Plenty of artists cite The Big Apple as a source of inspiration, but for photographer Ruben Natal-San Miguel, it’s personal. For the past sixteen years, he’s been photographing the five boroughs and the potpourri of beautiful people who pepper these pavements. Just listen to him talk about how much he loves this city, and the abundance of photographic muses who casually make up its constituents.
When he’s not exploring the city on bike with his camera in tow, Natal-San Miguel is finding myriad ways to share his work and vision. He recently published Harlem, a collection of his photographs capturing street culture in the New York City neighborhood he calls home. Gracing its cover is Glamour Break Diva (#2), which just so happens to be available on 20x200 as a limited-edition print. Beyond his new book, we’re particularly excited about PRIDE, an extensive exhibition Natal-San Miguel co-curated to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Featuring thirty artists in the LGBTQ+ community—including 20x200 artists Trey Speegle + Molly Crabapple (with Chelsea Manning)—the show takes stock of history, considers the future, and firmly positions us in the here and now.
For those who’d like to see Natal-San Miguel's photographs IRL, there are three current opportunities in the Empire State. Pop by LMAK Gallery on the Lower East Side for an intimate group show up through August 2nd, Summer Longing Never Fades, or head over to the West Village’s Robin Rice Gallery for their SUMMERTIME Salon 2019, the gallery’s annual photography exhibit (opening reception Wednesday, July 17th from 6-8pm). Natal-San Miguel’s images are also on display upstate in 69/19: Woodstock, Stonewall & the Moon Landing, a show curated by Trey Speegle that also includes 20x200 5+5er Danielle Krysa.
Below, peek inside Natal-San Miguel’s NYC work-live space, where the photo magic proliferates and the Christmas decorations are perennial. Catch more pics of his studio on the blog, and don’t miss his (quintessentially him) Q+A. — Team 20x200
Where's your studio?
My studio is at home in my apartment in Harlem, Manhattan, NYC.
What's your favorite tool in the studio? (Mayyybe it's a new drafting table?)
My own photographs, because I can move them around, make groupings, and decorate my walls like they are fighting against each other for attention!
What do you wear when working in the studio?
Shirtless, shorts and sliders.
What's on your in-studio playlist?
Lana Del Ray, old disco and club music.
What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your studio?
Greet and give my love to my cat Dante. Always and foremost.
What's your work style? Late nights? Intense creative bursts? Slow and steady wins the race?
Yes, I love to work late at night. Got the habit from too many late nights while attending Architectural School at college.
Capturing a sense of community in a particular time and place—slippery, intricate and atmospheric as that may be—seems to be something you return to regularly. How do you know where to start, and when to stop?
I mostly photograph NYC, and living and working in a 24/7 constantly evolving city, you must go back and revisit places, because 9 out of 10 times they will not look or feel the same the second or third time around.
Your new book centers around the neighborhood you've lived in for the last 20+ years: Harlem. How has this photographic project changed your relationship to or sense of the place you call home?
The was the best therapy ever after surviving the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I moved there right after from the Upper West Side (where I spent 10 1/2 years) and never looked back. I started to witness the street culture, the architecture, and its people at an aggressive turning point and knew I had to do something about it. So I started to photograph it all. Then I moved on to all the other four boroughs of NYC. 17 years later, I possess over 100,000 and counting images of NYC.
What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
Keep looking at photos and thinking about how to create a whole show, or storytelling with them.
Whens, Hows & Whys
When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist and how’d you get there?
Right after surviving 9/11, I quit my Wall Street job and decided to go for it. Very therapeutic.
How do you get over creative blocks?
I just simply stop and take a breather. Go to the gym, go to my garden or play with my cat Dante.
What do you like best about 20x200?
I had always believed in the public being able to collect and learn about art by buying it at affordable prices or without having to break the bank—especially emerging artists’ art. I think it’s a building process for artists and this is a good platform for career building.
Why do you think it's important to have a dedicated work space for your art? What advice would you give to artists looking to build a creative work space?
Home is where it’s at. I think that studio spaces are extremely expensive here in NYC and you can be organized, simplify your life and save travel time and expenses if you make your own private niche at home.
The 411 on Ruben Natal-San Miguel
Ruben Natal-San Miguel—American, born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico—is an architect, photographer, curator, writer, art collector and consultant who specializes primarily in the art of fine emerging photography. His work has been shown nationally and internationally at Asya Geisberg Gallery, New York; Finch & Ada, New York; Kris Graves Projects, Fuchs Projects, Hous Projects, New York and Los Angeles, University of Washington, Seattle; Art in FLUX Harlem, Picture Black Friday 2009 and 2011, A Decade of Photographs 2000-2011, The New York Public Library 2010-2014; Karyn Mannix Contemporary, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, L' Maision D Art Gallery, SCOPE NYC... & Miami, Agua Art Fair During Miami Art Basel, PULSE NYC,Art Chicago, Zona MAco, Mexico City, Photo LA and Phillips Auction House. His photography and curated shows have been published in several publications, among them New York Magazine, The Huffington Post, L Magazine, ARTnet, American Suburb X, The Bushwick Daily, Time OUT, The Atlantic, Aperture, Daily News, Wink Magazine, Urban Italy Magazine, French Photo and The New Yorker. In 2013, he won the Photo District News Magazine Portrait competition.