Spend 15 minutes with

Natalia Mantini

& Mo Mfinanga

  • Published on May 21, 2019
  • Photograph by Molly Matalon

Natalia Mantini, born in Los Angeles, moved to New York City at age 24 to pursue photography. Self taught, this triple Scorpio thrives in a challenge. Natalia channels her magnetic and sensual energy straight into her work, which lets each portrait embody a seductive intimacy that catches the viewer in a web of fantasy.

Eve Lyons, Photo Editor at The New York Times


Mo: I'm curious about your decision to move to New York after living in Los Angeles most of your life.

Natalia: I wanted to learn more and be exposed to work that I like, personally. I felt too comfortable in Los Angeles because I'm from here, so I wanted to challenge myself and came to New York for photography.

Mo: Did you know anyone in New York before making the move?

Natalia: No, not really. I had some mutual friends and one close relationship here but besides that the transition felt pretty isolated. Being self taught, I really felt I had to figure it out as I went.

Mo: And have you felt like the pace in New York is too fast for you?

Natalia: Not for me, I like to work more than anything.

Mo: Do you have hobbies then?

Natalia: Sometimes I sleep! [both laughing] But yeah, I do. I try to be conscious about how I fill my time when I'm not working. I'll go to exhibits, see films, I go to a lot of shows, I try to read daily.

Mo: What do you believe informs your work?

Natalia: Lately I’ve been inspired by painters and cinematography. My friendships have always been very inspiring, which runs through my focus on femininity and subcultures I feel connected to. I like to contribute to stories that highlight people and communities who deserve more visibility.

It’s hard to be somewhat aware of what’s happening to our country and planet, and not get into that space of ‘everything is irrelevant.’
— Natalia Mantini

Gabrielle Richardson, 2018

Gabrielle Richardson, 2018


Mo: Is there anything you feel like you don't get the opportunity to highlight?

Natalia: So many people need to be highlighted and heard that aren't, it can feel overwhelming. I'd like to spend more time where my family is from in México and make work while I’m there. It could be creating whatever I feel, it doesn't necessarily need to be making portraits.

Mo: What does your family think about your work?

Natalia: Apparently my mom loves it on Facebook. She shares everything I make on it. [both laughing]

Mo: Have you ever considered coming back to LA?

Natalia: No! [both laughing] I grew up here and moved around a lot. I say I don't want to live here right now but that could change with time I guess. There are so many artists here that I'm inspired by and lucky to know in LA, but I only come back here for jobs. It feels like New York fits my work and personality more than here.

Natalia: There's a lot going on in LA, though. I'm working on something right now that has to do with a community of creatives here, which feels very beautiful and emotionally charged.

Mo: Is it commissioned or personal oriented work?

Natalia: It's for people! [both laughing]

Mo: That's the best response for that question. [both laughing]

Natalia: But no, it’s for both me and others. It's going to be in publication and I love what I get to do for it. [laughing]

Mo: For those reading, I want to contextualize the coffee shop we're at. It's currently playing ‘Careless Whisper’ and has been playing romantic music the entire time we've been here.

Natalia: Have you seen the video of the spinning seal playing the saxophone to this song?

Mo: Not yet. [both laughing]

Natalia: Okay, I'll send you that.

Mo: Great, we'll end the interview here. [both laughing]


You’re always fine. That’s what I have to tell myself.
— Natalia Mantini

Mo: One thing I've been talking to contemporaries about is how nuanced of a medium photography is, but also the fear behind shooting. I remember talking with Olivia Bee about nerves before shooting; she thinks she'll forget how to take a photo.

Natalia: Yes! What is that? I'll randomly wonder if I loaded my film right after a shoot.

Mo: Have you ever gone on YouTube to find out how to load film on your own camera before a shoot? [both laughing] It's like, you've been using this thing forever!

Natalia: That paranoia happened to me yesterday. I was saying it out loud to the person I was photographing. I wonder if one day I’ll feel that I can correctly load my own film.

