Eli Dagostino, The Young Man Behind The 365 Project, Capturing The Heart of Martha’s Vineyard

Even with all the people I have met through writing this blog and hosting on Plum TV, I am still sometimes blown away by the people I meet on this Island.  Eli Dag0stino is one of those people.

Eli Dagostino - Martha's Vineyard Photographer Porttraits Weddings 365 Project

For months, I have been following Eli’s 365 Project.  He is actually photographing 365 people who have influenced his life in some way on the Martha’s Vineyard in 365 different locations.

Somehow, to catch the soul of the person he is working with.  I know that sounds cliche, but when you see his work, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Each week, I look forward to seeing who he’s photographed and why, since each photo has a personalized commentary.  Finally, after seeing so many amazing pictures, I decided it was time to meet the man behind the photos.

Who Is Eli Dagastino?

So, let me first tell you that Eli is 17.  He’ll be 18 this July.  Second, let me tell you that I have never met such a driven, focused, smart young person in my life.  I was so excited to be meeting him for lunch at Waterside Market.  

I know that he has a lot going on between 365 and being a professional photographer, this guy has assistants, office administrators, a staff.  He has people.  I’m almost 40 – I don’t have people.  I am telling you, Eli is beyond remarkable.

Achieving One’s Goals

Of course I had to find out how Eli decided to get involved with photography.  It’s a pretty competitive business and not the easiest of things to do, and you have to have an eye.  Eli got his first camera for his 10th birthday. It was a simple one, took AA batteries, like mine I’d guess.  He liked using it, but at the time, he was a little more focused on his acting career.

You see, Eli had lived on the Island when he was young, but then he and his family moved to New York City.  There Eli was a successful child actor.

He was on Blues Clues, in a number of commercials, and he was on Saturday Night Live — pretty cool!  Then 9/11 happened and it was time to move back to Martha’s Vineyard, where the family felt a little safer.

Eli got involved with acting locally, both on the Island and regionally. He was not used to the kind, supportive acting style of the Vineyard, but rather the cut-throat, 100 kids for one part NYC style.  So, Eli sort of lost interest in it.  

I’ve come to learn that Eli is very competitive.  He likes to do the best, be the best, and work super hard to achieve his goals.

Also this was the  his first time he didn’t have an agent or other people getting him jobs, he was doing well on his own.  As a matter of fact, he was making a lot more money without having others involved.  

It was at this time that he decided to use the money he was making from commercials, and buy a camera worthy of a true photographer.

Since acting wasn’t as important to him, he decided it was time he did something different, and taking pictures was what it was going to be, and he was going to be great at it.

He even quit the Minnesingers, switched from the Martha’s Vineyard High School to the Charter School, and began his new career.  He wanted to be a fashion photographer.  

So, what does any aspiring 14-year-old do?  He literally stalks one of the most famous fashion photographers in the world, Melissa Rodwell.

Finally, after Eli continues contacting her daily, she agrees to meet him for coffee in Brooklyn.  Eli makes the trip, portfolio in hand, and has coffee with one of the most sought after photographers in the world.

Eli talks with her, shows her his portfolio, and she let’s him know, he has a lot of work to do.

A couple of months later, Melissa Rodwell hosts a fashion photography workshop out in L.A. So, of course she invited Eli.  Used to traveling on his own, Eli went by himself — and it cost a lot of money– but it changed his life.  

There, he learned how to really take pictures.  How the light of the environment had the biggest impact on a picture.  

He learned how to retouch photos and about how to coax people into working with you to get the photo you wanted, and of course, he did a lot of networking too.  

If you have ever met Eli, you know you sort of fall in love with him immediately.

Now for a twist in the story.  Eli sold his camera on a whim to Island artist Traeger DiPietro. He immediately realized it was a mistake. He tried to get it back, but Traeger is holding onto it, since Eli just be the next Annie Lebovitz.  

Anyhow, Eli worked on little things here and there, and made enough money to buy three things, another camera, a Guess watch, and a pair of fabulous Dolce and Gabanna sunglasses.  A man has to protect his eyes and look the part after all.

Eli began taking pictures of friends and family, and people started noticing his work.  He has a natural eye for capturing someone’s soul.  

His sense of lighting and talent for a great shot is fantastic.  He was receiveing an amazing amount of positive feedback.  He got better and better, training what he calls his “adaptive eye,” how he registers the light at the moment he is capturing.  

He is almost obsessive about creating the perfect environment.  He challenges himself to be the best.  On a side note, he remembers things through how the lighting was, not necessary the person or the event, so much but the lighting. His world is immersed in making beautiful lighting.

Eli Dagostino, Photographer

In 2010, Eli started his business — where?  Why his room of course!  Over the past couple of years, it has actually evolved into a very cool work space, including the latest technology, and a couple Herman Miller chairs.

He really does have great taste.  There is space there for his employees, and that’s where many of his clients go to meet with him.

How did he set up all of this?  Well, Eli took out a sizable loan from his dad, and is happy to say that he has payed it back in full.  

Eli is beyond busy with 3 – 4 family portraits a week, and 12 – 15 weddings to photograph, and a number of events to cover, such as the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival.  Needless to say, he is doing well for himself.

With all this work, why do a 365 project?  Well, for him it is a way to give back to all of the people who have believed in him and helped him pursue his dream.  Without the support of the MV Charter School and its work-study program, and all the people who supported him, none of this would have been possible.  

Also, it’s a personal challenge.  There is no client to appease, just himself.  He has set out this goal of capturing 365 amazing Island people in different locations.  For him, to show up and not know what the space will hold, and to create the perfect setting — it’s the challenge he enjoys.

Eli loves being with the people he photographs.  These are people who mean something to him, and along the way, he has learned that so many people don’t want their picture taken.

People don’t see themselves as the beautiful people they are. He works hard to capture the beauty he, and the rest of the world, sees.  A wonderful gift to be able to give someone.

Eli has graduated from the Charter School and when his 365 project is completed, he is moving to NYC.  There he will apprentice with some of the top fashion photographers in the world.  

Eli Dagastino At WorkBy age 21, his portfolio should be strong enough, and he’ll be knowledgeable and known enough, to book his own shoots with designers and magazines, and the like.  His dream will be a reality in just a few short years!  Amazing what a little determination and drive to be successful can do.

I know that there is much in store for this talented, motivated, successful man, and I cannot wait to follow his career.  Watch out all world.  Eli Dagostino is coming.

Thank you Eli for sharing your story with me, and of course your amazing photos!

Also, thanks for reading On Point.  You can learn more about the 365 Project and Eli Dagostino Photography on Facebook.  Speaking of social media, don’t forget to  “Like” us on Facebook, and follow us on TwitterLinked InPinterest and YouTube.

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