In My Backyard
In My Backyard is a limited interview series sharing the stories behind some of my favorite makers and creatives killing it in my own backyard. The series highlights the power in starting where you are and collaborating with others in your network.
Mal brings a certain type of energy to his work.
You can see the focus and liveliness as he works, hear the excitement and passion as he talks about his craft, and feel the special energy in each of his released pieces and collaborations.
I don’t remember exactly when I met Mal, but it was definitely somewhere with the CLLCTV crew. At the time, and still today, CLLCTV already had some of the most talented photographers and content creators in New England (shoutout to Owen and Kibbee).
Mal was new to photography in the events space back then. Some years later, he now has developed a very distinct style, covering some of the best events in and outside of New England and using photography as a means of storytelling.
In this edition of In My Backyard, Mal shares the story behind how he started shooting events, his approach to collaboration and developing his style, and what he’s still continuing to learn throughout his journey.
First Year Project’s full interview below, lightly edited for content and clarity.
THE EARLY YEARS
What do you do and why do you do it?
Now, I think my main focus is photography and videography specifically for parties and events. For all intensive purposes, I would actually just call myself a storyteller, but my mediums just happen to be photo + video.
I got into photography my freshman year of college. I was enrolled in a very rigid business school at the time. I needed a more creative outlet, something to kind of escape from the mundane finance and accounting classes I was in.
Since then, I just never put the camera down. Photo + video has really become a vehicle of self-expression for me. It started off as an “escape” but now it’s very much apart of who I am.
How did you get your start? What was the first year like doing this work?
My first year of shooting was back in 2014. It was great! I was a super amateur at what I was doing, and in a sense that was actually a lot of fun! Not knowing anything about how I wanted to tell stories was very much just trial and error. I did a ton of research and dove deep into the culture as a way of pulling references for my work. Some of that older work too includes stuff that I actually really like, because it’s so raw and not really led by a direction!
In the early years of this work, what was one of the toughest moments that you recall and how did you get through it?
The hardest part for me was that I was enrolled in a school that didn't really foster my creative growth. I felt like I was wasting my time. At times, I maybe even felt obligated to stay, because of the promise of a better future. However, in reality you should generally follow what you are most passionate about. At a point in time I really wanted to transfer schools, but I got a really amazing scholarship to attend the school. I didn't want to put myself in MORE debt by transferring to an art school, so I had to stick it out at my business school.
MAKING THE TRANSITION
What was the process like from your initial start in photography to shooting regularly for events around New England and beyond?
WOW, great question. Shooting events for me started while working in the music industry space. In 2015 I started working with a music duo based in Miami. I was traveling with them quite a bit as their head photographer, which was an amazing experience! Later on I was living in South Africa working on an independent project that had more of a journalistic focus. It was more about documenting then actually creating images. When I came back from Africa I turned 21 and started going out in the city.
It was around this time I heard about CLLTV.US and the work that they were doing specifically with The Wave. I’d been going to a few other events where I met YVNG PAVL and DJ Big Bear. I'm a pretty friendly person, so I think I introduced myself to them and kept in contact.
One day I got a DM from Paul asking if I could shoot The Wave. I was so happy, but also nervous! I’d never shot an event before, but I did have a strong video and photo background. They definitely still took a big chance on me by letting me work with them. The first wave I shot was in 2017, and I've been rocking with them ever since.
I really appreciate the CLLCTV.US team for giving me that first opportunity, because I didn't know SH*T about event photography. Shooting The Wave gave me "time" to improve at this type of work. It took me a whole year (2017 - 18) to feel as comfortable as I am now with shooting events and parties. A WHOLE A** YEAR! It's crazy to think about that.
I now shoot other events and parties in the city and beyond. It's really awesome I very much love what I do.
What's your approach to collaborating with others?
I think i'm trying to figure that out for myself. I am very independent when it comes to my work, and I think that comes from my background in wrestling and Jiu Jitsu. I love just working by myself, not because I don't like working with others but I like control. I like everything being on me. That's not necessarily a good thing. I need to learn to trust others a bit more.
When I do collaborate though, I love working with my friends. Oh my goodness - they are the best actually. I only shoot people I have some kind of relationship with. I'm looking at my website now and EVERYONE I've shot is a homie of mine, to a certain extent. It's a trust thing for sure. As of late I've been collaborating a lot with other crews with events, and it's been a huge learning experience for me. My main collaborator at this time is my good friend Bilindoff. I'm very appreciative of him and his energy. He's such a positive guy in any situation, and I'm really blessed to have people like him around me in my life.
LEARNED LESSONS, ADVICE, & WHAT'S NEXT
What’s one of the most important lessons that you've had to learn as a photographer? How has this lesson shaped both your progress and the work you do?
Prep work is important. I like to pack my camera bag the night before traveling to a big shoot just to make sure I don't forget anything. I get stressed if I get rushed and 9/10 I WILL forget something.
Also, your style is your style. I think it's easy for photographers to get caught up in looking at other's work. We live in this social media era where we are constantly bombarded with content. It's too much. You gotta edit how you edit, and shoot how you shoot. Imitating others is cool on an inspiration level, but I really think i've learned to do my own research, take time to really dive into my craft, and have an understanding of what I want to do and say with my work. It's not just, “yeah let me download this preset so I can have my sh*t look like this person's work.” That's corny to me, but I also understand why someone would fall into that trap. My generation wants everything now, and I think we are always looking for shortcuts or a faster way to do things. This is not always bad, it's just at the end of the day you have to study and have to practice. There's no substitute to that no matter who you are or what you do.
What’s one lesson you're still continuing to learn?
LISTENING. That's just a personal one and has nothing to do with art hahah.
What are some projects you're currently working on now? What are you looking forward to as you continue to grow in your craft?
Allyoucaneat is a new project that myself and a few others are working on. It's part party part creative agency. I'm really excited to work with the guys at allyoucaneat because it's just something a little different for the city. As always, I'm very excited to be working with CLLCTV.US. That team is my family, and I really can't wait to see the company grow for the next years to come.