Mo: There's probably a German word for that. [both laughing] But no, I think it's your body is reminding you that this moment is important.

Natalia: I'd like to think that it means that we care.

Mo: I always wonder if someone videotaped an entire shoot I did, would I feel more comfortable or less?

Natalia: Yeah, but you're always fine. That's what I have to tell myself.

Mo: Do you think someone needs confidence in order to make work for others?

Natalia: It can be very tricky to meet a client’s needs while satisfying your own standards. I was definitely acting as if I had the confidence to fulfill certain jobs before that became the truth.

Natalia: Now it’s more about figuring out how to voice what I think would be best and what feels more true to myself when someone hires me, so that I’m happy with what I put out as well as the client.

Miyako Bellizzi for  The New York Times ,  The ‘Good Time’ Stylist Has Some Tips for Style on a Budget , 2017

Miyako Bellizzi for The New York Times, The ‘Good Time’ Stylist Has Some Tips for Style on a Budget, 2017


Mo: What were the first things you made in a creative oriented way?

Natalia: Things that don’t count as ceramics when you were six? [both laughing]

Mo: It could! For me, it was crafting 3D iPhones in middle school.

Natalia: Right, I didn't think I was making a thing, but maybe when I was attempting to play music and wanting to be in a punk band when I was younger. I was trying to learn bass and piano when I was in middle school. I was making bootleg shirts at Kinkos. Probably that. I wish I had those bootlegs now.


Early Years

Mo: At what point did you realize photography was the thing you'd primarily be pursuing? It's weird because you're connecting the dots when things have happened; you can't do it in the moment.

Natalia: Yes, and some people can tell you that before you can tell yourself. I don't really feel like there was a moment of clarity besides me being fully freelance.

Mo: Did you do that when you moved to New York?

Natalia: No way! I had to afford to live. [both laughing] I worked multiple gigs. I worked in production, restaurants, bars, and assisted artists.

Mo: Did you ever assist photographers?

Natalia: Yeah, I did. My first internship was with Danielle Levitt—I love her. I did a lot of production work and almost every aspect of photo on set so that I could learn how to produce my own shoots.

Mo: What do you feel like were specific things you're thankful for learning in those years?

Natalia: I'm grateful for every single job I've had. They've given me more perspective and respect and ego checks, which are really important. I think every gig has been contributive to the point where I'm at now.

Mo: Do you feel like you're aware of what people think about you or your work?

Natalia: I'm very self critical and always striving to do the best I can for the people I'm working with, the people who are taking in what I'm making, and myself. I don't know what people think about me and I never will. I've been pigeonholed into a lot of things, like we all are. I try to be aware of the energy I bring into a space, but I have no idea what people think of me.

Mo: What's the most challenging thing for you creatively or personally?

Natalia: Right now it's hard to be somewhat aware of what's happening to our country and planet, and not get into that space of everything is irrelevant. How could I think that a portrait matters right now when what's happening is happening?

Natalia: Also, that balance of commercial work and asking what I want to make is interesting. I’m trying to remember to make personal work that I find stimulating along with commercial work and not just getting stuck in the job-survival mentality.

Mo: That feeling can be intense because our work revolves around the world we're in, whether if we see how it tangibly affects us or not.

Natalia: On the positive side of that, I'm learning how to navigate it and I have mentors and people who help me do that.

Mo: What do those people tell you?

Natalia: I have to balance what I take in, with care, so that I can be a productive person and not get into a dark space. I want to practice being more intentional. I think unplugging from your phone and social media is really important to remain grounded.

Giulia Marsico (Scientwehst) for  Penthouse Magazine , 2017

Giulia Marsico (Scientwehst) for Penthouse Magazine, 2017


Mo: How does this January feel like compared to other January's?

