Armed with fifteen years experience as a fashion designer, merchandiser and stylist, Robert Mendolia has emerged as a major new force in the world of men's fashion, fitness and portrait photography. A graduate of New York's prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology with dual degrees in design and photography, Robert's images reflect an intuitive understanding of the relationship between these two disciplines.
Shannon Nelson: With your background as a fashion designer, what prompted you to make the transition to fashion photography? Robert Mendolia: It really wasn’t a choice, with all the imports the garment industry in NY has become extinct.
I needed to choose a new career where I would be happy doing what I liked and still be able to utilize my 15 years of skills obtained in the fashion industry. I always loved photography and decided to make the switch, luckily for me I seemed to have a feel for it and my career has taken off quite quickly. My fashion background has helped a tremendous amount on set in the styling.
Shannon: What is your signature style of photography? Robert Mendolia: I really don’t like to consider myself as having a specific style. I always like to push the limits and see what new images I can create. I do seem to have a flare for shooting with men, I have been told I have the rare ability to make them look sexy without making them look feminine, which is great I really enjoy working with the boys, they’re a lot of fun and always very accommodating, never an attitude on set. It’s like a day of hanging with your buds.
Shannon: What is your main focus when doing a photo shoot? Robert: My main focus is first and foremost to stay calm. I try to have control over everything and it makes me crazy. My assistants always tell me to step back and let them do the work but I feel like if I’m not actively setting up and running the show that I’m not involved in the creative process even though lighting & concept are always worked out before I even step into the studio.
Considering my background I used to also try and get involved in the styling, I would make myself nuts trying to do everything. I’ve slowly learned to let them do the work and I try to focus on getting to know the model and making them feel comfortable. I sit with them and explain what it is that we’re going for so that when they step on set they have some sort of motivation as to where I want them to take me.
Shannon: To date, which shoot has been your favorite and why? Robert: Every shoot has it’s pros and cons but I think my favorite is the super hero story called “In Heroic Fashion.” It was so much fun to come up with the concept story boards and shoot according to spec and then see it all come together in the end. It was a lot of fun.
Shannon: Do you have a mentor or another photographer you admire? What are the qualities about this person that help you learn and grow in your craft? Robert: Even before my career change I have always been a huge fan of Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber I just think their images are amazing. I live by the statement that Bruce once made “sometimes we shoot what we can never be.”
After entering the industry I have developed a love of the work of photographer Miles Aldridge, I just love his use of color, both in his styling and in his lighting. I feel I learn a little from every photographer as I come into contact with their images I always walk away with a little something that will inspire me later on.
Shannon: What is your best advice for those who are aspiring to be a fashion photographer? Robert: Creativity is wonderful, but if you don’t learn the basics of promotion, networking and business you’re doomed! You need to know the business end of the industry if you want to survive. How to cost a job, how not to under price your talents, negotiating, licensing, etc. Lose the attitude that you’re the boss because you’re not, the client is!