LOGAN BROWNING

Logan Browning’s intelligence, humor, and passion for both social activism and performance have culminated into a new controversial Netflix series entitled Dear White People.

Photography by Raul Romo, Styling by Rafael Linares @ Art Department, Creative Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Interview by Pauline Snyder-Goodwin | Coat by Victoria Hayes

Success has been no stranger to Logan Browning in both her personal and professional life. Browning started at an early age to pursue her career in film and TV all the while reigning as homecoming queen and honor student in her hometown of Atlanta, GA. With a starring role as Sasha in Bratz: The Movie, Playing Brianna in Tyler Perry’s Meet The Browns, and as Jelena on VH1’s Hit The Floor just to name a few of her successes, it’s no wonder this multi-tasker will star in the lead role as Samantha White in Netflix’s original series, Dear White People which debuts April 28, 2017. Browning plays Sam, a biracial film major at a fictional Ivy League University where she hosts a radio show called Dear White People. The show becomes popular amongst black students on campus, and leads to discussions on racially charged topics that students typically avoided. In the trailer she addresses her radio listeners; “Dear white people, here’s a list of acceptable Halloween costumes,” classical music and images of elite white people serve as a backdrop. She proceeds by listing a series of ubiquitous costumes white people could dress up in: “Pirate, slutty nurse, any of our first 43 presidents. Top of the list of unacceptable costumes: Me.” Images of people wearing blackface pans across the screen against a crescendo of the classical music piece.

The 10-episode, satirical comedy is an adaptation of director, Justin Simien’s 2014 successful independent film of the same name. Simien has also written and directed the episodes and has found his new series in the fire of controversy sparked by the trailer release. The trailer has fueled some viewers into boycotting the streaming media giant or cancelling their accounts altogether, generating a lot of attention and awareness to the show. Much of the discussion has been superficial, based on the title, alone. But viewers will soon have actual content, in the form of episodes, to discuss.

Browning, under the direction of Simien, endeavors to deliver an insightful and entertaining series while offering a perspective and a criticism on one aspect of race and class tension in our society. With a combination of clever, progressive, and thought-provoking writing and a cast of comedic, young starlets, this Netflix original series is sure to ignite discussions among audiences across America.

IRIS Covet Book recently caught up with Logan Browning in her adopted home of Los Angeles to learn more about the young starlet and her involvement in the original Netflix series.

Top and Pants by Raisa & Vanessa, Shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti, Sunglasses by Sama Eyewear

When did you first know you wanted to become an actress? How did you initially get started in the industry?

I can remember my aunt telling me about a time I was riding in the backseat having a full-on conversation with myself as multiple people with different accents. That was possibly an early sign of a disorder, but more than that, it was apparent that I really loved becoming different characters. I loved doing it for myself, but I also performed for my family all the time. I started in the industry the way any how-to book would tell you: move to LA, get an agent, and go on auditions. All this came after I was a part of a competition called IMTA. At the same time, my parents were trying to figure out how to support two households while living in Georgia while I was chasing my dream as a 14-year-old in LA with my godfather and later on with my older brother as my guardian.

Tell us how you got involved with Netflix’s Dear White People.

I hate to disappoint readers with such a simple answer, but I just auditioned like everybody else. Sam felt natural to me, and I believe that and my commitment to her voice, are part of what awarded me the role. I also came fully dressed in my version of the character and even styled my hair into an exquisite pompadour. I wanted “Sam”, so I confidently walked in as “her”.

How did you prepare for your role as Samantha White? Do you find that you relate to her in any way?

I went around telling white people to stop appropriating my culture. Just kidding! I read. A lot. I read the original screenplay of the film. I read letters written by Dr. King. And I read books Justin mentioned during his press tour for the film. I also went to a radio station to shadow a DJ and learned how to work the boards.

You attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Any parallels to the campus setting in Dear White People?

Well speaking of setting, I give major props to the set designer of Dear White People. To date, it is the most gorgeous set I have ever been on. They basically built an Ivy League school in a warehouse. The halls were connected for continuous shots. There was velvet and leather and ornate wallpaper, chandeliers and columns. I was mesmerized. It reminded me of the day I visited Vanderbilt with my dad before deciding to go there. I remember how beautiful the campus was. There is a sense of community that Vanderbilt and Winchester have in common, but I think the self-zoning of groups and ethnicities is represented on most campuses.

What’s been memorable about working with director Justin Simien in the Dear White People series?

Learning from him! His mind is beautiful. His humor is sharp. He’s very Zen. He’s an interesting person to watch because he seems to always be thinking. I mostly appreciate his encouragement. As an actress, I still have a lot of growing to do. His notes to trust my instincts, and not to worry about things not happening the way they are written on the page if I’m honest, were such confidence boosters. Those stuck with me throughout filming and will continue to live with me as I work. His approach gave me a sense of calm which is necessary when I’m really excited about a scene and begin to overthink it. Working with Justin has made me a better actress and a more in-tune human.

