We sat down with the Brooklyn-based photographer for a quick chat about art, ice cream, and celebrities on ledges.
How did you get your start?
After graduating college, I got a job at a big, corporate ad agency. I had a really boring and very un-creative job. I was miserable and suffering from a deep existential panic. "Is this really my life? How did I get here? What am I going to do with myself? The 16-year-old you would punch yourself in the face. You're nothing." That kind of thing. So, in order to keep my brain moving and stay inspired and intellectually agile, I decided to pick up a hobby. I bought a camera and started reading photography forums. I took a class at International Center of Photography and 15 years later you're interviewing me.
If you had to describe your style, what is it?
I don't really think I have a singular style. In fact, I think people are confused by how disparate my photos seem to be. I think of it as speaking 3-4 different languages. I can be melancholy and reverential, I can be loud and disrespectful, or I can be cheesy and ask everyone to smile (if you pay me enough!!).
What do you like to shoot?
I like to shoot stories that I can sink my teeth into. Something a bit longer term where I can observe and flex my photographic muscle. I like combining portraiture, reportage, and humanity into a body of work.
Do you consider yourself an artist?
In the general sense, sorta. But probably not. I don't think my goal is to put forth some conceptual idea, and that is what (capital-A) Art is about these days. It's conceptual. But with that said, I do hope my photos will contribute to the greater human dialogue. So, it really comes down to what you think Art is. I'm not here to tell you what to think, though.
What’s the backstory behind your Instagram handle @quesofrito?
Early in my career, my friend and I had a party to self-congratulate ourselves for leaving our corporate jobs and doing our own thing (he's now a successful chef in Brazil). We wanted to give the party a name or something, so we landed on Quesofrito. This is a Nicaraguan food I used to eat in high school with another friend. It just had a cool ring to it, and the Q looked really cool in the type I chose. The name stuck, and I have been using it as my social media handle ever since.
Rumor has it that you have quite the plant collection. How big of an obsession are we talking here?
Loose lips sink ships, man! The rumors are very true. My studio has about 50-60 plants currently, mostly cacti and succulents. I just bought another plant on eBay today for $125. Damnit.
Travel is a big part of being a photographer. What’s always in your carry-on?
I don't go anywhere without this iPhone clip for the car. Keep extras in all your bags! Also, get one of these spare batteries from Amazon. And I don't go anywhere without my sunglasses.
You claim to be an ice cream connoisseur. What’s your go-to flavor? Best place you’ve ever been?
My go to flavor profile lands squarely in the cream /eggy/buttery/sweet area. So for ice cream, I almost always get vanilla. Or if we're talking gelato, it's always fior di latte. This flavor profile extends beyond ice cream, too. You'll never see me get chocolate cake or anything like that. It's always the crème brûlées or key lime pies or things like that. There is a new ice cream spot in Williamsburg called Gentile that is A-MAZING. Side note: I've been thinking about what comes after photography for me, and I dream about opening an ice cream shop.
Of all the shoots you’ve done, what’s the most memorable?
I've got two that really stand out. They were both for T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
First one was Andy Serkis. I had asked him to lean out of a window of the 6th floor and I would photograph him from the other window. But the dude said, "I'll just climb out there." Everyone freaked out and asked him not to. I told him I couldn't stop him and that I would take the photo but I REALLLLLLY didn't want him to. He ignored everyone and gave me the closest thing to a panic attack I've ever experienced. The photo is great, though.
Second one was Dev Hynes. I love Dev's music so much, so I was geeking out. He's also the sweetest and least pretentious people I've ever met. He oozes talent and grace. Every photo we took was sublime.
You’ve shot with a lot of celebrities. What makes photographing celebrities so challenging?
The celebrity industrial complex. Too much BS, too little humanity.
Getting to the nerdier stuff, film or digital?
What equipment do you shoot on/with?
I have a bunch of cameras. DSLRs, several medium format film cameras, a 4x5, etc.
I think the heart of your question is getting to technique and process, which is a question I sort of hate answering because it's so limiting. Good photographs aren't made simply by using good cameras. Good photographs are made by being a good observer, a good human, an intellectual, an original thinker. Cameras are just like pencils or hammers – a tool you use for a certain task. I'll use different cameras depending on the photographs I'm trying to take. If I'm being slow and methodical and want to think more, I'll use a bigger, slower camera that requires more rigor and deliberateness on my part. If I need to be fast and nimble (both physically and intellectually), then I'll use a DSLR or a rangefinder camera (❤️Mamiya 7❤️).
Lastly, umbrella or raincoat?
I ride my bike around every day. I have this crazy bike poncho that I don't leave home without. Otherwise, I know about this company that makes cute umbrellas— maybe you've heard of them?