Eye of Amato- Temple of Art

0 Comments 23 July 2014

david mack allan amato

Feature on photographer Allan Amato’s artist collaboration project Temple of Art.

By Daniel Barron


Nine years ago, New Orleans resident Allan Amato was making a comfortable living working in the advertising industry.  Then everything changed once Hurricane Katrina struck.  Amato was evacuated to Houston, his entire world washed away in a moment, but the destruction of his home was attended by an epiphany:

“I wanted to find more of a wholesome way to spend my time,” he says of the experience, “Something a bit more rewarding.”

Among his pursuits, Amato had nourished a keen interest in photography, and being reminded of the transience of life meant a change of priorities was in order.  With little regard for money he broke out the credit cards, splurging on lighting and camera equipment, and in eight months he was living in LA, pursuing his passion full-time.  He has since become a sought-after talent in the field of commercial photography and celebrity portraiture, shooting campaigns for clients such as Sony, AMC, FX, and Hulu.  His portfolio features an array of famous faces, from Thomas Jane and Neil Gaiman to Terry Gilliam.  Perhaps most visibly, he has become the preferred choice of filmmaker Kevin Smith.

With his background in art direction, Amato supplies an illustrator’s eye to his tableaus.  The stark lightning, saturated colors, and cinematic compositions of his photographs evoke a heightened sense of reality, bottling the very x-factor that makes his figures iconic.  “I try to create the most hyper-realistic version of [my subjects].  That’s what I’d like to be known for.  I like doing portraits where the person looks exactly what they look like.  You’re yourself only better.”


Fairuza Balk

Fairuza Balk


Extracting truth from a subject is more than  simple a matter of “point-and-click.”  As any seasoned shooter knows, the act of photography often entails a careful cultivation of trust.  It’s this dialogue, in particular, that excites Amato about the process.  “The most rewarding thing [about photography] is that it allows me to meet people that I might never get to meet.  I don’t necessarily form a deep relationship that’s long-lasting where you go to barbecues together, but for a couple of hours you get to have a really intimate experience.  You meet a lot of interesting strangers doing what I do.”

Few strangers in Amato’s travels have proved as untamable and exotic as the artist, a quality that would inspire his greatest undertaking.  It began in February of 2012 with an impromptu photoshoot involving friend David Mack, the writer and illustrator behind the Kabuki comic series.  Nothing was expected to come of the collaboration.  It was just intended as a bit of fun.

“I thought it would be entertaining to just have some decent portraits of artists,” reflects Amato.  “I’ve shot celebrities and I’ve shot models.  The two things that I really wanted to shoot- and I still do- are trying to capture artists and directors.”

Pleased with the results of their shoot, Amato felt compelled to tinker with the portraits in Photoshop.  Then the wheels began to turn: how great would it be if Mack were to take his own picture and paint over it, creating a one-of-a-kind piece of art?  And why stop there?  What if he were to paint over forty or fifty of Amato’s portraits?  They could be showcased in an extravagant gallery opening.  Maybe it could even be material for a book.  Yeah.

grant morrison allan amato

Grant Morrison


Amato writes: “What began as an attempt to enslave David for the next decade as my indentured artist and all-around valet became the germ for Temple of Art.”

The Temple of Art project represents the perfect synthesis of Amato’s craft and proclivities.  It combines singular voices with his enduring fascination towards the creative process.  Over the last two-and-half years, Amato gone on to photograph a total of fifty-two artists, each of them combining their distinct styles with the images born from his lens.  The series has encompassed a wide range of disciplines, from drawing and painting to collage.  It has joined the talents of fine art titans such as Kent Williams, Jason Shawn Alexander, and Matthew Bone with comic industry icons such as Dave McKean and Bill Sienkiewicz.

Though Amato’s connections in the art world were limited, interest quickly snowballed.  “David introduced me to Bill Sienkiewicz, and then he introduced me to two other people and so the more people I got involved the easier it became.  I started with some of the biggest names in their field.  I think I started with David Mack, Dave McKean, Kent Williams, and Jason Alexander and those guys are pretty well-respected within the art world.”

