Masterminds 2014 Honorable Mention: Alejandro Santiago

Miami New Times' Mastermind Awards honors the city's most inspiring creatives. This year, we received more than 100 submissions, which our staff narrowed to an elite group of 30. We'll be profiling those honorable mentions, and eventually the finalists, in the weeks to come. This year's three Mastermind Award winners will be announced February 27 at Artopia, our annual soiree celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit the website.

Alejandro Santiago's career has come a long way since his first job as a photographer with 311 as a fresh-faced 18 year old. He's had numerous accolades for his skill with a lens, including being named Lomographic Ambassador for Miami in 2000. His work has been printed in various magazines including Photo District News, The Globe & Mail, Now Magazine, and (yours truly) The Miami New Times, among others. And, he's been awarded Adorama's Best Shot of 2012 for his photo, "Crossing Queen's Quay".

Santiago, who studied digital design at Parson School of Design in New York, has a knack for capturing the realness of life, presenting you with images that are all at once intense, potent and elegant. His shots have an incredibly organic feel. They're spontaneous and yet characterized by an excellent sense for composition.

Nowadays, Santiago splits his times between Miami and Toronto, where his partner lives. While he may presently be freezing under several feet of snow and ice, his recent work has been focused on warmer climates, studying his Cuban roots with a array of portraits and street photography that can be found on his blog, Oyecuba.

Cultist: How did you start taking pictures?

Alejandro Santiago: Photography is something I've been doing for about 20 years now, since I bought my first camera when I was 18. I went to art school for design, and though my portfolio was mostly photography, I chose to go in a different direction; learning graphic design, video design and editing. Ever since then, I've kind of been trying to find my way back to photography or include as much photography in my work as I can. It was only when I moved to Toronto a couple of years ago that I got to know the city through my camera. I mean, I was always taking pictures around Miami, but it was only when I got to Toronto and I started getting to know the city through the lens that I really started to make it kind of a daily habit.

What was it like visiting Cuba?

I love traveling to Cuba. I think Cuba's an amazing place. It was interesting for me since my mother was from Cuba and her family was from Camaguey. I grew up listening to so many stories about Cuba from my family. My grandmother was actually one of the first female journalists in Cuba. She used to have a column in The Camagueyano, which was one of the newspapers in Camaguey. She also had a radio show called Radiomundo. I grew up listening to stories about Cuba, but I never thought I'd actually get a chance to go. It was really amazing to go and actually see Cuba first hand and to really discover a lot of my family's history and heritage.

What was it like moving from sunny Miami to the tundra of Toronto?

Well, one of the things I really love about Toronto is that there's a really strong sense of community in a lot of different arts, whether in the dance community, performance arts or visual arts. Because there's this strong sense of community, it gives people a lot of opportunities to work. A lot of my work here -- for instance, I have a magazine cover coming out this week -- a lot of that work comes from the fact that that community creates a lot of opportunities for a photographer like me. It's been really awesome. I love Toronto -- but I definitely miss Miami, especially on a snowy day like today.

When you were just starting out as a photographer, who were some of your main influences?

You know, photography books were always a really big thing for me. I love the work of Herb Ritts and Greg Gorman. Of course, David Lachapelle. Also, music videos and music in general actually. I think the '90s was such a strong time for that visual culture of music videos and MTV. You had people like Mark Romanek making music videos that were really cutting edge, and Michel Gondry. People like them. I think music and music videos really left an impression on me. In terms of street photography, I've always loved looking at books of Weegee's work. He was a famous crime scene photographer in New York in the '30s. Also, Bruce Davidson, who did a series on subways in New York through the '70s and '80s.

Do you have any ideas for projects that you'd like to do in the future in Miami?

I'd really like to display some of my photography from Cuba, because I think it's so relevant to Miami and it takes on a totally different context in Miami. Right now though, I'm actually working on a project up here called the 10x10 Project which is a photography project where 10 queer photographers photograph 10 queer artists in Canada. I've been working on doing that slowly in Miami, documenting the queer artists in Miami and sort of help create that sense of community. Every time I go back to Miami, it's [the sense of community] stronger and stronger. I miss it more and more, so I definitely would love to do that. I think there's a lot of great art and people making great art that might not get enough visibility, which is why I think what the New Times does is so great. I think there needs to be much more coverage about queers in art or just artists in general, people making interesting work, because I think Miami's such an interesting place. It really needs to be documented.

Wanna see more MasterMinds? At Artopia, sponsored by Miracle Mile and Downtown Coral Gables, you can check out work by 2014's ten MasterMind award finalists and watch as the three Mastermind Award winners are announced. And that's just the beginning. Artopia will also include live entertainment by Bottle & Bottega, CircX, and Flamenco Puro; local art by Tesoro Carolina, Trek 6, 8 Bit Lexicon, Hec One Love, Ivan Roque, and Jay Bellicchi; and DJ sets by Main Event Productions, Phaxas, Golden San, Skinny Hendrix, and DJ Supersede. Other sponsors include Rums of Puerto Rico (Official Rum sponsor), Car2Go, El Palacios de los Jugos, Beck's (official beer sponsor), and Vero Water (official water sponsor). Early bird tickets are available through Feb. 2. Visit the official Artopia website.

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