by Cyrus Nuval
I had the delight of interviewing one of Poictesme’s favorite photographers, Nicholas Scarpinato, a 19-year-old VCU student. The interview took place in Nicholas’ apartment; he had just gotten back from a shoot, and apologized for the mess in his bedroom. The rug had been pulled to the side where he had a set put up in a corner. Dozens of cameras perched around. Mason jars, photographs, sculptures and sketches covered every available surface. Heaps of laundry laid wildly on bins. A cracked iPhone was poking out from under his sheets, and wrappers and crumpled paper flowed out of wastebaskets. It was like an explosion of the creative mind. “I’m reckless when I make art,” he said, moving his shaving cream out of the way. If you’ve seen Poictesme‘s ’12-’13 cover, you’ve seen the otherworldly photography that Nicholas produces. But despite the melancholy and mystical stories he tells through his work, he is simply a student with passion and talent.
What attracted you to photography and art?
Ever since I was little I was always drawing and painting. I felt like I was like a very impatient kind of person. I wanted a medium that was more immediate. Photography was that thing. I had so many ideas that I wanted to get out and photography allowed me to get it all out as quick as possible.
What equipment do you use when you take pictures and do your art?
I shoot on a Canon Mark 2 with a 50mm 1.4 lens and I usually shoot through various kinds of filters, some handmade and some bought.
You actually make your own filters?
Yeah. Sometimes I put pantyhose over the lens and it gives a dreamy kind of quality to it. For others, I get glass and scour it with metal and stuff, just to get different kinds of cracks in the glass and it refracts light in different ways.
When you are editing pictures, what equipment do you use?
I use Photoshop or I print out my images and hand-manipulate them. Sometimes I paint on them and digitally scan it back to the computer and continue editing on them through Photoshop. So it’s like a multimedia mixture process when making the images.
What usually inspires you to take pictures and make art?
That’s a hard one. I really enjoy classical painters. I look at lots of paintings and old movies. A lot of pictures deal with certain feelings I’m having in a certain space. I like going into woods and forests and experiencing this weird euphoric state when I start daydreaming, going off of that and producing works in response to the feelings I get; sometimes I get lost in my head in magical spaces. My inspirations change. I think I feed off of my environment, from the vibes I get from that place. I usually stay hours in one location, figuring out what I want to do on those spots. Sometimes I don’t have a plan. I mean, sometimes I sketch out my things but sometimes it’s very intuitive and when I go to those spaces I can feel it and evaluate my surroundings to produce the image I want to make.
What about lately, with your current projects, what inspires you?
Lately, I feel like I’m going through a shift in my work. In the last two years, I’ve been focusing on this one character and making a lot of art revolving around that person and this world I’ve kind of created. I feel like I’ve finished that body of work and I’m ready for something new. Now I’m in the process of sketching and brainstorming ideas. I want to use artificial light, hard surfaces, lots of black, muted tones and almost dystopian futuristic. It’s going to be a very big switch from what I’ve done in the past.
You said there is a character in your past works with a world or story surrounding it, can you elaborate on that?
Sure. The character that I’ve shot for three years is this guy with a jacket and a bowler hat and I follow him around in certain spaces for ambiguous narratives for him and this world that I’ve created. But, I feel like I’m done with that now. I feel like I’ve reached a point where it’s a good body of work I can show on it’s own and start another new story. Now I’m in the process of creating another story with new aesthetics and new vibes.
You were the model for that character, right?
Yeah. I like to take a lot of self-portraits. Since I can’t have anyone push the button I actually have a remote that I keep with me. So I set up my camera around the tripod, I get in the costume of my character, I start framing it and doing the right poses for it and I press a button that takes a picture of it. I do that about a hundred times until I get the right picture. Once I get it I, get out the frame and take more pictures to make sure I got the shot.
Your character, does he have a name or a series title?
Well, I titled the series “The Gentleman’s Son”. There’s probably like forty images of the same guy in the space. Eventually, I want to show it all together in a gallery space.
Do you have other artists that you look up to?
Right now, I really enjoy what Marina Abramovich is all about. She’s a performance artist and she deals with a lot of long durational work, like slowing down the mind, relaxation and getting touched by the inner you. I also like Gregory Crewdson. He is a photographer who shoots large format film and spends about a $100,000 on one picture. He builds sets and it’s like a movie. Another artist is Salvador Dali. He is a big influence on me. He was probably the leading person in the Surrealist movement. I like Cindy Sherman a lot. She does a lot of self-portraiture and dresses up crazily a lot.
How important is art and photography to your life?
It drastically affects my life. My personal style has changed. Even with friendships with people. Most of my friends are photographers, artists, filmmakers and models. Photography is this very creative and free space that can be shared with these people. All I know is that photography has affected me in a big way. I mean, I’m majoring in it now and I want to do it for a career and maybe teach photography and film in the future.
What are the emotions that you like to draw out of your audience?
Usually melancholy feelings. I like the idea of removing somebody out of their crazy, fast-paced life and taking a moment to calm down, escape and look into an image and feel a sense of wonder or mystery. A lot of the models in my images are not really doing anything too extraneous. They are very sleepy and relaxed and kind of in their heads.
Aside from photography and art, do you have any other hobbies?
Art is a huge thing in my life but lately I’ve been playing soccer. I think that it’s important for an artist to not be so consumed in one thing. I think that it’s important for an artist to expand and do some things that are not art-related. In doing that, I think that actually helps artwork be more fresh and lively because you are experiencing new things and meeting different people that you wouldn’t normally meet in the art world.
Why did you choose to go to VCU?
It’s in-state. That was a nice perk to it, because it’s a lot cheaper. I think the main reason is that the art program is rated number one in the country. I got accepted to a lot of different schools but the rating was what attracted me to here. I want to be challenged; I want to be the best that I can be. I think that VCU and VCUArts was the best choice for that.
What are your plans after VCU?
I am applying to the graduate school at Yale University. I want to get my Masters there. Eventually, I want to teach and show professionally in galleries.
Any tips for other artists and photographers?
Practice. If you are not making any personal work then something is wrong. If you are only making art in your class and nothing else, you have a problem. But try not to be so self-consumed in your own art. Do lots of other different things. Also, when looking for inspiration, don’t just look at photographers. Look at painters and sculptors. Look at your friends. Look at the feelings you have in your relationships. The feeling you get when you walk outside and look at the sky. Just anything and everything. Keep an open mind to what’s around you and your environment.
Nicholas Scarpinato is currently a sophomore. To keep up with his work, visit his website: http://nicholasscarpinato.com/