Manuel Zavaleta is a multi-talented artist based out of Queens, New York. He’s also an incredible colleague and good friend. We recently grabbed some lunch at a burger joint near his studio.
Take it away Manny…
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Manuel Zavaleta. I’m a former graffiti artist and video producer turned graphic designer, photographer, and now entrepreneur. Art is my creative release.
What are you currently working on?
I operate a photography studio in Queens called Style Engineers. I shoot there personally but am more focused lately on leasing the space out to photographers. Both Van Styles and Tracy Morris recently used my studio for some of their work. I enjoy offering other photographers a concierge service, making sure they have all the right equipment, wardrobe, and amenities needed to have a seamless shoot.
Some day I’d like to open up my studio to young art students and give them a few lessons on the basics of photography like Cooper Union did for me growing up. Having a “physical space” to play is important; it inspires creativity.
Where do you like to work?
I work best in a studio environment or out in nature. I prefer to be on the move rather than sit still in a chair. So getting out to the studio where there’s natural light and a good space allows me to get into the flow and rhythm like I used to do with graffiti.
Any there any similarities/differences between graffiti and photography?
“The craft of photography reminds me of graffiti.”
Once you spray something, it’s permanent. The aerosol is not tangible. The same thing happens when you click the camera, the photo is done. Both mediums are light, air and time. The art is really in your eye and movement. My friends say I look so happy in the process. You can go in with a concept in your head but you really can’t plan for the end product. But I don’t do graffiti any more.
What motivates you?
I think every artist want to be remembered like Rembrandt. But artists need to live to so that’s why I rent out the studio. The studio business is my entrepreneurial side. That friction between art and commerce is essential. The hardest part is the marketing and advertising.
What was your earliest ambition?
I always wanted to make album covers. Growing up in the 90s hip-hop era will do that to you.
Who’s your inspiration?
“Entrepreneurs are my gangsters.”
But not in the bad sort of way. You can do renegade art with class as Marc Ecko and Benjamin White both show. The entrepreneurial bug also runs through my family, especially my mother. In fact, her passing was the reason I got into photography. I needed an emotional release and now photography presents new opportunities.
You can find out more about Manuel’s work online here: