Mike Malandra is one of those people who never has to work. “I believe that if I’m not creating something or teaching someone, it’s just a job. If I’m creating something, I’m happy.”
The Mahwah resident has a self-defense studio in Suffern, which also houses Mike’s art and photo gallery. If you look closely, you’ll see evidence of his other gig--he’s also a talented musician who plays guitar with his band, The 710 Experiment.
These four disciplines check all of the boxes for creating and teaching, allowing Mike to earn a living doing what he enjoys most.
“My primary love is photography, he says. “I went to school for architecture but realized that I didn’t like sitting at a desk. However, I loved the art and design aspect and the creativity involved.” His studies involved going on location and snapping images of structures, then returning to the classroom to design them, piquing his interest in photography.
“When I quit architecture, I put the camera aside and began my martial arts career,” he says. He then took a watercolor class when his instructor gave him some valuable advice. “Rather than trying to replicate pictures from magazines, he told me to capture what I wanted to paint through the camera to grasp my unique perspective. Once I did that, I began to realize that I loved photography and questioned the value of painting a subject when I’d already captured it with the camera.”
His post-production work has taken his photography to new levels, stretching the tenets of traditional photography. “Before you break any rules, you have to know the rules,” he says. “When we went to Hawaii, I put myself under such pressure to get the perfect photo. I was stressed out trying to chase the best shot by forcing the perfect light, wave, sunset, or waterfall. That follows the human conception of perfection,” he says.
Frustration set in as he was shooting the Napili coast in Kaui, Hawaii, because he could not get the results he wanted. Later at home, he converted one of the images to black and white and infused the blue water back into it. “That photo won awards and is one of my most popular shots. It would never have happened if I had waited for the perfect sunset,” he admits.
His love of the craft has sent Mike to unique landscapes, including Iceland, Switzerland, Italy, and Germany, as well as the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Arizona, the Grand Canyon, and other national parks throughout the United States.
Mike doesn’t feel that he has to jump on a plane to catch incredible imagery. He enjoys shooting at Harriman State Park and Ramapo Reservation, as well as studies of local urban landscapes like the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, and the Flatiron building in New York.
He has his lens set on visiting Tibet in the future and hopes to shoot the people, culture, and landscapes of Tibet and Nepal.
His realization of satisfaction and success in photography has led him to turn back to painting, free of the self-imposed restrictions that his paintings needed to be realistic images. He now enjoys painting colorful, graphic mandalas. “It’s a free-form concept, not a pre-planned image. I draw an object and expand off of it. It’s a freestyle method, and you don’t have to follow the rules.”
Mike’s artwork is available for purchase online or at his Suffern studio. He also prints his works on products and apparel like face coverings, tapestries, yoga mats, and puzzles through his site, Positive Vibes Artwork.
Thanks to Mike and his creativity, even if you can’t travel right now, you can take the beautiful inspiration with you, along with his sage artistic advice: “Let go and trust your instincts and intuition.”