Nicholas Scarpinato is a 19 year old fine art photographer. Currently he is studying film and photography at the Virginia Commonwealth University. Nicholas chooses to photograph images that tell a story, secrets that are waiting to be unearthed, a memory or a place in time. While the initial photographic capture is important, the ensuing creative process is the distinguishing factor in his work. His images are designed to expand the intellectual limits of surreal photography. In 2012 Nicholas was the winner for “Canon Project Imagination” (Ron Howard Films), he had a solo show at FOODE, was the VCU Ambassador, and had cover features on Nees and Voss as well as in Cold Mountain Review Magazine. In 2013 he was ranked top 5 photographers by the United Colors of Benetton, was in the top 10 Young and talented photographers by mymodernmet.com, and was featured for the cover of Poictesme Literary Magazine. Nicholas is young, but he has a lot to offer. Join us as we get to pick Nicholas’ brain, and find out why he creates, and we even get a sneak peak at the sketches that help bring his images to life.
How did you become interested in photography?
My dad let me use his DSLR when I was a sophomore in high school. I shot some photographs but only got serious when I was a senior. I met a friend that showed me another side to photography. She exposed me to websites like Flickr and Tumblr, and found that photographs could be created in a similar manner as paintings, with the use of Photoshop and mixed media.
On average, how much time is spent on the ‘final shot’?
I spend about a day shooting my pictures, unless I am constructing a complex set up which takes a couple days to shoot. When I go in to editing a photograph it ranges from two hours of editing to two weeks, depending how complex the edit or if I am physically painting on the image.
How important is Photoshop in your work?
For some images Photoshop is very important and others not at all. Some of my concepts couldn’t be achieved without the use of Photoshop. It gives me the ability to take what is in my head and be able to put it down on a surface. Without Photoshop, not only I, but also many other young artists would not be in the position they would be in. Photoshop acts as another extension of my process. Taking the picture is half the process for me. I’m happy sometimes even using a basic picture editor like PicStitch online.
What inspires you?
As simple as this sounds my friends, family, and people I meet inspire me the most. They teach me things about the world that I would have not known otherwise. I have made my best work in conjunction with a friend. For me it’s a sense of trust and understanding with them, which furthers my inspiration. It could be a feeling I get when I look at them, a place we go, a situation that we find ourselves in.
Why do you create?
I feel compelled to create. Ever since I was a child I have been creating .
How do you go about conceptualizing your ideas for photos? Do you ever sketch before you shoot?
First I write down an idea in my sketchbook, and then I put the idea away for a while and come back to it. Eventually, if I fall in love with the idea, I go out and shoot the concept. I think it is extremely important to sketch out my ideas so that they are well thought out and have a purpose. Every time I go out, and make something up on the spot, it usually comes out haphazard.
In some of your images you work digitally with drawing and/or painting. Is this something that is done in Photoshop, or do you print out your images and then alter them?
It’s a mixture of both. I first print out my images on watercolor paper and then work in acrylic or watercolor paint. I then scan the image back in to Photoshop and use sections of the painted image on my digital photo. I really enjoy the physical aspect of my work. I think it’s important for digital artist to understand how to create something by hand.
Will including mixed media within your works ever expand from drawing and/or painting? For example include an aspect of collage, performance, etc?
I have projected my images on to sculptural installations in the past. However, I do want to expand on that idea of mixing my 2D images with a 3D physical object. I also started mixing photography and video together. My goal was to edit the moving image, like I would my photographs, which has allowed me to do things I never thought I could. Example of my photo/video hybrids.
What is your favorite photograph you have ever produced? Why?
“The Keepers” is my favorite piece. I really enjoy the concept because it was one I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I wrote this idea down almost two years ago. I put it away, because at the time, I had no idea how to create this photograph. I enjoy this piece a lot because how complex it was to construct the image. It opened doors that I never thought that I could walk through.
Is artificial light something prevalent in your work or do you work mostly with natural light?
I only use natural light. However, I have experimented with artificial light and found that natural light works better for my photography. I believe it gives it a painterly look to my images. However, if I do decide to use artificial light, I would try to make it look as natural as possible.
Your interests are not just in photography, you also have done some filmmaking. Do you feel your work in video helps your work in photography and vice versa?
Yeah I believe they relate to each other. I also really like the cinematic look that my images have. I believe that stems from my passion for filmmaking.
A lot of your photos have a dream-like quality to them. How is this achieved?
I believe it has to do with my subject matter more than anything. I think what I choose to photograph is a departure for most people allowing for the dream-like connections to be associated with my work.
The topic of whether it is “worth it” to go to photography school is one that comes up a lot. What would your advice be to someone who is unsure of whether or not school in photography would be beneficial to them?
I believe it is most important for any photographer/artist. I am privileged to work with professors that have shown internationally, in galleries, and have screened their films at the Sundance film festival. Artists who are not educated do not know how to further their work conceptually. Mostly people focus on visuals and not the concept. I have found, with my education, I can think deeper about what I am making and have meaning behind it.
A lot of your work focuses on surrealism.
What would you consider the definition of surrealism? I read somewhere once that said “Surrealism is always about departures rather than arrivals.” I completely agree with that quote. My work has some surreal motifs, however, I do not consider most of my work surreal.
Do you ever find it difficult to be taken seriously because of your age?
Not really, my work speaks for itself. Most people don’t realize that I am 19. I’ve never thought my age was a barrier for anything, I know I can achieve whatever I set my mind to.
What do you enjoy most about creating personal work? Client work?
Personal work is just that, “personal.” It allows me to channel how I am feeling into a visual representation. As far as client work, I enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone to bring someone else’s vision to reality.
Where do you expect to see yourself in 5 years time?
I would love to show my work, internationally, in galleries. I also want to become a professor at a university, shoot national campaigns, and work on a featured film.
Your collaboration with photographer Kyle Thompson blew my mind, it was like the meeting of two characters. How was it working with Kyle?
Working with Kyle was extremely easy. We both understood what each other wanted because we make somewhat similar work. I look forward to collaborating with him again.