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Tour Tales | Armen Keleshian left Lebanon to capture Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Diddy, and more

Is nearly 12,000 miles too far to travel for a dream? Well, it wasn’t for Armen Keleshian, who took a leap — or flight — of faith to pursue his photographing passion.

Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ’Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’

Is nearly 12,000 miles too far to travel for a dream? How about if simply reaching the destination doesn’t actualize that dream? Well, it wasn’t too far for Armen Keleshian, an internationally recognized photographer who’s captured the likes of Tyga, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, Diddy, Dr. Dre and more after taking a leap — or flight — of faith.

“I packed my bags and moved to L.A. I had never visited the west coast and hadn’t been in the U.S. since I was five at that point. I didn’t have a job or a place to stay,” Keleshian told REVOLT TV. “I just had a few friends and some distant relatives that let me crash at their pad for a couple of months. I just came out here at 19 trying to figure out how to do it.”

In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the photog explains his historic backstage moment with Dr. Dre, how Kanye West and Kid Cudi changed his life, Tyga’s fiery side onstage, and more.

What is it like shooting Tyga on tour?

I think he has an image that he really likes portraying at all times. He doesn’t like a lot of candid shots. He likes to be ready and prepared for a photo. I will get shots of him when he’s not looking. But, he wouldn’t be posting those. He’s a really chill dude. He’ll check out the photos right after we take them and be like, ‘Alright. Let’s try to do this again,’ or ‘I like that look. Can we do another one?’ He’ll even suggest where to put the lighting. So, he actually has a bit of creative input when I’m working with him.

Which of his songs have you seen get the best reception live?

It depends on the city. I think ‘Taste,’ and ‘Rack City,’ ‘Hookah,’ and ‘Faded’ were all hits. But, there’s the J. Balvin song, ‘Loco Contigo,’ that Tyga’s on. We were in Spain, or Portugal, or somewhere where there was a big Hispanic crowd, and they were going up (laughs). They were humming out the intro, and then it would be this huge crowd thing.

When he’s onstage, are there certain shots you know you can get from Tyga?

Absolutely. When you’re on the road, you learn the setlist and you see the similar transitions the artists and DJ have figured out ahead of time. With T, specifically, I like getting the shots when the smoke and when the fire is going to come on. I always try to get a special shot. So, one time, it was a large crowd shot from onstage. One time, it was a close-up shot of up through the fire.

Armen Keleshian

How was it traveling overseas with him?

With Tyga, it was more like we land, [and] we have three hours to get ready. We have to go do soundcheck, hit the stage, and then we have to go to the airport. For example, I was in and out of Moscow, Russia in 18 hours. It really depends on if it’s somewhere he wants to spend the time [on]. We were in London for four days. You have to understand, the more time you’re spending not doing anything is more money you’re not making.

In London, he was in the studio. Right after the show, we’d go to the club, finish at one club, and then Quavo would hit him like, ‘Hey, we’re doing this thing at this club. Pull up here.’ We’d just pop in from one place to the other, and then he’d just go to the studio at six in the morning.

What’s the craziest show you’ve ever photographed?

London Wireless Festival [on July 5, 2019]. Just being on the main stage was an experience I’ll never forget in my life. Also, the photos and access I had. I walked onstage before Tyga hit the stage and the crowd was going crazy. I got goosebumps from all of the people screaming.

What is one of your defining shots?

I can tell you the photo that changed my whole photo career around and put me on the map. Last year, I was at the Kanye West and Kid Cudi’s Kids See Ghosts album release and I wasn’t supposed to be there. My friend hit me up last minute and said, ‘I have access to the list and I added your name without even asking you. If you can pull up, pull up.’ I was in the crowd with a huge bonfire to my right, and to my left was Kid Cudi and Kanye. That was the moment they started playing the album. It came on, they looked at each other, smiled and went in for a hug. That’s the moment I captured. People still reach out to me about wanting to buy that photo and do this or that with it.

How about a defining live show shot?

I was at Diddy’s ‘Bad Boy Reunion Tour’ in 2016. I was shooting The Forum show here [on October 4, 2016]. Diddy was trying to go big, bring out all of these artists. I had all access. I saw the dressing rooms and you could see the names for Mary J. Blige, A$AP Rocky, French Montana, Snoop Dogg. There were so many names. I was going to try to get photos of all of those people and capture a moment. The last dressing room I was going to walk to was Diddy’s. As I’m trying to walk there, my mentor Steve Lobel was like, ‘We’re about to go into Dr. Dre’s dressing room.’

I was like, ‘There is no Dr. Dre on this roster.’ He was like, ‘Get your shit ready. But, have your camera down because Dre might not like photos.’ We go in, and it’s Dre and his daughter. It’s just me, Steve and Bizzy Bone from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. That was the first time Dre and Bizzy had seen each other in over 20 years. I captured that moment and was like, ‘Fuck it. I’ll rather ask for forgiveness later than miss this shot.’

Steve Lobel (left), Dr. Dre (center) and Bizzy Bone (right) at The Forum on October 4th 2016.
Armen Keleshian

Before we all had to leave for the show, I was like, ‘Fuck, this is Dr. Dre. I never ask for photos with anyone.’ I asked Bizzy to get one of Dre and I. He took the photo, but I didn’t know at that time [that] he took two photos. The last photo he took was blurry, and as I was walking out the room, I told him, ‘Man, this photo came out blurry.’ Dre heard me and was like, ‘Then come back and get another one.’ So, we took another one.

You also have a few dope photos of Mac Miller.

I actually shot Mac Miller for the first and last time at Smokers Fest in Long Beach (on April 29, 2018] roughly six months before he passed. I was at the show shooting, but of course, I linked up with my man Steve there. Steve is my guy and the guy who really connected me with everybody, and why I’m here today. At the Smokers Fest, I was there when he was knocking on Mac’s dressing room trailer. Mac was like, ‘Yo, Steve, what’s up? Man, we working. You’re a legend.’ It was an emotional moment.

This was right when Steve started working [with] Scott Storch and now you can see he’s brought Scott Storch back. Steve was like, ‘We have to get you back in early with Scott before everybody gets back around him.’ Mac was like, ‘Absolutely.’ He was a super nice guy.

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I like my music real loud

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What’s coming up for you in 2020?

I’m trying to have my gallery up for the first time. I’m working on that now with a few partners right now. I’m working on starting my own podcast. I wanted to start this year, but then the whole tour situation happened. I was always on the move and then, Grammy season. Mainly, I want to focus on photographers and directors, and share their experiences in the industry on the podcast. I want to move more into a creative role of helping an artist bring their vision to life and help them put together a project.

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