This artist spotlight originally ran on May 1, 2010. The Advocate is rerunning it in celebration of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, November 20, 2010.
Allison Michael Orenstein graduated from University of Delaware with a BFA in photography and contributes to BlackBook, Time Out New York, East Village Boys, New York Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Fortune Small Business, Real Simple, and Elle. She currently lives and works in New York City.
Why are you a photographer?
I'm a photographer because I love it. I really do! And it's the only thing I know how to do well. If I wasn't a photographer, I don't know what I could or would do.
What catches your eye?
I live in Williamsburg, and when I see someone interesting-looking at a restaurant, on the street, or on the subway I sometimes approach them and ask if I can take their portrait. I look for people with something fascinating about them. I don't know exactly what it is — something about the way they look, their face, eyes, personality, attracts me to them. My subjects for my couples project were found the same way, through people I know, then word of mouth.
How do you choose your subjects?
For my most recent project, featuring portraits of trans people and creative types — i.e. musicians, performance artists, dancers, comedians, actors, etc. — I started with people I knew, and then my need for models spread like wildfire through referrals. There are so many creative people who need photographs, so I felt it was a great exchange. Everyone gets pictures; everyone is happy.
What makes a good photograph to you?
It's something that hits me either aesthetically, emotionally, or texturally. I'm attracted to light and how it falls on subjects, and composition, and form, and beauty. Sometimes a photograph looks so good I want to eat it.
Who are your favorite artists? And why?
Some of my heroes are Emmet Gowin for his beauty, intimacy and intensity. Nan Goldin for her honesty and color. I saw her retrospective at the Whitney in 1996 when I was in college and it changed my life. Sally Mann's Immediate Family, published in 1992, caused such a stir. I love it when art and nudity makes people react and get upset. Oh, there are too many amazing photographers to count. I learned a lot from Connie Imboden, Greg Miller, Ethan Hill, all of whom I love their work.