New York City – A Dark Romance by Mario Toledo Sader

Catching the long, sharp shadows of New York City, Photographer Mario Toledo Sader, by trade a mix of fine artist and graphic designer, discovers gotham city from a dark, romantic perspective. He uses his photography to capture these intimate, yet people empty moments. Time stands still. A city without people, framed for eternity.  From city scapes, to architectural details, to the the intimate shape of the female body, his work draws sharp contrasts, defines a new reality.

Portrait of Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
Portrait of Mario Toledo Sader

What attracted you to design and photography? Do you see overlap between the two fields?

I guess I was always a very visual person. I found out that I could draw very early, and that probably helped me develop a visual sensibility. Photography was something very present in my family. I was born in France, but my family moved to Brazil when I was very young. Family photos were all I had to stay connected to my home country and to preserve those memories. Although drawing was something I loved, when I finished high school I didn’t want to pursue illustration as a career, so I decided to study graphic design instead. Half way through I quit and ended up studying Fine Arts. That’s where I fell in love with photography all over again.

There is a natural overlap between design and photography and for years I tried to combine the two disciplines but it always felt contrived, so at one point I decided to just let photography be my personal work, my creative output if you will, and have design as my profession.

United Nations Building by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
United Nations Building by Mario Toledo Sader
Mario Toledo Sader taking photos in New York City
Mario Toledo Sader taking photos in New York City

What are the differences between Brazilian and American design in your opinion? What are some of the fundamental elements that distinguish each?

I think that although both American and Brazilian contemporary graphic design have their origins in Bauhaus and International Style, the fact that the US had this constant influx of new talent from all over the world and Brazil had not, shaped them in very different ways. The industry here embraced so many different styles and methods that it helped it mature, find its own voice and evolve from there. Brazil never really had a tradition in graphic design, for years it was part of the architecture major curriculum in college. So, graphic design as its own discipline, is very recent in Brazil. Books and resources were scarce when I was in college, so we had to do our own research and find things out by ourselves. It required a lot of experimentation, which lead to things that weren’t necessarily expected. And I think that attracted a lot of attention abroad, people were fascinated by it.

Building Entrance by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
Building Entrance by Mario Toledo Sader
Architectural Detail of Facade by Mario Toledo Sader

What brought you to New York City? What do you enjoy about the city, and what do you find it does for your work?

I never thought I’d live in New York City, so when I was offered a job here, it wasn’t something I immediately jumped on. I had to think if it was something I really wanted. And not having those high expectations probably helped me not to fantasize too much. Maybe that’s why I’m still here, maybe that’s why I like New York City. I took my time to slowly get used to it, to embrace some things and ignore others. I like its diversity, I like its energy, and even if it’s not as true as it used to be decades ago, I feel that there’s an opportunity to do whatever you want here. That no matter what you come up with, there will be an audience for you. I wish I could’ve seen New York City in the 70’s and 80’s, where this creative energy was at its peak in the city. As for what it does for my work; I’d say I get to see so many new things that end up serving as reference or inspiration, and I have access to so many shows, art, music, film. I never take the city for granted; I go to galleries, I go to museums, I go to art fairs. I don’t know if I’ll live here all my life so I better take it all in while I’m here.

Tree against Facade by Mario Toledo Sader
Swan on Black Lake by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
Swan on Black Lake by Mario Toledo Sader

Having developed your photography portfolio over the last couple of years, how would you describe your work and style? What do you strive for?

It is interesting how you can do your work for years without really finding your voice, just experimenting and then suddenly… all falls in place like magic: as if you had all the pieces of the puzzle all these years but you didn’t know how to put them together. I think that’s what happened in the last 2 to 3 years, things have gotten more consistent. It has always been more instinctive rather than rational, so I always have a hard time describing it. I don’t really have a theme or a story to tell. I work with negative space and shadows, mostly. I like to create voids so people have to fill the blanks, to guess or imagine what’s not there. I work mostly with urban landscapes, but not exclusively. That’s not something I see as my subject. Maybe that’s one aspect that New York City brought to my photos; a more urban setting.

Steamy Corner Deli by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
Steamy Corner Deli by Mario Toledo Sader
Marble Lion by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
Marble Lion by Mario Toledo Sader

What are you passionate about when it comes to your creative work? How do you stay true to that?

