“When you buy something cheap, you start to feel bad as it starts to fall apart quickly. You have a sadness that comes with the disappointment with the lack of care that went into the thing. You start to feel bad about it and want to move on. This applies to everything in your life whether it is homes, objects, or people. So it’s important to choose wisely.”
Introduction & Interview by Theo Constantinou
In Glen O’Briens book How to Be a Man, there is a chapter in the book called ‘How to Have a Home,’ and there was a quote that struck me, “In this age of casual, homes are more the measure of a man than the clothes on his back. A man has his place, or he’s the fugitive kind. Some men understand how a man is nurtured and fortified by his home, but many don’t get it.” Most of the people and places that Michael photographs do get it, and I think that is a testimony to the individualism of each person. I have had this ongoing conversation with many of the people I have interviewed for Paradigm and, not to sound superficial, but what a person has in their home speaks volumes on their individuality, whether it be a record collection, the books on their shelf, the spices in someone’s kitchen, or the art on their walls. And I’ll be frank, if I were to enter a persons home and they didn’t have one book, one record, any culinary equipment or anything hanging on their walls … I would look for the nearest exit.
Michael, you have photographed some amazing people. Who was your favorite person to shoot? Do you have any stories regarding your ‘Portrait’ sessions? Also, Apocalypse Now is one of my favorite films. I have to ask, what was it like photographing Francis Ford Coppola?
Francis was great; he was so laid back. The story was for Men’s Journal, about his vineyard in Napa. It was more like spending the day with a farmer than a great movie director. We talked about grapes, soil and olives.
I always loved that shoot of him because, in his wrinkled linen suit and beret, he looked more like some Spanish partisan than anything else.
How do you approach shooting your interiors as opposed to your fashion and portraiture work, animate vs. inanimate objects, if you will?
That’s a great question. I think the easiest way of explaining it is that, with an interior, you get quiet and can ”listen” to the room. You try and feel it, and discover what it’s like to live there. With fashion, you try and create something that has never existed before, so you are constantly pushing against what is there, trying to get more from it.
Can you tell me more about your setup for ‘An Afternoon With?’
‘An Afternoon With’ is a project I started with my better half, Nhi Nguyen. It was a way of me showing these pictures I was taking in my spare time. I have always shot people in THEIR spaces for magazines and other (gigs) jobs. I was always shooting people I was asked to shoot; AAW is the people I chose to shoot because I wanted to. It started with me wanting to tell a few stories about these fantastic people I know, who I wanted to celebrate like Didi, Ares, Siki and Abigail; just really cool people who are doing interesting things. It was Nhi’s idea to start the blog so more people could see it. It’s grown into this fourth child for us; we have 3 already. We are constantly working on AAW, shooting, editing, posting, etc. The biggest job is the logistics of trying to pin down busy New Yorkers to sit still for a photo shoot.
I read that you were born and raised in NYC. What rock bands were you shooting in the East Village in your teens, and what impact has music had on your photography?
I was the kid with the camera; hanging out in recording studios and night clubs, shooting whatever looked good. Shooting friends who were musicians, local bands and, up and coming bands that passed through New York. Performers are always great subjects as, they are usually very comfortable with themselves. Music and musicians have always been a great inspiration.
How do you find the people who you photograph for ‘An Afternoon With’?
The main premise of AAW is, that each subject recommends someone else. So, the project has grown organically. We also pick people we meet either in person or online who, we feel, will be interesting. Like Sergei, we saw a photo of him in New Yorker Magazine and contacted him based solely on that image. Foster Huntington was someone whose blog I followed, though we had never actually met. There’s a long list of people I want to shoot which we are slowly getting to. Many are in other cities we will visit when we take this on the road.
Michael, are your photographs “A Moment In Real Time,” shot on your camera phone?
Yes they are, though I have been neglecting it for a while.
And what are your thoughts on the camera phone photography?
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Well, I generally have a lot to say about that but, to keep it short, I talk about how it directly affects me. I both love them and hate them. They are so convenient yet, so much is compromised for that convenience. Shutter delay is my biggest qualm; that’s why I don’t shoot people for “A Moment in Real Time.” It’s so hard to capture the moment with a camera phone.
What are your thoughts on finding connections with people, in everyday life and through your photographs?
That’s what I live for! Every picture I take is about someone, be it a portrait, an interior or a still life. For me, the pictures are all about the subject’s backstory. So in the end, every picture I take is a portrait.
I love meeting and learning about people so, when I take a shot, let’s say…of a window with a pack of cigarettes and an ashtray, I love to put myself in the person’s shoes and think about what they think about, or see what they see when they stop for a smoke. Discovering who they are and what inspires each person constantly enriches me personally. If I take a little bit of one’s soul with each picture, trust me I am taking good care of it.
I recently read Glenn O’Brien’s book, How to be a Man. He quoted George Carlin that said, “If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time.” You have seen and photographed some pretty unique places. What are your thoughts on living spaces and, how you should have a home?
First, I have to say I haven’t read the book yet, but I read excerpts from it on line. I thought it was a book that was long overdue. I cannot wait to read it. My ideal home would incorporate all that I have learned from my travels. I would take from the traditional Japanese and the Internationalist schools, and embrace nature. I love traditional Japanese architecture as I feel they were the early “modernists,” simple and clean. I love the organic look and feel. Stone, wood, beautiful light and air, all are important qualities to me.
I think one has to choose carefully with what he or she surrounds one’s self. I truly feel it has a great impact on how they view the rest of their life. My mother always said, “It’s better to have a few good things than a lot of mediocre things”. That’s why good architecture is so important. That’s why quality goods are so important.
There is a life span to everything, it moves in a sort of arc. When you buy a great leather bag, for instance, you’re thrilled because it’s new, it makes you happy. Then, you spend time with it, it serves you well and you’re happy about that. As it ages it gains character and you feel good about this too. So, if indeed, it eventually falls apart, you have such positive feelings about your whole experience with it, that you’re okay with the fact that it is gone.
When you buy something cheap, you start to feel bad as it starts to fall apart quickly. You have a sadness that comes with the disappointment with the lack of care that went into the thing. You start to feel bad about it and want to move on. This applies to everything in your life whether it is homes, objects, or people. So it’s important to choose wisely.