Creatives of NY // Entry #010 // A.A. Brenner

I’m going to open this post by formally apologizing for the extreme delay in posting this - I have been dealing with a slew of problems pertaining to my ankle (to get everyone up to speed, I tore a ligament entirely and split a tendon). Anyways, this was an interview I was really excited about.

A.A. has such a good vibe, and I was thrilled by the chance to interview a playwright. I photographed A.A. in July at Strand Book Store, which I found to be a fitting location for our conversation as well.

Without further ado, I give you our interview transcript.

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

A.A.: I’m A.A. Brenner, born and raised in New York City, spent most of my life here except for a couple years where I went to college up in Ithaca, New York. I am really a true New Yorker at heart. My family has been here for a few generations. Mom is from Brooklyn and Dad is from Massachusetts, and sort of the old Jewish New York niche has fed into my life and my art, so that’s a really big part of my identity both as a human and a writer.

I write a lot about memory, identity, and family, and also being Jewish, and religion, because that is so important. Obviously tradition, especially with Jews, is a hot topic as they say. I’m also very queer, which has fed into all of my art, and I actually have cerebral palsy, very mild, and that has started feeding into my art as well.

I feel like since I stand at a unique intersection of identities, I have a responsibility to try to represent folks in all of those identities (and then some) to the best of my ability. Representation is so important and telling those stories is so vital, especially because a lot of them are stories that aren’t typically told, so I’ve sort of taken it upon myself to tell my story and to tell the story of my communities.

Allison: So how did you get into playwriting then?

A.A.: So I’ve been writing for almost as long as I can remember. My great aunt was a first grade teacher in the Brooklyn public school system for over 40 years and we were very close. She didn’t have a family, so I was basically her surrogate child. She taught me how to read and write and was having me write stories as early as three years old, so she started me off young and ever since then, I’ve been writing stuff.

I always write with a lot of dialogue, so it made a lot of sense for me to start writing plays. I’ve also always been interested in the theatre; I have acted in the past, and in college I tried my hand at directing. I also do dramaturgy, as well as playwriting. Basically we read The Glass Menagerie in my ninth grade English class, and it felt like “This is the form for me. I need to write a play.”

So I did, and here we are almost ten years later!

Allison: So what are some recurring themes or ideas in your plays?

A.A.: Really anything about identity - I’m a really huge fan of James Baldwin and the idea of representing who you are and who your communities are on the stage - it’s really important to me as I mentioned before. I write a lot about queer people. I write a lot about Jews. I write a lot about disabled people, the disability community, and everything in between. Whatever I can represent that is truthful and honest from my life, or from the lives of my friends, people I care deeply about, my family, that’s what’s important to me.

Allison: What artists, either from your medium or other mediums, inspire you?

A.A.: I was initially inspired by Tennessee Williams and the sheer honesty and how personal The Glass Menagerie really was - that had a huge galvanizing effect on my art, and it sort of challenged me to dig into myself, and find that within myself and tell my story. Same with James Baldwin. I’m a big fan of Flannery O’Connor and just pretty much anything where people are dealing with some deep-rooted, familial, blood-and-bone-type stuff, because that’s the stuff that’s really disturbing, but also people connect to it and really resonate with.

Allison: Who were some of your mentors you met along the way?

A.A.: Oh my gosh, so many. Pretty much all of my high school English teachers. I had a great teacher in 12th grade, Ms. Muniz, who I took a James Baldwin class with and that really jump-started my actual becoming a playwright, because she was challenging us to dig into that honest place and write from it. Also along the way, I worked a lot with Young Playwrights Inc. when I was coming into myself, so Artistic Director Sheri Goldhirsch was very a very formative influence, as was all the staff at YPI… more recently I just spent ten months as the Artistic Roundtable Apprentice at The Lark. The Lark is an international play laboratory and development theatre, and the folks there have been so supportive and instrumental in getting me onto the next path in my career. I’m about to start at Columbia’s MFA Playwriting program this September, so I’m super excited to work with the folks there as well. I’m sure there’s a million more people that I’m forgetting to name as well, including many great professors I had while completing my undergraduate degree in theatre at Cornell - my professors there were really awesome.

Allison: What are your favorite books and plays?

A.A.: Obviously The Glass Menagerie, and I love A Streetcar Named Desire. I’m in the process of writing a modernized adaptation of that called Blanche and Stella, that’s just Blanche and Stella, so very excited about that. Again, Flannery O’Connor and James Baldwin… just anything by both of them I love. I also love and hate William Faulkner.

Allison: So the play you’re writing based on “A Streetcar Named Desire”, will that be produced and shown?

A.A.: So that’s way in the works, ultimately yes. I’m waiting a little bit on that one. Stuff that is actually getting produced right now, I just had a show go up in D.C. at the Capital Fringe Festival that’s called God is Dead and April’s Getting Married. We were very fortunate - I started writing that play two years ago, and when I was a fellow at Shakespeare Theatre Company. STC has a wonderful professional development program, so I got to work in the artistic department there. I met folks who were interested in producing this play I had written, and lo and behold, two years later we’re up at Fringe and getting really kind, generous reviews, and it’s been going so well. It’s unimaginable almost from where we began.

Allison: What is the most rewarding thing for you about being a playwright?

A.A.: Definitely connecting to audiences. Any time I walk out of the theater and folks come up to me and say, “Wow, thank you for telling my story,” or “Thank you for making me reflect more on my life and experience,” that is always very very rewarding for me, and that’s why I write.

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about being an artist in New York City?

A.A.: My favorite thing is the community here is amazing; it’s so vibrant and widespread. I did live in D.C. for a year as I mentioned, and while the community there is lovely, it is definitely smaller, so it was nice to come home to such a wide variety of artists and such an artistic city in general. The arts are so central to the structure of New York: it can’t exist without it, so that’s really cool and has been very inspiring. Other than that, the worst thing is the money. I’m fortunate that I’m from here and my parents are from here, so I’m able to live with them, but living with your parents when you’re 24 can sometimes leave something to be desired. Happy to have the option, but wishing that it was easier to make a living.

Allison: When you sit down to write, what helps you get started?

A.A.: That’s a good question. I do try to start with free-writing to get the juices flowing and to see what’s on my mind and what I’m interested in. Something that was really interesting, we had a talk with David Henry Hwang at The Lark a couple months ago, and he was saying that he always begins his plays with a question, something that he’s questioning in his life or something he would want to write about, and I think that’s very much where my plays start from as well.

Allison: Is there anything else you want readers to know?

A.A.: Storytelling and representation is what really excites me, and I’m here to write about all the things that make me uncomfortable and other people uncomfortable, so that we can reflect on it in a mature, honest, and important way.

  A.A. on 35mm film

A.A. on 35mm film

  A.A. on Polaroid 600 film

A.A. on Polaroid 600 film

  A.A. on 35mm film

A.A. on 35mm film

Creatives of NY // Entry #009 // Brandon Sines // Visual Artist

Brandon Sines is the brain behind the familiar face of Frank Ape. Working from his studio in Queens, Sines' space is chock-full of Frank - whether it be through paintings and dolls, or pins and stickers. 

Sines was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Toronto. He moved to New York City and created Frank Ape around 2011. For Sines, art wasn't always the obvious answer, but he gravitated towards it as a child: "When I was a kid, I was really interested in drawing and that was kind of my favorite thing to do, more so than kids that were into sports... I was just into drawing, and I always liked art class. When I got older, maybe around fourteen, I stopped kind of paying attention to that so much and got into some trouble, did that whole teenage rebellion thing and forgot about art for a little while. I got back into it again when I was in my early twenties. Moving to New York was a big catalyst for sparking my creativity again and really having this passion and an audience to speak to." 

Sines developed Frank as a character to use in a couple of paintings that he would write little messages on alongside the painting. "I wanted a character that was not really a person, but not really an animal, and maybe a wise soul who was not fully evolved, but felt things deeply. I felt like a Sasquatch was kind of a cool thing to play with, and so I first used him in a painting in 2011 and I just ended up using him again and putting him in different situations, and then I remember a friend of a friend asking what his name was and I said 'Frank' kind of without thinking about it. I think I was thinking I would come up with something better later, but it really just quickly turned into its own thing... people just knew Frank, so obviously I couldn't change it, and I thought it was actually kind of the perfect name."

From humble beginnings, Frank's character has been growing: "His voice has been developing over the years. I did a lot of pop culture references in the early days, and then I kind of decided I wanted him to have his own voice and have his own universe and feelings and kind of stand for something." 

Sines' work gained popularity through Instagram - people connected with Frank as a character. "It was really exciting to see this character reach people. They were all different kinds of people of all ages and backgrounds."

