JONATHAN CHERRY: What did you want to be growing up?
CHRIS MOTTALINI: For some messed up reason I was obsessed with Vietnam and the idea of being in the Green Berets. It would also have been nice to grow up to play for my hometown hockey team, the Buffalo Sabres. Oh well…
JC: Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
CM: I’ve been looking at Walker Evans’ American Photographs and Winogrand’s 1964 a lot, lately. Also, pretty much anything by Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett.
JC: What are you up to right now?
CM: In addition to taking pictures, I also work for a set designer/prop stylist. We do lots of editorial and commercial photo shoots and right now I’m working on a food shoot. Clearly, though, I’m not working very hard since I’m answering your questions.
JC: Have you had mentors along the way?
CM: The set designer/prop stylist I just mentioned has been my mentor for the past seven years. He has a really impressive knowledge of art, photography, color, design…you name it. Basically, he has impeccable taste and has helped me a ton over the years.
JC: Where are you based right now and how is it shaping you?
CM: I think it’s kind of funny when photographers say they’re “based” somewhere… I’ve been guilty of that too, in the past, but we all know, for most of us, that’s just a more professional-sounding way of saying “I live in this town or city and I really like to take pictures, but it’s pretty tough to make any real money doing so, so I also wait tables or assist this photographer or have this crappy job, too.” Anyway, I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with my girlfriend. My studio is a couple block walk from the house. We live on a nice treelined street, one block from the river, with lots of Civil War-era brownstones, etc. Living in Greenpoint for the past 6 years or so has made a huge difference for me… before this, I lived in one crappy neighborhood after another and, I didn’t realize it, but it was really affecting my daily mentality. It makes a big difference to live and work someplace you really like.
JC: One piece of advice to photography graduates?
CM: Not sure… I actually studied journalism and, though I was able to take two photojournalism classes, that was basically the extent of my photographic education. I know lots of people go the MFA route, but I wanted to just get to work and see what I could do. It probably took me a bit longer to get to a point where I was even slightly satisfied with how things were going, but I’m glad I did it the way I did. So, I guess the same advice applies to anyone who wants to take pictures, regardless of education or background; be tenacious. Shoot a lot and don’t give up. It took me about six years to get my new book published (from the time I actually took the pictures, to the day my book was mailed to me). It kinda sucked for a while, but I just kept at it.
JC: If all else fails - what is your plan B?
CM: For the past five or so years I’ve been saying, ok, if I’m not happy with how things are going by the time I’m 33, I’ll do this, or that instead. Each time I get to the age where I said I’d re-examine things, I’ve just pushed on and now that I’m 35, I feel like screw it, I’m in this for real and that’s just how it is. So, basically, I don’t have a plan b anymore. If it ends up not working, then I guess I’ll figure something out. In the meantime, though, I’m just living my life and going for it.
JC: Is it important to you to be a part of a creative community?
CM: Many of my friends are writers, photographers, designers, carpenters, artists, in bands, etc. I’d like to have a bigger group of photo-world friends, but I think it’s pretty tough in a city like NYC… there’s so many of us, but I think you have to have a certain type of personality to meet people at openings and whatnot.