Natalia: They are continuing to increase and my world is getting bigger. My workflow is becoming more clear even if it's becoming more hectic. I'm grateful and my work is making sense, which doesn't mean that I got it figured out in any way, but my work is in a good place right now.

Mo: Do you feel like you're in a good place right now?

Natalia: I feel like I'm in a place of self-actualization. I think that goes into my work which makes things a little more fluid. I do feel good considering the reality of life.

Mo: Through the adversities we've all had and have, I feel like its a privilege to find something we love and work towards that. Regardless if we're fully or partially committed to it, we've found something that satisfies us and that's powerful. Sometimes we forget that. You get into a stream alongside others who've found what they love, so it becomes easy to forget that there are people who don't or won't get that opportunity, unfortunately.

Mo: The weird balance of personal and work life is completely different than how others operate, and it's not the most sustainable route. On one hand you're grateful for being able to do this, but on the other hand, shit is really hard and breaks some people.

Natalia: Yeah, it's not an easy route. I’ve had conversations like this often with my closest friends who are creatives. The process when you don’t have certain accessibility and resources to achieve what you want to accomplish, which can take longer and become frustrating and very discouraging. It can be easy for some people and that's cool, personally I’m inspired by people who take their own path to make their work.

Mo: It's interesting to see how people accomplish what they want with whatever medium they choose. Sometimes people stick with one medium, and sometimes people want other mediums to communicate with each other. Do you feel like you're someone who wants to stick with one medium right now?

Natalia: I want to make music videos. I’d love to work with artists like FKA Twigs and Bad Gyal.

Mo: How long have you had that feeling, and why?

Natalia: I've been obsessed with music my entire life. It's informed so much about me. A lot of the people I shoot are musicians and I get to do really cool stories like the one I did for The Times about a newer generation of front women. I think working with the type of people I photograph would be a dream. I look at more films than I look at photos.

Mo: I’m assuming you play music during the shoot.

Natalia: Yeah, I ask what they're into. I'll just put on Erykah Badu or Solange and see how they're feeling. But it's not about what I want; it's about what they like. I listen to specific music when I'm editing, though. I found an amazing composer from Mexico City, Julián Carrillo. I listen to Preludio a Colon (1925) when I edit photos on repeat. Film scores help me concentrate, too.

Mo: What has surprised you the most from learning about films?

Natalia: It's all so stimulating to me. One of my closest friends is a stylist who recently got into costume designing for films and seeing her process is beautiful. Having friends involved in these productions, watching films that inspire them, having conversations about how they create is something I want to hear about for the rest of my life. It's beautiful.

Mo: What are five films that inspire you the most right now?

Natalia: These are what come to mind right now. Chungking Express (1994) Wong Kar-wai, Mi Vida Loca (1993) Allison Anders, Cry-Baby (1990) by John Waters, Heaven Knows What (2016) by the Safdie brothers, Grey Gardens (1975) by Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer, David Maysles, Albert and David Maysles

Mo: I want to conclude by asking what you think the purpose of your work is?

Natalia: I don't really know—it's just a feeling. It's what I care to do and it’s an ongoing process.

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  • Where can we follow you?

  • Website & Instagram
  • What's the last thing you texted?

  • I’m at pilates without you.

  • What are the best books, music, and movies you’ve come across recently?

  • Listening to Kelsey Lu (I want to shoot her), FKA Twigs, and Charlotte Day Wilson. I'm reading Women Who Run with the Wolves and Carceral Capitalism. I’m looking forward to the next film by Josh & Benny Safdi.

  • What question(s) do you hate getting asked?

  • When did you start taking photos? Where did you go to school? Questions about my family.
  • What’s your Uber rating?

  • I don’t want to know, however, I give all drivers 5 stars

  • Pros and cons of living in New York?

  • :-/
  • How do you unwind after a long shoot?

  • I watch Grey Gardens on an acupressure mat and do face masks obsessively.


Further Reading

  • Amy Harrity
  • “It’s just learning how to let photography be a part of me but not define me. ”