It was only ten years ago when photographer Brandon Almengo first picked up a camera. He had no formal training, but as a curious 16-year-old he grabbed the family Nikon and started photographing friends in his Paterson, New Jersey, neighborhood.
Today, he’s one of the hottest shooters out there, capturing the world’s top models and music artists and landing them in the pages of magazines like Vogue and the cover of Maxim, for which he shot rap sensation Saweetie.
“I truly hope me being the first Afro-Latino to shoot the cover of Maxim magazine opens the door for many more people of color,” he tells us from his home in L.A., where he lives with his wife and new baby daughter.
Saweetie Maxim Cover Shoot
“Everybody where I’m from is either dead or in jail. It forced me to grow up quick. By the time I was in high school I had my own apartment and car. So, when I started photography I started offering free shoots in my neighborhood just to build up my portfolio.”
Before the pandemic, Almengo, who normally does fashion photography, began touring with various artists including Jason Derulo, whom he documented on his European tour. He followed YG on his U.S. tour, as well as Saweetie and Cardi B.
“We would prank each other on our off time, throwing water on anyone who was asleep, all kinds of foolery,” he laughs. “The memories and experiences you build with an artist on tour are life-changing.”
Also life-changing was becoming a father during the pandemic, a rare bright spot in 2020. “Becoming a father and a husband to my beautiful wife and daughter made me understand that the best things in life are free. And behind every great man is an even greater woman!” he beams with the pride of a new dad.
No doubt his attitude toward women is a big part of his success working with them. He believes confidence is essential for any successful model. And in order to boost it, he’ll often meet with his subject before they collaborate and talk about what she might want out of the shoot, how she hopes to present to her public.
“A good model is somebody who’s able to follow direction, someone who’s not afraid to be vulnerable and not afraid to get into character, someone who has a good feel for their own body,” he explains. “I don’t believe in a bad model because anyone has the potential to be a good model with the right direction.”
Self-taught, Almengo learned photography through his own early efforts at modeling. Back then he only photographed women, freestyle shoots lacking concept on account of his limited budget. What looks like a dream job can often be a nightmare, like the unnamed model who terrorized the crew, or the time he got walloped by a rogue wave while holding a brand new camera, and wound up finishing the shoot on an iPhone.
“The photos came out dope and I got another job with the client. But I was pissed!” he recalls. But not anymore, because Almengo has arrived, recently making Complex’s list of 30 Best Image Makers.
“My definition of success is doing what I love, being with the people I love, helping my family lead a happier and healthier life; living the lives we want, instead of the lives we settle for, and becoming the best version of ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually.