Michael Donovan is a NY based, editorial, portrait and beauty photographer.
Let’s start with the basics. How did you get your start and what drew you to fashion photography?
I was pulled in because there were so many attractive qualities of the environment that don’t exist elsewhere. This is the place where I can work with curious minds that appreciate style and art, people who question and admire beauty, and individuals who like to work sort of nomadically within a space that promotes teamwork. I’m happily involved with a highly social environment for people seeking both inner and outer growth.
But the pull probably started when I was young. One day I took my grandma’s magazines so I could draw on the faces of the models and found myself wandering through a Harpers Bazaar looking at the beautiful women attending classy parties while wearing sexy dresses. They were all surrounded by great typography, graphic design, and fine art so it peaked my interest. My grandma was a very stylish woman and I loved being around girls so it must have left a deep impression. I tried other careers but this environment pulled me in from afar. I tried to escape it 1.5 years ago and it just pulled me back in. I like making visuals and telling stories and the best pieces for that are tucked in this sphere.
You have worked with many talented stylists, models, designers etc… What is that like?
It can be exciting or it can be frustrating depending on the day and the project. Sometimes you work with a really huge person, team or client and you lose all your freedom to make decisions. You find yourself as a mute cog fulfilling an order from a mysterious committee, which is too scared to look in the mirror. Then the next day you get to be surrounded by a progressive team working with an exciting client that sees a greater vision. I’m fortunate that my experiences are becoming more and more creative-friendly. I think more clients are shifting away from ugly homogenous and gentrified fashion images and they are seeking out work by me and a few others who have been emphasizing a hybrid between fine art and fashion. So the people on set seem to be more excited and capable of putting that vision forward. It’s inspiring when you’re on set with all these talented people.
What projects are you working on right now?
So much is happening right now and I don’t think I will fully appreciate this experience until I can look back at it a year from now. So I’m expanding my base to cover more ground while I wait for that reflection. This is a huge deal for me. I have been in NYC for over 7 years and now I’ve added LA to my spiritual repertoire. I have been here a few times for short trips before but this has been four months of exploring myself and the creative scene in order to foster a new expansion of spirit, creativity, and business. LA has taught me to push myself in new ways and I’m continuing those lessons as I return to NY.
How would you describe your work to someone that has never seen it?
My work is fun if you enjoy a collection of non-fashion images built within the fashion genre. I still fulfill a few fashion cliché’s but my work tends to lean toward stylized cinematic, raw, sexy, smart, emotional, authentic, and bold images. I like to blend indie and underground aesthetics alongside mainstream and pop features to create my own world representative of my cultural affiliations.
Some people may get a little freaked because I openly play with taboo subjects (think a hard Rated R in the 80’s before things got weak) but the goal is to capture the human experience as a whole. I still produce a lot of Family Friendly G-Rated things for people looking toward that.
And of course women are a huge factor in my images. I simply love women and hold them in a very high regard. I feel that is a critical part of my work.
What does fashion mean to you?
Simply put: fashion is an element, which assists in forming personal and collective style. Left alone fashion is the result of abstract thinking coalescing in to a single item, which becomes the unifying solution for class, utility, tribal connections and more. Combined with other fashion it’s a single unit, which holds the potential to spark imagination through a person’s ability to form remixes, and mashups. Fashion choices are excellent ways for the spirit to express itself and place itself on display. It’s also a great spiritual protector and beacon for people seeking their tribe.
You lived in New York and now LA, what’s next? What drew you to LA versus NY?
I quit shooting for about a year following a spiritual meltdown. I was broken because I felt I was making art which contributed to unnecessary social and environmental issues. I sorted out those issues through conversations with guests on my podcast and decided to get back in the game. I started to flex the creative muscles in NY but found I was weak and lacked momentum, I was floundering.
So friends in LA called me and said “Yo dude, you’re tired in NY. Come get a tan and learn to swim. We’ll give you a free place all to yourself with an amazing pool and you will have a bunch of friends waiting for you while you get yourself sorted.” How could I say no to that?!
I got rid of all my possessions except a duffle bag, backpack and a carry-on then bought a one-way ticket to LA where I learned how to couch surf in luxury. My friends and the spaces helped me gather new momentum and steam. I found myself shooting things I couldn’t do in NY no matter how much I tried. I also picked up some new business skills I never built during my time in NY.
Now I’m heading back to NY for a few months. I have some speaking engagements and there are some projects that I simply can’t do here because LA isn’t set up for some of the things I like to do with fashion. I’m excited to bring back some exotic ideas I discovered while here in LA. I’m also setting my focus on Europe. I want to live in Paris for a few seasons and learn from their culture. I feel there is a special romantic between fashion and Paris that have enchanted women from around the world and I want to learn what that is about. I want to better understand that relationship with a hope it can unlock something inside of my creative and spiritual souls. I’m also looking forward to London, Oslo, and Moscow to see what I can learn from the cities. Overall the future looks just as exciting as this moment here!