"I want to present beauty,” earnestly explains 27-year-old Miami photographer Federico Nessi. “There’s this over-the-top vulgarity to so much art being made today. Well, I’m not interested in making work for scholars. I come from a family that’s not based in the art world. I want them—I want everybody—to be able to look at my work and recognize beauty on its own terms.”

No problem there. Upon Nessi’s return to Miami in early 2007 following art school in Portland, he quickly landed a flurry of exhibitions from enthused directors at the Bas Fisher Invitational, Twenty Twenty Projects, Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts and the Spinello Gallery (which currently represents him). Among the top dogs of Miami photography, Nessi staked out his own aesthetic terrain. Unlike the eye-poppingly surreal portraits of Carlos Betancourt or the otherworldly flora-shrouded figures of Naomi Fisher, Nessi’s portraiture left little doubt that when it came to his own subjects, his heart was pinned proudly to his sleeve. Shooting in 35mm sumptuous color, he captured a circle of young friends dripping with smoldering sexuality, some gazing back at the lens with an inviting homoerotic intensity. (Little surprise that Nessi himself was the life model for several of the lithe waifs and dandies flitting across Hernan Bas’ paintings.) These were photos that were undeniably, yes, beautiful.

It wasn’t hard to imagine Nessi developing into Miami’s answer to Ryan McGinley, annually tracking his social circle as they blithely fell in and out of each other’s beds. But Nessi himself had other ideas.

The work turned dark—literally. Colors were swapped for monochromatic black-and-white; his subjects fought to emerge from the shadows.Then Nessi began stretching into new mediums. There were disturbing—albeit hypnotically attractive— videos and performance-art pieces based on tortured examinations of sexual attraction, such as 2008’s multimedia “Wire Wire Wire,” staged at the Miami Light Project to a packed house. Then came a show at the Spinello Gallery: To kick off “Emotional Response Can Be Deconditioned,” he gathered several kindred musicians, set up on the sidewalk just outside the front door, and proceeded to unleash a Throbbing Gristle-styled tribal wail.

The music was certainly traffic-stopping: Held during a Wynwood Gallery Walk, the rapt crowd spilled off the sidewalk and onto the street, backing up a string of cars, buses and one very confused-looking policeman. Heady stuff. But beautiful?

“I was going through a pretty bad breakup at that time,” Nessi chuckles sheepishly. And the impetus for “Wire Wire Wire”? “Another breakup.” How about the initial switch to black-and-white photography? “Yes,” he sighs, it was the response to yet another soured romance. Accordingly, one hardly needs to be a licensed relationship counselor to surmise what’s firing up Nessi’s latest series of swoon-inducing full-color portraits, shot in Paris where he’s temporarily employed.

“It’s true, I’m in love again!” he admits with a laugh. “I’ve been called overly dramatic on a few occasions, especially with my performances. I put it all out there—torture myself, cry, scream my lungs out. It’s selfish, sure, but once I walk away from the work, I feel so much better. It’s like an orgasm.” So should we title this article “Federico Nessi: Art- World Drama Queen—and Proud of It”?

“Oh, no!” Nessi gasps goodnaturedly. Then he reconsiders: Drama is underrated, he says. If nothing else, it’s helping to produce an impressive body of artwork. He playfully offers his own editorial suggestion: “How about we call the article: ‘Federico Nessi: Love It or Leave It’?”

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