For Sines, his favorite medium is watercolor and ink on paper - growing up looking at comic books, he is drawn towards an illustrative style. "I feel confident using those tools, but I've also been getting into a lot of other things, like spray painting and large-scale canvases with acrylic and I've been doing a lot of murals lately, which of course involves spray paint and stuff. I've been experimenting with a lot of new things, and getting my bearings with everything." 

Sines was inspired in the early days by wanting to have his work seen and liked, but with Frank, he wants his art to make a positive impact. "I want Frank to be accessible for really young people. I'm thinking about doing a kid's book right now. I want it to be inspiring. I want Frank to be someone that makes you feel like you can follow your dreams and inspires you to be the best you can be, be nice to others, and be a loyal friend... all these things that I feel like I'm learning myself. It's kind of like an alter-ego for me. As I get older I realize what's really important in life and what values I think are important. I try to have Frank put those out there, and it's just really all about positivity." 

His latest project of note includes a mural by One World Trade Center (his biggest mural to date at 150 feet wide). "I went down there the other day to check it out, and it was so cool seeing all these tourists taking pictures... it was really rad to see the connection the people were having with the piece. The message on that one is 'Everyone is different, and everyone is the same,' so I feel like people are responding because it's timely. It wasn't something I was really even thinking about - it was just something I felt Frank was all about." 

"There are two sides of it - it's kind of a new thing for me to be having this career where I'm able to take care of my basic needs like my rent - I can take care of that stuff just from the stuff I'm doing with the art and not have a side gig. It's very exciting. I'm always doing new things, and I'm sometimes stressed taking on new projects, and I think it's important to take the time to reflect and be proud of the accomplishments I have so far... on the other side of it, what's fulfilling about being an artist is inspiring other people. Whenever I do a show and meet people that are into Frank or Frank's world and they say something about how it inspired them or how it made them feel connected, that's what really makes me super happy and inspired to keep going. I think if it wasn't for that, I might not be going with the same energy that I have." 

You can visit Brandon Sines' website here.

You can visit the Frank Ape website here.

You can follow Frank Ape on Instagram here.

  Brandon on 35mm

Brandon on 35mm

  Brandon's assorted spray paints on 35mm

Brandon's assorted spray paints on 35mm

  Frank Ape on 35mm

Frank Ape on 35mm

  Brandon on 35mm

Brandon on 35mm

  Frank Ape on Polaroid 600 film

Frank Ape on Polaroid 600 film

  Brandon Sines on Polaroid 600 film

Brandon Sines on Polaroid 600 film

Creatives of NY // Entry #008 // Sean Maldjian // Art Director and Illustrator

Sean Maldjian is the mastermind behind the Instagram account @horror_meets_music. An art director and illustrator, for Maldjian, his art is inspired by his New Jersey roots, horror films, music, and a unique surfer style. I met with Sean along the West Harlem Piers for our shoot and interview.

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Sean: I'm from New Jersey. I'm from the shore, but not from the terrible part. It's a pretty coast town. I've always been doing art. I work in advertising design, so I'm kind of a sellout, but I still do my own stuff on the side. It evens out, I think. I have a big family: four siblings and my parents. The seven of us - it breeds a lot of creativity and we bounce weird ideas off of each other. Hobbies other than this? I like to surf, and I used to skateboard, but do so less nowadays. 

Allison: What is your preferred medium as an artist? 

Sean: I'm pretty lazy. I really like when I can just draw something and scan it in and manipulate it in Illustrator. I like the capability to blow it up to bigger sizes - you can do whatever you want with it, but if I'm not doing that, then I just like to use oil paint pens on any wood I can find on the streets. That kind of stuff appeals to me. 

Allison: What fascinates you and inspires you to create?

Sean: Oh boy... I don't know - I see a lot of stuff. My work is inspired by movies or TV shows. I'm really into a lot of 60's - 70's horror movies, and then kind of mashing it together with that kinda cliche surf art that you see like Rick Griffin or Rat Fink... just really exaggerated forms and blending those two together to make something. It's hard to get someone to watch an entire scary movie, but you can show them a cool piece of art inspired by it, and they can take it in, and you can have that connection with them on that level. 

Allison: So how did you start your Instagram account? What made you decide to start making drawings based on horror movies and music? 

Sean: I remember I hadn't had a day off in three weeks; it just got really crazy at work. I kinda realized I wanted to make a picture, because I hadn't done that in awhile. I went on my Instagram and I hadn't posted anything in three years, so it lit a fire under me. I wanted to make stuff that I cared about again. I care about my work, but it's still just work, ya know? I'm not ever gonna be 100% devoted to it. I just started thinking... I really have always had a passion for movies, and I've always had a passion for music, and if I could just find a way to put to pen the weird kind of connections I see between the two of them, that could be really cool. The first one I drew was an alien and an old song from The Byrds, and I thought it was really funny. Whenever I'm watching movies or listening to music, I always try to put sound to one or put vision to the other. I was already doing that automatically. 

Allison: What artists, either from your mediums or other mediums, inspire you? 

Sean: Well I mentioned before Rick Griffin. He's huge. Robert Crumb... Johnny Ryan...Matt Furie is awesome. A lot of people that really use that cartoon-y style and a lot of colors. Throw John Carpenter in there because movies - he creates an awesome atmosphere. 

Allison: Who were some of your mentors you met along the way?

Sean: My older siblings... my sister and my dad were huge - they always liked doing art, and I was always trying to hang out with them - there was a gateway into that. From there, a lot of kids did art in high school - there are a lot of people from my high school that do a similar kind of style... just from the shore. Martha Maynard who I went to school with and her boyfriend Taylor Ray... I remember drawing with them a lot in high school. That definitely solidified that same style. It was like an echo chamber almost. A lot of local people... aside from huge names, I never really seek out other artists to hang out with. 

Allison: How did you develop your style?

Sean: A lot of trying to mimic what I saw on TV shows and almost re-drawing and creating depth to make a convincing image... what parts and features to exaggerate, a lot of that I take that from watching old cartoons. For really bizarre stuff, I'll watch old horror movies like Society or Suspiria, just to get weird ideas that I wouldn't have thought of and to just illustrate them. 

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about being an artist in New York City?

Sean: My favorite thing is that there are a lot of other people doing it and it feels like a good space where there are other people seeking out other artists to collaborate and all that. There's nothing really too bad about it. You kind of feel overwhelmed at times, which isn't always a problem - because then you get excited. Sometimes you feel like you're running into a wall and you don't know what to make. There's a lot of people making noise, and you don't know how you're gonna cut through, but everyone's all trying to do their own thing, so it doesn't really matter.

Allison: What advice do you have for artists hoping to move to New York City? 

Sean: Just make something everyday. Honestly, that helped me so much. I don't think I would have been nearly as successful or would have had anything I would really be proud of if I wasn't constantly making stuff every day for a solid two months after I first started the account. It just forces you to stay on top of it. Keep that goal in mind. If you want to make a living doing this, you're going to have to do it very often. Don't ever think something's not good enough; just make it in a day and just post it. 

Allison: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

Sean: I liked what I said before - do something everyday. Doesn't even have to apply only to art. Do something everyday, and eventually you're gonna get good at it, and if you don't get good at it, at least you can say you did something you like everyday. 

You can follow Sean on Instagram here.

  Sean on 35mm film

Sean on 35mm film

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  Sean on 35mm film

Sean on 35mm film

Creatives of NY // Entry #007 // Christian Frarey // Photographer

This week, I decided I wanted to write up an interview transcript on my session with photographer Christian Frarey. Hailing from Michigan, Frarey's love of photography was spurred when his father gave him his first film camera: a Minolta X-700. We met up in Greenpoint and explored a bit, visiting a record store before sitting down for the interview. (This was also delightfully one of my more conversational interviews.)

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Christian: I grew up in Michigan. I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was five, but that was because of movies like Jurassic Park. I loved movies. I didn't always have friends to hang out with because of where we lived - it was very rural. I would just go to a friend's house and watch movies all the time. I always wanted to be a part of that world. I gave filmmaking a try, but I didn't really enjoy it too much, so then I got into photography a little bit later, like in middle school.

My dad gave me my first film camera - it was a Minolta X-700, which I still have. If your Canon ever breaks down (I shoot with a Canon AE-1 Program) go get a Minolta X-700 - it's a good time. Didn't have any formal training at all - I wanted to go to film school, but that was expensive.  I thought, "Maybe I'll just take a year off and see what happens". I actually started working kind-of odd jobs for money, like a stint at Jersey Giant, and then saved up enough to move to New York in 2014 with my sister.

Allison: So how did you get into photography then? Was it when your dad gave you the camera?

Christian: My dad did it for awhile - he had a lot of odd hobbies - he likes woodworking and he did some photography classes at the local community college just because he was interested in it. It's sort of a thing you do to get closer to a parent or somebody you like - it was the same with my mom and music. I started to get into records because that's what she knew - you do it to get closer to your parents, I guess. It was fun capturing these little family moments and whatnot: Christmas parties, being the annoying kid with the camera taking pictures of everybody. I still do that...

My dad sold off a bunch of his stuff, which was kind of irritating when I actually did get into photography hardcore. He was like, "Oh man, I should've kept my 4x5 for you." He still enjoys it. He is always asking me, "What kind of camera should I get?" "I don't know. It depends on what you want to do."

Allison: So why shoot film?

Christian: It makes me think less. I know you can spend hours in a darkroom, Ansel Adams-style, dodging and burning, and all that. You can still manipulate it, even though it's on film. I sort of enjoy the "what you see is what you get." I'm not worried so much.

I shoot a lot of black and white film: it's inexpensive to buy and develop. It is what it is. It sort of relies on you to be knowledgeable about composition and the way the light looks. It makes you think in a totally different way.

I shoot both (film and digital) quite often. It's whatever I feel like shooting really. I'm not one of those people that's a die-hard film only person in the film vs. digital debate. Shoot whatever you want.

Allison: So what made you decide to get the Widelux camera?

Christian: I had first heard of the Widelux through the actor Jeff Bridges, who's 'The Dude' in The Big Lebowski - he's a passionate photographer and over the past 30 to 40 years, he's always shot film on set behind the scenes, and he's had a Widelux. It gives you this really strange perspective because it's a turn-based thing, not unlike the Hasselblad, where it just snaps the picture and it has to swivel around to get the whole picture, and it gives you this sort of weird distortion if you don't level it right, which is always really cool.

The interest in panoramic stuff is from my love of movies - I always liked the CinemaScope look, like the broad, huge frame is really nice. I like it - it's nice and clean. With the Widelux, it swivels, so it takes a moment. Even at 1/250th of a second, it takes a moment. When you shoot at 1/15th of a second, it takes about a full second to go its full rotation, so it's sort of like one part of the photograph is at a different time than another part of the photograph, which is kind of cool. It's a shame, because not many people will repair them anymore. They're very much like a clock inside with all these gears, and if I open it, my head would explode. I would have no idea what to do to clean it. Plus it's pretty.

Allison: It's a very pretty camera.

Christian: I am a big fan of the Art Deco silver and black - I wish they would still make lenses silver and black. I think it looks so cool.

Allison: What artists, either from your medium or other mediums, inspire you?  

Christian: It's kind of weird - I don't have quite a knowledge of classic photographers. I know the basics - like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, and Annie Leibovitz. I know of those people in a sense, but I don't know what other people would consider the "classic street photographers". I still get a lot of my inspiration from movies and the look from directors of photography - people like Roger Deakins, who has been a DP for 40 years and has worked on all the Coen brothers movies. I get a large amount of inspiration from movies, probably more so than from other photographers. Especially because there are a lot of people trying to do things differently, especially in television.

Allison: What are some of your other inspirations? What drives you to take pictures?

Christian: I don't know - it's just something I've done for so long and I enjoy it, and I'm fairly decent at it. I'm not very good at hyping myself and saying, "Yeah, I'm really good at this," but I would say I'm okay at it. When you find that thing, even though you can't explain it, you just know you can do that. It allows me to get out of my head-space just walking around the city taking pictures.

I feel like getting older makes you appreciate the family photos - all the family photos that we have at home I've told my parents to bring just so I can scan them and have them. I feel like they became more important to me when I got older. I'd like to eventually make a whole book of all those photos together, because there's so many chunks of the family that have certain photos, and I want to try and accumulate them all together like a big book, but that's a chore.

Allison: Who were some of your mentors you met along the way?

Christian: My father definitely was a big inspiration for getting into photography. He didn't push me in any way to do it - he just thought I would enjoy it.

Along the way, I've met really cool people, especially in New York. Lloyd Bishop is the photographer over at Late Night with Seth Meyers, and I met him visiting the city for the first time in 2013, and it was just one of those things where I saw an article about him, and I said, "Oh, I should hit him up and see if he'd maybe want to meet and just talk about my work and the business and such," and he did. We've kept in touch since then.

I met a celebrity portrait photographer named Mark Mann through Lloyd - they're both Scottish. Mark sort of took me under his wing a bit and allowed me to assist on a few cool gigs like the Tribeca Film Festival and an interview for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Lloyd and Mark have been amazing people just to ask for advice - photography is their bread and butter. I'm always amazed when people can do that and survive, and they have families, and that's scary to me that they rely on this thing, but they're amazing people.

Mark introduced me to Penumbra, so I was grateful for that. The people at Penumbra like Geoffrey Berliner, Jolene Lupo, Molly Rapp, Sam Dole, and all those people are my film nerd buddies. I don't get to see them too much, but when I do it's a really good time. You try to find those people - hopefully they'll be mentors or people to hang out with. It's always fun, even if I ask them too many questions.

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about living in New York City?

Christian: Ugh... the subway. No. Ummm, my least favorite thing is moving here, luckily I had my sister and our friend from Michigan - we were roommates, and that was fine, but even though there are so many people that live in the city, it is really one of the loneliest places ever. Everybody has their own bubble, and everybody is concerned about themselves and what they're doing, so you walk by all these people and they couldn't care less about you. It's a very lonely feeling, and I was so homesick for months after moving here. Eventually you just push through it and recognize, "This is where I am now. Let's try to make it better." You meet people and just grow from there.

The flip-side is that there are so many people and that’s a way for you to branch out and meet fellow nerds of photography or movies or music. The best thing is just walking around the city taking pictures and seeing these random moments that for those people are just their everyday life, but to you it's something interesting.

Allison: Advice for people who want to move to New York City?

Christian: Save as much money as you can.

Like with moving to any city, be sure. I guess you're never actually sure. My sister and I moved here kind of on a whim just because the opportunity came up. I mean, nobody's ever really truly ready for something like this, because it's a huge life change.

Just be outgoing, as best as you can. Get involved with activities here in the city - something that you enjoy - there's movies in the park - there are a million things happening here every day. Just try to put yourself out there - something I wish I had done a bit more when I first moved here.

Also eat good food. Try to find good food. I always tell people who are visiting, "Save your money for food and drinks." You can buy any of the stuff here online, but the food is a fun experience. I love cooking and baking.

Allison: Is there anything else you want readers to know?

Christian: Hey man, follow me on Instagram. (@frareyphotography)

Allison: I was gonna link your Instagram anyways!

Christian: Just do your own thing. This is a hard question. What did other people say?

Allison: They said, "Do your own thing and don't be afraid to follow your dreams." (I know this is a dramatically redacted version of the amazing answers other artists and creatives have given to me.)

Christian: I try not to say that, because following your dreams is a tough thing to do. I came here kind of following a dream of sorts, and it sucks. Should I say, "Don't follow your dreams,"? Try, but be cautious.

Allison: That's good.

Christian: Try, but be very very cautious. Unless you have a foot in the door for an internship, it is so hard to do anything media-related: production, dancing... there are so many people wanting to do that thing that it's just so overrun with people. You really have to try to do something different or just get lucky. Just get lucky - that's what you can do. Try to meet people and get lucky, not in a sexual way, but you can do that too. (This made me laugh a little bit.) Just have as good a time as you can. Enjoy the little moments just hanging out with friends drinking on a Friday night - maybe take some pictures.

You can view Christian's Instagram here.

You can order prints of Christian's photographs here.

  Christian on FP-100C Silk

Christian on FP-100C Silk

  Christian on 35mm film

Christian on 35mm film

  Christian on 35mm film

Christian on 35mm film

Creatives of NY // Entry #006 // Michael Kuykendall // Fashion Photographer

The story of how I met Michael is an interesting one: Michael works at FotoCare in the Flatiron District. While working at the studio, whenever one of my employers needed photo equipment we may not have necessarily had, I often was the one who got sent out to FotoCare Rentals to pick things up. Thusly, I had briefly run into Michael several times before officially and properly meeting him while he was renting the studio space out for a fashion shoot he produced and photographed. After that, we did not encounter one another again until we were both hired for the day to help my other employer clean and organize the studio. I really wanted to interview photographers for this project, and Michael was a perfect subject: we shot his portraits in SoHo, a neighborhood of lower Manhattan considered to be a fashion mecca within the city. 

