Based out of Spanish Harlem aka El Barrio in New York City, Cesarin Mateo is an Afro-Dominican film photographer. His glamorous yet authentic portraits as well as his raw and honest street shots all stem from his passion for people and old films. But also, his love of biking, especially now after recently upgrading from a fixie to an 8-gear bike. During the month of June, New York City was one of the main cities where the Black Lives Matter Protests took place. For Cesarin, photographing the streets and the ongoing protests that mainstream media weren't showing, was capital. With some Berlin Kino 400, he shot the Big Apple witnessing history in the making.
Hello Cesarin! First off, can you tell us how got into photography, especially analog photography?
It was a combination of different things. My love of nostalgic films and fashion played a big role in it. That admiration led to my love of photography and Instagram catapulted it to a different galaxy. I became obsessed with teaching myself everything I needed to know. In terms of analog, I got into it a few years after I started shooting digital. I had gone to the MET Museum to see an incredible photo exhibition on Irving Penn's work. I was so inspired and moved by it that I immediately dove into film photography and haven't looked back since.
Why do you still shoot film?
I've always been fascinated with that nostalgic feeling or anything vintage looking. The older I get the more that love intensifies. Seeing old images from film photographers I admire feeds my soul. It's the same feeling I get when I shoot film, and it is why I still do it.
Where do you usually draw inspiration from?
I truly draw inspiration from everywhere. My city, my culture, music, movies, fashion, friends/family, travel, when I acquire something new, my mood, politics. They all play a role and greatly inspire what I put out.
When did you decide to start shooting the protests?
I started shooting the protests the second day of it. I would have been out on the first day but was hesitant due to COVID.
Why was it important to for you to shoot the protests, specially on film?
It is incredibly important because we have to show people the injustice that's happening right under our noses. America has a legacy of oppressing black people and that needs to be addressed loud and clear. We have to hold people accountable, there needs to be a fundamental change. We need to root out the evil. I was so fired up and annoyed with everything that was happening that I just needed to get out and use my camera as my voice to spread awareness and send a message. It was my duty as a photographer to do that and it ignited something in me that was lost during quarantine. As for film, it is timeless, and the moment we're currently in is without a doubt historic. Capturing some of these moments on film just seems right.
What do you think the role of photography serves during such historic times?
The role of photography is monumental in this. We as photographers get to document and show people exactly what's happening in these streets. That although the media is no longer covering these protests there are still people out there keeping the movement alive and strong, still fighting for change.
How did a day of you shooting go by?
I follow the Instagram account @JusticeForGeorgeNYC. They're really great with giving real time updates on protests happening throughout all the boroughs so I planned my route accordingly. From there I try to hit up protests that are near each other or at least in the same borough and document as much as I can.
From the pictures you shot and developed, do you have a favorite one? Can you tell us the story behind it?
My favorite one has to be the one of the little girl holding up a sign that said, "Just Because We're Magic Doesn't Mean We're Not Real". This was gathering that occurred at Herald Square where people were encouraged to bring their kids to make protest signs which was then followed up with a short march. I was taking photos of a group of kids making signs when all of a sudden from the corner of my eye I noticed the little girl holding up the sign and I knew I had to capture that.
Are you working on some bigger project we should be on the lookout for in the near future?
I recently shot a passion project that a close friend of mine approached me with. I'm currently editing it and excited to put it out in the world. It's a visual love letter to black
women, highlighting self love. Aside from that I am also working with another friend of mine on a coffee table book/zine where we'll have 100% of the proceeds go toward a charity of our choice. More info on that coming soon.
To see more of Cesarin's work, head over to his Instagram