Process is key. Even after all these years, I find it terrifying and extremely satisfying in equal measure. It’s terrifying because you never know what you’ll be able to accomplish but at the same time… you’ve been doing this for so long that you know you can come up with something you’ll be proud of. And in photography, the process is so different because it happens really fast, it’s you finding the shot and taking it. And to stay true to it, I just have to constantly remind myself that sometimes even a project that isn’t necessarily exciting can bring interesting results. It all depends on how open your client is to you and if they are willing to bet on something they weren’t initially envisioning.

What motivates you to photograph? What motivates you to design?

Photography keeps me sane, I don’t think I’d be able to keep doing the design work if it wasn’t for photography. It’s a necessary break for me. And having the personal work separated from design also helps me not to stay too attached to things. To know when to let go and not let these things affect me. Having both design and photography keeps me balanced; my photography work is much more intuitive and the design work needs logic. One helps me clear my mind from the other.

Entrance by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
Entrance by Mario Toledo Sader

Who/where do you look to for inspiration?

I try to draw inspiration from everything. Art, photography, movies, the city, etc. Designers tend to all look at the same references and that can be tricky and dangerous: you might come up with similar solutions for a design problem or something that has already been done. It’s the same for photography. I try to look for inspiration on different things, not just photography. People sometimes tell me that my photos remind them of a specific painting or stills from a movie, and I really love that.

Project: Déclics Glissants

Woman by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
Woman by Mario Toledo Sader

Can you tell us about your project called Déclics Glissants? What is it and what was your goal in creating it?

Its name, Déclics Glissants, is inspired by a movie called Glissements Progressifs du Plaisir (Successive Slidings of Pleasure) by Alain Robbe-Grillet and Catherine Robbe-Grillet. He wrote Alain Resnais’ L’Année Dernière à Marienbad, which is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. and When I discovered Glissements Progressifs du Plaisir, I pictured it as a BDSM version of L’Année Dernière à Marienbad, which is not. And that always stayed on my mind; why fetish has to be so raw, and when it isn’t, it’s either too mundane or too sanitized. So Mara and I decided to create something that looked like what we were picturing in our heads. She’s a writer and I’m a photographer, but our roles in the project aren’t necessarily dictated by that. The collaboration is very natural, we have similar taste and come up with the ideas together. It was a challenge because I never photograph people and I always use natural light on my photos. Déclics is also an opportunity to learn how to work with lights and direct a model. We don’t really have an end goal with Déclics, but we’re working on a book now, so we’ll keep you posted on that 😉

Cuffed Hands by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
Cuffed Hands by Mario Toledo Sader
Phone Call by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
Phone Call by Mario Toledo Sader
High Heels and Latex by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
High Heels and Latex by Mario Toledo Sader

How do you see the role of women in your line of work? How is the landscape evolving for women in these fields?

It’s interesting because before Déclics, my work never featured people and I had never collaborated with anyone for photographic work. So having a female perspective, especially given its BDSM subject, is very important. Sometimes I even feel I’m more concerned than Mara with what we’re presenting. Women are under-represented in almost every field, and art is not an exception. Not that there aren’t women artists, it’s just that they don’t get the same visibility. Photography was dominated by women in its early days, when it was viewed as a less important art form. The moment that changed, women lost their place and those early photographers were forgotten. So to see this current shift is refreshing and long overdue!

Legs, Tights, Belt by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
Legs, Tights, Belt by Mario Toledo Sader
Body by Mario Toledo Sader - New York City
Body by Mario Toledo Sader

If you could work with anyone in the world, in any kind of field, who and what would you work with? Why?

Oh, that is such a tough question! I’d love to work with Peter Saville or Hort in design and Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton, Guy Sargent or Ellen von Unwerth in photography. Mostly to see and learn from their process more than anything else really. Sadly both Newton and Bourdin passed away already, so that’s never gonna happen. Guy Sargent and Ellen von Unwerth are very much alive as are Saville and the people from Hort, but I honestly don’t know what on earth I could bring in on a collaboration with any of them, haha.

Where do you aspire to be in 10 years, professionally and personally?

The first and only time I was asked this question was on the job interview for my first job (MTV, in Brazil, so, an American company). If somebody had told me that in 10 years I’d be married to one the copywriters there, and we’d be living in Paris, and then 2 years later we’d be living in New York City, I would have never believed it. It’s not that I don’t have ambitions, it’s just that life can take you places you’d never expect to go. That been said though, I wouldn’t mind being in France 10 years from now and working remotely for studios here, or even living off my photos, haha.

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