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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Snapping Moscow Like It's SoHo

Much like a ship's captain, Zak Kaghado leans on a railing overlooking the studio floor of a New York-style Moscow loft that's all exposed brickwork, with windows the whole length of one wall.

Dressed in a gray army jacket that he bought at his favorite charity shop on the Big Apple's Eighth Street, he observes a group of models, stylists and assistants on the floor below. When the photographer says his team needs food, Zak immediately gets his assistant to order it -- sushi and vegetarian pizza.

Befittingly for the creative director and co-founder of the photographic agency BrainStorm Management, he likes to be in control. His younger brother Ja'bagh, 27, a photographer and a budding film director, is also keeping up. Wearing his customary black baseball cap and sunglasses, with a computer on his lap and a phone pressed to his ear, he is negotiating fees for a future photo shoot in accented but fluent Russian.

"It was not easy to establish the whole concept of photography management and an agency similar to what we have in the West," Ja'bagh said. "The concept of photo management did not exist."

It was the younger brother who came to work in Moscow first. No matter that his commission in 2000 lasted only one week -- he managed to do three shoots for different fashion titles before returning to the United States to complete his photography degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Then Sept. 11 happened. "I thought to myself, ... 'I am not liking the situation here,'" Ja'bagh said. He quit his job assisting New York photographer Roxanne Lowit, began doing his own photography -- and moved to Moscow in August 2002.

Soon after, Zak came on board, and the New Jersey-born brothers established their company, which represents not only the work of Ja'bagh but also other international photographers, stylists and makeup artists.

"We are the dynamic duo brothers," interjected Zak, 34, who has a master's degree in international communications from Rutgers University in New Jersey. He arrived from Istanbul, where he had been making human rights documentaries with CNN in Turkey since the late 1990s. "I am the producer, the management behind it, but Ja'bagh does everything else."

It all began when Ja'bagh was 10 and his brother gave him a point-and-shoot camera. Later, some of his early subjects were Jordan's late King Hussein and the princes, whom he described as family friends. "It was fun. And I liked documentary photography in the beginning. Then I started fashion," he said.

The brothers admit to working around the clock but they know how to throw a good party as well, hosting the popular New Wave Fridays at Krizis Zhanra nightspot.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Ja'bagh, left, and his brother Zak Kaghado in BrainStorm Management's studio.
Their easy-going attitude is seen in their work as well. "I have worked with many big-name Western photographers but I prefer working with Ja'bagh," said Tamara Shangelia, a senior art buyer at McCann-Erickson advertising agency who has worked with BrainStorm Management for two years on campaigns for MegaFon and MasterCard.

"They know how to make a model express the right kind of emotions," she added. "Photo shoots can be stressful, but with them everything goes smoothly and it's fun. I know I can rely on them."

Zak found the company's SoHo-like base while visiting a friend, fashion designer Katya Gomiashvili, at her studio in converted Arma factory premises by Kursky Station. Couturier Denis Simachev is also a neighbor. Zak said their old Arma warehouse was a dump in the beginning and renovation took two months.

"We had to oversee the work on a daily basis and actually get involved in the building itself, showing some of the workers how things had to be done and what we wanted," Zak said.

"It was an experience where we have gained professional negotiation skills with builders and workers," he added.

Ja'bagh added: "If you are not from this country, you learn by trial and error. By time, by burning yourself out, by getting very nervous, very angry, very upset. And you learn it slowly and then afterwards you are, 'Ah! It's so easy.'"

Now that the photography and production business is stable, the brothers are venturing into video production -- music videos, short films and television spots. Ja'bagh, who once played professional football in Switzerland and has lived in the Middle East, Europe and southern Russia, said he was leaning toward beauty directing. "I am not putting photography on the backburner but I can do both."

Asked what attracted him to photography, Ja'bagh quickly replied: "Beautiful girls. Only joking -- absolutely beautiful imagery."