Contributor: Julian Ungano
Creative Discipline: Photography
Location: NYC, NY
T h e P e r f e c t S t o r m _ Millions of people in New York City are artistically inclined. How many of them are truly successful? And further more how do we define success as a creative? Julian Ungano is a photographer with a desire to capitalize on opportunities and put in the hours to make things happen. Having assisted the pop-culture photographer of our time David Lachappelle, Julian is a New York based photographer who’s willing to go all in. The Mobb caught up with Julian for a drink and an intriguing conversation about what it takes to make it in New York.
O M:Julian If I may be so bold– What are you trying to achieve as a photographer?
J U: What am I trying to achieve as a photographer? Just making a living on photography alone becomes a goal in and of itself. Short term, this is my goal and to not have to do anything else. There’s 500,000 photographers in New York alone. The goal is to distinguish myself from those 500,000 photographers and to even be in the top 10% of those people would give me a leg up. Working all the time; having to hustle in New York, you might not be giving yourself enough time to invest in yourself as a company.
O M:Do you see New York as the place to be for a photographer? You say that there are 500,000 photographers here, what do you feel makes New York so special?
J U:I think about that every single day. I grew up in a town that has 1200 people and I could pretty easily go there and make a living doing photography and make more money than if I were doing it here. New York is the center of the art world and consequently it is also the center of the photography world. I’ve heard people say that being a photographer in New York is exactly like being an actor in L.A. All the agents are here, all the biggest fashion houses have offices here, all the biggest ad agencies have a presence here. So– To me if you are truly going to make it working every single day as a photographer and push your work into the realm of defining your own brand; I suppose something like Richard Avedon or David Lachapelle, New York is the place to be. I truly believe that you can not do that anywhere else, so that’s why I am here.
O M: Hustle or Networking; Which do you see as being more vital to becoming a successful photographer?
J U: It’s a perfect storm of all those things. You absolutely have to be a good people person, people have to like you and they have to like working with you. Otherwise they simply will not even give you a chance. You always have to be out there networking and as I said, there’s 500,000 photographers in this city and you have to be able to distinguish yourself from those 499,999. You have to be able to offer something those people can not even though in reality most of us are on the same level. You have to be a good salesman, you have to be able to market yourself well, you have to go out and network, you have to go out and meet new people, you have to meet agents, they have to like you– that being said there are a lot of people out there who aren’t very good that are doing well. Not to mention a lot of really talented people, perhaps the best out there and the majority of the world will never get to see their photos. I just posted on my own blog this photographer, Sebastian Kim. He’s a young guy in his mid-thirties and I feel like he is one of the first people in this new garde of photographers that will be the next Lachapelle’s. He has a power-house agent, his work is being syndicated– shooting for Calvin Klien and he’s making a name for himself. Then you have people like Ryan Mcginley who’s a fine art photographer through-and-through along with Dash Snow and Dan Colen, people that kids in rural America read about when they pick up any skate magazine or Vice. They’ve created this whole new ‘thing’ and it’s commercially viable and recognized. Now Mcginly’s shooting Levi’s ads, he did the “Go Forth” campaign commercials which I thought were absolutely beautiful. So, I mean I think a lot of it has to do with making yourself commercially relevant doing what you do whether it’s painting, photo–what ever.
O M: Right now looking at your career, is it more about defining your own body of work or getting out there and meeting people? Do you feel these are things that can move in tandem?
