David Kasyanyuk, photographer (Atmosfera) based in New York

Presage Magazine: We’ve had so much fun organizing the A La Mode events with you (and Matthieu Guillot, your partner from Atmosfera). It’s great to finally sit down with you and peer behind the curtain a bit. What was it that motivated you about creating a space like Atmosfera? Was it about having a studio where you could organize your shoots as a photographer or was it about something beyond that?

David Kasyanyuk: Well, it all started 10 years ago with Studio Apparatus in Minnesota. Initially that was the intention; opening a studio I can use to further elevate my photography career. Over the years, I ended up sharing it with so many other photographers who wanted to use the space. They, of course, brought their own clients and other colleagues and it grew into this well known location. Eventually, it got to a point where total strangers were asking me if they could rent it for a day or even just a few hours for a shoot. I realized there weren’t a lot of other studios offering this at the time. It organically grew into something you can now easily find on sites like Peerspace. I decided to take on a couple partners and hired staff to help run the whole thing, built a new website and advertised it. That’s when it really took off. In the process, I got to meet and connect with such a diverse network of photographers and brands that were creating in the space I built, and I was proud to offer this opportunity to people. We started putting together our own networking events to further build and nourish the community we helped create. Now it’s one of the most well known studios in Minneapolis / St. Paul. I moved to NYC 5 years ago now to pursue my photography career, but I realized after some time that I was really starting to miss the community aspect. Having a space where I can host, meet new creatives and organically build a community was the biggest factor in me wanting to open Atmosfera. 

PM: And you’re such a gracious host! An art and a discipline in and of itself. Does it come naturally to you or was it something you had to learn? 

DK: I’ve always loved hosting dinner parties for friends and throwing intimate gatherings. I have a deep fondness for welcoming people into a very intentional atmosphere that I’ve curated. There’s definitely something about it that sparks something in me. It feels like I get to welcome people into my world, at least to some extent, and offer them an experience that I find very special. I’ve always been more of an introvert, particularly in my 20s, but over time I did get to be more extroverted as my photography career progressed. My Eastern European background and heritage have an impact too, we’re very hospitable. I wouldn’t ever invite you over and not offer you a drink or something to eat, for example.

PM: Let’s get into the photography a bit, how did you get interested in being a photographer?

DK: I grew up in a family of artists. Because of that, I was always inspired by the creative process and the seemingly endless possibilities of what you can create through fine arts, writing, music and, most of all, film. It harmoniously combines everything. To me, film was the ultimate artform and I so badly wanted to be a part of it. I was lucky enough for digital cinema cameras to start being super accessible right around the time I became obsessed with this idea, and I always had a strong affinity with new technology. But I had to learn how to use a camera first, so I took a 35MM film intro photography class in high school. Before that, I had never even considered what was possible through still images alone. I really loved the process. I wanted to go to college for filmmaking, but I felt really discouraged by the investment of time and money it would’ve taken. I got accepted to MCAD (Minneapolis College of Art and Design), but I started my photography journey the summer before I was going to attend, and I decided to see where it would take me. I figured school could wait; I guess I’ve put it off for 14 years now. What really made me stick with photography, rather than making music or films, was the community I was introduced to thanks to platforms like Flickr. I was introduced to things I didn’t even know were possible and even got to connect with and meet other artists that inspired me tremendously. Seeing what other people were able to create with a camera, a little bit of photoshop and a surplus of imagination just really struck a chord with me. I started exploring all these possibilities for myself. It was through that journey I fell in love with photography. Soon after, I realized it would be a part of my life forever.

PM: Have you made your own films?

DK: A few. Nothing I would be particularly proud to show today. I did get to make some cool music videos, but the paid commercial stuff ended up being my most professional productions. I don’t dabble with it much anymore, but maybe someday I’ll find a spark for that again!

PM: How has your work evolved as a photographer and what inspires you most in your work?

DK: I’ve shot a lot of different things and explored many different genres, but I started with shooting people: portraits, headshots and events. I first started making money as a wedding photographer, which sustained my career for over a decade. I’ve shot products, still life and landscapes, but what I’ve realized I’m most drawn to is being able to capture people and their likeness through my perspective in a way where I can really express my own artistic style. That’s what inspires me the most; being able to tell stories through people and their expression, pose or fashion choice. 

PM: Business owner, artist, photographer, you’re wearing many different hats. Do you consider yourself ambitious or do you feel like you’re more of an artist? 

DK: Too many hats, always, and impossible to balance. Starting any new business from scratch is a tremendous amount of work. It requires all of your time and energy. It’s probably on par with having a baby except that baby needs to make enough money for both of you to survive, so if anything it’s harder. There’s certainly been a creative process with designing the space that I admire, but there’s a million other facets to building a business that definitely aren’t fun or creative. Finding the balance between “artist” and “business owner” is extremely challenging, especially when you have other ambitions, too. Right now, most of my focus has been on building a strong foundation for Atmosfera. It’s taken a tremendous toll on the progress I’ve built in my photography career and the relationships I’ve established. I’m definitely overly ambitious. The ideas and drive never seem to be in short supply, but the amount of time I need in a day is about 12 hours too short.

What do you like most about fashion photography? Are there other areas of photography you would want to explore once you can offload some of the work you’re doing on the business side? 

DK: I want to tell stories through people, with striking images that have either a fashion or editorial element behind them, since fashion is such a cool way of expressing ourselves as individuals. I love any form of art that can be experienced by just being present in a room. That’s what fashion does;  you wear something and people automatically have an intuition about you. Even if you’re not trying to participate, you’re still wearing something, and your choices are a reflection of your taste and style whether or not you want it to be. I love being able to capture that and add my own twist on it so that it becomes collaborative. It would be amazing to be able to shoot for fashion houses and brands that I admire, and I’d love to continue building a creative rapport with more exciting muses, designers and labels. Lately so much of my attention and energy has been going to Atmosfera. I know for sure that I start to feel really empty when I haven’t shot in awhile, so you’ll definitely see me shifting focus back to photography soon enough.

PM: It’s beautiful that you’re able to channel so much of your passion and energy in your business and career, and that the two play so well together. You’re holding space for others and yourself. What does it mean to you to hold space? 

DK: I love this question. Now that this is my third big project like this, I’ve realized my passion for creating and designing spaces that are unique, inspiring and have this personalized, artistic touch to them that resonates with people. I may draw some inspiration from different places, but the overall vision for Atmosfera is completely from my imagination. It’s entirely authentic, singular. In a world that is increasingly artificial and reliant on mimicry, people crave this kind of authenticity more than ever. When they come here, people feel the passion and intention behind it and see it right away. It’s physical, static, and grounded in one place. It doesn’t exist on just a digital screen or piece of paper, but as a destination that is intrinsically and permanently tied to what’s around it, including the people. Anyone who holds space, especially here in NYC, has a responsibility to nurture the space and the community around it. As an artist, you want to express yourself, but to some extent, you also want to feel like you’re doing something that connects people. I remember some friends of mine recounting the story of how we all met. They said “well yeah, we met at a party at David’s studio and we’ve been lifelong friends ever since.” I think about that often; how many connections happen like that at an event that was held at a space I created. I don’t know where my life will go next, but I know for a fact that I want to explore that side of my creativity more and will design more intentional and creatively uplifting spaces in the future. It’s incredibly fulfilling to have a creative outlet that’s entirely authentic, coming from a place of passion. A place that also, quite literally, brings people together into an atmosphere that you’ve built.

PM: Thank you so much, David. We’re looking forward to sharing many more moments at Atmosfera and following your photography career!

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