Ones to Watch: Jacob Consenstein
New York native Jacob Consenstein has been giving us a look through his lens as he captures the spark of his vibrant hometown. His most recent project, the AT&T campaign “its a 212 thing”, heroes his friends in and around New York, and can be spotted all around the city.
We sat down with Consenstein on his rooftop in Harlem to talk about growing up here in New York, how his childhood ignited a passion for photography from the get-go, and working with artists like Tyler, the Creator. Color theory, his tight-knit group of supportive friends, and the idea of always experiencing something new when stepping out the door in New York are all contributing factors to his continued success in shooting fashion and street photography.
What part of New York are you from, and how might growing up here play a role in what you like to photograph?
I was born and raised on the Upper West Side. Something that I think has really affected my photography is the fact that every time you leave your house in New York you’re seeing something that you’re experiencing for the first time. There’s something really beautiful about the intimacy of living so close with everybody. You know, I think that gives a real kind of amplified way of being raised and an amplified way of observing your surroundings. That has been something that inspires me endlessly in just realizing the privilege that I have to photograph such a wide range of people all the time. I’m very proud of where I’m from, so I think that translates a lot in my photography.
How did you first become interested in photography?
I used to be kind of a reckless young individual. I first picked up disposable cameras and would rack them from a Duane Reade or a CVS and would photograph crazy nights out. I was obsessed with sneaking onto rooftops. I would sneak onto rooftops alone just to try and see the city from a different vantage point. I ran with a bunch of different graffiti writers. Photographing those people do graffiti with disposable cameras became a hobby for me really quickly and kind of obsessively. A friend of mine named Milo gave me my first film camera because he saw that I was gaining interest in it and that I was starting to get better and better. He had been photographing for a few years at that point, and the first film photo I ever took on an SLR was of him on the street while he was doing a commission shoot. It kind of took off from there. The moment I had that Pentax K1000 in my hand I just couldn’t stop. I’d spend all my money and did everything possible to shoot as many rolls of film as I could every single day.
Your photography is full of vibrant colors. What inspires you to capture your subjects in that way?
Before I began photographing seriously, I had this small obsession and research binge on color theory. I just thought it was really interesting how everyone’s eyes perceive light and color differently, and that concept really consumed me for a long time. I really love either matching super heavily in my clothing, in my room, in décor or anything, and I think that’s reflected in my photography where if there’s opposite colors within a frame or if someone’s wearing a blue shirt in front of a blue background.
There was one photo I took of a woman in a pink wig with a red coat and there was a red Brinks truck behind her. That was an example of me just seeing colors all matching up within a split second. Being able to capture that is really valuable to me. When it comes to deciding subjects to shoot, I really only shoot people I’ve known for a very long time. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a really tight-knit friend group since I was in middle school. My friend group is super vast and really expansive across the city. I have a lot of admiration for the people around me and I think that’s reflected in my work. I barely rarely work with people I don’t know well. I think that is something very valuable in my work. You can tell in people’s expressions and body language that they are fairly comfortable with me and I just really like the aspect of photography that you can translate a relationship through a lens. That’s really beautiful.
You say you have a tight knit group of friends and you recently just released your first public campaign “it’s a 212 thing” for AT&T, where your photos of your friends representing the 212 are posted all over New York. How does it feel?
It feels great! It feels really good, and it’s still somewhat surreal to see my work posted around the city just because I’ve never had a large company print and distribute my photos for everybody to see. It’s always been somewhat of a struggle for me to find a way to display my work in a commercial medium other than look books or social media and what not, but to have physical copies everywhere is just pretty mind boggling honestly. The thing that does mean the most to me is the support I’ve received from it. The support from my friends. As I said that tight knit friend group is super proud of me and really expressive about that and that’s something that is just going to continue to fuel me to do as much work as possible. I just hope I have more opportunities similar to it. I know I will have a few more, large out of house campaigns coming soon.
Can you give us a background on how you got into shooting commercial work?
I went to an honors high school called Beacon, and I was not a very good student. I was getting C’s and D’s and I come from an extremely academic background. Both my parents are professors, my sister’s getting her masters at Princeton, and my twin brother is getting his masters in anthropology at University of Toronto. Being a bad student really just made me feel like shit so I ended up transferring high schools to an alternative school that offered internships instead of school.
Then I graduated a semester before all of my friends, so everyone was in their senior year of high school and I was kind of forced into the real world of working and trying to find a lane fairly early compared to most of my friends. I didn’t apply to college because I knew I wasn’t ready to go away. I didn’t want to turn into a frat boy [in the sense of] partying instead of finding myself. I was fortunate enough to get an internship with the clothing brand Only NY and the magazine, Mass Appeal Magazine, while working at a restaurant.
So I was doing two internships and a job my senior year of high school while my friends were still in math class. While I was at Only NY I showed an interest in taking photos of their apparel and shot my first look book for them in 2014. They just continued to give me opportunities to shoot for them and at that time it was all for free, all for just gaining experience, and photographing stuff I was fond of. They gave me a platform to share my work on a big level. They had a few hundred thousand followers and were a pretty well-known brand.
From that point on I started to receive more and more interest in my work. I started diving in a lot more heavily. From there I really just grew in into a commercial fashion photographer very quickly alongside my street photography work which is what means the most to me and is something that I hope will be in a museum or you know something that because it is something I really cherish as an art form. Being able to have those two things hand in hand is really super valuable to me and it led to it super organically and was a good passage way to find myself in.
You had the opportunity to shoot the special Artist Series campaign curated by Tyler, the Creator for Converse. What was your favorite part about the experience?
Oh I loved that shoot, that was my favorite shoot to date. The crew was super helpful and gave me almost every inch of direction. I chose the location, and when we were sidetracked here and there, I was able to find different spots. It was very organic, kind of a beautifully thrown together shoot. I’ve been a fan of Tyler since I was in middle school and early high school. I was shooting Wyatt who’s really good friends with Tyler and who designed one of the sneakers. He was super kind and super nice. I was familiar with their friend Crystal as well that I shot. It was really nice to be able to photograph people that I look up to in a way. The production company that put it together was involved Doubleday and Cartwright and there are a few artists that are a part of it, especially Kimou Meyer who I’ve worked with a few times, that really inspire me. To be involved with people and companies I admire and to be on an organic free flowing set was just super valuable. I was very happy with the photos. Shoutout to my assistant Andy who got the right lens on time and helped me with the lighting. I was just really excited about the whole process and how it came out.
What other New York photographers you look up to?
Two of my favorite famous New York photographers are Matt Weber and Richard Sandler. I think the way that they capture people in the city and their surroundings are so raw. That’s something that really resonates with me and feels very real. As I said multiple times already my friends are what really inspire me the most and what got me into photographing consistently, so I’m gonna give a shoutout to Dean Majd, Ezequiel Martinez, and Milo Fynn.
Who are some artists you would like to shoot with in the future?
I’d really like to shoot BADBADNOTGOOD. They’re good friends of mine and I’d love to get something going with them. Nick Hakim shoutout to him. We’ve had plans to photograph. He’s been someone I want to photograph for a while. Frank Ocean, just because I’m a huge fan. I would love to shoot any New York based musicians because I think that any collaboration between two true New Yorkers is really beautiful. There are so many young artists that I’m looking up to and I’m such a huge music fan. I dive so deep into underground music that I would just love to photograph anybody making great music in the city.
Stay tuned to Milk for more ones to watch.