Michael Cogliantry is a Brooklyn-based photographer.
It was 1993 and I was in the high school auditorium standing on stage, hair down to the middle of my back, channeling my inner Slash and sweating profusely. A self-described art geek and bad at gym, this was the moment I had been waiting for. Then it happened. Our group lost. With my dreams of being a rock star squashed, I traded my Les Paul guitar for a Pentax 35mm camera. Luckily, creating imagery came a little easier to me than making music.
Initially, classic documentary style photography was a big influence on me. As I began to shoot myself, however, I gained more of an individual voice. I quickly found inspiration in the set-up or assembled image technique, an approach that enabled me to tell a story.
For my first series, I wanted to work on the subject of America, a topic also covered by photographers who have inspired me like Walker Evans and Robert Frank. I not only wanted to attain the documentary look of their work, but I also wanted to put the images together in a more constructed fashion. These early images were based on the theme of a man in 50s wardrobe. This was the beginning of my exploration of the theme of the American man. Using myself as the model, I examined the idea of a central character that travels through different landscapes.
Las Vegas became the site for another project entitled Furry Kama Sutra. I really wanted to create a group of pictures based on the anonymity of users on the web. Furries made sense to me because they are people who congregate both online and in person, often with hidden identities. In the fur-suit, one can leave the confines of his computer room and venture out into the real world with other like-minded people, still remaining anonymous. The collection of the ten “kama sutra” poses was shot at various “by-the-hour” motels around Las Vegas. The project was eventually turned into a fur covered artist book produced in an edition of 500.
India is my latest, large-scale project-turned-book. I consider it a continuation of the American series. The concept behind this work was to capture the classic American traveler in locations outside of America. Utilizing what I consider to be an American story genre–the “road trip”–the project’s concept was to drive 2000 kilometers across southern India in two weeks, from the fabled Malabar Coastal town of Cochin to one of India’s newest high-tech centers, Hyderabad, in a three-wheeled 150cc auto-rickshaw.
Today I perform a combination of assignment and personal work. Both present unique challenges. As an artist, the most important thing you have is your vision. I strive for beautiful pictures that also have content. The hardest thing is finding what to shoot next. I’ve found my best work is extremely pre-planned, but once I’m on set with my lights and camera placed, I’m very spontaneous.