• Elsie Hernandez

SkysOcean's Awesome Interview with Photographer Michael Tanzillo of "Citizens of NYC"

SkysOcean was honored to interview this incredible photographer and creator of “Citizens of New York” this week, Michael Tanzillo. Michael isn’t just a guy that is bold enough to photograph people in our city streets, but he is also an artist with an impressively unique photo style. He is also a writer, designer and entrepreneur of several projects. In addition, he creates animated films and teaches classes. You might have seen some of his work on the screen with Blue Sky Studios, like one of our favorites “The Peanuts Movie”. I’m sure you will agree after this interview that Michael is incredibly talented and actually very inspiring to other artists like myself. Through his images he captures people in their true identities and you can actually feel the intensity in his photographs and it’s amazing when an artist can bring his work to life.

What is your background?

I was born outside of Chicago. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and went to graduate school in Savannah, Georgia before settling down in the NYC area almost 9 years ago.

When did you start taking photographs?

I took a photography class as a senior in high school. That was my first experience with photography and I immediately fell in love. Unfortunately, I recently discovered this class was cut from my high school for budgetary reasons and I am pretty disheartened that future students won’t have the same opportunity to be inspired.

How did you know you wanted to be a photographer?

In college it was the one thing I was most passionate about. I had no idea how I was going to make money at it, but I have an extremely supportive family that encouraged me to pursue what I love and I’m very happy I did.

What makes you want to shoot New Yorkers?

New Yorkers are by far my favorite subjects. They are diverse, unique, and have a certain confident swagger about them. This is a city filled with the smartest and wackiest people who aren’t afraid to show their true colors.

Your images are so real. What inspires you while you are taking these photos?

Honestly, it’s just the people that inspire me. I don’t go out to shoot with a certain style or subject in mind. I just take a walk and let these amazing people come to me.

What has been the most interesting photo you have taken since you started your Instagram posts?

My favorite Instagram moment was the first time someone recognized herself in one of my posts. I took a picture in Central Park and posted it and one of my followers responded “Hey…that’s me!” She had been following me for months and couldn’t believe I photographed her. She never saw me, but she was so incredibly excited it happened. This has happened a couple times since then, but that first time was really special to me.

Do you feel a connection with the people you photograph?

Absolutely. I spend a lot of time editing my photographs and after a while I start to feel a genuine connection to them. I develop little back-stories and I start to feel like I know them. Occasionally, I will see someone on the street that I photographed previously and I want to just run over and say “Hi!”

I noticed on your Instagram quote you stated, “Capturing the inspiring people of NYC without being punched in the face”. It’s funny because punched in the face is a term that we kind of use a lot. What do you think about the people in New York? Are they as tough as they say they are?

New Yorkers are definitely tough! They are definitely a strong, confident group of people. But let me be clear, I also think New Yorkers are some of the kindest people I have ever met. I have seen countless situations where individuals have gone out of their way to help a complete stranger in need of assistance. Recently, I found a lost dog on my corner and before I knew it, there were two dozen people fanning out until we found the owner.

Where's your favorite spot in New York?

Central Park. I run there almost every day and it’s incredible. First off, the park is perfectly designed so you don’t see cars and you feel like you are in a little sanctuary. Secondly, I love seeing all the activity in the park. On a single day, I will be running with my team(The New York Harriers) and see a painting class, a couple practicing Tai-Chi , a group meditating, a Quidditch match, some Live Action Role Playing and about a thousand picnics. It makes for the greatest backyard in the world.

What is life to you?

That is a big question! A few years ago I found a button that just said, “We are what we make.” I’ve always liked that, because it’s not only about making images or physical objects, it’s about all the other intangible elements too. Whether it’s love, compassion, or a sculpture, life is all about what we put into it.

We love your work. Do you have any future projects that we should look out for?

Yes! I plan on releasing my first “Citizens of NYC” book this year. Not sure of the release date yet, but it will be the first of an annual series. I want to produce a new book every year and just watch how the city develops over time. If you follow me on Instagram, I will hopefully be able to announce a release date soon.

Thank you for reading. This is by far one of our favorite interviews! Michael is awesome! Thank you Michael! looks forward to seeing more of your work.

To find out more about Michael you can follow him on:


Please don't forget to subscribe, it only takes a second.