Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca and maybe even the gnome sage Yoda were among the first figures that enthralled Andre Costantini – who a long time ago in a Jersey far, far away got his start in photography snapping his collection of Star Wars action figures with Instamatic camera. He was 7 years old, taking pictures of what he loved. He could hold those photos in his hand, behold them with his eye, and show others what he loved.
He wasn’t paying for the film and developing, of course, and so, “My parents thought I was shooting too many pictures. So they recommend I only take pictures of people. That sort of directed the next 15 years of my photography.”
His passion for capturing images, and learning the methods to that, continued to evolve at the Christian Brother Academy high school. There Costantini discovered a small darkroom that was virtually unused. He went to the Administration, convinced them to give him the keys to the facility, and began to teach himself the artistry and technique of black and white photography, of how to use shadow and light.
‘I always had a sense for the arts,” Costantini reflects. “I didn’t know whether I’d wind up writing music or painting or doing photography. Photography,” he decided, combined “a lot of my sensibilities. Something like painting just takes a heck of a lot longer. Both are very process-oriented, but results are much quicker with photography, so you can progress a lot faster.”
Constantini studied photography and painting at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., graduating in 1995. He then began running the equipment department and doing tech support for the Edison, N.J. photo-supply company Sinar Bron Imaging, which sold large-format cameras and high-end studio lighting to professional photographers. At age 22, he says, he was in charge of $11 million dollars worth of equipment, “which was pretty cool.” He learned how to use that equipment, how it worked, and how cameras themselves would change going into the digital age.
At the same time, he was freelance assisting for photographers Eddie Adams and Cedric Brenner in nearby New York City. “Assisting is one of the greatest ways to learn, the experience of learning how to do something. School can only teach you so much. A university education like I had a lot of focus on art theory which you can definitely apply and benefit from.”
His first paying gigs as a photographer were portraits and promotional material. His love for music was still with him, and so, combining his passions, he did work for the American Repertory Theater, shooting posters and doing portraits of directors. His photographs were now in Playbill. “I wasn’t afraid of being pigeonholed as a dance photographer,” he says, “because being pigeonholed sometimes is a good thing. A lot of times, people want to hire someone with a specific vision.”
In 1999, he moved to Brooklyn. His first studio, in the neighborhood called Fort Greene, became successful enough that in 2002 he opened a studio in Manhattan’s photo district. Costantini moved his studio again in 2006, relocating to Brooklyn Heights.
Assignments have taken the photographer throughout the United States and around the world as far east as Japan for clients as famous as L’Oreal and as obscure yet artistic as the band The Bouncing Souls, shooting interior images for the CD booklet of the album Anchors Aweigh (Epitaph Records). The assignment he’s enjoyed the most, he says, was the cover of the Criterion Collection DVD for the Edward Yang film Yi Yi. The company normally uses the original film poster, but in this case Criterion’s art director disliked the look. “I believe the quote from the art director was, ‘It looks kinda like a Chinese menu.'”
Costantini also became a teacher, giving classes in photography and holding lighting workshops in Boston, Montreal, Denver, Honolulu, Chicago and elsewhere, often through such organizations as the Professional Photographers Association and the Great Lakes Institute of Photography. “I put theoretically complex processes into relatively simple, understandable lessons that people can apply to their own photography,” Costantini says.
The Panasonic-Lumix camera, he reports, “has been great so far. The lenses are good and the design is really nice and intuitive – it’s easy to use and to adjust, especially in its manual mode. And it’s got this cute little bounce flash. I was actually shooting with it last weekend to see what kind of stuff I can get, and it’s great,” he says. “Stuff looks studio-lit when it’s just a matter of using this bounce flash.”
His website’s name is rather bouncy itself: Sillydancing.com. Ask him why he named it that – and boy, people do, he’ll tell you, “It’s because no one can spell my name.”
That’s OK. All they really need to do is see his pictures.
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