|Michael Cinquino, photographer|
Within minutes of meeting one another, we were naked. He's the photographer for the upcoming book, Asana Exposed by ISIS Phoenix. I love the images we created, and it was only a test shoot -- that's saying a lot. I appreciate his feedback on the development of my male nude series, we've shared self-portraits and are overdue for a Hapkido class. It was hot and humid day and thankfully his Williamsburg studio was air-conditioned when we got together on Friday.
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I’m Michael Cinquino, I’m a photographer here in New York. I live in Brooklyn. I shoot just about anything with people. The frequency I would say is headshots first, then fashion, portraits and then also events and weddings. I work mostly in the consumer market. I’ve started to move more towards editorial and publications in the last 6 months to a year.
How many years have you been doing this?
It’ll be 3 years July 7 or something like that.
Do you have an image that you’ve captured or one that you saw that let you know, "I want to be a photographer"?
I don’t know if there was a single image. I will say though that I’m most attracted to the face. I love doing actor headshots. Even with models or whomever, I’m most attracted to the face because there’s so much to it. I like to make and like to see compelling images; images that I look at and I instantly have some sort of visceral response to.
As of this interview, what’s the last photo you’ve taken?
The last photo I took was a headshot of an actress who hired me to do headshots this week. I think I shot her on Tuesday.
Why headshots? Why actors?
Well, I was an actor before I was a photographer. My education’s in acting, I got out of the Navy a long time ago, I went right to undergrad, in undergrad I auditioned to be in a play, I got cast. The best way I can put it was on opening night I did something on stage, everybody laughed, they really loved it— it was cocaine being injected into my heart. I loved certain parts about acting, I didn’t love all of it. Photography was the first thing I came to in my life that gave me energy, that the more I did it the more I wanted to do it and I do it tirelessly. Headshots just made sense because I was an actor, I knew the headshot business, I had had my headshots taken 3 or 4 times before that and it was just something I found attractive so I dove in to headshots.
Is most of your personal work, nude photography or erotic?
I would totally have to agree with that. Fortunately I’m busy enough with client stuff that I don’t have as much time as I did a year ago to do personal stuff but when I do do personal work, it’s usually some sort of nude work.
Nude. But erotic at all?
I would ask you how you define erotic.
It’s different for everybody. Do you feel it’s erotic?
I usually take nude portraits. We’ll put it that way. The work that I do, the subject is, yes, naked, but I also aim to capture personality in it. Whereas I feel like some other kinds of work, take fine art nudes for example, they’re absent of personality because they’re bodyscapes; you're doing lighting and shape of the body. For me, I wanna see this girl naked and I also wanna see what her personality is and I also want her to be unguarded from a personal sense.
OK, so talk to me about your book, your project.
Naked Girls on Polaroid, it’s called. It’s literal, I know. That’s what it is. I’ll give you the snapshot of how I got there. About a year and a half into [photography], I met up for coffee with Dean Lavery. He shoots mostly film. I admired his work and I wanted to talk to him. He asked me if I ever shot film and I said no and he said, “If you wanna be a great photographer you have to learn how to shoot medium format film.” So I got a Bronica 120 film camera and I started shooting medium format film and he was 100 percent right. I only had 16 shots on a roll of film where with digital as a young photographer, I was shooting like 1000 shots of your face.
Then I met George Pitts, whose work is phenomenal. You wanna talk about erotic work, if you’re reading this interview, look up George Pitts, find his work, this guy’s amazing. I did some work with a model, she knew George and she introduced me and I said, “hey man, if you ever need an assistant please call me”, and he did. He’s doing a book himself and needed an assistant and the model was in Bethesda, Maryland. So what happened was we drove down, just George and I and he was just the coolest guy in the world and it was a master class. I got to see what he was doing and when he shot down there he had this Polaroid 600SE camera, I’d never ever seen before, this huge hunking thing and I saw the photos that were coming out and they were beautiful. He uses it for the most part to proof his images before he puts them on film.
Two months later I got this Polaroid SE camera and I started shooting on it. Like film, I noticed, for me at least, that there’s a humanness to people on film that digital still doesn’t have. Well, I was looking for a new project at the beginning of this year and I said to myself well I wanna do something with the resources that I have on hand, and I thought about where I’d come from in photography which is, I started shooting nudes, and I thought about the Polaroid camera. I set out with a goal to make a book of nudes just on Polaroids. And I had, I think like 30 women volunteer and it was important for me to use, not models, not professionals… I had a finance executive, I have an acupuncturist, an anthropologist, 2 yoga teachers, elementary school teachers and these girls all just volunteered for the book. I did 25 women and I did 4 photos a piece. And it’s really a book of nude portraits on Polaroids. And I’m really proud of it and it just came out. And it’s for sale on Amazon. What’s interesting to me is the different reasons these women would model for the book. For instance, one of the girls in the book had just lost 25 pounds—she’s not a nude model, she just kinda wanted to …
Exactly! And she did. And we got done shooting and she was visibly on cloud 9. Then I had her over I think a week ago to show her a copy of the book and she turned to herself in the book and she started crying. And I said I hope these are tears of joy and she’s like they are, this is so amazing. And some other girls are just like, “Hey, I like being naked. I wanna be in the book.”
