I am a Storyteller.
My name is Bonnie Natko and I am a photographer that focuses on the urban environment and the people who interact with it. I am fascinated with capturing spaces in transition. I love to anticipate the moment and take a documentary style approach to each of my image and prefer to shoot my subject “as they are” in life, focusing on the beauty of the so-called ordinary. To me, photography is not about the medium utilized to achieve this effect, but rather the composition, the mood, and the narrative. By editing every piece of work, regardless of tool used (or app), I achieve greater control to convey this message.
After dabbling with photography from a young age, it was an urban studies class, “Urban Aesthetics” that I took in 1997 that really made me fall in love with street photography and gave me a new found appreciation on my hometown of NYC. We traveled each day to a new location of significant historical, architectural, or cultural significance; being a keen observer was essential. I dragged my SLR with me every day & for my final, I completed a photo essay and was still infected by the need to shoot long after the class was completed.
I was born in Brooklyn (spent a great deal of my childhood in Sheepshead Bay), raised in Bayside, Queens and currently reside right on the tip of where Woodside, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights meet. I feel fortunate to have grown up right in the melting pot.
My images have been published in: Gothamist, The New York Observer, The Village Voice, Curbed, WNYC.org, NYC.gov, The Brooklyn Paper, and Brownstoner among others. I was also commissioned to shoot one of the girls profiled in the Penguin/Puffin book, “Girls Gone Green” published in 2010.
My history in cameras.
The very first camera I used was a Kodak Instamatic. It was my mom’s, complete with flash cubes and all. Eventually, I got my very own 110 camera and took lots of candids.
When I hit high school, I got my first 35mm camera - a Vivitar. It was a basic point and shoot which was quite handy. Then came my very first Canon 35mm which had a bit more creative control. Once I played with this camera, I was itching for more, so I graduated to a Minolta SLR. It was this camera that truly made me learn all about photography. I was able to dabble with manual settings and when I got my prints back, I realized what worked and what didn’t.
Then came digital.
I embraced digital at a time where digital was still considered to be controversial. I got my first digital gig for Fashionmall.com using their (ridiculously HUGE) Sony Mavica FD-5. Yes, it saved photos to a 3.5 floppy. Quality was well, ummm…good enough for thumbnails!
This made me consider getting a digital camera of my own, and as a gift to myself when I started my new job at Tony Stone Images, I got one. It was an Olympus Camedia C-2000 zoom. The 2.11 megapixel camera was considered high-tech (especially for a consumer model)! I still shot more on film as I felt like I had far more control & far better results.
After working with that camera for a while, I realized the limitations, and needed something a bit more useful for work (a 3x zoom really was NOTHING). Since Digital SLRs were quite cost prohibitive back then, I went with a bridge camera. I got the Canon S1is in 2005 and took that camera literally everywhere. It was great working with a camera that I had full creative control over.
Eventually, prices for SLRs went down and I got the Olympus E-500. It beat out the Nikon and Canon because it was rugged and felt truly solid. It reminded me of my Minolta, which was important. I got some of my first paid gigs with this camera and shot everything exhibited at my first gallery show with. Unfortunately Olympus Zuiko lenses are SUPER expensive, and they for some reason don’t allow third parties to make glass for their gear. Again, limiting.
After a couple of years, and the need for more megapixels became apparent, I got the Canon XSi a couple of years ago. This, by far is the best camera I’ve ever owned, and buying gear is quite simple.
But honestly, it really isn’t about the gear.
While I absolutely love my SLR, it’s not my main camera these days. For everyday use, my iPhone is my camera of choice. Given my subject matter, I find it easier and less intrusive than when I have a large camera hanging from my neck. People do act differently the moment they see the camera, which defeats the purpose.
My take on editing and app-based photography.
Although my subject matter is documentary in nature, I do not consider myself to be a photojournalist. I am a storyteller, and in my eyes, I want to share my vision of making the ordinary just a bit more extraordinary. If this means that I am using an app or editing in Photoshop, so be it. I am giving a fresh look on what we see every day, and that’s what I want to share. Medium should not matter, whether analog or digital. It’s not how you get to the result, it’s the actual result that matters. You can have all the fancy equipment and gear in the world, but if you lack the creative eye, you may produce competent, technically correct images, but your images will be soulless.
Develop your eye. Observe your surroundings. Anticipate the moment.