SS // Have you always been visual and/or aesthetically inclined?
Pretty much! I remember being very young and rearranging my room on a regular basis. I think I have always been a little obsessed with aesthetics and the ability the visual has to shape and create the world we want to live in, as well as for its beneficial cathartic qualities. As I got a little older I began drawing portraits of friends and family, and in high school I studied everything from typography and design to darkroom and digital photography. Around that time I also became very interested in dance, which I continued to do at the college where I began to take photography as a serious career path.
You grew up in a super conservative Christian family. How did that impact the way you interacted with the world?
It made the world seem pretty confusing to be honest. The black and white nature that religion and the church offered didn’t fit with the complexities I saw in the world and what was going on inside of me. To answer the question directly, there were negative effects in some areas, but I also think it made me a very keen observer of people and culture. When you live in a small bubble you experience the world through a small lens. If you are someone who is content with that particular lens, you may not question it, but growing up closeted and gay in a community where my identity didn’t have a place, forced my sights outside the bubble, and I learned to observe and question everything. At that time I watched the world mostly as an observer not as a participator. I knew there were different ways of seeing and being in the world, and it was both exhilarating and terrifying to learn about them. Art became the most comfortable way I was able to interact with the world around me.
How do you connect with the world through your work?
It literally IS the way I connect to the world around me. Outside of my closest circle of friends and family, I have struggled with being introverted and having some social anxieties. Soon after I graduated, I remembered a guest speaker from one of my photo classes. I reached out to talk about photography as a career path and we became fast friends as well as with her larger friend group. Through photography entered some of the closest people that remain in my life today. I would not have made this connection had I not been pursuing photography. I continually experience these sort of moments in my life and work. It happens cyclically now where life connects me to my work and my work connects me to more life. I love the ability that photography has afforded me to connect with people in real and deep levels.
Did coming out change anything in this regard?
It did, but not right away, and not all at once. My process was so slow compared to some stories you might hear. My dad passed away 6 years ago after a 5 year battle with cancer and during that 5 year time was when I began to come out, mostly to friends and select family members. Everything began to get very complicated emotionally for me during that time. Coming out, albeit a slow rollout in my case, has changed me so much over the years. Now into my 30s, I can’t help but be so thankful at how far I have come. Photo is about connection for me, and the ability to share more parts of myself has been instrumental to this process. The more I am at peace with myself, the more I am able to connect with those around me, and this only makes my life and work better.
What did living in El Paso teach you about the arts that another place might not have, naturally?
What El Paso lacked in mainstream arts, It made up for in cultural arts specific to itself. Being right on the border we had many wonderful art forms from Mexican cultural that can be seen all over the city as well as ones very specific to El Paso. At the time I didn’t realize how special and unique this was but I do now. When I was growing up I really felt the lack of opportunities to study the arts. Because there were no dance classes, I started choreographing songs for the church affiliated performing arts group, as my way of creating what I wish had existed. In high school I started shooting on a digital point and shoot as well as a small film camera for my own enjoyment. I could say El Paso taught me how to create something new for myself. I learned to trust my own artistic instincts.
"[PHOTOGRAPHY] allows me to be both an observer as well as a storyteller. Growing up I felt a distinct lack of ability to make sense of my place in my own story, but photography has provided me [A VOICE]."
Do you believe that everyone has a calling? What was your personal tip off that you were meant to be a professional photographer?
Life is a series of events and small decisions that can lead one in different directions. If a person goes down the same road long enough, one will start seeing the effects of these decisions play out and our identity starts to build around that. I believe that there are many things in life we don’t get to choose and can’t change: where we were born, our family, and so on. On some levels we are all a products of our specific environments and experiences, but beyond that, I do believe we all have a choice in how we decide to move forward. My calling is self-determined. We all get to decide the kind of people we want to be in this world. I am so thankful to be alive and have this time now. I love watching things like “Knock Down the House” and “Chef’s Table” on Netflix. These inspiring stories remind me how hard people fight to realize a personal or shared dream. I want to be one of those stories in my own right. There was never one specific moment where being a professional photographer clicked as much as it has been something I’ve continually fought for. I love how it has added to and fits into my life, however in the way my interest in art began as interdisciplinary, I see it heading more in that direction in my future. I can see myself doing a great many things.
What does photography give you the chance to do that nothing else could?
It allows me to be both an observer as well as a storyteller. Growing up I felt a distinct lack of ability to make sense of my place in my own story, but photography has provided me with the beautiful ability to have a voice both inside and outside my actual photography. The role of photographer has also started to feel like a second nature, so on set, this has allowed me to really sink down deep into the process of observing and telling. When my eye is up to the camera, I am not really thinking about everything going on. I’ve started to experience a state of flow, which is just so much fun when it happens! I really think it’s safe to say I would be doing photography whether it was my job or not. I love the collaborative aspects and working with teams of people to create a collective vision, or jamming out to music while editing, as well as the quiet moments needed for being creative where I just allow myself to be bored and come up with fun ideas. Also growing my business skills has been much more fun than I expected.
Do you ever look at other photographers work to see where you are situated in the space?
Absolutely, but I try and not get too caught up in this, since every career is so different than the next. There are a few photographers who I have been following since art school. I basically try to watch people that inspire me no matter what their discipline. With other photographers specifically I usually look at things like how are they designing their websites, posting on intsagram, or marketing their work. These questions are much more helpful to me than watching the work they put out, since I am not trying to shape my work to be like anyone of them specifically. I do constantly catalogue photography of inspiring images for myself to reference. I have folders for lighting, posing, facial expressions, movement, post production and then even cataloged some interior and exterior design since I love shooting in real spaces and this helps me to see a subject, space and its light quickly and make decisions about what I want to do.