Dress by Helo Rocha, Bangles by Djula J

Any personal life experiences that helped shape your role as Samantha White?

I’m a fighter. I’m a little lady. But I’ve always been the friend/daughter/sister whose intent is to protect the nest. Through my experiences with confrontation and debate, I’ve learned yelling may scare people but it doesn’t guarantee that anyone will hear you. That is a part of Samantha’s journey. She has a natural kick ass personality, but she’s also a very emotional and sensitive gal who can move mountains. When I play her, I sometimes feel like I’m living part of my life all over again.

Given our current political climate in the U.S., how do you think viewers will receive Dear White People?  What would you like them to take away from the series?

With the state of our nation and even global political turmoil, it’s undeniable that when we ingest any form of art our radars are up for offensiveness, conspiracy, corruption, and the like. Of course, a title like “Dear White People” is going to conjure up a lot of curiosity, and I proudly stand behind the show as something that transcends both intentionally and coincidentally. Specifically speaking, no one on our production could have known that Dear White People would be airing in a Trump presidency; we wrapped filming on Election Day. I’m sure when it came time for editing, the voice of the show became even more specific with cuts and choices because all eyes will be on this show wondering what it’s all about. Time and art play important roles with each other. Dear White People was written in a Bush Presidency, released as a film in an Obama Presidency, and will air as a show in a Trump Presidency. The temperature and tone is constantly changing with time, but the reason this title prevails is that there are deep rooted systemic issues that we will always battle as a country. At the end of the day, it’s 10 episodes of a 30-minute show. I want people to walk away having enjoyed the characters, the humor, the truth, the opinions, and feel open about discussing the themes of the series.

On VH1’s Hit the Floor, you played a team captain for a NBA cheerleading team called the Los Angeles Devil Girls. Dancing was a key part in this role. How did you train for this?

As soon as we wrapped the pilot episode I enrolled at The Edge Performing Arts Center and took Ballet, Jazz, and Jazz Funk classes every day. In a very limited amount of time, I needed to garner technique, flexibility, and confidence. Technique came from the classes I took, and ballet was the core of that learning process. My flexibility came from a lot of hot yoga and stretching every second of every day. Confidence was something I gained as I became more comfortable with myself. I was playing catch-up with women who have been dancing since they were 3 years old. I had to understand that I was hired to play the captain of this fictional dance team because they saw something special in me as an actress that they didn’t see in any other actress or dancer. I learned to own my sex appeal and strength as a woman. A lot of my confidence came from the support of the women around me. The dancers helped me pick up choreography quickly, taught me the tricks of the trade, and encouraged me to believe that I was truly a dancer.

What’s it like playing a satirical comedy role vs. a drama one?

The biggest difference for me, is playing up the humor. In a drama, I try to make the humor very organic, but with a satire, the goal is to get the audience’s mouth open with laughter so they can digest the message you’re feeding them.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

That would be such a long list. The Silence of the Lambs is the first thing that comes to mind. My dad loved that movie so I love that movie. I obsessed over the silently lethal Anthony Hopkins, and he became one of my favorite actors to study. I love Miss Congeniality and The Blind Side because watching Sandra Bullock is a treat. She is a truly transformational actress.

What would be your dream role to play in a film or tv series?

During our photo shoot, we were on location by a cool sign that read “Sade”. If there was ever a biopic about her life I would do everything possible to be considered for that role. She is so naturally intriguing. I would love to tell her story and transform into her for a film. To play any living or once living person’s story would be a dream. The responsibility of portraying a real person is a challenge I’m up for.

Shirt by Dodo Bar Or, Vest by Shahista Lalani, Jeans by Thomas Wylde, Shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti

How do you keep yourself energized during long hours of filming?

You are liable to find me curled in my cast chair taking a powernap! Number 27 on my list of being a small human is: “fits in most places”. I also stretch. Sometimes you just need to wiggle your joints and lengthen your muscles to get the oxygen flowing through your body and into your brain. Stretching also refocuses me and makes me aware of my body and emotional state. Drinking water is one of my magic weapons. Coffee never gives me the lasting energy that nourishing my body with water does in the long run.

What’s your go-to work out to stay fit?

A boxing class will always whip my ass into shape. It’s high-cardio, endurance, focus, balance, agility, and strength training. I also do a lot of yoga. I never feel like my muscles are super-cut after, but I do know I’m building a strong core and inner strength that will support all my other athletic activities and my general well-being.

