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It’s rare to find a student so passionate about his field that he started his career before coming to Cornell, but that is exactly what senior James Orlando did. Instead of coming to Cornell to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, he came to Cornell to perfect what he was already good at: photography. He also happens to have the perfect name for a photographer.
At 21, James has done photography in London, been a starving artist in New York City and been a congressional page at the White House. Oh yeah, and he teaches snowboarding on the side. Don’t worry; your life isn’t that boring.
Sun: Have you always been interested in photography?
James Orlando: I was actually interested in politics. I think that’s how I originally got interested in photography. I was a congressional page my junior year of high school. I got paid; so then I got my first camera.
Sun: How come you ditched politics?
J.O.: I don’t know … just like the whole political scene kind of turned me off. I was pushed by my parents in the direction of politics, I guess. I’m still really interested in history.
Sun: So after you got that camera, did your photography just take off?
J.O.: I kinda stopped for a while … I’m actually a transfer student. I started out as a student [in] film. I went to Hofstra for a year and a half and then I went to London for a semester, basically studying abroad. I took classes in marketing and took two art classes.
Sun: Whoa. So when did you really start with your photography?
J.O.: I bought another new camera before I went to London … that’s when it started picking up. I really enjoyed shooting in London.
Sun: And after London?
J.O.: After London I moved to New York City. I had some friends in New York who I subletted from. At the beginning, I lived in Manhattan, and then we moved to Williamsburg, me and some friends from Hofstra.
Sun: Wait — you sound like a grown up. How old were you?
J.O.: I was 19. I actually worked at Starbucks, to support myself [nods toward the Starbucks counter behind us].
Sun: So what were you doing with photography in New York?
J.O.: I did just a lot of testing
Sun: What do you mean by that?
J.O.: I guess just like working more with friends.
Sun: So you were basically in New York being a starving artist?
J.O.: Yeah, pretty much.
Sun: When did you know for sure that photography was what you wanted to do?
J.O.: While I was in London, I had this epiphany: It was what I wanted to do and I didn’t care about anything else.
Sun: So how did you end up at Cornell?
J.O.: I was originally planning on [coming here], but things were going really well just how they were. But I decided I should probably come here.
Sun: Yeah, it can’t hurt.
J.O.: I had a guaranteed transfer, but that was to the Ag school. I was gonna do communications. So I had to reapply to AAP.
Sun: How do you find people to model for you at Cornell?
J.O.: I’ve been getting messages from people I don’t even know … from people interested in working with me … through Facebook.
Sun: Do you get a lot of those?
J.O.: Every once in a while.
Sun: Do your models have to resemble actual models?
J.O.: I used to be into more modelesque. Now it’s more …
Sun: Regular old Joes?
Sun: Do you have any preferences for the type of model?
J.O.: I mostly shoot women. I’ve had a few shoots with guys. It’s more about the individual person.
Sun: So how has it been doing photography in AAP?
J.O.: I hadn’t had much experience in art., and being immersed in just the whole art program here [is a] completely different world. I had to draw and paint and do sculpture, which I had no experience in. But I really enjoyed it, and I think this year my projects are stronger than last year.
Sun: What project are you working on now?
J.O.: I’m actually going back to the interest in politics and history … basically creating an image bank of political icons and historical icons. I’m just starting so I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing. I’m collaging them together in different situations. It could be like King Tut. And then I have millennium baby and Obama or something. Queen Elizabeth popped up. I’m also interested in gender roles in politics, like with this whole election with Hillary and Palin.
Sun: Is this project leading up to your thesis?
J.O.: Yeah, I’m still kind of working through ideas. But I guess the historical icons are kinda coming back in my interests.
Sun: Are you insanely busy? How many credits are you taking right now?
J.O.: I think just 20 but …
Sun: Oh yeah, just 20. Is that a normal semester?
J.O.: Pretty much. Yeah I’m pretty busy. I also have two jobs. I intern at the Johnson museum. I basically do Photoshop, print out pictures. Then I also work in the darkroom — I help students working, help monitor what’s going on, and change chemicals.
Sun: Do you even notice the smell of the chemicals?
J.O.: I remember when I first started I’d be so aware. I’d come home and be like, ‘Oh, I smell like chemicals,’ and now I don’t notice anymore. I also have another job — during the winter I’m a snowboarding instructor at a place near my home. I’ve been doing it since 10th grade.
Sun: I was going to ask you what you did in your spare time, if “spare time” is even a relevant term for you. But go figure. You teach snowboarding. Do you like teaching?
J.O.: Yeah I love teaching. It’s mostly with younger kids, but I’ve also taught people who were 70 years old. Sometimes you get the whole family in a lesson. You just hold them down the mountain.
Sun: Any idea of what you’ll do after graduation?
J.O.: I think I’ll do commercial photography. After I graduate I’ll look for an agent for commercial work and do personal work on the side, so I don’t starve.
Sun: Do you want to do mostly fashion?
J.O.: I think right now. I have a lot of fun with fashion. The shoots are really fun, a lot of high energy. Also, it’s good money. I’ve also done a few weddings, three weddings in Ithaca.
Sun: How was that?
J.O.: It’s not something I really want to do but I will do to survive. I don’t like doing event photography work, [it’s] just looking at strangers’ faces for hours.
Sun: Is it annoying?
J.O.: I feel invasive … Luckily there’s been no bridezillas.
Sun: When you’re just hanging out with friends, do you take pictures?
J.O.: No, I like to have it set up. I like high quality, lighting. Every once in a while I’ll bring my camera, but it’s so clunky.
Sun: You know you have a great name for a photographer?
J.O.: Yeah people tell me that a lot. I don’t know why.
To see James’s work for yourself,
check out his website: http://www.nocturnalevolution.com/.