Amato began receiving attention from galleries and publishers within six months of initiating the project, and Temple of Art has expanded in scope far beyond his original intentions.  In November, the works will be collected into a book from publisher Baby Tattoo.  It will be followed by a gallery exhibition at La Luz de Jesus that is set to open on December 5th.  Currently, Amato is funding a feature-length documentary he is directing about the project.  The money is being raised on Kickstarter and will be Executive Produced by  John Schnepp of Metalocalypse and The Venture Bros along with author Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer of the group The Dresden Dolls.

kevin smith allan amato

Kevin Smith & Jennifer Schwalbach

Both the book and the film intend to draw the curtain on the artistic lifestyle as the participants speak frankly about their challenges, fears, dreams, and inspirations.  Pursuing these questions became an “obsession” for Amato.  “My process when I’m shooting is to ask people a lot of questions and start photographing while they’re answering so that they don’t feel like they have to be frozen by the strobe light.  They feel more natural.  It’s something that I’ve always done, but in this case I was asking questions that were very unique about their process, about how they became working artists, basically how they hack art in general.  Everyone had a different reading.”

The power of the camera lies in what it can reveal, or seem to reveal.  Such is the thesis of Temple of Art, which is predicated on the idea of unpeeling the layers from its subjects.  “I’d like to think that the chance to draw on a very objective version of yourself would provide its own challenges.  It’s worthwhile in that way.  You don’t get to create a subjective version of who you are.  By definition I’m providing you with exactly who you are.”

As is the case with the best art, there’s no room for comfort zones, either.  While some artists had a clear idea for how they wanted to be presented, Amato estimates that around eighty-percent submitted to the whims of his vision.  “Most people appreciated the challenge but were also a little taken aback by having to stare at themselves and come up with something that involved their objective representation.  So it was probably a little traumatic [laughs].”

neil gaiman allan mato

Neil Gaiman & Amanda Palmer


But what is art without the agony and the ecstasy?  It can be, after all, an intensely vulnerable act.  Amato writes: “An artist’s work can act as both bridge and barrier; at once deeply personal and highly distorted; the lens through which we present our perception of the world, and the world that in turn interprets us.”

So it is with Temple of Art.  It’s artists as seen by another artist turning themselves into art.  No Photoshop, no airbrushing, no bullshit, just hearts and minds laid bare.  They are themselves.

Only better.


allan amato my chemical romance

My Chemical Romance


And now a look behind Temple of Art…




allan amato david mack

What was the collaboration process like?
Allan is an incredible photographer. He has an eye for lighting and a knowledge of how to play with the light to bring out the personality of his subject.
Our interaction began when our mutual friend, musician Olga Nunes, introduced us. Allan said he’d like to photograph me. The variety of photos that he made were incredible. And it was after those photographs that he came up with the idea to make it a collaborative effort.


david mack allan amato What kind of direction did Allan give?

In the process of him photographing me, he was very good at interacting and communicating what he wanted, A certain amount of it was about lighting, and we tried a few outfits as well. And there were a few female models in the studio at that time as well that he photographed and put into the photos with me.
As a matter of fact, I was working on Daredevil: End of Days at that time, and I had invited another model, Raylin, (who I’d later learn is also known as Skin Diamond), who I had met at a dinner party at Allan’s place. She showed me a photo on her phone of a Kabuki poster hanging over her bed.
And I used the photoshoot with Allan, as an opportunity for Raylin and I to act out some shots from Daredevil, in Allan’s photo studio that I would also use as reference for the sequences in the story.
So I had brought all these little drawings that Raylin and I acted out together, right after Allan did the main shoot of me.
Some Shots of Raylin also made it into one of the portraits that Allan created of me that I in turn painted and collaged on as one of the gallery exhibit pieces for this project.


david mack allan amato

David Mack x Jim Mahfood x Jason Shawn Alexander

Do you see yourself differently through his lens?

