think of to shoot photos for them. Senior year of high school hit and I was well over 100,000 followers on Instagram. I eventually dropped out of high school and since then I’ve been full-time in photography. I’m now 24 years old, have traveled to numerous different cities and countries, and have worked with the top brands in the world. I see a photo every day, every minute of my life. I was put in this world to create art.
WALK US THROUGH YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS. WHAT’S DRIVING YOU RIGHT NOW?
After traveling to Hong Kong & Tokyo numerous times through 2017-2020 — and even living in Shanghai for a bit — I’ve become addicted to the thought of a dystopian city. Movies like Blade Runner, Ghost in The Shell, & Akira showcase how I visualize the world perfectly. I’m addicted to the thought of creating images that look like they can be set in 2049 but are actually from our world today. There’s also this movie called They Live. It’s a nod to the capitalist world we live in today but in a no-filter way. The boom of our consumable and digital-based world is something that drives me to create and show others what’s “behind the lines” in our world. The average person goes about their everyday life without actually noticing the world around them. I try to showcase through my photos that there’s a lot to be said that people might not notice. Things like seeing new skyscrapers being built, AR taking over, crypto becoming the norm. It’s all a “movie” to me.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE YOUR WORK?
Vibrant, futurism, cinematic.
HOW HAS THIS YEAR OF UPHEAVAL CHANGED YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO YOUR WORK? YOUR LOVE OF CARS? TRAVEL?
In November 2019, I took a position at Classic Car Club Manhattan. I run their Instagram full-time currently as well as still freelance with my @kosten page. I create all social media content for them, create brand partnerships, and help curate events. This position I was offered is truly a blessing — especially as the pandemic hit — because freelance photography work basically disappeared all of 2020. I embraced this opportunity I got and went full-in on car photography. This has changed my life dramatically because I now have a key to a world that I always was interested in — the automotive world ties in very well with my aesthetic; so, ironically, the pandemic was a blessing and has driven my love for cars into something that’s part of my everyday life now.
“I try to showcase through my photos that there’s a lot to be said that people might not notice. Things like seeing new skyscrapers being built, AR taking over, crypto becoming the norm. It’s all a “movie” to me.”
WHAT DO YOU HAVE YOUR EYE ON NEXT?
I’ve always dreamt of having a Nissan Skyline R34 V Spec. Since I’ve never owned a car, I’m committed to making my dream car my first car. So that’s next. ✧
You can follow AJ on Instagram here.