So the book, it's Polaroid-based. You fell in love with that camera, but the question of the day: Canon vs Nikon?
The camera I learned on was a Nikon D70. I learned on that camera so I stayed with that. All the Nikon shooters in the world are gonna kill me but I just bought a Canon 5D Mark II. The main reason for that is that I’m including videography, cinematography in my work now. A lot of photographers would agree that this is the future and you have to include some of this in your work if you wanna continue working and I really love it. And with my acting background, I love movies and it just makes sense for me as well. So I’m gonna give you my snapshot. For Nikon I find that the build quality of the camera seems a little bit more solid than Canon. The controls are on the outside of the camera which I like so you can move very quickly. Canon things are little bit more buried in menus and they’re not as much on the outside but I will also say that there is a film quality to the 5D Mark II that it’s photos have that I really, really, really like. So actually I don’t favor either cause I shoot Canon, I shoot Nikon, I have a Mamiya film camera, I shoot Polaroid – I shoot whatever the situation calls for.
In your commissioned work, any client pet peeves?
Yeah, not trusting yourself and not trusting me is the fastest way to not get good photos. I’ll tell you right now, you asked me before the last photo I took was of this girl doing headshots. The session went phenomenal. Outstanding. Now this is a girl who’s already shot headshots with some of the best names in New York, people that charge 1100 dollars a session. She would admit that she loved my work more than anybody’s and her headshots came out awesome. For me, for an actress or an actor in a headshot session, my main goal is to get you work. For her the session went really, really well and I asked her why she thought that was and she said, “I was a little late, I was kinda nervous but I trusted you and I trusted that the session would go well.” That is a recipe for a great session. Having someone in here that doesn’t trust me and/or doesn’t trust themselves, you’re not gonna have as good a session. I can win people over and I’m an excellent coach but it really helps me when you trust me and you trust yourself… yeah, that’s my pet peeve.
How do you maintain a balance between your commercial and personal work?
I have to say I love my commercial and client work just as much as I love my personal work so that’s where the balance is. I don’t feel like, “oh shit, I gotta do this, I gotta do another headshot session”, I’m like, “yes, I get to do another headshot session”, so that’s exciting. Sometimes though, the balance for me comes in hey I just wanna take some photos and experiment and have some fun without having to worry about delivering for this client. For the sake of the art, for maybe the sake of experimentation or just to create something cool or whatever, that is really the balance for me.
What is your favorite word, in any language, and why?
My favorite word is YES. It’s the first thing that came to mind and I feel like there might be another one but, yes, I feel like when you say yes, things start to become possible. And just the act of saying yes really loud I feel like just even creates something in your body, emotionally, spiritually, you know, in everyway, say yes, man. It just feels really good to say yes, to go a little further say yes to the stuff you want to move towards and not necessarily yes to the stuff you wanna move away from. You know, the actor in me, for improv, they say your attitude has to be “yes, and” – you do something and improv to me, we’re gonna go somewhere if we say yes and I feel like art and life and photography is all transactional.
How do you combat burnout?
It’s hard actually. Yoga, I do not as much yoga as I would like. I practice martial arts although I haven’t practiced martial arts in a while now. I do my best to sleep a little more, you know but that’s … I really love what I do so it’s not like when you’re stuck in a job you hate and you get burnout really quick. This really, really inspires me at every corner so I don’t really get burnout like oh god I don’t wanna take another picture, it’s like my fucking body needs some rest. Like that’s where the burnout comes, I need to get some rest, I’m not taking care of myself or not eating as well as I should or something like that so I combat it by making time for yoga, making time to take a break.
You work with actors a lot, is there one emotion that you really like to capture in your images?
For my headshot clients my favorite thing to capture is certainty. I’m a lot bigger on certainty than I am on hope. I feel like certainty is sexier than hope. I feel like there is a place for hope but I feel like certainty is active whereas hope can be passive. So I feel the first 2 images that would come into your head, an individual hoping, what they look like, they’re probably not doing anything they’re probably just sitting there, living in hope, whereas somebody with certainty they at least look like they mean business. So for my clients, I wanna capture them certain cause I feel like especially in the industries of acting, hell, even in New York in any industry, I just don’t feel like there’s any room to be uncertain, because there are so many people that are certain. So that’s something I feel like constructively I wanna capture. My favorite emotion to capture… whatever’s open and truthful, whatever comes forth organically in the moment that’s real and I feel like that in itself is hard enough to do with a lot of people that are untrained, even the trained people, they might have their bag of tricks but to really get an unguarded, vulnerable- vulnerability is my favorite thing to capture. That’s my favorite quote-unquote emotion. I don’t know if you’d call that an emotion but I guess it’s like the doorway to all the emotions or how you express them but vulnerability, to catch someone really being their honest self and not posing for a picture, that’s really where I like to take everybody. I think we’re all attracted to that. And it’s great to look at.
Word Association. No thinking, just go. Smile.
Complete this statement, please. If my muse were an animal, it would be…
Something big. If my muse were an animal…? I don’t like cats, I wanna say lion but… If my muse were an animal… what’s peaceful and strong? I’m gonna say an eagle ‘cause they’re just so cool looking and they fly and they’re strong and I respond viscerally to a picture of a bald eagle, it’s really cool.
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