Mikko Castaño has always been surrounded by art, growing up in Los Angeles and coming from a family of artists. Now based in New York City, Mikko started out by writing and taking photos for Georgetown's fashion and entertainment blog back when he was in college, after a push from the club's board to start taking photography more seriously. Eventually advancing from digital to analogue photography with inspiration from Lomography, Mikko has found a love for point-and-shoot cameras as well as Lomography 800 Color Negative Film.
Hello, Mikko, welcome to Lomography Magazine! Could you tell us a little bit about your current work?
I moved to Manhattan from Los Angeles last summer, and just last month I moved to Brooklyn. Between then, I had been on somewhat of a hiatus from photography. I lost a little bit of my passion for photography since moving to New York, which was difficult because shooting here was something that I had long looked forward to. In the last few months, with the aid of literal and metaphorical changes of scenery, it feels like a switch has flipped for me regarding my approach to my work and specifically, photography. I think my work right now is just trying to capture where I am in life—holding onto a regained sense of creativity and a desire to improve.
You are interested in a variety of subjects from portraits, to concerts, to streetscapes— out of the three, what do you find yourself drawn to the most?
It’s close, but I’d have to say concerts. I find streetscapes too difficult to capture to be truly enjoyable, and I often feel the ideas in my head are better than the portraits I actually take. With concerts, I feel most connected to the subject and have often found that I’m happiest with the results I get in shooting them. The nights that I shoot concerts, I feel like I’m a part of the performance that’s taking place, not as a performer but as a documentarian. I strive to be a storyteller through my work, and shooting concerts feels to me like my most genuine form of storytelling. I get to portray these wonderful acts and performers however I choose and feel. Shooting concerts is a big responsibility, as what I’m capturing is usually owed to another artist, but it remains my favorite kind of subject.
How do you decide when and what to shoot?
I think my biggest source of inspiration in photography is movies. The visuals and moods of movies I’ve seen recently can help me define the style of my next shoot. I’m someone who gets enamored with new movies, television, music, and books when I discover them, and my singular creative focus will be on what I’ve consumed until I’ve fully exercised all my thoughts on them. I try not to schedule things too far in advance.
Does your background in graphic design inform your approach to photography?
It’s the other way around! I have a slightly more formal background in photography than I do with graphic design and have practiced photography a few years longer.
How do your photography skills inform your graphic design work?
My understanding of composition, in a general sense, comes from photography. I think my understanding of rules of symmetry, leading lines, colors, etc. that I learned through taking photos provides the foundation for my design work. Often, though, I’ll try to see how many of those rules I can break or stretch to their limit when designing a graphic, much more so than I would try with my photography. I think the best example of this is when I get to design flyers for concerts. I work a lot with my close friends’ band, Back to Yours, and since I’ve shot a lot of their shows in the past, I incorporate my concert photography into flyers for future shows. With these flyers I can exaggerate or isolate aspects of my work that I like or dislike — from the stage lighting, to the colors, to the space between the musicians.
How did you discover Lomography?
I found Lomography when I first sought out a 35 mm camera. My first camera was digital, but it wasn’t very long afterwards that I looked for a film camera. I like to research things into the ground before making a purchase, and becoming familiar with examples of what people create with certain cameras or film stocks is much more important to me than technical specs and recommendations. Lomography immediately proved itself the best and virtually only option for accomplishing that kind of research. The photos and subsequent information shared on Lomography is an absolutely essential resource for photographers.
What were your first impressions shooting with Lomography Color Negative 800 film?
I had found that many film stocks I’d worked with ended up having a homogenous look, regardless of the ISO level or manufacturer. Achieving a certain look through 35 mm photography, at least when I first started shooting film, seemed to be entirely the result of the technical settings, composition, lighting, etc. that I was shooting with. The different film stocks I was using seemed to not have any discernible difference or effect on my work. Lomography Color Negative 800 film was the first film stock I can remember using that had a consistently explicit and obvious style, and it was one that always made itself apparent on any photo I took with it. It’s bold, loud, colorful, and unique.
Can you tell us about your current analogue camera kit?
Right now I mostly use a Kyocera Slim T. I’ll also occasionally use a Canon Sureshot Telefax. I like using a point-and-shoot camera because I’ll often shoot in areas/situations that I wouldn’t normally carry an SLR or DSLR into. I’ve also broken every 35 mm SLR I’ve owned.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you can share with us?
All I can say is that all of my forthcoming work for the rest of the year will be done in New York and places in New York I have yet to capture.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your photography?
I’ve had friends and family tell me that I have a “style” that is apparent in my photos. In the actual moments when I’m shooting something or someone, it never feels like I’m capturing something in a consistent manner that could be looked at as a “style.” I genuinely feel like I’m still discovering my style, years after beginning to take photography more seriously, and that I’ll likely spend a large portion, if not all, of my photography career trying to invent and continually reinvent one for myself. However, If there was one thing I could say I see as a through-line in my photography, it is a sort of melancholic nostalgia. That mood is the only aspect of my work that I think has carried on through the years.