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Michael: I am originally from North Carolina from a small town in the middle of nowhere called Denton. I lived there for about eighteen years and then went off to college. I started out at University of North Carolina at Greensboro studying classical civilization and psychology and sociology, and then transferred to Appalachian State to get my degree in commercial photography, and then as soon as college ended, I said, "It's time to move." I packed up all of my stuff two weeks after graduating and came here, and I've been here ever since. 

Allison: What made you decide to pursue commercial photography?

Michael: I always wanted to be involved in some kind of art, but I was never good at drawing, and I was never good at really being able to express any kind of emotion or feeling in anything besides photography. I got my first camera when I was around seven or eight... it was my mom's Polaroid camera. You know what happens when a kid gets a hold of one of those. Of course after that, it was a done deal. The fact that I was able to interact with others while I was photographing makes it even more worthwhile, because I love working with people. 

Allison: What made you decide to go back to school? What do you hope to do afterwards?

Michael: Why I am making this sudden move from photography to fashion business management... I wanna be in fashion. I've been here about four years now, and I haven't really gotten into that world yet, because I haven't had any of the opportunities besides assisting and all that. I go to the Fashion Institute of Technology now because I want to have an understanding of the world I want to live in... where everything comes from, how everything gets started, the people that run it... whether that's through the buying and selling, the marketing, the social media... just to have a better knowledge of what I'm getting myself into. I knew nothing coming here; I was really only taught technical aspects, and then moving here, I've had to develop my own individual aesthetic. 

Allison: What artists, either from your mediums or other mediums, inspire you?

Michael: I love Steven Klein... anything that he does is appreciated. Emily Soto... not just her work, but her personality, from working with her, she's very charismatic, very energetic, positive, and friendly. Andrew Kuykendall... Steven Meisel... Barbara Nitke of course, etc. 

Allison: What are some of your other inspirations and what drives you to create? 

Michael: Something that is able to inspire me during a shoot is actually the personality of the individual or individuals that I am working with. Being able to connect with them and being able to hear their stories, being able to hear about their opinions, their own aesthetics, their own experiences... I take that and I mold it into what I'm trying to shoot for the day. 

Allison: Who were some of your mentors you met along the way?

Michael: Barbara Nitke. I've assisted her ever since I've moved up here. She's been fantastic; she's taught me how to engage with the clients, how to engage with the business side. Emily Soto as well. Tiara Marei, Stephanie Berger. They've all been women. They've all been fabulous women. Strong, driven women, and that's what I want to model myself after. They're the ones that are getting shit done. 

Allison: What made you decide to pursue a creative lifestyle?

Michael: I knew I was never meant for the business side of this world. One of the personal reasons is that I was never going to wear a suit and tie. I just couldn't live with that. I knew from an early age that I wanted all these piercings and I wanted all these tattoos. Professionally, if you're living in that business side, they're not going to appreciate it. They're not going to understand it. In the photography world, in the creative world, they see my aesthetic and they see my personality. They get it. They appreciate it. They love it. That goes back to the whole situation of why I left the south. As bad as this sounds, most of the time the south can't really handle our personalities, just because of the way they're raised and they're taught... that whole Bible Belt mentality. That kind of goes back to family life. I hope my parents never see this, because they'd kill me. They got what I wanted to do, but I don't think it was ever to the level of "we fully support you". My family is very much about "business, business, business, money, money, money". I wanna do what I love, but at the same time, I can't please everyone, so I'm going to please myself. 

Allison: What is the relationship for you between identity and art? Speak on how your identity and personality influence what you create... or if it's not involved at all. 

Michael: When I'm shooting, and especially when I'm involved with my team or anyone that's around me, I want to always have not only a professional demeanor, but I want them to be able to see me for who I am. When we're shooting, you're gonna get the "Yassss queens. Werk! Yasss. Fierce. You're killing it!" My job is to make sure not only that the pictures are coming out the way that I want them to and the way the client I'm shooting with wants them to, but that the rest of the team is pumped up and that they're feeling it; it's not awkward and it's not tense. I think identity plays a huge part in that sense: they get to see the real me, but at the same time they're also having a fun time and getting to goof off, but at the same time getting those quality images.

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about living in New York City? 

Michael: Least favorite... can I name a few? 

Allison: Yes, sure you can!

Michael: That starving artist lifestyle. The fact that freelance work is now limiting itself. Have you been noticing that? I've been noticing that. People also think that freelancers should work for free, or for the bare minimum, as in the bare minimum of $250 a day. Nobody can survive off of that shit. Rent here, of course, but that's just the choice of living where we live. Unless you know someone, or unless you work for someone for awhile for free, you're not really going to go far in this industry, unless you're exceptionally technically tight. I've also started to notice the individuality is starting to come back into our industry. The photographers with their set brand are doing really well while everyone else is getting table scraps. What I like about New York City... I love the late nightlife. I love the fact that I'm finally accepted for who I am, and nobody cares. I am not judged anymore. I love that people don't bat an eye when I say that I'm a creative person. I love all the different stories, the different people, the different conversations that I get to have about where they come from, what they're doing, what they've been through. It's an eye-opener coming from the south, being in that one mindset of Anglo-Saxon, white, Christian values to "Anybody can do what they want. Everybody can do what they want here." Also another negative... another thing I don't like about New York is there's no Bojangles'! 

Allison: Do you have any advice for artists living in New York City? 

Michael: Own your shit. Be proud of what you do. Be persistent. Be kind and compassionate when you're working. Friendliness will get you a long way in this industry. Promptness as well. I sound like I'm listing a set of job description skills.

Allison: Is there anything else you want readers to know?

Michael: We're only given this one life, so we need to live it to the fullest. Especially in today's time, with all this travesty, all this negativity, this lack of moral compassion and sincerity, just do you. Don't pay attention to what anybody else says, unless it's positive, because me being me, I always take positive criticism well, but if it's a negative thing against your lifestyle, against what you're doing, so what? Why are you trying to be a Negative Nancy when I'm just trying to live my life to the fullest? They're not paying your bills, so don't pay them no mind, in the words of RuPaul. Just make sure you love what you're doing. At the end of the day when you go home and you lay in bed, you can be satisfied.

You can follow Michael on Instagram here.

  Michael on 35mm film

Michael on 35mm film

  Michael on FP-100C Silk

Michael on FP-100C Silk

  Michael on 35mm film

Michael on 35mm film

  Michael on 35mm film

Michael on 35mm film

  Michael on 35mm film

Michael on 35mm film

Creatives of NY // Entry #005 // Nicasia Solano-Reed // Painter, Multimedia Artist, and Designer

On June 12th, 2018, I met up with Nicasia in Alphabet City. A near and dear friend of mine, we had both loved Alphabet City during our first year at Joffrey, visiting the community gardens in summer 2013 to find an escape from the gray concrete of the city's sidewalks and to discover an oasis of greenery grown by residents of the neighborhood. As living legacies of the squatter movement in Lower East Side of the 1980's, these vibrant gardens set the stage perfectly for Nicasia's portrait session. 

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Nicasia: As an artist or as a person?

Allison: Both is fine... how you started out.

Nicasia: I was born in Detroit, and I grew up in a town called Ypsilanti, which is currently being called "the Brooklyn of Michigan". I grew up studying piano and opera and ballet, and I moved to New York when I was 16 to study ballet full-time. I did ballet here for a couple of years, and then I danced in Texas for a little bit, and then I moved back to NYC and I stopped dancing. Now I work at a yoga studio and I do graphic design and visual art. In my spare time I hang out with my cat that I rescued and I enjoy dog-watching. 

Allison: What is your preferred medium as an artist? 

Nicasia: That's a difficult question because I feel like I've dabbled in every single medium that a person could possibly just experiment in, so... I've been in bands. I've been a dancer. I've taken classes in painting, and I've done pottery, but what I really love is multimedia visual art, so I'll create something maybe on Illustrator or Photoshop or InDesign, and then I'll print it out and maybe I'll paint on it and re-scan it, or I'll create something that is maybe just with paint or just with pencil, and then I'll upload it and change the colors and change the contrast or layer it with something else that I've already done, so that is definitely my favorite medium. I'm really into digital stuff right now. 

Allison: What made you decide to pursue art?

Nicasia: I never thought there was another option for me. When I started dancing, I just knew that I was going to be a dancer, ever since I was five, and it just never occurred to me that there was something else that I could do with my life. My hero as a kid was Frida Kahlo, just because she was so strange and I was so strange, and I was just obsessed with the idea that a person could just paint and be themselves for a living. In high school, I started to do some graphic design classes and interior design classes, and I realized that I really really really loved visual art. I knew that if I was going to stop dancing, I was going to keep art incorporated in some way or another, because that's the only way I feel really fulfilled as a person. 