J U: I think they do move in tandem. I think that by getting out and working, you inherently meet people. But as you are working, it’s hard to go out to meet people and it gets tiring. I mean for me it’s emotionally exhausting to have to put on a smile and for lack of a better way of explaining it, go out and kiss everyone’s ass and be a really nice guy even if it’s not necessarily; I am probably going to dig myself a hole for saying this, who I am. I do want to work and focus on shooting, I’ve found in the past that when I focus 100% of my effort on shooting the work is just so much better. When I focus 60% on shooting and 20% concentrated on business and 20% concentrated on getting out and meeting new people my work isn’t that good in my mind, I mean you might think it’s great but I feel my work suffers and it’s tough. I feel those two things [establishing a body of work and networking] move in tandem. I just started working on a new project, my first fashion photography project in 6 or 7 years. I haven’t thought of a name yet but I am thinking of calling it “I Heart NY” or something like that[recently titled “Reste Jeune Reste Belle”, images are above and below]. It’s all about fashionable New Yorkers, and in a way it is the only way I’ve been able to take all the people I’ve met over the years and all the skills I have acquired and harness them into a project. So far people have been really responsive to it and it’s essentially just shooting people that are my friends and people that have been my co-workers and friends of friends. It’s all about individual style. I think that New York no matter what, will always set the trends for so many things whether it means to or not. The project’s root is essentially that– these are the people, some of them are architects, some are interior designers, some of them are musicians, some of them are other photographers, fashion designers or stylists, writers or whoever. They all have their own unique style and that’s really the whole essence of the project. It’s really enabled me to cut a lot of bullshit out of my life having to deal with these people on a business level and now I can say ‘come in and let me take your picture’. It’s the first time I’ve shot in a studio in five or six years– I’m taking all the skills while I was assisting Lachapelle and Mcpherson and it feels really good. I’m happy about it– I just did the first shoot for it about two weeks ago and doing the re-touching. I’m excited, and I feel like this is the first step in ‘reorganizing my whole house’ so to speak. I found a way to block it all in one spot and I think after this people may say, ‘Wow! This is really good stuff.” or they might not think so at all. Whatever it is that’s where I’m at right now.
O M: As a creative how important do you feel it is to know the business-end of how everything in your industry works?
J U:If you don’t think of your craft; whether it be photo or music or painting or whatever as a company, in my own opinion you will not succeed. There are so many photographers out there that are so talented and don’t even know how to write a fucking estimate or don’t even know how to put together a proper invoice, and they just don’t know how to do this stuff. If you can’t even do this you are never going to make it. You will not make it-. You are as only as good as the foundation you stand on and you are only as good as the people around you– you have to have a good team. Everyone works with a team, nobody does it alone anymore. This is something you have to recognize, you have to be out there and like I said networking is such a big part of it now but it only gets you so far. You really need to surround yourself with the right people that you trust with your business. My brother deals with my accounting and it’s not because I can’t do it, it’s because I need another set of eyes on it and I want things in tip-top shape. If people ever come to me with a huge job I need to know right away that I can project to them that I am in fact a professional and I know what needs to be done. I see so many people just flounder because they just don’t know how to do that stuff. You’re just not going to make it. It’s the stuff that you don’t learn in college that you use the most and that only comes from working as a photographer, you learn by doing.
O M: It seems there are a plentiful amount of creative people in New York that simply want to ‘play the part’; shopping at all the right places and being about the town, yet aren’t willing to put in the hard work necessary to put them where they want to be. Thoughts?
JU: I don’t like to blame anything or anyone for it, but I feel that people follow what they see. People look at the scene and see people hanging out at the right club or wearing the right clothes. They hold at high regard the way they look, the way they act and the people they’re trying to hang out with. People just think it is so much about that. What they aren’t seeing is the larger steps that they must take. Worrying about those others things is so frivolous.When I was in Highschool I was obcessed with David Lachappelle and Richard Avedon and they were my favorite photographers, still they are. When I assisted David, it was my freshman year at Pratt and I was like, ‘holy fuck’! When I would look at his photos I thought I could shoot that… [ obviously I was so ignorant then] but I get in there and see the productions that these people have. There’s 30 people on set. You have make-up guys and hair people and stylists and assistants to those people and assistants to those assistants and caterers and DJ’s– I mean it’s like a movie set with a million dollar budget, and here I am a 20 year old kid thinking I could do it, there’s just no way at that point. But I feel like now I probably could, I know I could, having the experience from the last few years I’ve just been there and worked on so many big jobs I know I could handle it and I think that is what truly separates me from a lot of artists, but like I said, at this point, just shooting every day and making a living is good enough.
The above images are from a series titled, “Reste Jeune Reste Belle”
For more of Julian’s work check out: julianungano.com