Marcel Castenmiller is one of those familiar faces that you remember from somewhere, but you’re not exactly sure where. Allow us to refresh your memory. At the ripe age of 25, Castenmiller has strut and posed for the world’s biggest fashion labels, from McQueen and Versace to Hermes and Gucci. But modeling is not the Canadian-born Castenmiller’s true vocation. After working as an assistant for photographer Ryan McGinley, he began producing his own work, and his photography was eventually featured at New York’s Milk Gallery. Equipped with a Contax TVS III, Leica M6, and an expanding portfolio, Castenmiller is treating taking pictures less like a hobby and more like a full-time job.
BULLETT: Tell us more about your move from Canada to New York, and how you established yourself as a photographer.
Marcel Castenmiller: I started painting and drawing in school, and it was going well for me, but Vancouver is not very well recognized in the visual arts in general. I was looking for something else, and I came across the fact that the school had a huge dark room, and I started taking courses. In 2006, I went on a trip with photographer Ryan McGinley, and documented the whole trip. When I came back and developed the film, I liked what I saw. We did another trip in 2007, after which I decided to stay in New York and continue photography.
Your photos have an everyday quality about them, like you pick up shots along the way when you are actually busy doing something else.
Exactly, none of it is planned at all. It’s all in the moment. Unless there is something that I want to further investigate, like if my girlfriend is doing something interesting and I don’t catch her right away. Then I’ll mention it and try to reenact.
What do you think is the difference between looking at things and looking at people through the lens?
The only difference is that with people, they have to be forward, otherwise you’re not going to get what you want. With objects you can just move them around, but humans are much more interesting than objects.
Do you ever take pictures of complete strangers?
I do take pictures of strangers but it’s usually in the distance and not very obvious. Occasionally, I would stop people in Japan, or sometimes in New York, but in a way, it’s not really the kind of photographs that I would be looking forward to share.
Is there any kind of photography that you feel like you would never be able to do, like being a war photographer?
That’s something I would want to do! It’s very dangerous, exciting, and something that not very many people get to see, which gives me even more reason why to photograph it. But I don’t think I could do fashion, just because I know so much about it and I don’t like the whole stylist, hair, and makeup involvement. It’s too much to handle as a photographer. It would kind of take away from the whole aspect of the way I shoot.
You’ve been contributing to Milk Gallery’s Underground series as an emerging photographer ever since 2010. How did that come about?
My friend Andy, who used to work for Milk Studios and is also in this network of other young photographers was like, You guys are working really hard, but no one knows you’re doing it, why don’t we do a show? He brought the subject up at Milk, and they called it Underground. He’s not with Milk anymore, but Milk Gallery continues to do the show. I’ve been asked to submit ever since the first show he did.
What are you working on right now?
There’s a book that will be my first hard cover. I’m either going to self-publish, or be published by a publisher. That’s very new to me because I’ve never had my stuff multiplied more than a hundred times.
Are there any specific photographers that really inspire you?
There’s a Japanese photographer called Issei Suda. It’s 1950’s Japanese 120 film photographs, black and white, and very beautiful.
And what was the last thing that inspired you prior to our conversation?
I was looking at a zine that Ari Marcopoulos had made with a Japanese publisher. It was a high quality printer, but the images had kind of a Xerox quality, with a shifted off layout.
Do you have any upcoming traveling plans?
Traveling is what makes me shoot. I tried to plan for Japan this March but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I’m trying to fit it all in summer, Paris, Milan, Japan, and possibly Spain. I also have to go home to Vancouver at some point.
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