Allison: What fascinates and inspires you to create? 

Nicasia: I'm always pushed by wanting to do more, like I've always had this hunger to evolve my art and not be stagnant, so that kind of inspires me to create and see what else is out there and also see what else I can do and to see which mediums I can further my knowledge of and my skills within. I used to be really inspired by New York - it was like my baby. It was all my inspiration, but since I've lived here for six years I sometimes feel like it's inhibiting because it's so chaotic and it's so loud. It can just be a lot. I'm also really inspired by the people around me, so I've done a lot of art of my partner and his house; I draw inspiration from a lot of places - I'm trying to think of pieces I've done lately and what they look like. It really just depends - it's not anything in particular.

Allison: Who are your favorite artists and how have they impacted your work? 

Nicasia: So, Frida Kahlo, number one. Number two, Yoko Ono, just because the mediums she has spanned across are just unbelievable and she's just so weird and so herself and she's done so much politically, and she's just this fixture of art and of New York, and I think the world would be so empty without her. I'm also a huge fan of Matisse just because the way he uses colors is otherworldly and the way he puts together compositions is unbelievable. I'm also really into Laura Owens right now, and I saw her exhibition at the Whitney and was just so blown away by the magnitude of everything she was doing, and how colorful it was and how, I don't want to say "whimsical" because it makes it seem shallow, but it was just so beautiful and fun to look at. She also does a lot of multimedia stuff. 

Allison: What role do you think art should play in society? 

Nicasia: I feel like more than ever, art is not valued enough because it's being taken out of schools and it's not being funded by the government. There's just a lot of difficult things about it. Since we live in such a corporate society, it's difficult to find a place for art when it doesn't make any money. What I have been trying to do with graphic design recently is offer it as a volunteer basis thing just so you can raise awareness over issues through art. I guess in society it's such a therapeutic thing, and it should be accessible to all kids and adults; that's how I coped with being depressed and having a lot of mental health problems as a kid, through art, because it was such a solitary and cathartic thing that was just so personal. I was lucky I had the resources to do that. We live in such a frustrating climate - I think that it is a source of joy and of creation. I think it should be more accessible to everybody, especially outside of cities like New York and Chicago.

Allison: What is your relationship between ideas of self and your art?

Nicasia: I recently had to do a project for school that was kind of a Chuck Close interpretation of my face, and I generally don't like to include myself in my art at all, but it was this really wonderful experience to have to literally analyze every single corner of my face to go in this grid-like design - it was so cool to be able to break down myself into that many different increments and 137 different shades of skin. It made me view using myself in my art in a totally different way - it doesn't have to be narcissistic - it's just more about exploration. I've never been one to put too much of myself into my art, because I worry if my emotions don't come through properly, it just looks kind of sad and pathetic, so I'm more aesthetically-oriented than emotionally-oriented, and I think a lot of my stuff can be cold... maybe not necessarily cold, but it's not super personal. I kind of keep my shit on its own side."

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about being an artist in New York City? 

Nicasia: I guess my favorite thing, especially as a student, is that I get into MoMA for free - I get into the Whitney for free. I live down the street from the Met and the Guggenheim, and if I have wanted to see something, I can just walk down the street and go see it, and just the amount of art that is so accessible is just crazy, and it doesn't exist anywhere else. A lot of the professors and the people I know are also artists, and because they live in New York they have gotten to do all this really amazing stuff and just sort of having those connections so easily accessible is really cool, and I know that I wouldn't be able to experience that if I was still living in Michigan (or in Austin even). All of my friends here are artists - some are dancers and musicians and comic book artists, and it's just so cool to be able to feed off of that energy in a community that fosters it so fully. I don't love New York right now. What I don't love about being an artist here is that it seems so unattainable a lot of times. I stopped dancing because I wasn't making any money, and the good news about visual art is that it's not as time-consuming as dance, and I don't have to focus on that for my source of income. It's good and it's bad; ideally it would be my source of income, but it's fine that it's not. Also the city's wearing on me because it's so chaotic that it can be hard to sit down and be quiet and focus on what you really wanna make because there's 8,000 other things that you should be doing or you have to do at any given moment, and I feel like that chaos kind of inhibits me from creating as much as I would like. Also I'm poor. 

Allison: What advice would you give for somebody hoping to move to New York City to pursue art?

Nicasia: I would advise that people come here with very very thick skin, and to just enjoy the honeymoon period of it, because that's so important - the first three years that I lived here I loved it, and it really helped me be the best person that I could be. Keep your head on straight about it, because it's not like some magical place where all your dreams are gonna come true, but it's a solid place to find yourself and find you footing. I guess just enjoy the time while you really really love it. That'll hold you over when you really don't love it. 

Allison: Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

Nicasia: Actually as an artist it's been interesting to transition from being a dancer into something that's a little bit more unknown. While it's been really scary to go back to school for something that I've not been really familiar with because I haven't been in school for a long time, being brave enough to take that leap into something else has been one of the most gratifying experiences in my life. Just being able to re-group and just take that risk to find a new identity as an artist has been the coolest thing. People shouldn't be afraid to do that, and if people want to recreate themselves they should absolutely do that: there's no sense in doing something just because that's what you know. 

You can visit Nicasia's website here.

  Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

  Nicasia on Polaroid 600 film

Nicasia on Polaroid 600 film

  Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

  Nicasia on FP-100C Silk

Nicasia on FP-100C Silk

  Nicasia on FP-100C Silk

Nicasia on FP-100C Silk

  Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

  Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

  Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

  Nicasia on 35mm film

Nicasia on 35mm film

Creatives of NY // Entry #004 // Lauren Pfieffer: Blogger

I recently decided I wanted to interview Lauren Pfieffer of Passing Whimsies. As usual, I had been following her Instagram for awhile - this is how I've connected with most artists and creatives so far - and her passion for thrifting and absolute honesty with her readers made her a perfect subject for this project. I had never been to Fort Greene Park before, but I met up with Lauren there for our interview and portrait session to gain insight into this style blogger's interests in all things vintage and writing. 

Lauren Pfieffer originates from Ohio. At sixteen, she started her blog: "I had just started getting really into vintage fashion and thrifting. I had a really tough high school experience. I grew up in a small town, and there wasn't really a lot of people like me; they didn't understand the way I dressed and what I wanted to do. I was just kind of weird, and my English teacher who I really connected with in high school pulled me aside one day after school, and he said, 'Have you ever thought about starting a blog and documenting your personal style and your vintage finds?' and I said, 'No. It never even really crossed my mind.' I didn't even really know what a blog was - this was in 2008 when blogs were first starting to really become popular. He said, 'You should definitely do it. I think you have something really unique and special, and you could go really far with it.' It was the first time someone had believed in me, and that was just the spark that kind of ignited my love for fashion and blogging and the internet and just helping other people, because sometimes you just need one person to believe in you to believe in yourself." 

Pfieffer's love of all things old started with a namesake, classic movies, and a church rummage sale. "I didn't really have access to the latest fashions, and even if I did, I don't know if I would have necessarily connected with them. Growing up, I had a connection to old things. My name comes from Lauren Bacall, the famous 1940's film actress. I'm named after her, which is so cool. I feel like it's ingrained in me - I started watching vintage films, and I just started peeking around the internet and discovering vintage fashion. One summer when I was sixteen, I went to our church's rummage sale, and there was just all of these incredible vintage hats and jewelry and clothes - it was like a whole new world was opened up to me. I was thinking 'Wow, I can create these looks that I see online and in these movies; I don't have to spend a lot of money, and it's right here. What is holding me back?' That's kind of how I got into it." 

In crafting her blog, Pfieffer realized she would have to post photos of her wearing her vintage finds - she learned the art of the self-portrait, using her camera's self timer and a tripod to develop her own visual content for her site. "Both of my parents worked; I didn't have anyone to take my photos for me, and I didn't want to bother anyone with my photos so I just learned to take my own. Throughout the years I have just kind of kept doing it." 

Pfieffer also commented on the difference between the act of self portraiture in Ohio versus New York City: "A lot of times in Ohio I would do it in forests. I would go to my local nature center where no one could see me running back and forth taking pictures of myself. It's really weird to do it in New York. In terms of how I think about it, I have an outfit and I plan the outfit out first. Then I think about all of the places in either Manhattan or Brooklyn that I really like and would kind of set the scene. If it's more of a modern outfit, I'll probably go to Manhattan, maybe to the West Village or the Lower East Side. If it's a more vintage-inspired outfit, I usually will stay here in Brooklyn and go onto a brownstone-lined street or maybe a local park so it kind of fits the scene." 