Who are your favorite musicians? Who are you currently listening to?

A few of my favorites are: Ben Howard, Thelonious Monk, Lecrae, Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, Tracy Chapman, Sade, George Stanford, Kendrick Lamar, and Frank Sinatra. I’m going to stop myself because now I’m just listing my entire Spotify library. I’m currently listening to the Big Little Lies soundtrack, and also Thundercat because my big brother told me to and he knows good music.

Last concert you went to?   

I saw my friend’s band perform at SXSW; LoMoon. They’re amazing—hop on early. An actual concert I went to see was The Brian Culbertson Funk Tour in Newport Beach with my mom in October.  

What charities in your community are you involved with?

I’m passionate about working with young people and people displaced from their homes. The outreach I do is mostly geared towards those two groups. One of my favorite outreach programs is called Young Story Tellers. It is a program that selects 5th graders to be paired with a writing mentor. They write a play, and after a few weeks actors show up to do cold reading performances of their plays. It is the most fun because kid’s imaginations are marvelous! I’ve been a sheep, a witch, a superhero, you name it! It’s also a great experience as an actor because we audition for these kids and have the responsibility of bringing their wildest imaginations to life by performing their play for the entire school after only a few hours with the material. We get creative and use whatever we have with us as props. It’s one of my favorite things to participate in because these kids learn early that they are important, talented and supported. I’m also very active with the Black Lives Matter movement. I attend meetings, marches, rallies, and stay knowledgeable so that I can help share important information via my platform.

What advice would you give aspiring actors wanting to pursue a career in television or film? What hurdles do they need to overcome?

Go to college. Finish school. Get involved in your theater. Read. Hang around and play with children. Their imaginations are without borders. The more childlike you can become with your truth and creativity, the less limited you will be as an actor. Knowing yourself is important. You must spend time alone and go deep into your past. You need to discover who you were before life came at you. Who God made you to be before ideas shifted you. Kids can know themselves quite simply because their experiences are limited. We are made up of our life’s journey. The longer we exist the more we must navigate to find our true selves. We are who the world sees us as, tries to mold us into, how our parents showed their love or didn’t, our failures, accomplishments, produced art, expressed and unexpressed ideas, our conscious minds and our instincts. We are the molded-clay, masterpieces, of God.

Coat by Styland, Top and Belt by Zana Bayne, Underwear by Agent Provocateur, Earrings by Victoria Hayes, Boots by Christian Dior

 

Hair by Dritan Vushaj @Forward Artists using Sachajuan, Makeup by Nancy Cialdella using Anastasia Beverly Hills, Laura Mercier, and Giorgio Armani Beauty, Manicure by Stephanie Stone @Nailing Hollywood using Chanel, Video by Heather Sommerfield, Production by XTheStudio. Special Thanks to Mike Liotta @True Public Relations and The Dream Factory LA Studio

PIERRE ET GILLES

40 ans, 2016, Model : Pierre et Gilles, Without Frame : 105 Å~ 84 cm, With Frame : 123.5 Å~ 102 cm Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris˝ Pierre et Gilles, Courtesy Galerie Templon, Paris et Bruxelles

Interview by Alvio Mancuso

Intro by Benjamin Price

Pierre and Gilles met in Paris in their 20’s and soon thereafter, they began an artistic collaboration that would influence a whole generation of creatives. Before meeting in 1976, Pierre had established a career as a photographer and Gilles as a painter. Once Gilles took his brush to the first portrait, their union as artists was formed. Pierre and Gilles have worked in unison for forty years, photographing icons such as our cover star Rossy de Palma, Kylie Minogue, Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld, Madonna, and so many others, all of which have been catalogued in a fabulous new book entitled Pierre et Gilles: 40, published by Flammarion.

Their work explores concepts of identity and how we view celebrity, culture, sexuality, and ourselves. Photographing everyone from icons in popular culture to strangers they found on the streets of Paris; Pierre and Gilles create fantastic dreamscapes and insert their models into the realms which they create. Images are then edited, and through Gilles’ paint and airbrushing, they are manipulated manually for color, light, and anything else the duo seeks to create. Transforming people into mermaids, Hindu goddesses, and monsters, their work questions our perception and blurs the boundary between reality and fantasy, ugly and beautiful, boy and girl, etc. The two brilliant artists had time to sit down with Iris Covet Book and discuss their lives together, their career, their models, and their future.

How did you meet and when did you realize that you were going to have such a fruitful artistic relationship?

Gilles: We met in September 1976, it’s been forty years. We met at a party thrown by the designer Kenzo (Takada) for the opening of his boutique at Place des Victoires.

Pierre: It was love at first sight. It was a good party, we were all drinking and Gilles jumped me! Then we left the party on a scooter and we haven’t left each other’s sides since.

