Mickey Aloisio – Queer Division in New York

An Interview with Mickey Aloisio. An American born artist who is currently based in Queens, NY. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a concentration in photography in 2016. Aloisio’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and he recently released his second self-published limited edition monograph at the Bureau of General Services: Queer Division in New York. Aloisio addresses ideas of belonging, desire, and vulnerability while evoking concepts of conventional beauty within their portraits. 

How easy or difficult is it finding models to pose nude? Is it easier to work with people you know or strangers?

Well I do think that I’d have more success finding models if nudity wasn’t such a large part of the work. But it’s not overwhelming challenging. How difficult it is kind of depends on the surrounding area. If I’m in New York or San Francisco, it’s easier for me to find models than if I were in Iowa. I found wherever there is an active art/performance/queer scene, there will be people willing to make nude photographs. I often describe photographing a stranger as being similar to meeting your partners parents for the first time. If the parents like you, then the relationship has a better chance. So all you’re really there to do, is make sure you can get on their good side. Now take that idea and apply that to a naked stranger in front of your camera. The more they like you, the more they will trust you, the more open they will be to ideas, conversation, poses, etc. Where as generally if I already know someone, we’ve already built up a level of trust between us. So this whole act of putting on a show is unnecessary. However, I think it largely has to do with the individual and their own regard for, or reaction to the camera. I’ve found that even if I’ve known someone for a while, once the camera comes out, I could be someone totally new again. On the other hand, I can photograph a borderline stranger, and it could just be seamless, the camera is just simply there while they frolic in front of it. I still approach each shoot more or less the same. I try to converse with them, my work focus’s a lot on the connection between photographer and subject and how ultimately that sensation, is the driving force behind every portrait. I talk about things not only pertaining to their body or sexuality, but instead ask about their family, their coming out stories, even more mundane topics like how they enjoy their job or their neighborhood. The goal is that by means of conversation, they will be distracted from their constant self awareness of being naked in front of a camera, leading to a more natural and unguarded portrait.

For American Wildlife I know you did some traveling to shoot. How was this experience for you?

Making American Wildlife was something that was so incredible for me. I think almost everyone who grew up in America, has at one point of their life, fantasized about driving through it. The total trip lasted 90 nights, where 85 nights were spent on couches, guest bedrooms or shared beds of the people I was photographing. I was very humbled by the willingness and charity of others. I’ll admit that there were times where I was striking out, or that I’d stay at someones house and would have to leave in the middle of the night.

But there was something that was so liberating about the whole thing. It added a level of pride to that project. It was something that took 14,000 miles and 5 oil changes to create. It wasn’t something that just happened over time. It was a project I really felt invested and immersed in. I learned a lot about people and about my country, it was a very interesting time to be doing this in terms of the political climate we were and are still, going through. I learned about love, about independence and most of all, about community. It felt like much more than a just a ‘photo project’ to me, whatever that term really means, it seemed to be largely about self exploration and fulfillment.

You usually go for heavier-set men to photograph. How did you make this choice?

During my first semester at F.I.T, I was taking a photo documentary class where we had to come up with a semester long project. So I started photographing heavier-set gay men. Growing up as a closeted gay boy in Long Island, this was always what I was attracted to, for as long as I can remember having attractions at all. However, I never had any gay friends, I was too young and too nervous to go to bars, etc. So a large reason for me wanting to go to college, was to be around these men I’ve always fantasized about. But then I got there and froze up. I was a skinny broke college kid, eating heads of broccoli for dinner, I wasn’t sure I would fit in. So this project was kind of my ticket in. It provided a way for me to approach these men without solely focusing on attraction or rejection. It was a total selfish act for me to be a part of something I desperately wanted. But since, others ideas and motivations have been explored relating to the work.

For example ideas relating identity, desire, vulnerability and representation. I’ve noticed that larger men, even within the gay community, or the art world, are not always represented in a way of elegance or stature, if represented at all. Often times we see bigger men in commercials or advertisements in a humorous context, like a chubby construction worker dancing around a pole. So I think it’s important to really explore this subject matter and produce portraits that represent the charm, grace and magnificence, that I’ve always admired of these men, to a larger audience that didn’t come from my background of deep attraction.

How did you first discover your love for photography? And do you remember what you liked to shoot back then?

When I was a junior in high school, I remember realizing my grades weren’t good enough to get into any colleges. I think someone had told me that art schools only required good portfolios. So I bought a camera and started taking photo classes. I didn’t get in, but regardless I continued taking pictures. It was a form of expression that I became attached to, or a buddy I had to keep me company everywhere I went. I remember mostly shooting my friends. I worked at a catering hall after high school on the water and all of us who worked there were pretty close with each other and quite the characters, so I’d photograph our absurdities and the bonds we made. It was a time of my life that I knew was very special and also knew it wouldn’t last, so I looked at photographing as a way to ensure that I’ll be able to hold on to it. Now and then, some of those friends and I will take out the old hard drive and reminisce.

What is coming up next? Are you thinking of a book perhaps? Or what would be your dream project?

So, I’ve actually made two books, one was ‘Gay Wildlife’, an edition of 50, which was the outcome of my two year’s at F.I.T, photographing the men around NY. The other was ‘American Wildlife’ which was an edition of 100, a book made up of the body of work I produced from my 3 months on the road. However, these were both self published. A very large goal of mine is to not self-publish my next book. My dream project, which is something I am still in the middle of planning, is to travel through Europe for three months to photograph the gay men and culture out there. As I have never been, it is something that heavily excites and interests me. I’d love to do a ‘European Wildlife’. Maybe once I make it to Berlin we can hang! Ideally, I hope to work with a publishing house or win some sort of book publishing competition to produce this work. So far that’s what I have planned for the future. As of now, its still just an idea, but hopefully it’ll work out.