Pfieffer fondly remembers her first vintage find, a piece she picked up at the church rummage sale. "It was this vintage cameo necklace, and it had gold detailing. It was a white cameo, and it was hand-carved from ivory. On the back it actually had a workable clock, so you could turn it around and tell what the time was. I don't know... maybe because it was my first piece and I maybe only thrifted it for a dollar, I have a lot of personal sentiment to it. It was what really made me fall in love with vintage, so it's a prized possession of mine." 

Other finds she remembers being excited about include vintage Salvatore Ferragamo heels and a 1950's red ball gown. 

In addition to building her own wardrobe, Pfieffer loves to ignite a love of classic fashion in others by selling vintage items online through Etsy. Pfieffer has also scouted out the best thrift shops in New York City listing L Train Vintage (the Gowanus location), Urban Jungle, and Goodwill in Downtown Brooklyn as some of her favorites. 

For Pfieffer, she remains inspired by classic actresses such as Audrey Hepburn and strong, independent women. "I just think she (Audrey Hepburn) can truly do no wrong in my book - I know it's so cliché, but she truly is iconic for a reason. Also, I follow a lot of Instagrammers. I think the space can definitely be really cluttered with people just simply following the herd and falling into making a living out of blogging or Instagramming instead of really truly looking at, 'I can really change peoples' lives through this.' One person I really love following on Instagram is Chinae Alexander. She is a lifestyle influencer, and I actually got the chance to meet her when I was working at my previous position through an event we were having. She's just so inspiring - she's so real, so down-to-earth. She is not originally from New York, but moved here with nothing, and she's just a badass female making it in New York, taking names. She talks a lot about body image and women empowerment and knowing your worth and jobs and careers and relationships and just everything under the sun. I'm always inspired by her captions and her genuineness to truly help others in the community." 

New York City serves as another point of inspiration. "The possibilities are endless here. I always feel when I walk out the door anything could happen to me that day. I could have my Audrey Hepburn moment... I could meet someone who could change my life. I could get a call that could change my life in a great way. It's just a really exciting city: one full of hope and promise and very inspiring people. Even though I'm very introverted, I think one of my favorite things is the people here just because I love observing them. There are so many different personalities and backgrounds... so different from where I grew up in Ohio, and it makes me feel at home being with all these people. I can truly be myself because everyone's accepted here."

Pfieffer recently took a leap of faith and quit her full-time job to actively pursue a career in fashion and explore what freelancing is like. She encourages others to follow their dreams as well saying, "It's so important to go after what you want. Don't spend your life doing things that don't fulfill you or you know aren't right for you. At least give what you want to do a chance: if it doesn't work out, what's the worst thing that's gonna happen? I'm so scared of failure, and I need to take my own advice. I was scared about moving to New York. I was scared about quitting my job. I've been scared about so many things here, but I think every step and mistake and chance I've taken has gotten me closer to my end goal and my end dream. Just take the chance. I know it's scary, but there will be people rooting for you." 

You can follow Lauren on Instagram here.

You can visit Lauren's blog here

  Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

  Lauren on Polaroid 600 film

Lauren on Polaroid 600 film

  Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

  Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

  Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

  Lauren on 35mm film

Lauren on 35mm film

Creatives of NY // Entry #003 // Paul Zivkovich: Performer, Creator, and Collaborator

I happened to meet Paul Zivkovich through my current boss, dance photographer Lois Greenfield. I’ve watched Lois photograph Zivkovich twice over the past two years I have been at the studio, once during my summer internship and again once I moved to NYC. I immediately noticed his innate desire to take risks and the intense physicality of his movement vocabulary. When I started thinking about people I wanted to interview for this project, Paul Zivkovich's name immediately popped into my head - I’d witnessed his stunning collaboration with Lois in studio and knew he had a strong performance background. Upon meeting with him to interview, I learned much much more about his collaborative spirit and the inspirations behind his work. A driven and intelligent artist, Zivkovich's work delves into movement direction and understanding body language in a way I hadn't thought possible before.

Zivkovich grew up in Canberra, Australia and trained as a gymnast before studying dance. He started out with a youth dance company (QL2 Centre for Youth Dance) before heading off to Queensland University of Technology. After two years, Zivkovich joined Australian Dance Theatre under the direction of Garry Stewart, and toured up to seven months out of the year, all the while dabbling in short dance films and tackling many side projects. Departing from ADT, he soon found himself in Europe, working for Rafael Bonachela, Akram Khan, and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui - for Cherkaoui he also served as an assistant choreographer for the feature film Anna Karenina. It was after Anna Karenina that he landed a job with Punchdrunk in the New York City production of Sleep No More to play Macbeth and the Porter. Originally planning to stay for six months, he found himself staying for a full year.

"New York City is such a special place. I was living in the East Village. It felt really creative. A lot of neighbors were either filmmakers or photographers - I really enjoyed its village atmosphere and felt inspired living there and being apart of it. I simply fell in love with that, and the work with Punchdrunk was challenging in a very different way than anything else I had ever done."

Of performing in Sleep No More, Zivkovich said, "It felt like a roller-coaster - there's no pauses or breaks, there's no backstage, there's no wings, there's sort of no 'off-time'. That's maybe not completely different to performing on stage, but it felt like this gate you opened at the beginning, or a ride that you can’t get off of until the end, and that felt really daunting and challenging and wonderful all at the same time."

Beyond the intense physical nature of the work he did in Sleep No More, there was an added challenge for Zivkovich in the acting. "For sure the duration is a lot, a three hour performance - it felt sort of impossible. Certainly playing Macbeth... I think it was daunting to play someone so physically and emotionally relentless. For the most part, Punchdrunk casts dancers to understand and embody emotions and states clearly, and along with crafted movement vocabulary and careful direction, I was able to enjoy the act of playing other people and deliver characters with physical and emotional arcs."


After a year performing in Sleep No More, Zivkovich went back to London to create and perform in another Punchdrunk production; The Drowned Man - A Hollywood Fable. He remained there for a year and then once again returned to New York City, this time accepting a role as a rehearsal director for Sleep No More. It was at this point that Zivkovich's collaborative nature began to really flourish, allowing him to further deepen his work with Lois Greenfield (Zivkovich and Greenfield had started their working relationship in 2004 while Lois collaborated with Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) on HELD, a dance inspired by Greenfield's imagery where she photographed the dance live onstage). Taking on the role gave him more opportunities to interact with new collaborators.

Speaking on his work with Lois Greenfield, Zivkovich remarked, "I remember coming to New York on tour with ADT in 2005 and then 2007. In 2005, I stayed after the tour to explore the city a little more, and Lois and I scheduled a shoot together, so in a way I felt unleashed from ADT- the images weren't tied to the company. It was me as an individual working with Lois and that felt liberating. And again in 2007, I found myself in New York independently and we shot together - I wasn't working with any one company at that point, so that was the second time we worked intimately.”

“Our shoots together since then took place when I moved to New York in 2012. Until then, it felt a little like.. 'You're in town. I'm in town. I've got the studio space. Let's jam. Let's play,’ and I enjoy working like that, particularly with someone I've known for so long. But it’s been wonderful to be both living in the same city and enjoy the more ‘planned’ shoots, without time restrictions etc. And I think the biggest joy was knowing we had both matured as people and artists since we first met, and that naturally feed into the work we were making together, and still does.”


"I think I'm a wild card," Zivkovich shared, "I'll flip around and do something a little bit more off center... her work borders that so much for me. You sort of know what you're going to expect, but she kind of tilts it a little bit, and she inspires me to do the same. That's why I enjoy working with her."

In addition to his ongoing relationship with Lois Greenfield, Zivkovich has recently made more time for himself to develop his own work and forge meaningful connections with other artists. One look through Zivkovich's Instagram and you'll find a carefully-curated exhibition of photos taken by many of the people Zivkovich has collaborated with, along with sketches and illustrations by artists inspired by these works. From the surreal, faceless images of Zivkovich by Ben Zank to the sculptural black and white photographs of him by Matthew Tyler Priestley, Zivkovich showcases his range and unique sense for body language and movement in front of the camera. He says "Instagram's sort of been this ugly beast, but I've started using it more as a work space rather than a personal one. It gives me a platform to show what I've been doing and working on with people."


