Eli Dagostino – Zooming in on his future

— Photo by Ralph Stewart

Photographer Eli Dagostino has a very busy schedule these days. He’s working on a fashion and beauty portfolio, completing the writing and photography for a book called “Influential MV,” creating a series of instructional videos, and working alongside photographer Alison Shaw.

This summer he will shoot at least six weddings, along with family portraits and commercial work, while fulfilling obligations as the official photographer for the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (MVFF) for the second year in a row. And he’s managing all this while juggling a full schedule as a high school junior. Eli is only 16.

Despite his age, the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School student has for the past two years run his own professional photography business. His work has appeared online on MSNBC and in print in The Boston Globe, the Vineyard Gazette, Vineyard Arts and Ideas, and Sergeant Sparrow magazine, and he was recently the feature of a Huffington Post story.

At 15, Eli received a gold medal from the Scholastic Alliance for Young Artists and Writers at a ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York. A photo of his is among the collection at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. And he has shot events here, including one for Morgan Freeman’s organization Plan!t Now, where the actor was in attendance, and a corporate event in Manhattan.

Eli has a confident and professional manner that belies his age. He talks often about networking and the importance of making connections and prioritizing projects that will further his career. He is focused and determined when it comes to his photography.

This is actually a second career for the teenager. While living in New York City, he and his mother Sheryl Dagostino both worked as actors in television and radio. While Ms. Dagostino kept busy doing national commercials, her son earned spots on, among other things, “Blues Clues” and “Saturday Night Live.”

Eli was born in Boston. His family moved to the Vineyard when he was a baby and stayed for five years before setting out for New York. After three and a half years, the Dagostinos moved back to the Island. Eli did some acting and singing while attending the West Tisbury School and, briefly, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, but finally decided to give up on the performing arts and focus on his photography two years ago.

“Working in the professional world at such a young age has helped me feel comfortable establishing myself as a professional photographer,” Eli said. “At this time I was asking myself, ‘What am I doing? What do I live to do?’ I’ve always been someone who needs to do something, not sit around and mope.”

Eli received his first camera as a gift when he was about seven years old. “I got an early digital camera that was like a brick. I thought it was the best thing in the world,” he recalled. When he decided to turn a hobby into a serious occupation, Eli upgraded with money he had earned from a tourism commercial. He reinvests much of what he earns into his business and is now on his fifth and sixth cameras. “One of my big mottos is, it takes money to make money,” said Eli.

Eli’s got his first paying photography job in September 2010 providing photos for the FLY Yoga website. “Those photos got me started in this whirlwind of jobs and offers,” he recalled. One of those offers was to serve as the photographer for the MVFF’s March festival and summer series.

“I didn’t understand what an opportunity it was at first,” Eli said. “Since then I’ve realized what a great networking opportunity it has been. My card is spread across the whole Community Center. The referrals that I got were really great.”

Eli has formed working relationships with a number of summer Vineyard visitors from New York City. “I’m trying to make strong connections with people up there,” he said. “I know that’s where I’ll be headed after high school.”

The choice of New York as a home base is motivated by Eli’s interest in fashion photography. Even before he embarked on his photography career he was fascinated by fashion. “I’ve known since before I even started shooting that fashion was a passion of mine,” he said. “I never realized that it would be something I could combine with my love of photography until a few years ago. Since then I’ve been brewing some ideas of how I could combine the two.”

Last year Eli reached out to one of his heroes, fashion photographer Melissa Rodwell, whose blog he has followed for some time now. He had the opportunity to meet with her in New York City this past February and last month he attended her two-day workshop in Los Angeles.

The experience inspired him to revisit a fashion shoot he did earlier this year as a Charter School project. He plans on taking a shoot that is now in the planning stages to the next level, recruiting a professional stylist and models.

Eli employs an assistant for his wedding and portrait work. By necessity he had to hire someone older than himself, since he can’t yet drive. Of his assistant, Alexandra Cook, who is in her 50s, he says, “Sometimes people think that she’s the photographer.”

Landscape photography is something that Mr. Dagostino is exploring seriously for the first time with Alison Shaw. “I don’t see myself as a landscape photographer, but it’s important to have new creative experiences and find a new creative eye that you didn’t know was there,” said Eli.

What he does envision is a future in the fashion world. “I spend 50 percent of my day looking online at clothing,” he said. “If you’re going to work in the fashion field whether you’re the stylist, hair or makeup artist, or photographer, you have to have a humungous passion for clothes.”

His plan post high school is to intern with a photographer in New York and possibly enroll in a one-year intensive program with the International Center for Photography. He said that one day he might consider a move to one of the other international centers of fashion — Milan, London, or Tokyo. “I think that wherever I go it’s important that I have connections,” he said. “Down the road I see myself shooting fashion, beauty, and editorial for fashion magazines.”

Whatever the future holds for the ambitious young man, he is committed to staying true to his passion and his identity as an artist. “The idea of putting out my personality and being who I am is all really important to me,” he said. “I don’t want to shoot what I don’t want to shoot. I think that putting out videos is going to be really essential to business and putting out work that I like to shoot.”

You can check out Eli Dagostino’s work on his website elidag.com.