Interview with Tim Saccenti

Tim Saccenti is a photographer and director based in New York City. His practice fuses his love of experimental art, technology and music. His immersive, futuristic work has made him an in-demand creator for forward thinking clients worldwide. He is one half of creative studio “Setta”, working with curator and artist Dina Chang, with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a New York based photographer and director, working in the music, fashion and fine art worlds. My approach marries traditional techniques with innovative technological practices, which lends itself to the forward-leaning subjects I collaborate with. Additionally I’m half of Setta, a bi-coastal creative studio founded by myself and artist and curator Dina Chang. The work of myself and Setta has been described as “Dystopian Luxury”. Experimentation with a high level of craft.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up just outside of New York City, the child of Brooklyn ex-pats, in northern N.J. which gave me access to the city from a very early age.  

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in Photography and filmmaking?

By luck I found myself in a class in darkroom practices in high school and fell in love with the alchemy of the chemical process, the magic of light creating and fixing an image on paper. it was enthralling. My teenage brain was already wired with music and street culture imagery, but randomly seeing a show that featured Yohji Yamamoto, Man Ray and Irving Penn images I was intoxicated, it seemed like a portal to another place, a calling as it were.  I was then lucky enough to work for some of the great image makers in the world early on and glean a bit of their knowledge and rigour, which I’ve tried to put to practice in my work.

How would you describe your creative process? 

Since many projects are artist portrait based we start by diving into what makes them unique and how they want to be seen., and then endeavour to find a visual equivalent. We find a technique, process, language etc and build from there. With artists it’s a collaborative process when it works well. We then shoot photography or video capture as a first step, then run that through the gamut of creative technological tools we use, then strip that back to something harmonious.

The daily practice of the studio is mostly research and development, working with whatever new and interesting technology is on the table, AR/VR/Dead-tech/3d/photogrammetry etc and testing them and visual deep diving. Our community is made of artists who are creating, mutating and enhancing cutting edge tools.. so we mix this world with our personal tastes to try to create something experimental but sophisticated, and hopefully interesting and emotional.

How much does the city and surroundings affect your creative output? 

Much of my lighting style has been influenced by learning to see in NYC, where a sliver of sky in Chinatown or a shard -like shaft of reflected light from a midtown skyscraper might be the only bit you see that day. And in New York you do live at night and i’m sure that has seemed into me.

One of the best things about NYC is that you are tangentially exposed to culture, art and fashion you might have thought you have no interest in, just by being there. It’s built into the geography, the transit system, the places where people gather. In transit to the one thing you need to accomplish, even as mundane as going to the dentist, you will happen upon street-level culture, European fashion, some immersive gallery exhibition, a Zaha Hadid building, a new bookshop that specialises in Russian literature.. and even if it only scrapes the edge of your consciousness it does affect you. I think this energy helps shapes your taste in a way that no other city can, even by osmosis. You can also have friends and collaborators of many different ages and backgrounds easily in NYC,  learning from everyone, the conversations you overhear in the bar, the taxi drivers stories.. all of it. It’s something you don’t realise until it starts to disappear.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like New York? 

It’s obvious but like any artist working in the cultural fields the biggest struggle is the exorbitant cost of doing business and living. When you have a craft that actually requires physical space, and photography based art is an “industrial” art form in that way.. we require a studio, people, lights, physical elements.. you are hit directly when property prices skyrocket. There are less physical based artists in new york now, if you can’t create it from a laptop in a coffee shop you will have difficulties, and the shift of a large amount of tech money pouring in hasn’t helped the artists, only adding to the skyrocketing rents and blandification of street culture in many areas. 

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that still evident in New York? 


Do you think it is also the responsibility of the artist/creative to improve the quality of people's lives in their city?

It’s a symbiotic relationship yes. I think one of the big problems with New York now is that many people are coming for one year, maybe two. Not enough time to be invested in their areas, politics or culture. This is part it becoming a more technology hub city and away from it being a manufacturing and cultural and media hub as well.

With creative partner Dina Chang, you founded the "Setta Studio". Could you tell us more about it?

Dina is a New York based visual artist and curator. Since both our work expands the boundaries of traditional photography and video, in 2018 we decided to start a studio to explore together. We both have an obsession with the history of experimental art, fashion and music and a deep love and respect of print and the analog process. As a studio we creative direct and produce all our projects, as well as clients projects, scaling-up to global campaigns or down to experimental fashion editorials and fine art. It’s really an excuse for two best friends to get into the studio and create together. 

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

Dina and I are both founding artists at Refraction, a community of culture enthusiasts who produce music and art events around the world. It’s allowed us to connect with new artists from communities we wouldn't traditionally intersect with and vice-versa. This has led to a new body of fine art work we are creating for art and music festivals, it’s been an inspiring new world to explore. 

If you could add or change something about New York, what would that be?

More affordable housing  more green spaces, more public art spaces, more grants for artists, 

What would be your dream project?

Photography show at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway.. aka The Doomsday vault

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why? 

Yohji Yamamoto + Cocteau Twins to start.

What do you do to switch off?

Swimming is a meditative luxury I adore.

What does home mean to you?

Home is where your art book + record collection is.

Describe the perfect day for you in New York.

New York is a great city to explore alone. I love taking the east river ferry, it is pure joy, seeing the glittering, changing, skyline from the silence of the water. Next would be early morning at the Chelsea flea market [my best finds for mid century modern gems and forgotten smut art, a repository of knowledge] then over to Chelsea to see some shows, a stop at Printed matter for more inspiration material.. before going to Dashwood books. The photo books there are the best in the world. Follow that with a rest at Spring Lounge, one of the last bastions of old Soho pub culture, then maybe end up randomly at Bossanova Civic Club for techno at 2am.

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does New York evoke a personal smell to you?

Not sure if anywhere else on the planet has the ubiquitous early morning fat and salt bacon ventilation system from every corner bodega in New York.

If you weren't living in New York and could choose any city to live in, where would that be, and why?

Tokyo for visual interest London for street culture and Norway to escape the apocalypse. NYC is a galvanising place, but many places in the world you can thrive in mediocrity, these places are soul killers.

tim saccenti - mixtape

new york by tim saccenti

A selection of places in New York recommended by photographer and director Tim Saccenti. See Tim's citylikeyou profile page here

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