Written by by Lauren Burke Photographed by Mango Angeles and Natasha Magino
For photographer, writer, and creator, Mango Angeles, art is intimacy. “I consider all of my work to be a love letter, to someone or something,” Angeles says, “It’s just a manifestation of my affection for ‘insert thing here.’” Choosing not to limit intimacy to traditional contexts, Angeles instead approaches it as relation of any kind. “I’m very adamant about desexualizing intimacy, de-romanticizing it, de-packaging it.” In this sense, intimacy can be connection, vulnerability, or feelings of safety. It can even be entirely internal, a closeness with oneself. Although Angeles has explored the intimacy of creation through many different art forms, photography is his current muse. “I’m more in lust with photography than I’ve ever been with a creative partner, if you will…[it’s] the one that I’m crushing on the hardest.” In photography, Angeles says, there is the opportunity to co-create with a subject, particularly when that subject is a person. While the act of being behind a camera might not be intimate in and of itself, Angeles connects with his subjects in other ways, often asking simple question of, “Can I take your photo?” and building on that conversation throughout the processing and editing stages.
“I consider all of my work to be a love letter, to someone or something”
“When I’m in the light room, I look for images that speak to what I’m trying to communicate. There’s always one where the glint in the eye is just perfect, like ‘Oh, you’re telling me something.’” The peak of the intimacy comes at the moment of publishing, when Angeles makes himself, his creative decisions, and his subject vulnerable to the critical eye of the public. If the work contains words, as is becoming more frequent as Angeles develops his written craft, it adds an even deeper level: verbal vulnerability.
Within Angeles’ exploration of intimacy, is a play on contrasts: tough and weak, masc and femme, hard and soft. He says that even his own performativity, the act of how he dresses, presents himself, and moves through the world, is another opportunity to explore these opposites. His first visible tattoo, or “job killer” as he called it, inked across his knuckles in bold print, reads, “I LOVE YOU.” “I want it to project softness,” he says, “I want you to take a thing that you think is hard, but I want you to see softness instead,” adding that it didn’t actually kill his job prospects, “I still have health insurance. So, fuck y’all.” Softness appears again in Angeles’ most recent Instagram portrait series, in which he uses collage to create a dreamy background for subjects accented by a glowing halo. In the process, there is a type of ascension. “When you’re seen, you’re deified,” says Angeles, “It’s all about them and their glow.”
The series pulls inspiration from Angeles’ upbringing in the Catholic Church, and his more complicated views of the church today. “I am a recovering Catholic, as they say… I’m a marginalized person but more importantly an advocate for other marginalized people, more marginalized people, and institutions [like the Catholic Church] have often been the war hammers that have beat people to the ground,” Angeles says, “Simultaneously, the weight of a massive, millennia-old institution is intoxicatingly fascinating to me. There’s this weird tension. There is a magic to [the church’s] arrogance. It feels important.” Like all artists, Angeles is not without his creative challenges. He says three in particular are his most common demons: first, the sheer weight of responsibilities; second, the curse of getting bored easily, and third, the existential crisis of “Do I even want to do photography anymore? Am I doing this because I love it or am I doing this because I just invested an ass-ton of money into equipment?”
But just as intimacy fuels Angeles’ creativity, intimate connection takes him back to it when he strays. “I value serious, heartfelt feedback all the time…I don’t need pats on the back or hugs or ‘good jobs.’ I need you to cross the room and be like, ‘Yo, fucking sick.’ And walk away.” Readers who’d like to vibe with, connect with, or say, “Yo, fucking sick” to Mango can do so on Insta and Twitter (@mangoangeles) or at mangoangeles.com.