From Cuba to Japan, How @iamcesarin Photographs the World

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Meet Travel and Portrait Photographer, @iamcesarin


Born in the Dominican Republic and later relocating to New York City at the age of nine, Cesarin Mateo knows a thing or two about travel. With a background in criminology and fashion marketing, Mateo went rogue to follow his passion as a full-time freelance photographer last October, propelling his career of documenting a life on the road. Capturing and posting his favorite travel moments on his Instagram, @iamcesarin, Mateo takes us on a journey around the globe, showing us glimpses of moments in destinations like Japan and Cuba. With the hopes of continuing travel photography his entire life, ​Aundre Larrow sits down with the photographer himself to learn more about his passion for photography, travel, and the pursuit of a creative life.

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How @iamcesarin's First Trip Sparked His Creativity


What was the first trip you ever took? What did you capture, and what did you learn?

The first trip I ever took was by myself, and I felt both excited and nervous about it just because I did not know what to expect. I now know this is the thrill of travel, the not knowing. I visited Italy and Paris. Since it was my first time on the road as a photographer, I captured mostly tourist attractions. This was because I wanted to see these things myself, and I wanted to document the architecture and empty streets of Italy and Paris during the morning hours. Sadly, I lost a bunch of my photos due to my computer crashing. That just gave me a reason to come back. I learned a lot about myself during this trip, and I found the courage to keep traveling on my own. 

What is your mentality when you are traveling?

My mentality when I travel is to explore as much as I can with an open mind. I try to eat the local food and meet as many people as possible. It's always refreshing to make connections when I travel. It makes the journey even more gratifying. 

What are your travel essentials for each trip you take? 

Along with the necessary clothing and routine items, I must pack my camera. It’s literally attached to my hip at all times. 

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How @iamcesarin Researches Trips


Do you do research before you go? How do you decide where you want to shoot while you're there?

Depending on the place I’m traveling and to mentality prepare myself and pack accordingly, I try to do at least some research before I travel. The way I decide where I want to shoot while I'm there is to combine tourist attractions with my own style. I shoot these iconic locations as well as locals-only spots, and the two combined lend to a better sense of place in my completed work. But as a whole, I really enjoy doing what the locals do because I get a better sense of the place I’m in.

Where haven't you been yet?

There are many places I haven't been yet that I would like to go. Of the destinations on my list, Morocco, Brazil, Australia, London, Amsterdam, and Germany area all at the top. These are all places I would love to visit next.

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Where @iamcesarin is Most at Home


What photographers do you follow that inspire you to go to new places?

There a few photographers that I follow who have encouraged past travels, as well as my planning of future trips. One of my favorite photographers is Joey L (@joeyldotcom). His photography is quite outstanding and he captures human emotions perfectly. 

You've been to dozens of states and countries; which places do you find yourself most at home? 

I feel at home in both Japan and Italy. I absolutely love both of these destinations for many reasons, but the people, the food, and the culture stand out as supremely amazing and quite beautiful.

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Why @iamcesarin Prefers to Keep an Open Mind While Traveling


As a travel companion, this is an important one... what your basic tenets?

My basic tenets. Let’s see. I’m open-minded and need to travel with someone that is as well. It makes my photography better. Also, positive energy is a must. These two things are very important to me when traveling with someone.  

Window or aisle seat?

Window seat. Always

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How @iamcesarin Gets Around a City


Rent a car, cabs or public transit?

I prefer public transit because I get to experience the place in a more in-depth way. It makes the trip even better. Of course, I do find myself renting a car at times. It just depends on where I am and what the best route implies. But as a whole, I do enjoy public transit. It helps me explore a place just as the locals.

How do you approach taking someone's portrait in a new place?

