Matthew Cicanese (sick-uh-neez) is a 26-year-old award-winning documentary artist, National Geographic Explorer, Emerging League Photographer with the International League of Conservation Photographers, and Destination Workshop Instructor with Canon USA. As a deaf-blind survivor of infant meningitis, Matthew’s art has evolved from his sensory deprivations. At age 14 he received his first camera, and has developed a lifelong fascination with minuscule lifeforms found in Earth’s microcosms. Matthew’s work examines “underdog organisms”, threatened ecosystems, and human interactions with the environment. He explores the intersection of art, science, and the visceral sense of childlike wonder that the natural world evokes in humans.
Matthew was a finalist in the 2015 Environmental Photographer of the Year Awards, and has displayed art in solo and group exhibitions including London’s Royal Geographical Society, The Light Grey Art Lab (Minneapolis, MN), Power Plant Gallery (Durham, NC), Mahato Memorial Gallery (Durham, NC), and others. Reviews and articles including his work have appeared in PDN Magazine, BBC Earth, New Scientist Magazine, and others. His recent expeditions include travels to Iceland, the Southern Appalachians, Sri Lanka, British Columbia, and Ecuador. His speaking engagements have taken place in private and public settings with audiences from 20 to 2,000 – including venues such as National Geographic Headquarters (Washington DC), New York City's PhotoPlus Expo with Canon USA, Duke University (Durham, NC), and others. He lives and works in the Tampa Bay Area, FL in a small town where he grew up. When he’s not on assignment around the world, he enjoys his town’s local festivals and outdoor recreation areas.
My process in creating photographic art that examines Earth’s “Underdog Organisms” and the microcosms they call home stems from the visceral excitement we feel as children when we discover new things. When producing fine-art macro photographs, I peer through my camera’s viewfinder and enter worlds that can fit in the palm of my hand. Through this portal I experience dream-like scenes that unravel before me. I watch as residents the size of a pin prick slip into and out of existence – and freeze moments in time through macro photographs. When a life form’s essence is preserved in pixels to share with the world, then the journey has only just begun.
My ultimate goal as a documentary artist and conservationist is to instill in humans the desire to slow down… get low to the Earth… look closer… and observe. It is here that they will discover worlds they have never imagined right beneath their noses. If they can find just one of these worlds, and experience that sense of childlike wonder through discovery of something entirely new, then maybe their visceral connection to Earth can be reborn.
The mediums of my work adapt to fit each audience depending on the venue, goals, and projected outcomes. Large format prints, experimental art (gigapixel macro images), soundscapes, and immersive virtual reality content are just a few ways that I present my work. I believe this flexibility in form creates engaging experiences in any environment – from gallery walls to science textbooks.
What gear do you shoot with?
The gear I shoot with really depends on each project and what calls for creating the best image. My primary setup is:
– Canon 5Ds R & Canon 7D Mark ii
– Canon 100mm Macro f-2.8 L Lens
– Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x Macro Lens
– Canon MT-24EX Twin Lites (macro flash)
– Canon 16-35mm f-2.8L II
– Canon 70-300mm L
– Canon G7X
– Fuji X100 T
How did you get involved with National Geographic?
I first got involved with National Geographic when I was an intern for the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative while attending Duke for my MFA, and then went on to apply for (and receive) one of their explorer grants – which has led to my work in Iceland, Sri Lanka, and other projects. To learn more about National Geographic's grant program, click here.
How can I get started in macro photography?
Many point-and-shoot cameras have a "macro mode" that will allow the standard lens to focus on closer subjects. That's a great way to get your feet wet with macro photography if you're just starting out. Another great way is to buy a close-up filter kit depending on the size of your lens filter. If you're feeling ambitious, get a reversing ring for your lens to use your lens backwards, and you'll be able to get super close without necessarily purchasing a dedicated macro lens.
Which macro lens should I buy?
I've worked my way up to professional top-quality glass over a long period of time. The question of "which macro lens should I buy" is going to come down to a couple of basic factors... your goals, and your budget. Start with your goals – what kind of macro subjects are you going to be photographing? If you're mostly shooting flowers and other non-animal subjects, then you can go with a shorter focal length (like 50mm or 65mm). If you're going to be shooting skiddish insects like dragonflies and butterflies, then looking into a 90mm or 120+mm lens may be a good option. I mostly shoot with a 100mm length macro lens, and use my knowledge of animal behavior to determine how quickly/slowly to move in for the shot. In any case, I would always recommend renting before buying (or test out a friend's macro lens). If you feel safe about it, buying locally used (off of Craig's List or Facebook) is a great option as long as you know the gear is in good shape.
I want to shoot with you! Do you offer workshops?
I'm pleased to announce that as of October 2017, I'm officially a photographer and instructor with Canon USA! This means that I'll be attending lots of expos & conventions, in addition to hosting weekend & week-long workshops with Canon USA! Click here to visit my workshops page, and if you want to keep up to date with where I'll be and what I'm offering throughout the year, sign up for my quarterly email newsletter at the top of this page by clicking the announcement bar!
How can I learn more about macro photography?
If you're interested in learning more about macro photography from me, you can click here to sign up for my quarterly email to receive notifications about my upcoming book next spring that will be available in physical form and e-book. I'm going to get into macro basics, tips, scenarios and how to approach them, and ways to strengthen your macro.
I want you to speak at my university/conference/event! How can I book you?
My schedule for the year fills up pretty fast, so if you're interested in booking me for speaking engagements at your location, please allow at least 3 months in advance to discuss your goals and see if my schedule aligns. If you would like to discuss booking me, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Inquiry:" followed by the type of booking you're interested in.
What's your next project/expedition/workshop/book?
There's always a lot going on – whether a conference, fieldwork, or workshop! To get the inside scoop on the latest happenings with me, click here to sign up for my quarterly email newsletter that will begin in January 2018!