Mikelo Pamatmat is a photographer based in Houston, Texas. His work focuses on landscape images as well as portraits.
Tell us about yourself. Where are you from?
I was born in the Philippines, but spent my entire childhood growing up in Hong Kong. I moved to the U.S when I was around 12 and have lived in Houston ever since.
How did you get exposed to photography initially? At what point did you begin considering yourself a “photographer”?
I suppose that I’ve always been exposed to photography my whole life. Growing up, you would always see my mom with a camera at-hand capturing every moment she possibly could. So I guess I was subconsciously nurtured into the world of photography. I never really took photography seriously until the beginning of this year. Prior to that, I started taking pictures 2 and a half years ago, using that as a medium to create art through the things I was doing. Still being new to the world of photography, I cannot really call myself a “photographer”. Nowadays, everyone can seemingly be called a photographer with cameras being so attainable these days. I believe that if I were to consider myself a photographer, I would have to have a good foundation of creating work that matters. By that I mean creating a habit of realizing the purpose and the “why” prior to pressing that shutter button. I don’t believe that making money off photography constitutes to you being called a photographer because there is a greater responsibility to uphold in that field. I believe that true photography is an outward expression of one-self that cannot be mimicked and whose story cannot be told by any other person. I would like to achieve this sense of responsibility one day; but until then, I like to call myself an aspiring photographer.
What gear did you start out using, what are you using now, and which piece of equipment has been the most integral to the development of your work?
I started off taking photos with my cellphone. From there, I reached a limit shooting with it and decided to pick up a DSLR (Nikon D3200) to see what photographical opportunities a $300 camera could hold. From there, my passion and work in photography grew and I realized that I reached a limit with my Nikon D3200, which led me to purchasing my current camera, a Nikon D7200. It is not the best camera out there, but it has done its job for the purpose of what and how I shoot. Lately, I have been considering upgrading to a full-frame camera with better video quality as I have gotten into making short films. I think all the equipment I have used has had a huge role in the development in my work. I guess the way I get my gear can be compared with lifting weights. You lift a certain amount, and after time and effort you see yourself moving up in weight. Each gear that I have owned has led to the bettering of my craft in my photography journey. There is this saying that the best camera is the one that you have with you, so don’t let the whole gear issue get in the way in creating and capturing photos. If you are to grow in gear, make sure that you are growing in your own work as well.
Do you shoot film in addition to your digital work? If so, how do the two differ to you personally? What are a few pros and cons of each?
Yes, I do shoot film as well. I think if you really want to be a photographer, there has to be a point in your life where you shoot and develop your own film. From there, you see a certain duality that shooting both digital and film can have. Film has the ability to give you total ownership of your work from the minute you reel in your film onto your camera, to seeing the photo being developed. Shooting film has humbled me and has given me a lot more patience when I shoot digitally these days. It has taught me to really think about everything before I press that shutter button. The only cons with shooting film is knowing that we live in an instant-world where the process of film might be frowned upon in a professional job. I think shooting film has given me a strong idea of what I am about to capture knowing full well that there is no editing process involved.
Your work can potentially be classified as “lifestyle” photography but your work also includes subtle landscapes, urban photography, and stunning portraits that utilize natural light. How did you discover your niche in photography and develop an aesthetic to compliment it?
I never really gave much thought about my aesthetic if I can be quite honest and I feel that I am still trying to discover what my “niche” is. The more I shoot, the more I seem to discover what I like to capture and what I don’t. I think going into photography, or anything art-related for that matter, having a niche in mind can hold you back a bit. I think when you first start off with photography, you need to be as open-minded as possible to enable you to narrow down what you find beautiful to capture. I guess that is why my work can be seen in a full spectrum from portraits, to landscape, to cityscape, to street. The more I shoot, the more I grow an understanding of what I value in photography.
Has living in Houston, Texas influenced your photography? If so, how?
I think living in Houston has definitely influenced my photography. We adapt to our environment, that’s human nature. Houston has given me a greater sense of appreciation for what I do in photography. What I mean by that is that I do not think Houston has a lot to offer for aspiring photographers, but it has enabled me to be content with what we, Houstonians, have and not let that stop me from taking photos. It is through photography, that I have realized that a city isn’t a city without the people. The moment I realized this was the moment I started to see my self shift to street photography. A lot of my street photography isn’t posted on social media because I hold this side of photography very dear to me. It’s a side where it’s enabled me to meet random people out and about who have drawn curious to my camera and I. Photography became an ice-breaker to meet wonderful people, some of whom have nothing but the clothes on their body.
Who or what are your strongest influences? Have your influences shifted as your work has progressed?
The main influence I have from photography stems from my relationship with others. With meaningful relationships, I’ve gained a greater understanding of passion and compassion that have become the blueprint of why I do photography. If I were to name certain individuals whose work has influenced me, I would definitely say Alex Strohl, Andrew Kearns, and Joe Greer. Alex Strohl has inspired me by showing me the beauty of this world through his strong desire of traveling. Andrew Kearns has shown what it means to chase your dreams as photographer through his vlogs. Joe Greer’s compassion in photography has inspired me to feel the same level of compassion in my work. Being on instagram a lot, it’s easy to be influenced by others because all you see is the good that is going on in their lives. You feel that you want to accomplish what they have going on for them not knowing what they had to go through to get there. That being said, don’t let that same struggle you will go through detour you from pushing on. If they can do it, why can’t you? You just have to be ready to weather the storms that will head your way.
What role does instagram play in your photography? Do you feel pressured to create an audience or conform to a specific aesthetic? Has the presence of instagram influenced the work you put out?
When I first started instagram, I’ll admit that I spent most of my energy trying to take and post pictures that would catapult me into being featured by big feature accounts. It made me take pictures not for myself, but in hope of appreciation from others. Nowadays, I take pictures and capture moments of things that matter to me. By being true to myself through photography, I started to gain more of an audience and not just followers. Overtime, people notice these things and that is where jobs and gigs presented themselves to me. That being said, Instagram is only a tool in showcasing YOUR work and I believe that it should not be used to put all your eggs into one basket. The minute you feel pressured to create and post work onto this platform is the minute you need to step back and assess why are doing this in the first place. The goal with instagram is not to gain followers, but to create an audience and build a community around you. Be you, post things that matter to you, and people will take notice of your work.
Ideally, at the end of your career, what do you hope to accomplish with photography?
When photography is all set and done, I’d like to know that I was able to have my own voice.
If you could share a piece of advice with aspiring photographers what would it be?
I have 3 advice for aspiring photographers:
Shoot for you and shoot work that matters.
Don’t let social media influence you, make sure you influence social media.
Build heartfelt relationships along your photography journey, you’d never know where it would lead you.
I feel that if you take these 3 advice as the root and core in your photography, the rest will come into place for the better.