While we see a lot of platforms celebrating female sexuality, very few artists revel in the beauty of the masculine form. Mike Esperanza, a New York-based photographer and choreographer shores up his sense of aesthetics with his raw and ‘spunky yet earthy’ photographs. His subjects have just the right amount of moxie and movement which takes body consciousness to another level – a place where everyone wants to tell a story without talking. His pictures give the feeling of a big grand orchestration – some speak of boldness, some generate a certain sense of tension and so on. Let’s hear it from Mike himself on what helps him embrace his art with such earnest love and integrity.
1) When did your photography journey begin? And what drew you to your raw, ‘celebrating sexuality’ kind of a style?
I studied graphic design in college and photography was one of our requirements. I started taking pictures for my dance company based in California way back in 2008, to save money in marketing. I didn’t take photography very seriously until 2016. This was the turning point when I started buying the necessary equipment and marketed myself as a serious photographer. My clients have mostly been dancers so the body has always been a primary subject matter. I’ve always valued the architecture of ‘form’ through the lens.
2) Do you have any particular agendas in mind when you take pictures; is there anything you want to convey to the world as an artist?
I don’t necessarily have anything in mind. Sometimes I craft things to use for a shoot but I don’t plan the outcome. Most of the times the best shots are in the transitions as opposed to the final result you have in mind. If you ever watch a dancer very closely, you will see they investigate movements, it’s that sheer moment of decision I have always wanted to capture.
3) Body positivity is the order of the day, then why is it that you choose only chiselled, muscular and perfectly shaped subjects?
It’s never really about the stature. Movement is such a big part of what my aesthetics are. That’s the language I like to share with my subjects or even educate them. Power, sex, and drive are not stationary, it’s an energy that engulfs a room. It’s the confidence that shadows the form.
4) Do you always carry your camera with you wherever you go?
I try to…
5) Can you walk us through your actual work process – what makes you opt for a certain subject, a certain pose, what suddenly inspires you and how do you take it from there?
I try not to over plan. The only time I do a lot of prep work is when I create something for someone – that’s when we get talking about details such as the garment and the prop, and such collaboration is great fun. I try to build a lot of trust around the partnership so that the subject matter is able to commit to the ideas completely.
6) What is your next personal goal as a photographer, in terms of honing your art?
I’d love to create a book about artists, about our lives and our processes. Most people see the show and they forget the ‘behind the scenes’ hustle and bustle. I’d like to delve a little deeper by portraying the nitty-gritty too.
7) Do you think photography has the potential to bring about a transformation in society?
Yes, any art form can if you use it the right way. Art at least starts a conversation about relevant subjects, and that’s half the battle won.
8) I was scanning through your pictures, and there was a picture of a man with bubbles resting on his body as he struck the dancer's pose, a man sporting an androgynous look with a silver pearl necklace, a picture titled fly me to the moon - such beautiful and arbitrary themes, do you decide on these themes beforehand?
I do plan, but sometimes the creative flow takes you somewhere else. It’s really when you pull yourself away from the idea/prop you start seeing the real potential.
9) How do you approach your subjects, do you usually know them, or they are just strangers you approach by-and-by?
I know most of them because of my connections with the dance world. There are also people who approach me through Instagram or email.
10) What is more appealing – candid or a well-prepared shot?
I think both! Having a base idea is good but if you limit yourself to that, then it doesn’t evolve. You have to go with your gut and not just stick to the plan. There’s a different kind of rush you feel when you find something special.
11) What qualities must a good photographer possess?
The photographer must know how to build an atmosphere of ‘relatability’. Sometimes it takes a while for people to warm up during a shoot, so a nice and friendly conversation really helps transform the energy and help ideas flow seamlessly. It just builds the trust between the photographer and the subject.
12) Do you think a photographer has to be an extensive traveller as well, or that’s just another platitude?
It would be helpful if a photographer is a traveller, but then art can’t have such hard and fast rules, it really depends what one’s life is like, and how do they manage to get their chunk of inspiration. It’s very subjective.
13) Any Indian photographers/artists you look up to or are inspired by?
I love Indian textiles, the vibrant colours and the fashion. There’s a distinct point of view and confidence that the artistic vibe of India carries.
14) Lastly, would you ever work with someone who wants to get comfortable in their own skin, but still gets nervous at the mere thought of posing and baring their skin and soul? Do you think someone like this would make for an interesting subject?
Yes, I’ve worked with such people too, I usually don’t impose any of my ideas on them. I help them build their confidence first and remind them what made them choose this work in the first place. There was this one time I jumped off a cliff to dive into the ocean. I knew I wanted to do it but psychologically a series of self-doubts consistently kept cropping up. You know what, people usually know when it’s time to jump.
You can check out Mike's photographs on his Instagram handle - @esp_bymike
Mike captures a range of emotions, here's a sneak peek into his work.
A day in a photographer's life! The 'behind the scenes' fun, drama and persistence is actually creative fertilizer.