Robert Mendolia: A Gifted Photographer
by Gene Marie
“I like not to put a style to my work, I like to constantly change with every shoot…I want to do what ever I think is cool at that moment in time.”
Gene: Hello Robert, thanks for accepting the interview. How about you tell us a little about yourself?
Robert: I was born in Ozone Park Queens in a very Italian neighborhood, I had great childhood friends one of whom I still speak with today. I was always creative from as far back as I can remember even though there were no signs of creativity in my family tree, Mom was a house wife and Dad a truck driver. They had very little but what they did have went to me and my sister and brother. I went through the public school system and took art classes whenever I could, I think it took a long time for me to grow into my own and reach a point where I could express my creative freedom without giving a damn what others thought.
Gene: What is your background? Who are you and your photography? How long have you been into photography and how were you exposed? Tell your story
Robert: I originally started out as a fashion designer and worked in the industry for 15 years before returning to FIT to major in Photography and make the change to look at life through the lens of a camera. It surprised me how much my fashion designer and merchandising background has played a huge part in my success as a photographer. I entered photography at time when the full transition from film to digital was at war, I think it’s in one way fortunate because I learned all about light and exposure and how to shoot the right way from step one as opposed to all those out there that have that I’ll fix it later in Photoshop attitude, my attitude shot it the right way to begin with and use Photoshop as a means of minor correcting.
Gene: Describe a normal day in your life.
Robert: If I’m not actively shooting I’m on the computer networking and figuring out my next step in promoting myself. It never stops; it’s all about finding the next assignment, coming up with the next idea, pulling together the next team.
Gene: Can you describe the first shot that you took that you, or someone else, think that you had a calling for photography?
Robert: The first time I felt like I had a chance was at a portfolio review up at FIT where my book got great reviews, I had a little up hand on the other students because they’re all young and want to change the world, and I wanted to fit in with a flare all my own. Play by the rules but then add my own touch without ruffling feathers, after 15 years in a cut throat industry like the garment center you learn a few things about aesthetics.
Gene: What type of assignments attract you the most?
Robert: Creative ones, I love to do over the top Editorials always stretching the limit and myself to go further and create a stir.
Gene: Do you use special photographic equipment in your work?
Robert: I don’t use anything that any other photographer doesn’t use, it just a matter of how you use it.
Gene: What first inspired your interest in photograpy? What continues to inspire you?
Robert: I always had an interest in photography even when I was designing; I used to love to shoot at concerts. Always finding the next new thing inspires me, coming up with the next new idea, staying cutting edge, sometimes it’s finding the next new model that I think is going to be a success.
Gene: How easy/hard has it been to gain exposure for yourself?
Robert: Gaining exposure is always hard but I just keep plugging along using my website http://www.robertmendolia.com, promo cards and networking through friends and business associates.
Gene: Do you focus on more than one area of photography?
Robert: I specialize in Men’s fashion, fitness and runway photography; I decided to really narrow it down because men’s fashion is becoming so interesting. It seems men are coming into them self’s sexually, it’s been quite a transition since I was younger, what was considered “gay or queer” when I was young is now considered “metro sexual” which I find to be bullshit. It just a term for straight guys to now make it acceptable for them to like fashion and style when I did it you were a fag, not a guy with style.
Gene: How would you describe your style of photography?
Robert: I like not to put a style to my work, I like to constantly change with every shoot, I don’t want to be one of those photographers that gets stuck in on particular style, I want to do what ever I think is cool at that moment in time.
Gene: What do you do to get the best out of a shoot with a model?
Robert: I try to let the model do what they do best and then if I need to direct I will, but a good model can work it and it requires very little from me just encouragement, I don’t like working with models that have to directly through every shot that just leads to a stiff photo shoot with a lack of feeling and mood that would have come naturally if the model was good.
Gene: Who would you love to shoot that you haven’t already?
Robert: I would love to shoot with Naomi Campbell (an industry ICON) and in men’s Sean O from VNY and Tysen Ballou from IMG.
Gene: Do you have a favorite photograph? If yes, which one(s) and why?
Robert: Herb Ritts’ photo of Diana Ross in lace underwear with sheer curtains and Albert Watson’s photo of Diana Ross in men’s tank and leather pants, so sexy!! And a style that is not something familiar with the thousands of photos that have been taken of her. When you can take a legend and totally change their style I think that’s a pretty big achievement.
Gene: did your early photographyic goals include earning a living from photography, or did it start as a way to express yourself creatively?
Robert: It was a career choice change that needed to incorporate my past 15 years experience in the garment center.
Gene: What are your dreams as a photographer? What has it been like pursuing your dreams?
Robert: It’s been a little scary pursuing my dream but so far everything has been in an upward mode with no negative reaction so now it’s just breaking down the doors and making people take notice.
Gene: What’s next? What are you working on now?
Robert: Presently I’m working on new concepts for my Spring/Summer 2008 editorial work.
Gene: If you were to give words of wisdom to those that want to follow your footsteps into a photographer’s career, what would you say?
Robert: Pay attention in your business classes, it’s the only thing that will stop you from having a successful career, being a photographer is like owning your own store you are in charge of everything from creativity to book keeping and self promotion. It’s a lot of work but is the difference between being a success or a starving artist. I want to be a success!! Also learn how to conduct business in person and how to speak like a professional on a phone, email is great but you need to have a personal working relationship with your clients and remember they’re not your friends so leave the street tak in the streets.
Gene: Thank you Robert, for taking the time for an interview.
Robert: Thank you again for your interest in my career. Cheers.
You can see more of Robert Mendolia’s work here:
Robert Mendolia Photography Inc.