TIME Photo-of-the-Year Winner Angelo Merendino Shines Spotlight on Cleveland’s All-Stars

Jan 10, 2019
Photographer Spotlight

2018 was kind to Ohio-based photographer Angelo Merendino. Not only did Cleveland Magazine tap him to create a series of portraits for their annual "Most Interesting People" issue, TIME Magazine also featured one of his images — originally taken for Getty — in their annual roundup of Top 100 Photos of the Year.

Cleveland Magazine's "Most Interesting People" profiles a diversity of captivating Clevelanders, from nine-year-old philanthropist Ella Tryon to poet Chris Webb to Cleveland Cavalier Larry Nance Jr. Read the full feature here, check out the full list of TIME's Top 100 Photos of 2018 here, and see Angelo's winning image below.

photographer Angelo Merendino's TIME photo-of-the-year of Lebron James banner in Cleveland

Congratulations on your selection by TIME! Can you say more about this photograph?

Thank you! I made this photograph while I was on assignment for Getty. The editor called me in the morning and asked if I could go downtown to cover the removal of the LeBron James mural as workers took it down from the side of the Sherwin Williams building. Back in 2014, after LeBron announced that he was coming to play for Cleveland again, I was sent downtown on assignment for Getty to make photographs of fans reacting to the news. And then, when LeBron and the Cavaliers won the NBA Championship in 2016, I was once again downtown working for Getty. It was a memorable night, as people of different races and ages forgot about what separated them and, together, celebrated something that rarely happens in Cleveland - a professional sports championship. So when I made this photograph of workers taking down the LeBron mural, it felt like a bookend to the last few years. 

Gabriella Kreuz by photographer Angelo Merendino for Cleveland Magazine

Let's talk about Cleveland Magazine, with whom you've been working since 2014. You say that your relationship with them has evolved over the years. Can you describe that evolution?

When I started working with them, my assignments were small in scope. I was contributing to smaller stories that only needed a few photographs. Still, I tried to give the art director, Maria Amador, as many options as possible for each job. The more work I contributed, the bigger and more involved the assignments became. Maria knew that I was polite and respectful with the people she was assigning me to photograph, and she didn't have to worry about any problems coming from the shoot. Over time, Maria began giving me more and more freedom to make photographs that I want to make . . . I usually do 8-10 assignments a year with the magazine, so they are one of my most regular clients.

Cleveland Brown David Njoku by photographer Angelo Merendino for Cleveland Magazine

What was involved in planning for this particular project?

For the 2019 "Most Interesting People" issue, I photographed 26 people. Cleveland Magazine put on a party at a local studio and invited the MIPs to attend. Maria chose three backdrops - two colors and one pattern. To maximize efficiency I tested the lighting set-ups at my studio in advance. The day of the party, my assistant and I arrived a few hours before the event began to set up and dial in our lighting. I had nearly every piece of equipment I own for this shoot, so packing my car was like extreme Tetris!

young philanthropist Ella Tryon photographed by Angelo Merendino for Cleveland Magazine

What was it like to work a combination shoot-and-party? 

I knew the party would be hectic, so I simplified everything I could and made sure our sets were free of clutter and properly marked. I shot directly to camera instead of going tethered, and I wrote to both of the cards in my camera as a backup against any kind of card failure. The party was scheduled for three hours, and there was a lot of energy in the room! 21 people showed up and I only had a few minutes with each of them, so my preparation allowed me to concentrate on each individual and their comfort. For the remaining five people, I scheduled time at my studio and matched the lighting from the party. These shoots were less hectic and I had more time to talk with each person, but I still wanted to make photographs that were in harmony with the energy and feeling from the party.

Cleveland Cavalier Larry Nance Jr. photographed by Angelo Merendino for Cleveland Magazine

There were three separate covers for this issue and Maria attended each cover shoot. One was on location and the other two were at my studio. I did my best to cover all details in advance of the shoots while knowing that there would be a curveball or two in store for me. The covers are hand lettered and Maria wanted to match the perspective of each person as best as possible. When we photographed Larry Nance Jr. of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the room was small and Larry is tall . . . so I ended up crammed into a locker to get enough room on the seamless!

Angelo Merendino going long to photograph Larry Nance Jr.

What was your favorite part of this project?

I enjoyed all of the thought and preparation that went into this project. After the final shoot wrapped up, I felt a sense of accomplishment at having been able to handle both the communication and execution of a large assignment. That said, my favorite part of this project was getting to meet 26 interesting people!

blogger and postcaster Shana Black photographed by Angelo Merendino for Cleveland Magazine

Any major takeaways from this project?

The December release of this issue offered me a chance to reflect on 2018 while getting excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. I'm thankful that I can make a living doing something I love and I appreciate all of the people who are part of my journey.

Geraldo Rivera photographed by Angelo Merendino for Cleveland Magazine


Art Director: Maria Amador

Makeup: Kellie Thomson

See more of Angelo at angelomerendino.com!

Check out our other great photographers on our Find Photographers page.