One collaboration of note is Zivkovich's work with Jon Jacobsen, a Chilean multimedia artist. "I threw a concept at him in the middle of last year that was, in a nutshell, what was happening in the coral reefs around the world. I was watching a lot of documentaries about nature in general, but the bleaching process that’s happening with coral reefs really struck a chord. I believe it was a time-lapse video that caught my eye, where it sped up what was happening to these reefs, something like five days in a minute, so you could see the rapid decay that was occurring. So I threw this rather vague idea at Jon to see what his brain would make of it. We went back and forth for many many months on some ideas, and at that early point it was anything: some poetry, some writing, a song, or more visuals. We then started to Skype each other and that inspired more conversations - we both knew by then that we wanted to collaborate together on something. Jon ended up coming to New York later that year. We shot the project up on my rooftop, but of course in the images you don't really get a sense of location or any one specific environment. We ended up producing a series of nine images, titled ‘The Great Barrier’."

Zivkovich's work with Jacobsen didn't stop there. Steering away from the prior project to try something new and facilitate growth, the pair's next project focused on memory and nostalgia. Zivkovich, as the subject of Jacobsen's work, described the series as "invasive" and "much more about the texture of the skin, scars, and bruising on the skin." The project became extremely personal for Zivkovich as his aunt passed away just as Jacobsen and Zivkovich had completed the shoot.

"We were working with pictures of my family, aunties, uncles, my nana, my mom & dad... some of the images are black and white because of when they were taken, and some of them are more recent. We explored ways where these images could emerge in the skin, or hide in the creases of folding flesh, causing the skin to bruise and sweat. Perhaps it’s something about regurgitating and devouring memories to cope with grief."


This second project with Jacobsen is currently in post-production.

Zivkovich hopes to continue to work in this way, and New York City offers opportunities for him to do so. He has spent the past five months placing an emphasis on producing his own work and work with others. "I recently began making a short dance film, it’s still early stages but I am very excited about it. I feel so fortunate to be in a position where I can still pay rent and have the time and energy to collaborate with others and fulfill creative ambitions."

To learn more about Paul Zivkovich, you can visit his Instagram.

  Paul Zivkovich on FP-100C

Paul Zivkovich on FP-100C

  Paul on 35mm film - the lab unfortunately scratched the negative, but we both still loved this image

Paul on 35mm film - the lab unfortunately scratched the negative, but we both still loved this image

  Paul Zivkovich on FP-100C

Paul Zivkovich on FP-100C

Creatives of NY // Entry #002 // Cecily Lo: Designer and Filmmaker

Cecily and I go way back; in the summer of 2011 we attended Joffrey Ballet School's Jazz and Contemporary Summer Intensive together. After we both graduated college, we both found ourselves living in NYC. Myself, as a photographer, and Cecily as a designer and filmmaker, but both of us remained intertwined in the world of dance, exploring choreography and meeting in the fall to have a discussion about the choreographic process. When deciding where to photograph Cecily for this project, we both knew the location shouldn't be picturesque - Cecily's work is raw and human, and I felt these images should be focused more heavily on expression rather than scenery. I decided we should shoot at night in the Lower East Side. I had never shot on film before at nighttime, but I think the images we captured turned out quite great. Check the photographs along with Cecily's interview below. 

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Cecily: I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and went to Tufts University in Boston for college. I studied computer science. In high school I really thought I wanted to study engineering, so I applied to the engineering school at Tufts. Halfway through college I said, "Wait a second. I don't actually really want to do engineering." I just sort of felt a little bit pressured into that. So I stuck with my major and I self-studied a lot. Tufts has a partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, so I took a lot of design classes there. Now I live in New York - I've been living here for about a year, and I'm a freelance video artist and digital designer just trying to find my way in this big world. 

Allison: So how did you get into videography, filmmaking, and design?

Cecily: I came from a pre-professional dance background in grade school in high school, mostly in modern, ballet, and jazz. In college I was in an extracurricular dance company called Sarabande Dance Ensemble where I started choreographing and I became really into that and very serious about it within my school company context. From there I started filming myself dancing and would create little montages or short films, pair it with music, and sort of create a video piece out of it. That developed into a more artistic approach my senior year. I knew some people who curated independent art shows in the Boston area, and I started creating video art, movement-based pieces for that. The exhibition's called Polykhroma, and so through that I really found a voice with video art and dance film and performance art. Through a lot of self-studying, through freelance work, and through internships I honed my skills in video production. 

Allison: What other artists, either from your medium or other mediums, inspire you? 

Cecily: So I've always really been inspired by net art. Some specifics, Molly Soda, Petra Collins, Signe Pierce recently... in terms of aesthetic, I follow a lot of CGI artists and 3-D artists with holographic aesthetics. Signe Pierce is one of them, Jess Audrey Lynn, Nicole Ruggiero... a lot of Instagram names. They do more 3-D modeling, which I've always been interested in. It's kind of a very steep learning curve, but their general aesthetic I really like. 

Allison: What are some of the inspirations and influences behind your work?

Cecily: I think coming from a choreography background, and that a lot of my early work was self-portraiture and filming myself, a lot of my work is inspired by my body and my personal depictions of my body and how the outside world perceives my body versus how I perceive my own body. I think body image and bodily autonomy and how that intersects with social constraints or expectations has been kind of a fundamental underlying tone of my work. I'm just going to be open about it - I've struggled with eating disorders and body image issues in the past especially with my dance background. It sort of was a way for me to take that anxiety and that internal struggle and deal with it and also create something out of it. I feel better about myself now, but whether that's causation or correlation, I don't know. 

Allison: Who were some of your mentors you met along the way?

Cecily: One of the first professors I had through the Museum of Fine Arts, her name is Sophie Hodara... she was one of the first people who really convinced me to pursue something artistic and creative, and she gave me this confidence and reassurance that maybe this isn't just a dumb hobby or something I do on the side. There may be a future in this. She helped me with my first portfolio - this was when I was taking beginning graphic design. I think before then, it was my high school dance company director. Her name is Helen Hayes, and honestly, in elementary and middle school I wasn't dancing seriously. It was a recreational, few times a week thing, and then I on a whim choreographed for a youth choreography showcase that she was one of the judges for. She actually reached out to me after and asked me if I would audition for her youth company, and she ended up being one of my greatest mentors in high school and really helped me develop this creative voice originally through choreography, which then blossomed into something else. She was really the first person who told me, "Hey, you actually are pretty good at this." 

Allison: Use three words to describe your style of art.

Cecily: Glitchy... Dreamlike... Shiny. 

Allison: What's the most rewarding part of your medium?

Cecily: I think it's a way that really connects a lot of different aesthetics and aspects and things that I like. What I mean by that is that I've always loved music... I'm not a musician by any means, but I'm also a dancer, I'm also a choreographer. I am very moving-image based, and I do love film, movies, TV, and entertainment in general. I feel like it's a very natural and interesting way to put music and movement and images together. 

Allison: What is your relationship between ideas of self and your art? 

Cecily: I think that a lot of my art is autobiographical. Most of the themes come from personal struggles or personal stories that I've experienced. I think it's hard to create art that doesn't come from something somewhat personal, and I strongly believe that if you haven't really experienced it, unless you do tons and tons of research, it's really hard to accurately portray a message about what you are trying to say. I think it comes from a somewhat... "fraudulent" isn't the right word, but it's difficult. For me, it's always easiest to go back to what I know personally. That being said, I have a ton of respect for directors and artists who do communicate other peoples' stories in a respectful and accurate way. I think that's really hard, and it's something that I'm not necessarily that good at, which is why I try to stick to the personal. 

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about being an artist in New York City? 

Cecily: My favorite thing is the creative freedom - I was working at a digital ad agency a little bit ago, and while I loved working there and while I loved working on the creative production team, at the end of the day they weren't my ideas - I was selling a message. I was selling someone else's message, and to have complete liberty over your own message I think is the most rewarding part. The worst part is when no one ever wants to pay you. I don't know - that's kind of a cop-out answer, but it does suck. I think this isn't really New York-based, but it's kind of a personal thing. I hope my parents never read this interview... they support me and they're proud of me and want to see me succeed, but I think fundamentally they don't really understand what I do. I wish that they did. I can't ask them to, but it's a little bit of a "Dang, maybe if I were just a software engineer who worked for Google" they would get it more. I remember showing them a piece that I made with one of my friends: he directed it and I danced in it, and I helped edit it. It was about mental illness and sort of suicide, or this internal self versus your external self within the lens of mental illness. I remember showing it to my parents and they thought it was supposed to be funny, and I was like, "That's not quite right," and they obviously didn't mean to hurt me or hurt my feelings, but I was like, "Oh... that's a bad take." I can't really blame them; I don't think they grew up in an artistically-enriching lifestyle like I have, but that was hard for sure. 

Allison: Where do you see yourself heading with your art? What direction are you hoping to go in? 

