I follow Margarita Corporan on Instagram (and you should too), so I know how busy she is traveling the world for the perfect picture. I was surprised and gratified when she agreed to an interview. We talked for over an hour, about what it means to be "a creative," how the Internet age has reshaped art, why she never lets herself get too comfortable, and, of course, how to look good in front of the camera. Read on to reap her wisdom.
So you make your living off of photography—would you consider yourself a working artist?
I’ve always been an artist, but it wasn’t until I started event photography and working in digital advertising that I started to call myself a creative. Because of the time we’re in now, I feel like, at the end of the day, even if you’re a painter, or sculptor—that sort of old school artistry—you’re now asked to display it online. It’s no longer just about your specific art piece, but also about the platform that you’re placing it on to get exposure. So I found myself, as a photographic artist in the 21st century, needing to be more aware of how I displayed my photos. I was becoming more interested in how to design my website, how to promote through social media, but also thinking about the text I put around my photographs, and where to place photographs on the webpage, all of which encompasses being a creative. A creative, I feel, is like a modern version of a working artist. But, yes, I am a working artist.
How did you get to that point of finding financial stability while also getting your creative needs met?
Honestly, my business took off because of social media, and being aware of how images are no longer just used in print, but online. I had to conform myself to understanding how the digital platform works. I come from a print era. I was a photo editor in print publications for eight years, then spent two years at AOL as a digital photo editor. It was while working at AOL that I started to become aware of the demise of print publication and the use of visual publications online. So while I had my 9-5 print job, I moonlighted as an event photographer because I thought to myself, ‘I’m a photographer. I’ve always been a photographer. So how can I make money off of this?’
At the time, everyone was using Tumblr, and Facebook, as a way to express their art. So I opened up a Tumblr account and started blogging every spare moment that I had. I would blog about other photographers I admired, or post about a small photo job that I had done. My friends and followers were recognizing the effort. The one thing I learned from transitioning from full time print to freelance photographer was that whatever you choose to go into, you have to own it. So, to me, that meant calling myself an event photographer. And that’s essentially what I did. I decided to change my Facebook profile from a personal page to a professional photographer’s page. I posted every photo job I did, which let potential clients see what jobs I’d be capable of doing. Like, oh, she did the Tribeca Film Festival and the Bentley event, she can probably handle a Google event. People took me seriously, and I started getting jobs. Basically, I just tried to understand how the Internet could help my industry. The business blossomed from there and I started to feed my creative passion full time.
I thought it was interesting that you used the word “conform” earlier when you were talking about fitting your vision onto an online platform. Because “conform” has a negative connotation, especially when it comes to art, I wondered if you felt limits then to this new kind of medium.
It was definitely an adjustment. Coming from print, I felt the treatment of photography was more precious there. Working at a magazine, the satisfaction of being a photographer or photo editor was getting the magazine in your hands, feeling the paper, opening up to that spread that you produced, and seeing your work, so big in print. It was no longer just an image on film, but in this big glossy book.
I also used to show in galleries, so coming from the whole process of being in the darkroom and transferring these images from a small negative or a slide to a large piece of paper, which is then framed and put on a wall; it did feel conforming then to take these images—where you could clearly see all the colors, composition, layering—and upload them onto a screen, presented cropped and minuscule. It didn’t give you the opportunity to see all those beautiful details.
When I worked at AOL in 2004, in the news section, I remember, as a big fan of photo-jourmalism, having to take these amazing images from award-winning photographers and crop and cut the images to show just the head, so that we could put it on the landing page to fit the headline. So it was a real, real, real adjustment. And I would say that my peers and I at the time were frustrated with the value of photography online. But we saw later how the preciousness of visuals changed, and thank God, ten years later, images are appreciated, understood, and respected. They take up a whole web page.
It’s so funny, I didn’t even notice that I’d used the word “conform.” I do think in the beginning the experience of switching to online was negative, but now it’s like God, there’s so many ways to present yourself online. It’s exciting and inspiring.
How would you define your creative voice? How do you hope people will be able to recognize a photograph as yours?
I’m always trying to push the limits of my photography, to push expectations. I’m very passionate, and I always feel like where I am, what I’m doing, is never enough. So, for example, I had an event at the Waldorf Astoria, and this specific crowd was, you know, a little stuffy, a little conservative. I thought, I need to do something different from what anyone’s ever done. So I had my assistant come and hold a light behind the groups of people I was photographing, so that there was a ray of light coming behind them. I wanted to glamorize them. Make this conservative-looking group as glam as Hollywood. It was so much fun.
Are there any other genres of photography that would be a dream to try out, or, on the other hand, that you would never be interested in trying?
I’m actually going through the process of changing my brand a little bit, from event photography to portraiture. It feels like I’m starting over. I’ve been doing event photography for the past seven years. What I love about portraiture is that you can have a bit more creative control—you can come in and decide how your lighting will be set-up, how you want the subject to look, etc. I remember I had my first portrait photography session in college and it came out horrible. My subject was a total stranger that I met on the street and she was really devastated with the photos. After that I always said, I’m not a portrait photographer, that’s not my thing, I can’t do it. And here I am, sixteen years later, wanting to take on jobs as a portrait photographer. So you never know.
Okay, I have to ask, since you’re going into portrait photography, what advice can you give to people who just want to look good in a photo for once?
I will have to admit I’m still trying to figure that out. Because what I found is that, as I’m taking more portraits these last few months, I’m still working on how to get the person more comfortable. The people who are the most comfortable with themselves, or rather have a sense of who they are, can more easily give that to the camera. For example, I did a recent portrait session with a client who kept saying, ‘I’m so bad at pictures. I’m so bad in front of the camera.’ I told her, if you keep saying that, you’re going to look bad in front of the camera. We need to somehow change that mentality. And that’s my job to be able to help her change that in half-an-hour. It was great because I’m taking pictures, taking pictures, taking pictures, and all of a sudden, she felt herself. She felt her beauty. She perked up, gave face, and I was like, THAT’S IT!
I think it was literally her saying, ‘Hey, I’m here. This is who I am.’ It’s hard when you’re forced to give that, when you’re put on the spot, and for some people it’s really hard to connect to that feeling. I would say, honestly, don’t think about it too hard. Just have fun. Put your trust in the photographer. If you can’t, then make light of it. We tend to be too self-conscious in front of the camera, which is normal, and when you finally just let your guard down, whatever that is for you, it comes out, it shows. But look, ask me this six months from now. I might have a totally different answer.