The way I approach taking someone's portrait in a new place is to simply ask them if I can take it. This usually opens up a line of communication, making them more willing to let me into their personal space. Other times, I just try to sneak a few photos. This isn’t done in an invasive manner, however. I’ve also found that in some countries, locals will ask you for money in exchange for a photo. I understand this exchange, and I’m happy to oblige if it’s a person I am really captivated by to shoot. To me, it’s worth it and the exchange is a value for both of us. 

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How to Combat Intrusiveness While Taking Portraits


Do you ever feel intrusive or awkward when you photograph others? How do you combat this?

I don’t find myself feeling very intrusive or awkward when I’m taking someone’s portrait. I try not to read too much into the situation, and I always make sure I’m as respectful of the subject as possible, taking careful note of their physical cues and making them feel as comfortable as I can. All in all, I’ve found the approach to be the most vital part of cementing a relationship prior to taking someone’s photo. It’s all in the way you address someone, and being calm and humble is a perfect way to combat awkwardness. My goal is to simply start a conversation. I want to get to know the person better, making them into a friend instead of just another individual. By doing this, a better portrait is always the result. 

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How @iamcesarin Composes His Images


Why is it important to be selective in the images you capture, versus composing everything you see?

It’s important to be selective in the images I capture for many reasons. If you start aiming to compose everything, you will miss out on composing more beautiful images. By doing this, I never miss a moment I love when I’m traveling. I try to remain calm and cool even when I’m in a new place, where everything around me is new and exciting. I never know what will happen next.

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09 of 12

How @iamcesarin Immerses Himself in Local Culture


When you are in a new place, how do you immerse yourself in the culture?

When I'm in a new place the way I immerse myself in the culture is to do what the locals do. Interact with random individuals, which 95% of the time leads to a better experience in knowing the culture. 

When do you find time to sleep?

When I’m traveling, I always feel exhausted. I find myself so entranced by everything happening around me. I want to experience it all. This makes it tough on sleep, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve come to realize there’s barely any time to sleep when I’m on the road, but I’m okay with that, always. 

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Where Photography Takes @iamcesarin


How does your shooting style change when you’re traveling versus when you’re in New York City?  

I take a piece of New York City with me every time I travel, wherever I go in this world, my style of shooting does not change. I like to think it evolves instead. This is because I learn something new every time I’m traveling somewhere new. I add that to my memory bank and it takes root as a new form of creative expression within my photography. I try to use this to my advantage, capturing more precisely what I envision each time I pick up my camera.

Have you ever been traveling and met anyone who was already familiar with your work?

The first time I traveled to Paris, I met someone who was already familiar with my work. It was humbling to know someone so far away from my home recognized me and the photos I shoot. It definitely was a weird moment for me but in the best way. I was happy to know someone in Paris was a fan.

Is it fair to say that photography has taken you places? Tell us where?

Photography has certainly opened up a new world for me, one I could have never imagined. It’s taken me all over, including places like Central America, Europe, and Cuba. I hope to add more to this list in the future!

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Finding a Common Thread in @iamcesarin's Photography


When you think of your favorite shots you've ever captured, what is the common thread that links them? Is there a consistent message?

The common thread that I always have at the heart of each image I take is the culture and soul of a destination. My favorite shots reveal a beauty and energy of a place that’s palpable.

When you travel and document a new place, what brings you the most pride in your final images?

When I travel, I experience the destination in a real way. I’m the one there feeling those emotions, seeing those things. What I hope to do is capture this in a photo. I want to look at that image and know I documented it accurately, effortlessly evoking the essence of what I saw and experienced perfectly.

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Discovering What's Next for @iamcesarin


Have you ever traveled back to a place and photographed it again? If so, how did your perspective change? If not, where would you like to go back to again?

I recently got back from Italy and Paris, which are two places I've traveled to previously to photograph. My perspective changed tremendously. During the second visit, I was more aware of my surroundings, and I had better control of my camera. I was more knowledgeable and confident. 

Where are you traveling to next?

I’m not sure, but I plan on seeing the entire world… and everything in it! 

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