Cecily: I'm in the process of applying for grad school. I'm looking at commercial film and production-based programs, like directing and such. I feel like I'd like to get the more commercial side under my belt, and I feel like that would really help diversify my strengths and hone my narrative voice. Past that, I don't know. I can see myself working on and directing music videos, which is something I've begun to delve into. In a way that feels very comfortable and at-home for me based on music, dance, entertainment, video... all that. 

Allison: How does your dance background influence your work with film?

Cecily: I think that whenever I listen to music I pretty much always imagine movement going along with it, or I move along to it - it's ingrained in me. I think it's easier for me to see a dynamic arc or how music ebbs and flows in a movement-based or image-based way, just from dancing and choreographing. I think in a way, producing a short film that's set to music, which is often what I do, is the video equivalent of choreographing a piece, and I tend to view my approach in the same way. 

You can follow Cecily on Instagram here. 

You can view Cecily's website here.

  Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

  Cecily Lo on Polaroid 600 film

Cecily Lo on Polaroid 600 film

  Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

  Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

  Cecily Lo on 35mm

Cecily Lo on 35mm

  Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Cecily Lo on 35mm film

Creatives of NY // Entry #001 // Mira Mariah: Tattoo Artist

I recently met with tattoo artist Mira Mariah on May 29th, 2018 at Fleur Noire Studio. I have been following Mira's tattoo work for a long time and knew I wanted to interview her for this personal project I was starting. With over 40,000 followers on Instagram and clients such as Ariana Grande, Mira's tattoo work stands out in a crowd, showcasing beautiful line-work and a flair for the feminine. I got to sit down with Mira and gain some insight into this amazing tattooer's inspiration behind her unique body of work. 

Allison: Tell me a little bit about your background.

Mira: My name is Mira Mariah; I am a tattoo artist in Brooklyn. I come from New York, hence "@girlknewyork" (Mira's Instagram handle), because I deeply deeply love New York. It's like my first love. I started out as a fashion student when I first moved to Manhattan at FIT. 

Allison: What did you study at FIT?

Mira: I studied fashion design. During that time I worked at different fashion companies doing embellishments and illustration, a lot of fashion illustration. 

Allison: How did you transition into tattooing?

Mira: I was a designer for a private label for Macy's, and the weight of fast fashion and the way clothes are being produced started to really weigh on my heart. I very much wanted to do something more personal, less on a computer, so I wrote down of a list of everything I'm good at, and the list was, "I'm good at illustrating, and I'm good at hanging out with girls," and that was like the whole list. So I needed a job where I would just hang out with girls all day and just draw, and I found one. 

Allison: How did you come to work at Fleur Noire?

Mira: I've been tattooing for awhile. After I had my apprenticeship, after I had private studio, and the owner DM-ed me on Instagram, like "Hey, come work here," and I came with five books of drawings and photos and such and they didn't even open them - they were amazing - we just had this little chat and they said, "What days do you wanna work?", so then I started working here. It's only been a little more than a year, but I feel very at home here, and these are my people. I think I would do anything with and for these people. 

Allison: What has been one of the most memorable tattoos you've done?

Mira: Well, the obvious answer would be very recently I tattooed Ariana Grande, and the first time I tattooed her that I'm not allowed to talk about was much more memorable and it was in New York, and they called me over in the middle of the night. That was super fun, but as far as visually memorable, quite recently I did a Botticelli's Venus as this devil standing over flames and poppies. The receiver of that tattoo is a really special person, and I thought the concept was really interesting. Any of my art that involves women and has a conversation about the duality of women is a very important piece to me. 

Allison: What is the tattoo design process like and how does it usually start? 

Mira: I like to start with references, so I love referencing really classic art, like Hellenistic stuff and Roman art, especially ancient sculpture that has conversations about the female body, so those are the kind of references I pull from, but also kind of like punk photography in the 80's too, and then from there I do different drawings. Obviously it's like really loopy and really consistent - I don't do a lot of shorter, briefer lines.

Allison: What is your favorite thing about tattooing?

Mira: I love meeting new people, and I love working with feminine people. I sit next to my best friends, so that's super chill. 

Allison: What other artists (either from your medium or other mediums) inspire you?

Mira: I'm deeply inspired by the girls I work with, so obviously Laura Martinez and Nadia, and everyone I work with really is technically aspirational and inspiring. 

Allison: Who are some of your mentors you met along the way?

Mira: Oh my gosh, so many. I assisted for a chef for awhile that completely opened up my mind as far as what tattooing could be, which is ironic, right? But she was fantastic - her name's Sally Schneider and she really taught me a lot, and she's a writer - she has a website that's really incredible, and she really taught me about what potential exists in the world. Christina Caradona of Trop Rouge - she's a blogger that's been really supportive of my career, and we've been friends since we were really young. A lot of my loopier style was developed through the artistic nurturing of her, and also the social support on the internet which really is helpful, which we're not allowed to say that we want (help), but we do, right? If you woke up tomorrow with 1,000 new followers, you would be like, "Yes, this is great! I'm happy." She's been very nurturing as far as social following and getting my work out there and helping me develop my style. And of course Laura, who I sit next to, who owns Fleur Noire, has been really helpful with understanding tattooing, and watching her work is really great.

Allison: What is your relationship between ideas of self and your art?

Mira: Okay, let's dive right in!... I don't think I even know what the difference is anymore. All your art comes from all your experiences, you know? Even commission work, it comes from your experiences and influences. I really got into the Greek art, because a lot of them were smashed by Romans when they were taken over and are missing limbs, so I felt really connected to that, so then when I do that kind of artwork on people it's kind of all very connected. It's just me and I put what I can put into it, which isn't to say that some tattoos aren't funny or like lighthearted. Not every tattoo is heavy. 

Allison: How did you develop your style? 

Mira: I was really caught up in trying to respect traditional tattoos and wanting to do that, but not really always feeling like the aesthetic was the right choice for what I was trying to do, so I started trying to draw as fast as I could, which meant not even lifting my pen off the paper, and in doing that I kind of developed this very fluid, loopy, abstract style that can explain an image. 

Allison: How does motherhood inspire and influence your work? 

Mira: All of it. I used to kind of stand at the rooftops like, "I'm more than a mom! I'm not just somebody's mother," like not everything I do has to do with motherhood, but that's inauthentic and not true, and I was afraid to say that because I didn't want people to think that all I was was a mom, but being a mom is so much a conversation in my artwork and so much aids me in patience, working with people, getting toward an idea, and so much aids me in comforting people and being able to be grounded. 

Allison: What are your favorite and least favorite things about being an artist in New York City? 

  Mira Mariah on 35mm film

Mira Mariah on 35mm film

Mira: I love being an artist in New York City. I think that the community is really amazing, specifically the community of female artists is extremely supportive. I love the city because I love diversity - I go to LA and everybody's white - I love seeing all the different kinds of people and all the different kinds of art, and the energy of New York is so magic, so I just love it. I can't think of anything I don't like about being an artist in New York City, with the exception of the obviously deeply problematic housing gentrification situation, the homeless situation, our police relationships (that are better than most places, but completely not where they should be yet), and that I know that speaking so warmly about being an artist in New York City is in itself a place of privilege. 

You can follow Mira on Instagram here

  Mira Mariah on 35mm film

Mira Mariah on 35mm film

  Mira Mariah shot on Polaroid 600 film

Mira Mariah shot on Polaroid 600 film

  Mira Mariah on 35mm film

Mira Mariah on 35mm film

  Mira Mariah shot on FP-100C Silk

Mira Mariah shot on FP-100C Silk

  Mira Mariah shot on FP-100C Silk

Mira Mariah shot on FP-100C Silk

Creatives of NY // The Beginning

As a photographer, I am trying to constantly find new subjects to photograph and ideas to inspire me. Since moving to NYC, I have really focused on analog photography - capturing portraits mostly on my Canon AE-1 Program (35mm) and my Polaroid Land Camera and Polaroid Cool Cam. 

After working with my friend Martha in studio on some conceptually-focused portrait work, I had the realization that shooting images in this way was very fulfilling - it allowed me to create images with greater meaning behind them, instead of just shooting portraits for the heck of it.

So that got me thinking... what was the intersection of portraiture, concept-driven work, and film photography? 

And thus, Creatives of NY was born. In this personal project, I will photograph artists/creative types who call New York City home and interview them to understand the inspiration behind their work, what they love about New York, and what motivates them to create. 

I hope you enjoy reading these interviews as much as I enjoy conducting them. I also hope these portraits will give you a sense for the intimate interaction and mutual trust that is the act of portrait photography. 

Thank you for reading.

Xx,

Allison