An Interview With Nik Antonio
Nik Antonio is a fast-rising young artist based in New York City. After joining HRY Space Talk, “Photography: Shaping The World Around Us,” we spoke to Nik about his work, life, and a little bit of everything else.
Kayla Mcmillen: “Why did you first start photography?”
Nik Antonio: I'm not really sure why I started photographing. When I was younger, my father took pictures a lot and growing up in NY, I was always surrounded by art. I started taking pictures as a kid for fun but never considered a career or life in picture making. From sixth grade throughout high school, I didn't do any formal art classes leaving photography as my way to do art. While I was away at boarding school, I began shooting portraiture and taking small photo jobs to make money but still didn't fully consider photography as a choice. I applied to Parsons School of Design on a whim originally for communication design but ended up focusing more on photography my first year. I think that's when I started taking it a little more seriously.
Kayla Mcmillen: “You lived in Berlin for some time, how did your work there differ from your work here?”
Nik Antonio: Berlin changed "almost" everything about my work. Prior to Berlin, I was creating images I was proud of but that I didn't have as much connection to. The photos were very clean and meaningless for the most part. While living in Berlin, I decided to only shoot analog, slowing my thought process down and making my workflow slower and more relaxed. Being alone in another country for the first time, I started learning more about myself as well as forcing myself to meet other people from different views and backgrounds. This changed my views on photography from the style of an image to the meaning of things in images. While away, I also went through a lot of life-changing moments like my grandfather dying and my first same-sex relationship which heavily influenced my work there and the work I currently make.
Kayla Mcmillen: “What’s your biggest issue/pet peeve about the model/photography industry?”
Nik Antonio: Pay your artists and give credit to your artists! I feel like many photographers, from the perspective of a minority (queer black man), get so underpaid but then are expected to cure cancer with pennies. A lot of magazines I've worked with will try to not pay and a lot of times, initially won't credit me or friends of mine. Some designers will try to pay close to nothing and then take advantage of your kindness. You learn over time what things to say yes and no to but for photographers starting out, it isn't fair. Clout doesn't pay bills.
Kayla Mcmillen: “How has photography changed your life?”
Nik Antonio: Photography to me has been a therapy session. It's been a breath of fresh air and a break from reality. After being diagnosed with depression, photography became my best friend. Something I can use to escape. It has also allowed me to meet some pretty dope people. That's a pretty good perk.
Kayla Mcmillen: “What's your favorite project you’ve done thus far?”
Nik Antonio: My favorite project I've done thus far would probably have to be Tale of "i". Tale of "i" is/was my journal. A collection of staged images about everything I was going through at the time. Being in my first relationship with another guy. The death of my grandfather. Coming out to my family and not knowing what to say about my sexuality since I didn't even know. Tale of "i" was the first very personal project I did so I have a close connection to it but I also look forward to future projects filling my heart.
Kayla Mcmillen: “Who’s your dream collaboration with?”
Nik Antonio: I've never thought about this and also keep changing my answer in my head. I don't know! I don't just have one. I'd love love love to work with Solange because of how insanely talented she is both musically and artistically. That would be a pretty crazy collab! Frank ocean because his music has been an inspiration and he seems so interesting. I also think it would be pretty cool to work with Pyer Moss, the clothing brand, on a large scale project because everything that's come out from them has been incredible in my opinion. Lastly, even though he was the first to come to mind, TYLER, THE CREATOR. Talented, interesting, and unlike anyone else really.
Kayla Mcmillen: “Where do you draw most of your inspiration from?”
Nik Antonio: It might sound uber cliche but I draw most of my inspiration from the mundanes of life. The subtle moments that catch your attention. I don't really know where I get my ideas from or how it makes sense in my head but things come to me and it only makes sense after the shutter is pressed. I've made a lot of work relating to moments in my life and my emotions and mental condition and I see that all as a what life is. I try to create the beautiful, mundane moments in between.
Kayla Mcmillen: “Do you consider yourself an artist?”
Nik Antonio: I joke about it a lot with my friends and say I'm not a photographer, I'm a photo enthusiast. I think I am an artist. I would hope others also consider me an artist. Art is my career beyond just photography. It's something that I feel makes some sort of sense to me and something others can make sense of through me. Like in any other art form, I create. What else would make someone an artist?
Kayla Mcmillen: “You’ve done some work on desexualizing nude photography, why do you feel this is important?”
Nik Antonio: I believe the idea of the nude body is a beautiful form that over time became corrupted and moved to an overly sexualized thing with the growing popularity of porn from a young age to casually sending nudes over dating apps. The body is a beautiful thing and we are all naked underneath the masks we place over our skin. In my work, I aim to define and promote the ideas of the body simply as just a body through form, movement, and simplicity. I want to be able to see my image and think, if you put clothes on this model is it still a strong image. I tend to use people I find on the street, in the train, at a party, online, Basically anywhere you normally see people, I've scouted from. Because most of my models have either never modeled before or have never been casually naked in front of someone in a non-sexual way, I try to build a connection first, allowing my models to convey a more relaxed look in my images. Sexualizing images tends to create an uncomfortable, non-pleasing look in the models that I don't like but it also promotes the idea that many photographers are just horny and want to fuck their models, which I also find to be very wrong and pretty disgusting.
Kayla Mcmillen: “Do you have any favorite locations you like to shoot, in the studio or outdoors?”
Nik Antonio: I try to use a new location every time I shoot so I don't really have a favorite location to shoot. I am very into shooting on location with studio lighting compared to being inside of a studio. When on location, you may have less control than in the studio but you have more to work with rather than building everything from nothing. The location in my pictures is important to me and becomes its own character in my images.
Kayla Mcmillen: “If you weren’t doing photography what would you be doing right now instead?”
Nik Antonio: DEFINITELY COOKING! I've always been into cooking and experiencing different foods. I chose art school over culinary school and have no regrets but if I couldn't take any more photos, I'd just aim to be a huge chef.