Recently named one of the 20 most talented photographers under 20 by Flickr, and a winner of Canon Project Imagination in 2012, Vanguard Professional Nicholas Scarpinato photographs subjects that tell a story, secrets waiting to be unearthed. His images are designed to expand the intellectual limits of surreal photography. Nicholas is a 21 year old Senior, studying Film and Photography at Virginia Commonwealth University. He works digitally, with drawing and/or painting incorporated into some of his images. Read on to discover his artistic motivations, his career aspirations, and his favorite work.
How did you first get into photography and videography?
I first started photography and videography during my senior year of high school. I had been trained in classical drawing and painting, and I never gave much thought to photography until I discovered the websites Flickr and Tumbler. I saw many different artists creating amazing things and became so inspired by these artists that it drove me to create almost every day. Meeting different artists and going to school exposed me to more things than I ever thought was possible.
What about photography & videography do you love? What about the surreal – and especially dreams – draws you to them?
I love that I can create a world that looks real but is completely and utterly not. It's intriguing to me to photograph people that I'm especially drawn to - capturing how they carry themselves and their overall aura. I would also say that my dreams play an important role in composing the elements of my photographs. I gravitate to a more surreal style because it allows me to create worlds, go to places and experience things, which I otherwise never could in this reality. I've always found that intriguing, ever since I was little.
How would you describe your style?
My style has been pretty consistent from the beginning of my photographic career. It deals with the uncanny, the spaces in between spaces, and the feelings you get when you're in love with someone. But more recently I've been changing my style - I've become more interested in real issues and in documenting the truth and the essence of a subject. Right now I'm taking a darkroom class which allows me to forget about Photoshop and create something by hand that is solely based on what is in front of me.
What’s your creative process like?
For some shoots I plan out almost every aspect of the shoot. I’ll sketch out the image in my sketchbook and write out a little about it - who my character is, what the space is like and what I’m trying to convey in the shoot. And then other times I really enjoy grabbing my film camera - not having a plan - and going on a walk with a model or friends and getting a feel for my subject and letting the process unfold naturally. I particularly enjoy photographing people I find interesting. I want to know more about the subject. Taking their picture and putting them in a vulnerable state lets me take a peek into their soul.
What gear is essential to your work?
The most essential thing for my work is my ABEO Plus 363AT tripod with the PH-123V pan head, my Quovio 51 Backpack, a Canon 5D MarkII with a 50mm 1.4 Sigma Prime lens, a 35mm 2.0 Canon Prime lens, and a 2 second Canon timer remote.
Can you tell me a bit about your experience with Canon Project Imagination?
The Canon Project Imagination competition was one of the most exciting things that has ever happened me - until the Flickr 20 under 20 announcement was made. I was selected by a panel of judges that included Jamie Foxx, Eva Longoria and Ron Howard. That was the first time I ever had wide exposure to a mass audience. Having my photograph presented in an installation in New York City was amazing. I never thought that I would have a showing in a space like that, and Canon very graciously sent me Canon lenses, which I still use today. I am very thankful for them, Ron Howard, and for the Flickr community.
What has been your favorite shoot so far? Favorite image?
I think my favorite shoot so far has got to be when I took the photograph “The Helpers.” It's my favorite because my dad helped me with it. Since the subject matter is directly related to him and what he wore when I was growing up, it's just a very close and personal piece for me. I remember spending about 40 to 50 minutes in the backyard and directing my dad, who was on top of a ladder helping me, telling him I wanted to take the picture while I moved around in this crazy costume. It's my favorite because I got to work with someone close to me, someone who has supported me throughout my whole career.
Which artists inspire you?
I would say the photographers Tim Walker Robert, Shauna Park Harrison, Rodney Smith, Sally Man, and Annie Leibovitz are my favorite artists. They inspire me to work hard and to always push the boundaries, and never say I cannot do something. I'm always going to problem solve so I can create the best image I can. I believe looking up to these artists has given me the strength to do that because I admire how they see the world and how they compose images with colors, lights and shadows. It’s something that I think about a lot, and I will always appreciate what these artists have done for the world of photography.
What do you hope to do after graduating from VCU?
I want to direct films, shoot for fashion magazines, make personal work, and eventually become a college professor. I would love to show my personal work in galleries all over the world and continue incorporating my friends and family to make my work.
Any words of advice to other young photographers?
I think my biggest advice to young photographers is to never say you CAN'T create an image. Always find a way to make it. I think that you don't need an expensive camera or lenses to make a great image. If you problem solve strategically and work with the gear that you have; you can make the world's best image.