Cardi B was draped in gold — gold chains were hanging from her arms and neck, and gold buckles cinched her black latex bustier. Her hair was in a golden pixie cut, styled from her appearance on “The Tonight Show” the day before. She was posing for Flo Ngala, the photographer whose work has captured her ascent.
One year ago, Cardi B was a stripper turned Instagram celebrity turned reality TV star who became a rapper with a hit song. Whether that song, ‘Bodak Yellow,’ would be her only hit was an open question. Since then, she has topped the music charts multiple times. During a New York Fashion Week runway show, she sat next to Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue. Her ‘The Tonight Show’ appearance was the first time Jimmy Fallon ever had a co-host.
Ms. Ngala was there for much of Cardi’s transformational year by documenting the ways her life has rapidly evolved, while also revealing the person inside. .
“They’re human just like us,” Ms. Ngala said. “People often describe my work as making celebrities look as human and real as they are.”
Ms. Ngala, who is based in New York, discovered her passion at 14, taking a photography class at Horace Mann, an Ivy League prep school in the Bronx. She credits one of her teachers for her inspiration. “She helped to foster my passion for it,” Ms. Ngala said. She later graduated from the City College of New York.
Ms. Ngala, 23, began doing street photography by taking candid photos around Harlem. “I credit my taste to Tumblr,” she said of the site where photography is often shared. “Being on it so much as a teen helped me become a photographer because I was flipping through so much good work.”
She also cited the civil rights e photojournalist Gordon Parks as an inspiration. Mr. Parks documented the movement and African-American life during the 1940s. .
One lesson that stuck was the power of monochromatic grayscale photos. “If you can shoot and see things in in black and white then you learn to focus on lighting, form and composition because you’re capturing something in just few colors,” Ms. Ngala said.
Her rise came on the set of a music video for the rapper Remy Ma. Kareem Johnson, the video’s executive producer, let Ms. Ngala photograph on set, and afterward, she sent him her work.
“I was like, wow, this girl has an eye,” Mr. Johnson said.
Soon, with Mr. Johnson’s help, she was connected with Cardi B and other celebrities, including the rapper Gucci Mane, whom she photographed after his release from prison. She said her work requires creativity and stamina, as she bounces between a different locations such as strip clubs and corporate meetings.
“With celebrity photography, you never know what’s going to happen,” Ms. Ngala said of her career. “You never know what moments there will be.”
Photography has allowed her to see the world. She left the United States for the first time after she direct message she received on Instagram. “I just stumbled across your work,” she said a designer told her. From there she was hired to photograph a lookbook in Senegal.
“I was 21 when I went,” Ms. Ngala said. “It’s not every day that people are willing to fly you places to shoot at 21.”
Beyond photography, Ms. Ngala works with aspiring models and others looking to build up their social media presence. She hopes to one day have an agency of her own.
For now she is enjoying the time she has had with Cardi B. The Met Gala was a crowning moment marking Cardi B’s elevated status. The gala’s theme was “Heavenly Bodies,” examining how the rituals of Catholicism have infused with fashion. Ms. Ngala photographed Cardi B in her regal ensemble, capturing the flowing cream-colored gown embellished with rubies, sapphires and pearls.
“The Met Gala was a big moment for Cardi,” Ms. Ngala said, “and I’m glad I was there.”