Meagan Cignoli is an up-and-coming fashion and portrait photographer in NYC. Only in her 20s, she has already photographed fashion editorials and features for the likes of Elle magazine, Prestige magazine, Fortune, Womens Wear Daily, and Industry magazine.
To say Cignoli is an incredible photographer would not only be an understatement, it would detract from what she actually does best--telling stories, creating characters, and playing with identities. Meagan's photographs have the feel of motion picture still lifes whose plots you are yearning to discover. Whether capturing beautiful women in exotic locales or mere mortals in the throes of mundanity, all of Meagan's images are perfectly crafted homages to mood and detail. Needless to say, we were excited to interview her here at Chicktellectual.
C.com: How did you get started in photography?
MC: I'll give you the short answer. I started wandering the planet in the year 2001, and I loved street photography. I would fly around about 70% of the year and shoot people on the street. In 2004, I got sick with anemia and was hospitalized in Shanghai. By the time I made it home, I was stuck inside for months with fatigue and light sensitivity. During this time I started shooting friends and models in my loft. And I guess it was around then that I realized I had a deep passion for fashion and portrait photography.
C.com: With that background, what do you think you'd be doing if you weren't a photographer?
MC: I love this question. Sometimes I get really nervous that I will go blind and not know what to do with myself, but deep down I know I would be able to find something else that I loved. I think if I weren't a photographer, I would be a life coach or perhaps work in art therapy.
C.com: How do you think your photography has evolved over the years?
MC: Getting older is really exciting. I love growing and watching myself get more precise and in-line with my visions. Just the comfort I feel with shooting and the assuredness that everything will be ok -- it makes my work better because I have more energy to focus on the project. I think my technique has improved, and I push the limits every time I shoot.
C.com: What attributes, in your opinion, make for a good model or subject in general?
MC: Discomfort really shows so the best subjects are drunk. [laughs] Or people who are comfortable in front of the camera. Actors and models who really get into the characters we are creating are so much fun to shoot. You don't have to be 5'9" and 120 lbs to photograph well.
C.com: Most people have the impression that fashion photography is all glamorous and fun. Can you give us the scoop on the nittier grittier aspects of the job?
MC: It is fun. It is like being a kid and playing barbie with the most creative and stylish girls in the world. Except you get to take a picture of it and make it permanent, and people look at it and call it art. The only bad aspects of the job are when things go wrong. If the model is sick or unhappy. Models are generally very young so they have their days. Or if something is off. You are only as strong as your weakest link. So if the clothing is wrong or the hair is not done right, well, the shoot is ruined and you've wasted 10 days. Other than that, yeah, we have fabulous fun lives. It's true.
C.com: Have you felt any bias in being a woman in your industry?
MC: I've heard it said that it is a hard industry for women, but I haven't really experienced it or noticed it. I work mainly with women and I really enjoy that.
C.com: How does living in NYC inspire or influence your work?
MC: For one thing, there are fantastic people here to work with, and it's an ambitious place that really keeps me ambitious. As for inspiring, I have shot here so much. I think when you move to a new neighborhood, it really inspires you, each area being so different. I feel really inspired by Brooklyn right now. It has a nice texture. I like the view of the tops of the buildings and the old billboards. It feels grittier and more textured to me than Manhattan. Perhaps I will move or shoot there one day. I have never done either.
C.com: There's been a lot of controversy about out-of-control magazine touch-ups, to the point that some celebrities and models are rendered virtually unrecognizable or airbrushed into stick figures of their former selves. What's your stance on this?
MC: This is a very difficult question. I agree that rendering women as flawless stick figures is a negative image to continue to flash in the world's faces. I absolutely retouch skin and body parts, while at the same time I am also negatively affected by the perception that women must be perfectly manicured, coiffed, wrinkle-free, and fat-free. It is a formula, one that sells. I do love creating images with thin models looking this way. When magazines start accepting images of plus size models, and not just once as a PR move, and when there are sample sizes that stylists could pull for plus size models, I will definitely shoot it. I don't think that thin women are the only beautiful women by any means. I don't shoot with models who have known eating disorders, and I do think the standards need to be looked at. Often at Fashion Week, I am appalled when I see models who are so obviously ill being hired, and I wonder why they were cast. On the other hand, fashion is not reality, it is fantasy. I think for people who do not want to partake in our fantasy, they can read "O" or "Redbook" or something of that nature.
C.com: Any advice for young people wanting to pursue a career in fashion photography?
MC: Intern free for me.
For more of Meagan's work (or to take her up on the internship offer), visit http://ilovemeagan.com/
(Click photos to enlarge)
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