Whether he's shooting famous figures like Barack Obama and Zendaya or campaigns for fashion brands, photographer Brad Ogbonna’s work regularly takes him to new and remarkable places. This is all very much by design. His inspiration is fed by his travels, and it all feeds into the remarkable body of images he’s created across portraiture, fashion, food, and culture. Recently, between projects, Brad paid a visit to Casa Mila in Todos Santos, Mexico, for a bit of relaxation, rejuvenation, and exploration. We followed up with him back in Brooklyn to hear more about the experience, what caught his eye at Casa Mila, and why his friends thought he was staying on the set of the movie Dune.
To start, do you think of yourself as a travel photographer?
I’m really known for portraits, but at this point, with the projects I’ve been working on lately, it all works in tandem. I shoot a lot of life, but I also photograph spaces, which is what I’ve always tried to focus on.
I definitely have a very particular way of shooting. I’m very mindful of symmetry, very mindful of focus points. I’ve transitioned to spending less time in the studio and trying to be out in the world as much as I can. Travel, portraiture, it all works together.
How much do you travel for your work versus pleasure? Do you make a distinction?
I travel almost monthly for work. But the nature of my work is pretty fun. So I group both together because most of the locations tend to be places that are quite interesting.
Are you someone who cares about where you’re staying, or are you just, like, put me anywhere?
Having a comfortable place is essential. With the amount of traveling I do, I’m mindful of the space because comfort allows me to keep up with the rigorous amount of travel and work. I need a place to rest, a place that feels comfortable.
Do you shoot all the time wherever you are? Or do you take breaks and give yourself space from it?
I feel like I’m shooting all the time if I’m somewhere outside of the confines of New York City. I don’t often shoot when I’m in the city. Or, if I’m back home in Minneapolis, I never touch my camera. Other than those two places, I’m pretty much shooting all the time.
Does travel feed your eye?
Absolutely. 100 percent.
Are there any places you’ve traveled to recently that were particularly memorable or inspiring for you?
As of late it’s been mostly West Africa and France. I really love Senegal, especially Dakar. I’m always bopping around France, between Paris and the South of France. I did a road trip this past summer to the Jura in eastern France, almost to the Swiss border. It’s really beautiful, very mountainous and full of vineyards and small restaurants. Those are some of my favorites.
Was this your first time in Todos Santos?
Yes, first time in Baja.
“There was a lot for my eye to discover. I felt excited to shoot and pick up my camera. I love the way the light hits the space, the way the sun sets perfectly in line with the view from the house.”
Describe Casa Mila a little bit. What stood out to you about the house?
Casa Mila is about 10 minutes outside the main part of Todos Santos—and about half a mile from the ocean. To reach it, you go through a path that cuts through vegetation, so it feels a little jungle-y in a beautiful way. All the raw elements of the area made it really special for me.
The design elements were really cool. A lot had to do with the beauty of the house, the way it’s designed—it’s really well done. The personal artifacts made it feel special. It felt like it could be featured in AD [Architectural Digest]. There was a lot of stuff to it that felt really cool.
What stood out to you from a design perspective? Did it feel like the house was very much of the place?
It’s a mix of design elements. It was giving Mexico, but it was also giving a Moroccan/Tunisian/North African vibe. It didn’t feel like it was a conflict. It made sense for the area and the terrain.
What was your day-to-day like at Casa Mila?
I was still on New York time so I’d get up pretty early, by 5:45 or 6AM, and go straight to the rooftop, take in the sunrise, and read until about 7 or 7:30. Then I would go for a little workout on the beach, and around that time my friends were getting up.
They’d be setting up their computers. It looked like a co-working space for most of the afternoons. They were taking phone calls, doing meetings. It was nice that we were able to still work.
In the mornings, we’d do a coffee run. There is a really beautiful space, Taller 17, which has coffee and baked goods. Then we’d come back, chill at the house until about noon, and then cruise around to go get lunch somewhere and hit the beach for a little bit, walk around town.
Most times we would come back to the house and take in the sunset on the roof or by the pool and then chill at the house for a bit and go back out for dinner, go get drinks, and see what was happening in town.
“Just being able to see how the light changes throughout the day–that shift from pale blue to warm orange. That burnt sky look was very beautiful.”
Seems like you’re pretty attuned to the food scene. What was happening there from a culinary perspective?
There’s a bit of that chi-chi, hippie element, but I was able to find a lot of cool, authentic Baja restaurants, Sinaloan restaurants—a lot of different Mexican cuisine. There was a lot of fresh seafood. There was a really nice market in town which carried a lot of fruits and vegetables, provisions that you can cook with, so we made a few stops there.
There are a couple spots that are really great. There is a farm-to-table restaurant called Jazamango. There are so many lunchtime spots or even dinner spots that were just very simple: ceviche, aguachile, fish tacos, shrimp tacos, scallops, all that stuff. There was a really cool natural wine bar called La Confianza, that I thought was really cool.
What was your experience shooting there?
It was really beautiful—there was a lot for my eye to discover. Most of my focus was shooting in and around Casa Mila. I felt excited to shoot and pick up my camera. I loved the way the light hit the space, the way the sun set perfectly in line with the view from the house. Just being able to see how the light changes throughout the day—that shift from pale blue to warm orange, that burnt sky look was very beautiful.
It sounds like you ventured out with the camera some. What were some of those moments that stood out?
Because I wasn’t familiar with the area and terrain, I didn’t really bring my big cameras out, but even just shooting on the iPhone I got great images. There is a large stretch of untouched, pristine beach with these large rocks. You couldn’t even see the water. It felt like it could be in the Middle East, North Africa, a lot of different places. I thought that was really cool. I posted a few photos, and friends were like, "Are you in Dune? This is crazy."
STAY: Casa Mila
DRINK: La Confianza
All photographs: courtesy of Brad Ogbonna