Mikko Castaño wants you to see the Asian-American community through a new lens. Every photo Castaño captures contains a masterfully curated blend of Asian style, music, food, and subjects spotlighting the dynamism of contemporary Asian culture- neatly packaged in his signature, self-described “retro, hypebeast aesthetic.”
Castaño’s work is intriguingly dualistic, simultaneously satiating modern media’s demand for aesthetically pleasing content while subtly stirring a cultural revolution to redefine society’s image of Asian youth and young adults.
“Especially in pop culture, the stereotypical Asian is a nerd who isn’t cool or is desexualized. I really wanted to counter that, which is why I lean heavily into shooting Asian-American people,”
Filipino by birth but raised in Los Angeles, Castaño spent his teenage years inspired by Japanese streetwear, youth culture publications like Complex, and 88Rising, a media syndicate known for its focus on immigrant artists. Castaño received his first camera as a parting gift from his father when he left home for his freshman year of college at Georgetown University. While Castaño enrolled at Georgetown as a Computer Science major, he quickly put his camera to use, landing a gig as a writer and photographer for the campus fashion magazine.
“They saw that I had potential, a good eye for symmetry, and I decided that I was going to see what I could do with photography,” Castaño said.
And so he did- starting with committing to at least one photoshoot a week- a commitment he continues to stand by as a current college senior. While Castaño enrolled in photography classes to gain technical expertise, he attributes his development as a photographer primarily to his experience photographing his friends.
“In the beginning, it was a little awkward for all of us, but now I whip out the camera and they immediately know what to do- not just in terms of posing, but in feeling comfortable in front of the camera. I like to think my photography has made them more comfortable with being seen in other aspects of their life too,” Castaño said smilingly.
For Castaño, photography is about both elevating the characteristics of his subjects and expressing himself. He views every subject, every moment, as a blank canvas. Rather than simply capture what is, Castaño is an artist in the truest sense of the word, seeking to transform what is and who people are into the highest form of what they could be. Not only does Castaño capture his subjects’ best angles, but he also adds his own perspective and agenda to the photographs. Castaño creatively directs every aspect of the photo’s composition- the subject’s outfit choices, the location, external lighting, and creative editing- often including graphic design.
Playfully subversive, one of Castaño’s favorite photographs features his sequin-clad friend comfortably seated in the luxurious parlor of an elite, men’s only social club.
“We were only allowed in through a guided tour, and then we snuck off to shoot this,” Castaño confided.
"There was just something fresh about my friend, who is…obviously not white, in this historically white, male place,”
Bringing color, literally & figuratively, into otherwise predominantly white spaces is, after all, one of Castaño’s specialties. Castaño is extremely intentional in his creative direction, electing to shoot predominantly Asian subjects, or minorities in general, in Asian-streetwear inspired looks, often in Asian locations like Chinatown or a neighborhood, Asian restaurant.
In addition to featuring the Asian community, Castaño continues to expand his stylistic repertoire influenced by everything from his favorite arthouse films to local museums. For example, the lighting in the photo below, created using a projector in his dorm room, was inspired by the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.
Ultimately though, Castaño attributes his primary source of inspiration to his friends. “Working with my friends brings me the most joy,” Castaño said.