For the past three years, Mike has been trekking the globe and capturing glimpses of the human spirit across cultures. Check out his story below.
Say hello to Mike:
Where are you from? Where have you been?
I was born in San Francisco, CA and currently live in Tokyo, Japan. I’ve lived in London and spent basically three years traveling the world nonstop.
How do you find your inspiration?
I have very specific tastes about art and design, and I usually find myself drawing inspiration from painters more than photographers. I used to spend hours walking around the National Gallery in London. I’m a big fan of the impressionists, and I even have a rococo style painting tattooed on my arm. One of my favorite photographers, Irving Penn, was originally a graphic designer and later became a painter. His tastes outside of photography are so visible in his photographs, which is why I try to study things that aren’t photography. When you can see the similarities between photography and something else, you can use them to your benefit. When you see the differences, you can exploit and focus on them. But if there is one thing that inspires me the most, it would be dance.
Do you get photographer’s block? If so, how do you overcome that?
All the time. The only thing you can do is persevere.
Tell us about your career. How did you get into it?
I have been shooting photos since the age of 11, when I wanted to take photos of my friends and I skateboarding. My father let me use his Nikon FM, and I probably didn’t learn how to use it correctly until 15 or 16. But having that camera was probably the most essential part of me becoming a serious photographer. I only shot with a 50mm lens for almost 10 years and I never really had an interest in fancy gear. After I graduated college, I wanted to really hone my skills as a photographer and made the jump to digital. I spent about two years working in the Bay Area to finance all my gear and then spent the next two years shooting around the world. I didn’t make the jump to professional photography until last year.
What types of photography do you do?
I primarily work in street/documentary, dance, and portraiture. I wouldn’t say I have a favorite, but I do get a different sense of gratification between the genres. For example, when I capture something good on the street or when I’m traveling, I feel lucky. Sort of like a situation was presented in front of me and I rose to the occasion, but when I’m in the studio, I feel more accomplished because it takes a lot of work to get photos exactly how I want them.
What was the moment you decided to become a photographer?
I don’t think I ever had a moment where I thought, “this is what I want to be.” It always just seemed to be there. I guess when I would watch interviews and documentaries of my favorite photographers, I felt that they were the sort of people I could identify with, and I knew this was something I wanted to pursue.
What’s the best advice you can think of for someone just starting in photography?
Just go out and have fun. Photography doesn’t have to be so serious.
If you could photograph anyone in the world, who would it be?
Currently, I’d love to photograph David Attenborough, Steve Eisman, Edward Snowden, Emma Watson, and Bill Murray. I want to photograph people who are interesting or who are a part of current events. Steve Eisman seems like a weird choice, but I’ve been currently obsessed with reading about the banking crisis of 2008, and he was the lone moral human being that stood out during that mess of greed. People like that are extraordinary, and they are who I’d like to photograph.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to being a great photographer?
A really great friend of mine once told me, “The people who climb the highest don’t know where the top is,” and that motto is really something I took to heart not only in dance, but in photography as well. The admiration and recognition of being a great photographer is really something that is decided by the people who see the photos, not by the photographer. So I try my best to make every photo I take as beautiful or as meaningful as it can be, and that’s it.
What’s the most inspiring photo you’ve ever seen?
There are too many to name, but a few are Irving Penn’s portrait of Pablo Picasso, Fan Ho’s Approaching Shadow, Eve Arnold’s photo of Michael Caine and Candice Bergen, and basically anything Richard Avedon shot in Paris for Harper’s Bazaar. The photo of Vladimir Horowitz by Alfred Eisenstaedt is also a great photo.
What photography advice do you wish you had when you were first starting out?
Learn how to use one lens properly. Everyone has a different eye and it’s important to find yours before adding all the different kinds of lenses or presets when you post. There is a rhyme and a reason to a composition. I would start with a 50mm or a 35mm, and just learn to compose with them until it becomes second nature.
Who’s your biggest hero in your life?
Probably Ron Swanson. He might be fictional, but he’s still my hero.
For anyone that wants to get in touch with Mike, here’s some contact information:
Mike, thanks so much for taking the time to interview with us!
If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.