It’s funny, because I think Allan maybe photographs people the way they think of themselves or how they want to think of themselves.  I was staying at his loft in Los Angeles shortly before the shoot. And there was another model from Ireland staying there as well.  I asked her for any advice going into the shoot with Allan. And she said, “You don’t need any advice because Allan will just make the best photographs of you ever taken.” It was her own experience that she was communicating, and in introducing other artists to Allan, its what I tell them as well.



jaw cooper allan amato


 What was the collaboration process like?

The collaboration process was very fluid. Allan chatted with me before the shoot about what I might want to do for my portrait and shared some of his ideas as well. We settled on a loose direction of “creepy and feral” so during the shoot he would instruct me to subtly shift my gesture to make it more dynamic or strange and we ended up with a wonderful (and decidedly creepy) photograph which was very easy for me to incorporate into a painting.

jaw cooper temple of art

What kind of direction did Allan give?

I remember during the shoot we were playing around with “creeping” poses and Allan said- “Stick out your neck as far as it will possibly go forward, like a turtle.” I’m pretty sure that was the shot we ended up using, it was very surreal and my neck looked strangely elongated and shifted because of Allan’s direction and intuition. The only directions he gave me when he handed off the print were to try to incorporate the photograph into a painting while preserving his portion of the collaboration as much as possible. I think the openness of the project is why there is such wonderful variation from piece to piece as each artist interpreted the project differently.


jaw cooper temple of art

Do you see  yourself differently through his lens?

Yes. I usually prefer not to post personal photos of myself on my “professional” social media sites and between that and my androgynous name many of my fans often assume I am male. This gives me a degree of anonymity that I enjoy, and deciding to do this project meant consciously choosing to forfeit some of that anonymity but the opportunity to work with such a talented photographer and on a project alongside such esteemed artists made it an easy decision. Allan of course did a phenomenal job and I was thrilled with the portraits he took, though sharing them with my online community was a vulnerable moment for me. The “Temple of Art” project felt like the merging of two worlds that I normally keep very separate, and I suppose that is part of what makes the project so interesting and significant for many of the artists as well as the audience.




stephanie inagaki allan amato

What was the collaboration process like?

Before the exhibition was conceived, Allan initially wanted to take an artist portrait of me as the embodiment of my medium, which is charcoal. He already had a compeltely realized composition and once he had fully realized “Temple of Art,” he asked me to use this photo (above). The majority of the artists have a straightforward black-and-white portrait. Having to essentially disassemble someone else’s finished work was certainly a challenge and it took me a long time figure out what I wanted to do. However, this opened up a new way for me to work visually with color, collage, and mixed media.

steohanie inagaki temple of art

What kind of direction did Allan give?

There was no direction at all besides keeping a reasonable amount of his photo intact. Other than that I had free reign over how I wanted to incorporate my drawing into the photography.


steohanie inagaki allan amato

Stephanie Inagaki x Jim Mahfood

Do you see yourself differently through his lens?
I think I had a unique perspective to this project since I mostly work in self-portraiture already. I also have modeled for Allan on numerous jobs, so I am fairly used to being photographed by him and I am familiar with his style.




dave mckean allan amato



dave kckean allan amato




greg ruth allan amato

greg ruth temple of art





kent williams temple of art

kent williams temple of art





temple of art

john malloy temple of art


jason shawn alexander

jason shawn alexander art


christine wu temple of art

christine wu temple of art


shaun berke temple of art

shaun berke temple of art


jensine eckwall temple of art

jensine eckwall temple of art



Keep updated on the project a the Temple of Art website.

View more of Allan Amato‘s photography on his website.

“Like” Temple of Art on Facebook.

Follow Allan Amato on Twitter and Instagram.


Check out our coverage of Temple of Art collaborators:

Jason Shawn Alexander

Christine Wu

Allison “Hueman” Torneros

Stephanie Inagaki


temple of art amanda palmer


“Allan Amato’s cosmic camera sees through mortal skin to reveal the lambent ideal self beneath. Where Amato aims his lens, gods and superheroes, angels and demons are conjured; vinyl mythologies are summoned; mere flesh becomes dreamscape and deluxe collage where everything, especially the grotesque, is beautiful.”– Grant Morrison


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- who has written 423 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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