What are your thoughts on every average Joe having the ability to photograph and upload their own creative content to Instagram?
It created a lot of competition when I was starting out, so it took me a while to know how to plant my flag as a professional. For the first few years, I still hadn’t found my voice. It’s hard competing to be seen when you don’t know who you are and there is just so much content coming from every direction. However, the longer I do this the more I am confident that I have a dedication and love and skills for this that goes beyond the average enthusiast. Everyone starts somewhere. I used to be an average Joe too ya know? I do think it’s great that so many people are able to experience some of the joys of photography that I do, but I worry that people are so focused on creating content that they forget to take joy in the things they do and also take pride in doing things well and with purpose.
How do you strive to separate your personal, professional work from the world’s heavily saturated IG feed?
I strive to continuously fine-tune every aspect of my work all the time. I think the heart of a student is almost essential to being a true professional. It is one thing to do what you already know how to do, and an entirely different thing to aim to accomplish what you don’t yet know how to do. I push myself forward by relying on what I do know how to do so that it becomes second nature (to enter flow states) then focusing my attention on trying the things I haven’t mastered yet. I aim to challenge myself each time I shoot to think or see things a little differently. I try to learn through every job I have, no matter what facet of my skills I am using. I try not to stress about the heavily saturated content. I am aiming to create work that lives far past Instagram.
What type of images do you enjoy shooting the most and why?
I enjoy shooting portraits the most. People are the MOST Interesting. I love the magic that happens in collaboration between myself and the person I am shooting. In advertising I try my best to find the human truth behind the things we are trying to sell. I can take this same logic and apply it to anything I’m shooting, even still life, but I’ve said that I am a storyteller at heart so I am drawn to the type of work where I get to partner with collaborators that also want to say or communicate something real. The beauty of my interest in people and portraiture is that it crosses so many lines. It can be advertising, fantasy or documentary style and I feel the same drive to tell the truth about something uniquely human.
What do you think your role/power is as a male in the industry to change or positively impact the world in some way?
I love this question! Thank you.
I remember when the Harvey Weinstein story was first breaking, my friends and I were hosting a music event. One of the girls responsible for the story breaking decided to attend at the last minute. She needed to get out of Los Angeles during the growing media storm that had begun. She was a friend of a friend and I remember feeling so happy knowing that someone going through so much felt comfortable and safe enough to not only attend our event but also participate creatively. This can be my role and my power. I have had privilege in my life in so many ways and I never want to take this for granted. I want to continue creating situations, events, photo shoots, or businesses where all people feel heard and cared about as a human being as well as creatively energized. I want to be a force for creating more opportunities for more people to be authentic and use their skills to the best of their ability. To quote Jay-Z, “Here we say you broke if everybody gets broke except for you, BOSS!”
What’s on your bucket list! (Personally and/or professionally).
I am going to keep my bucket list a bit general. I would love to shoot in some wild off the map places, and work with rad people who do rad things, and continue to create work with meaning and purpose by lifting people up instead of smashing them down. In general I would love to travel more for work and personally. I would also love to have a family one-day as well. But honestly, I love how my work and life have surprised me up to now, so my bucket list could also be summed up as a mystery box. I hope I don’t know what’s coming. I hope that life continually surprises me and that I am able to rise to the occasion.
"[...] Growing up closeted and gay in a community where my identity didn’t have a place, forced my sights outside [my conservative, Christian] bubble, and I learned to observe and question everything. At that time I watched the world mostly as an observer not as a participator. I knew there were different ways of seeing and being in the world, and it was both exhilarating and terrifying to learn about them. Art became the most comfortable way I was able to interact with the world around me." Dustin Giallanza is perhaps one of the most thoughtful individuals you may ever have the pleasure of meeting. His energy is so infectious, you can tell when he’s entered a room. As you can tell, his work is breathtaking; dripping in escapism and fantasy… And he actually really gets this whole “life” thing. It’s a pleasure to get to sit down and speak with Dustin about life’s path, his process, opinions about the world, and advice on how he sets himself apart from an oversaturated photography scene.
— Interview by Gaelan Simpson, Managing Editor
Why do we continue to create and share these “micro-influencer” lists with our readers, you might ask? We’ve realized that what has more impact for a brand is the content itself, the content created by theses micro-influencers. Click this article header for our latest talent roster. Because this type of content works.
— The Team at Matte Black
On Wednesday, May 1, 2019 (Israel’s annual Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day) the Instagram handle @eva.stories began posting a series of stories. Based on the actual diaries of Eva Heyman, a Hungarian teenager who perished in Auschwitz in 1944, eva.stories depicts the Nazi occupation of Hungary from the perspective of a teenage girl.
— Erna Adelson, Writer
Thinking on how a brand maintains relevance in the market? Same for us, always. For this episode, we went to our friends over at Parks Project to speak on the topic. Listen in as Sevag Kazanci, Co-Founder of the brand, speaks to their approach to being a giveback brand, and 5 key things they do to maintain relevance in the market.
— SESSIONS by Matte Black
CULTURALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY RELEVANT NEWS FLOATING AROUND THAT OUR TEAM FINDS INTERESTING.
The world of rent-to-wear apparel is about to get a LOT bigger. Urban Outfitters is all set to launch their own take on the digital apparel rental service, Nuuly, this summer.
It’s a harlequinade that’s become so popular that The New York Times even did a write up about it. They talk about why it’s funny, how it’s funny, and what makes the Wife Guy actually a Bad Guy. Read it because they do a much better job at breaking things down than me. That’s why they’re The New York Times and I’m just another guy without a wife on the internet.