Fencing Goods: Mike Dote

ADC Member2Member: copywriter Nick Jiorle profiles fashion photographer Mike Dote.

I know a thing or two about interesting life experiences and how they can shape who you become. I’ve worked as a janitor in a project housing development, I’ve been a substitute teacher, and I’ve moved across the country on a whim, making the trip from New Jersey to California – solo. Once there I ended up working at a craft brewery in San Diego. I’ve spent the past decade chasing the biggest, scariest waves and most intimidating mountains North America has to offer, all while carving out a successful career as a copywriter. But for all my near-death experiences (or full-life experiences as I like to call them), my story seems rather mundane once you hear the tale of ADC member and fashion photographer, Mike Dote. Mike’s story is that of a person finding his place in the world despite the trials and tribulations that come with being brought up in the heart of the greatest city in the world. Mike’s work has graced the pages of national fashion magazines, but his career path wasn’t always so clear. His story helps define the creative work he does today behind the camera. As Mike put it, he’s the son of an “army brat” mother born in Korea and a father he compared to Dennis Hopper’s character in the film, Easy Rider. Born and raised in the same SoHo apartment his grandmother was born in, Mike had a different perspective of New York. In a city that draws people from across the world for its art and fashion, Mike grew up surrounded by it, but also by the other side of Manhattan. “It was New York in the 1980s. It was different. I was surrounded by drunks and drug addicts, but also by great teachers and artists.” It was with this eclectic beginning that Mike found himself at Columbia University, not for photography, but for writing, and his first love, the sport of fencing. “Fencing has helped me tremendously in my career. It teaches you discipline, patience, and precision. It gets you to think on your feet and think differently.” Mike left Columbia before graduating, but not without taking away something worthwhile. The only class that left a lasting impression on him was a class on Buddhism, a way of life he continues to practice to this day. It’s become a major influence on how he handles himself as a fashion photographer. When asked about the role of Buddhism in his work, he elaborated, “Buddhism teaches us to keep a positive outlook and attitude. When I can convey this to the models I’m working with, it helps bring out the best in them and the work. There’s a Buddhist saying I tell myself before I work, ‘The world is a reflection of your life condition.’ Basically, a positive attitude breeds positive results.” It wasn’t until after Columbia, while looking for a roommate for an apartment in Brooklyn, that a French student interning in New York exposed him to the art of photography. “She was taking pictures of buildings and of people walking on the street, but it had such an interesting perspective. That’s what first attracted me to photography.” The relationship may not have worked out, but photography sure did. “I set up my first beauty shoot at the Camera Club of New York back in 2007 and from there it’s just been hard work and dedication to build my reputation as a photographer.” It’s plain to see that photography has become his passion. He loves the limitless possibilities it provides, even when you don’t have a lot to work with. “You’re always on a tight budget. When you have limited resources, you have to be creative. For instance, last month I decided to shoot everything I was working on with just one light and it created some exceptional work that I’m really proud of.” The fashion industry is a collaborative environment where there are so many great ideas and interesting things happening, and it’s helped bring out the creative vision in him. The shoot he did for Giuseppina Magazine was set in a post-apocalyptic world, which he populated with items actually found in scrap yards around the city. “I get to try new things and meet people with such different perspectives, it’s so refreshing. I always try to capture video footage of the behind-the-scenes stuff so people can see what goes into this.” Although, he’s done well in the fashion world at such a young age (He’s on the verge of turning 27), he says his proudest moment was when his personal work was recognized by the ASMP. It was a shoot he did of his mother, who has led a hard life, to say the least. “She was actually kidnapped by my grandfather and step-grandmother and brought to America. She didn’t meet her birth mother until she was an adult. She had me when she was 18 and my father was 42, and he spent the first few years of their marriage in prison for drug trafficking – and to top it all off, she’s a breast cancer survivor. I just see so much strength, courage, and beauty in my mother, so I was really happy to see that work recognized. It meant a lot to me.” Mike is not content with his recent success. He plans on pushing himself even more. He says it’s getting to the point where he’s thinking about getting an assistant to help him. He handles everything from finding work and shooting, to the post-production work. He’s also looking to go back to Columbia and finish school with a double major in photography and computer science. “With digital photography becoming the standard today, understanding computers and utilizing all the tools and programs they have for editing photos is important. I’d really like to take what I’ve learned and go to Haiti where a friend has started an organization that helps Haitian musicians make music videos called Konbit Mizik. The people there have been through so much, but they push on with strength and perseverance– especially through music. It’s something I’d like to capture.” Mike Dote is a fashion photographer who truly believes in the art and perspective that photography provides. He’s not afraid to wax poetic when asked about it either. “A picture is always informed by the perspective of the photographer. That’s what gives it such power. It captures both time and space for everyone to see. Just that moment. You can’t shoot the past or the future, but you can capture the moment where they meet. That’s what makes photography so special.” If you’d like to see more of Mike’s work, you can find him on Facebook, Instagram (@MikeDote), or contact him directly here. If you’re an ADC member and want to share your story, upcoming event or a new project, or would like to tell another ADC member’s story, contact membernews@adcglobal.org for more information! Nick Jiorle is an ADC member and freelance copywriter splitting time between Philadelphia and New York. In his free time he enjoys pushing the limits, wherever they may be. Find his musings on Twitter @NickJiorle, view his work at http://njiorle.wix.com/copywriter, or contact him directly at njiorle@gmail.com