Gilles: Pierre was a photographer, and I knew his photographs and his work. I was painting and making collages and after a few months we started to work together. It came to us very naturally. We were each doing our individual jobs and ended-up helping each other and sharing ideas. One day I got the idea to paint on one of Pierre’s photograph because the colors were not right for our vision, so I started to paint the eyes and the face, and we found something we loved and we worked together from that day forward.

Pierre: After that we never wanted to work separately and we didn’t want to work with anyone else. Only the two of us.

What was your first project together, and do you remember what the experience felt like collaborating with your lover for the first time?

Pierre: Our first project was a series of photographs of our friends inspired by photo booth picture strips because Gilles had a big collection of those from many years ago.

Gilles: I was addicted to these photographs! I was taking them every day and asking all of my friends to be in them. I started a huge collection. We got inspired by these photographs because the colors were really bright. Then we started a series of Polaroids with our friends; they were making faces and having fun, but we thought that the colors were not bright enough, so I painted the colors and retouched the faces and felt we found something important there. We were so happy, and working together was so comforting. We felt that we were lifting each other up. Pierre had his own personality, and I had my own, but we totally felt that we were completing each other since that first project together. Pierre was more into fashion and I was an artist drawn by contemporary art; putting our two personalities together was good for each of us. You have an instantly recognizable aesthetic to your work, how did you develop your distinctive style?

Pierre: To have a style comes naturally, you don’t have to look for it.

Gilles: It came pretty naturally, but when you see the first image that we did together called Les Grimaces, a series of nine portraits on different colored backgrounds, you can already recognize our style. Of course it evolved and was more pop at that time. You need to stay true to yourself, and we did stay true to ourselves. We were inspired by pictures that we would see on the street markets in Morocco; they were de-saturated portraits of celebrities. We also both grew up surrounded by the Pop Art of Andy Warhol, and other artists like him, which inspired us as well. Our style comes from a lot of different elements: image conception, light, the way we paint the photographs: it’s our spirit.

You work in a multi medium platform: photography, painting and even set design and building. Why is it important for you to work this way?

Pierre: We are very crafty, and we love to do everything ourselves from the beginning till the end.

Gilles: Above all else, what we like to put forward is the subject (that we our photographing) because our subject is the inspiration. We started with the photo booth inspired photographs which were mostly portraits; we have always done portraits with the body and the stage as well. However, most of the time we focus on only one person. It can be more, but it is very rare for our usual work. There are icons that we love whom we are drawn to because of their personality. Our models are very different, all with different origins, sexuality, and every body type from very muscular to slim. We love unique people and love to explore the differences.

Pierre: We want to be part of our subject’s world.

Who were your early influences or mentors?

Pierre: We were very inspired by cinema.

Gilles: Pop Art was also something that was very important for the two of us. I have loved Andy Warhol since I was fifteen years old when I discovered his work and his personality. He wasn’t hiding who he really was: his homosexuality, his life, and the people that he surrounded himself with. We were inspired by the movies from James Bidgood like Pink Narcissus. We found in his movies a sensibility that resonated with our own. Your big breakthrough was a shoot you both did for Facade magazine, and it included pictures of Andy Warhol, Iggy Pop, and Mick Jagger.

Vénus marine, 2000, Model : L.titia Casta Without Frame : 122.5 Å~ 91.5 cm, With Frame : 228 Å~ 164 cm The Cultural Foundation EKATERINA, Moscou ˝ Pierre et Gilles

What happened when those photos came out and how did you feel about the publicity?

Pierre: Yes, it was very impressive to meet these people.

Gilles: We started strong with all these personalities; it was an underground magazine for a small audience, a bit like the equivalent of Interview Magazine at that time. Working with these celebrities brought us to the spotlight and that is when it really started for us. First, we were working only for magazines and then we did our first music single cover for Amanda Lear. We were working for press, newspapers, different magazines like Gai Pied and Playboy, fashion show invitations for Thierry Mugler, etc. We were doing a lot of different things and it was a very good training for us.

Much of your work is inspired by celebrity, mythology and religion. What is it about these themes that draws you?

Gilles: That’s true we do work with these themes. We like when people play a role, but a tailored role that will fit their personality. A role that we feel they can play and that will elicit our sensitivity. For instance, when we shot Karl Lagerfeld, we thought of his cat and then we thought about the James Bond movie Spectre and the cat in it, so we sat him in a big chair with his cat. We mix reality and fiction, and we play with different elements that will fit with our model’s personality.

Pierre: We also play with color and try to find the color that fits with the person we are photographing. We have a very close relationship with all the people we work and we had worked with. When we look at our work, it’s like a family album. It’s a mix of celebrities, but also unknown people and friends. We love both worlds!

What are the qualities that you look for in a potential male model for your art? Are their any nuances in masculinity that you are attracted to?

Pierre: It depends a lot on what we want to express at the time of the shoot.

Gilles: We work very rarely with models from agencies, and we like to work with unique personalities. We are mostly drawn by someone’s personality first. We don’t have any definite physical features that we like to work with; we can work with someone very androgynous, very masculine, very slim, very muscular, with unique facial features. We love to express something different and create different emotions.

Do you have recurring muses that you have worked with over the years? If so, what has made your collaboration with them successful?

Gilles: We have recently worked a lot with Zahia. Also, Marie France with whom we worked with when we began until recently. Zuleika (Ponsen) was a muse since the beginning whom we photographed a lot. She starred in our portraits called “La Meduse”, “La Pleureuse”, etc.

Pierre: We worked with Dita Von Teese as well and we actually are currently working again on a new portrait of her. We photographed a lot of boys as well that are not necessarily well-known.

Gilles: We love to work with all these people because they inspire us, they just understand our world and they can play so many roles.

How does it feel to have four decades of celebrated art work under your collective belt with a highly anticipated retrospective book Pierre et Gilles 40 commemorating your careers?

Pierre: We did this book year-by-year instead of doing it by theme. It allowed us to see the evolution of our work through the years.

Gilles: Our style is still here but has evolved. We started with something more Pop and simple “mise en scene”, and then you can see that we evolved to something more complex and developed. The models change through the years. It reminds them of the good memories of working together when going through the book. It’s been a fantastic journey through the forty years. We are so happy to see what we did, but we are not nostalgic, just excited for what is coming next.

What do you think about the reaction audiences have had from your work throughout your forty-year career? Do you see a difference of how U.S. audiences react versus European?

Pierre: We feel that our images can touch people everywhere in the world…

Gilles: …In Japan, Russia, Australia, Europe, America… we don’t feel like there are a lot of borders.

How does it feel to have used your revolutionary subject matter and style to bring a mainstream voice for gay culture?

Pierre: It was pretty natural. We didn’t really have to put it forward, but naturally, as we are a couple and we did not hide it, it came out. Also, the inspirations which we followed with sincerity touched the gay community. We received a lot of letters from gay people who told us that our work helped them to accept themselves and their sexuality.

Gilles: As we said, our work explores the difference between individuals and shows people the beauty in homosexuality, and that is very important to us as well. What was one of your most memorable photo shoots that we will find in your new book?

Pierre: It’s pretty hard for us to choose because every shoot is unique. Every time we meet new people it is a new surprise. As we live in the present, we love the last images that we did. For instance, we just photographed Beatrice Dalle whom we have known and loved for a long time.

Gilles: We recently shot K-Pop celebrities, and we loved that very much as it was new and interesting to us.

You have worked with some of the most iconic artists, designers, performers, etc. including Madonna, Naomi Campbell, Dita Von Teese, Kylie Minogue, Karl Lagerfeld, Mick Jagger, and Iggy Pop; what was your favorite collaborative experience?

Pierre: I loved to photograph Sylvie Vartan as she was my idol when I was a child and as a teenager; I was way more impressed when I met her than when I met Madonna or Kylie Minogue for example (laughs).

Gilles: Though meeting Madonna was also an amazing experience, she was at the Ritz Hotel in Paris and she made someone call us to go meet her, and that same night we went to the Zingaro Circus together with Jean-Paul Gaultier. It was in the 90’s. They are incredible memories. We met Kylie Minogue in Sydney when she came to our exhibition, and then we shot her in Sydney. We have worked with a lot of amazing, unique, and different personalities and it has given us these incredible memories.

Are there any celebrities, designers, or artists that you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?

Gilles: Yes, for sure! There must be people we didn’t work with that we’d like to, but we like surprises so we’ll see. It comes to us pretty randomly depending on people we meet and the occasions. It takes time, but we trust the future.

In a digital age where people can easily manipulate photos via Photoshop, why is it important to you to stay true to a more organic process of airbrushing and acrylic paint that you have perfected?

Gilles: We started retouching pictures way before Photoshop. At that time the pictures were almost never retouched. Even today we stay true to ourselves following the same process. We still retouch everything by hand and we still build our set in studio. The only thing we changed is that we started to shoot digital, but it has not been a long time that we switched maybe two years, and we are happy with the result.

Pierre: We really stay true to ourselves, we stay very artisanal and crafty. We love to build our own sets. Our models are really (physically) displayed in it. We are a very small team and we love to do everything ourselves. We just have an assistant and the both of us. We take care of each step of the process from the set design to the final frame we use for each photograph.

When your careers first began in 1976, did you find it hard to gain acceptance from either realm of art or fashion?

Gilles: There were people that loved our work since the beginning and were very supportive. We waited until 1983 to do our first exhibition due to the fact that before that people and art galleries were not ready to show our work. It happened only in 1983. We started with the smaller formats, and now we exhibit our bigger formats, but the most important thing for us this whole time has been to stay true to ourselves.

In the future, what projects can we expect from you?

Pierre: Just the continuation of our work. A new “novel to follow” (laugh). .

 Sainte Mary MacKillop, 1995, Model: Kylie Minogue Without Frame: 85.7 Å~ 71.4 cm, With Frame: 112.7 Å~ 98.5 cm, Collection St.phane Sednaoui, New York ˝ Pierre et Gilles

JONAS MEKAS

iris04_mekas_webJohn & Yoko on a cruise boat up the Hudson river, July 7, 1971 | 17 x 22 inches, Archival Photographic Print. Edition of 3 + 2 AP, 2013

Recognized as one of the leading figures of American avant-garde filmmaking, Jonas Mekas is a pioneer in the craft and has become an icon in the world of fine art. Through his accomplished career as a filmmaker, photographer, poet and organizer, Mekas firmly established filmmaking as a widely accepted means of artistic expression. Through his lens, Mekas has captured some of the most beautiful, provocative, and interesting moments of celebrities, nature, and Mekas’ distinct view of life. Some of his most famous subjects include noted filmmakers, Jacqueline Kennedy, and artists like Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, John Lennon, and Elvis Presley. Another large portion of Mekas’ work is concerned with the more intrinsically personal moments of nature: family, being human, and appreciating life beyond the conventional.  Known also as a curator and an icon of contemporary American culture, Mekas documented the works of many other famous artists, notably listed are the works we have published here of John Lennon with Yoko Ono on a cruise boat and Andy Warhol posing with an academy award. Jonas Mekas’ work has been exhibited at the finest museums worldwide, and is this issue’s Icon in recognition of his lifetime of work innovating the world of film and photography.

-Benjamin Price

iris04_mekas_web2Andy Warhol, 1971 | 17 x 22 inches, Archival Photographic Print. Edition of 3 + 2 AP, 2013

RJ RAIZK

Photography and Interview by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Creative Direction by Louis Liu | Makeup by Lydia Brock

iris04_rj_feature_online

RJ Raizk presents himself as an embodiment of his brand: an austere and seemingly-aloof specimen of cool, tinged with angst–an inevitable by-product of any creative trying to “make it” in New York. But there is something more seductive and sincere about the artist than his all-black-wearing persona. The 29-year-old who transplanted from Ohio to attend School of Visual Arts just over a decade ago, has been incubating his creative sensibilities with a New York state-of-mind. “I’m just planting all the seeds, so I can get the fuck out of here.” His breed is the kind of artist that is navigating a post-digital and post-recession career path while reenvisioning ways to create a sustainable life and career as an artist.

Already amassing a hefty resume of commercial projects and commissions with MTV, Restoration Hardware, and several of New York’s finest hospitality spaces, including trendy Meatpacking nightclub, Up&Down, The Tribeca Grand Hotel, and several private residences commissioned by interior design clients; RJ’s work is dynamic and impactful, making it easy for his audience to connect with his work. Much of his work could be interpreted as studies in dualism, drawing inspiration from some of the most diverse geometric structures and organisms found within the natural world as seen in the artist’s intricate and polarized black-and-white pattern work. Raizk’s work fluidly moves between analog and digital processes, at times incorporating both into the same piece.

While modernizing representational subject matter through simplified form and playful design, Raizk’s work is balanced by a highly-controlled process in which he attempts to utilize his physical body for a mechanical “printer-like application”, creating nearly-perfect pattern-repeating murals that are only seemingly-organic. A glance through the artist’s portfolio, which he endearingly refers to as his “pattern book”, reveals that RJ’s work is delicate and energetic at the same time. Patterns that look like constellations, electrons, cell mitosis, photosynthesis or seed-germination all make an appearance
in optic black and white ink on paper, all created entirely by hand. It is easy to be awed by the kind of discipline such detail requires, “I’ve done this one for the entire entrance of Up&Down,” he exclaims proudly, pointing to a pattern that could easily be the microbial makeup of a plant under a microscope.  “I did this one for my friend’s place and I’ve done it for restaurants, to prints on canvases for people, to just prints on paper.  I’ve done it just about everywhere. I’m leaving it open to every type of medium. It doesn’t have to be just drawn or painted.”

Many of the patterns within his body of work have been scanned to create digital file assets that can be further manipulated and used as source material for RJ’s intricate digital collage work. “A lot of people don’t understand that digital work takes about as much effort and time as analog. They don’t think digital is as authentic as you doing it by hand.  But in actuality, the amount of time and effort it takes to make a digital piece is the same because you’re collaging this giant thing and it’s your work.  So, just because there’s a computer between you doesn’t mean that it’s less effort.” For last year’s Miley Cyrus-hosted MTV Video Music Award, the artist was commissioned to create advertising collateral featuring the popstar, and suggested that the computer is simply another medium. “I love that I can combine my digital with my hand-drawn and I think that’s one of the best stuff I’ve done.”

iris04_rj_feature_online3Work In Progress: Constellation Mural, Hand Drawn Silver Ink On White Wall, At Collective Design Fair, 2016

Raizk’s first solo show, hosted by friend and fashion powerhouse, Nicola Formichetti, the artist made a return to a more traditional process of pigment dye and acrylic paintings on canvas, showcasing his skill-set as an abstract painter. Paintings carried over from the solo exhibition were quickly snatched up by Restoration Hardware’s newest division, RH Contemporary Artists, which markets a curated selection of artists’ work to it’s long-established cult-following consumer base in the world of home decor.  The potential of dipping his toe in the world of interior design and luxury furnishings and fabrics isn’t a bad idea. It’s easy to envision Raizk’s titillating patterns as fabrics, wallpaper, or carpeting that could wrap any textiled surface.

Positioning oneself for potential licensing deals is good business for any artist. Still, for many millennial creatives living in New York, post-graduation career aspirations can seem daunting, especially when trying to understand how to generate the cash flow to make a dream happen. “If you’re looking into studio spaces, they’ll be $2000 a month that’s a 300 square foot box with no window. If you want a window, then it’s over $3000,” he said, recalling the reality of astronomical rent that has posed a challenge for so many of New York’s artists. “But yet, everyone needs artists, but no one’s willing to cater to them.”

Merging his talent with a business-savvy drive, RJ’s career path hasn’t come without its criticism. “They are like, ‘Why don’t you just get a job on the side?  Why don’t you do this?’  And I’m like, ‘You guys don’t understand.  If I had a job, I wouldn’t devote any time to this.  I’d be coming home, going to sleep, waking up, going to the job.’  I need freedom to be able to make stuff, because then, the payoff is actually worth it, now.  It’s frustrating, because no one really understands and they’re just like,

‘You just don’t want to work. You’re just lazy.’ And I know that’s not true, because how did all this stuff happen?”

Fortunately, Raizk has effectively been able to maneuver said challenges, learning to employ the same cerebral dance between left and right brain (as seen in his pattern work) and flow effortlessly between them at will. This duality carries over into the profound underlying themes within RJ’s work. This is apparent in his crayon drawings of aliens that have become popular cult t-shirts. The series features aliens trying to understand a variety of human emotions, masquerading as tongue-in-cheek t-shirt designs that could easily be sold for the masses.

“I hope you know I’m not that serious,” he jokes while showing me a crayon drawing of two aliens holding hands with a sphere of rainbows drawn around their hands with the slogan “Searching for a connection”. One could understand them as a deeper commentary on the theory that life is a computer simulation being understood by a post-human civilization, an idea effectively juxtaposed by its delivery in the form of an infantile crayon drawing, reminiscent of childhood.

“Are we nothing but aliens experiencing human emotions for the first time?” I propose.

He agrees, “I think so.”

Here, Iris Covet Book sits down with the New York City-based artist at our photoshoot in Soho, NY.

iris04_rj_feature_online4Right: TERRAIN, 2016 | Black pigment dye and acylic on canvas | 60 x 48 inches | Available on rhcontemporaryart.com
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GRADIENT, 2016 | Black pigment dye and acrylic on canvas | 72 x 48 inches | Available on rhcontemporaryart.com

When did you know you wanted to become an artist?

It’s funny, when I was a child I was constantly drawing all over the walls of my parents’ house. At the time, my mom freaked out because I had just destroyed her newly painted shutters. She actually ended up saving the shutter with my markings on it. In class, I was one of those kids that never paid attention to the teacher and would just draw and scribble on the side of my notes and on the back of tests, wherever I could find an empty space on paper. I guess I could say I wanted to be an artist my entire life.

Has this been a career path that you always saw for yourself?

Ever since I was about 13, I knew that a normal life was not for me and I could not handle a 9-5 office job, it would give me anxiety and still does to this day thinking about it. I had this deep instinctual feeling to follow my dreams and what truly made me happy, and that’s how I decided that unless I pursued art I would not be happy. I would rather die than not do what I like to do for the world around me.

What influences have helped shape your creative process?

I was one of those kids who loved electronics and video games, the universe and the cosmos and the stylized drawing of anime and Japanese art. A nerd at heart. The way they could create such movement and drama with such simple line work was what really intrigued me. I’m also inspired by how organic structures of plants and the cosmos create such beautiful patterns.

Was there ever a time you were afraid or uncertain to express or put yourself out there creatively because of what others might think?

I want people to appreciate it as much as you do. When I was younger it was more difficult but now it has gotten a lot easier, the feedback has been nothing but positive so it keeps me going.

Is your work an emotional process or more of a technical process?

When I paint it is more emotional, and free flowing due to the movement of it. When I draw its more technical, I go into an almost robotic mode when I draw, it’s very repetitive. When I combine the two I feel the most complete.

When commissioned for interior design projects, how do spaces and architecture inspire the work that you create within them?

I have a portfolio of all my patterns that I have drawn over the years, and continue to make new ones for myself.

When I am commissioned for an interior design project I select the pattern that works the best with the space. With paintings, it’s the same process, I’ll show examples and work with the style of painting they want for their home.

What is something you hope your audience experiences when they enter a space that you have done?

Ultimately, I just want people to feel good about what they see and give them a feeling of awe. That’s why I like doing hospitality spaces so much, because if people are enjoying themselves in
the space, I feel like their reactions will be more positive.

So that you automatically feel energized being in it?

I’m basically taking a really stark, boring space, adding something crazy to it that is mine. So, it’s basically like me going out and leaving a giant autograph in a space and people really love it.

iris04_rj_feature_online7Work In Progress: Constellation Mural | Hand Drawn Silver Ink On Black Wall | At A Private Residence,2016.

Do you feel like an incredible amount of energy has surged through you physically when you have completed a mural?

After I’ve finished, then I’m basically brain dead. I’ve been focused during the whole process and then once I’ve finished, I literally cannot do anything else. I feel like I’ve given all of myself to this work.

Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur in addition to being an artist and is there a balance between the two roles?

They do go hand in hand, you have to be smart about your work and how it represents your brand, your brand being yourself. Today, people want to know everything about you and what you represent.

How have you overcome the challenge of making art a viable business and what advice would you give young creatives hoping to make a career as an artist?

I have overcome the challenge by being very patient. You have to be patient. Sometimes the world isn’t as forward thinking as you are but overtime the world will catch up to your speed. My advice to young creatives is, keep practicing your craft and keep doing what you love to do. If your heart and soul is present in your work, you will always find success. Especially in this day and age with social media and all the other platforms that we have to show our work to the world. Keep putting your work out there, and positive things will come to you.

What makes you feel nostalgic?

I was a small town boy, in Wilmington, Ohio growing up. When I think about the fun I had running through the streets, bike riding through the neighborhoods, walking to the one gas station to buy candy, climbing trees, I feel nostalgic.

What makes you feel cerebral?

I love walking around the city and listening to music, I could do it all day when I’m not working. The music I listen to ranges from ambient, vapor wave, electronic, techno, hip-hop and classical. Music in general at all times makes me feel very cerebral.

Do you have anyone that you look up to professionally?

Yayoi Kusama and Keith Haring, I believe we are cut from the same cloth.

How has art helped you discover yourself or the world around you? What personality traits has it helped you develop?

It’s the core of my being and is the basis for everything I am.  ‡

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BETTINA RHEIMS

Interview by Marc Sifuentes | Photography by Bettina Rheims

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Madonna laughing and holding her breast, September 1994, New York © Bettina Rheims | Courtesy of Taschen

Today in social media, whether through Instagram or Facebook, there is heated debate throughout the world surrounding gender constructs and sexuality. Thanks to Bettina Rheims and other female pioneers of the arts, women are able to express their own views of what it means to be female through images rather than just words. Beginning her career in France in 1978, Bettina photographed the female body, and her love of shooting flesh began. Soon that love turned into a career of portraying women as raw, sexual, real, and obstinately their own. Now, from Lena Dunham to Laverne Cox, powerful influencers are free to share their own views of what they think it means to be a woman. Her latest book published by Taschen, self-titled Bettina Rheims, is the largest retrospective she has undergone so far, and each turn of the page exemplifies Rheims’ fascination with gender constructs, fragility and strength, and her signature blend of eroticism, vulnerability, and womanly beauty. We were fortunate enough to talk to Bettina and learn about how she first began behind the camera, working in photography for the past four decades, and what is next for her in the world of gender studies, fame, and feminism.

I wanted to start from the beginning of your career and ask if there was a single event which inspired your decision to become a photographer?

I never had a career plan; I never thought beyond the next step. When Serge Bramly gave me a camera in the mid-seventies, and I looked through the viewer, I had the feeling that I was home. I had all sorts of stupid jobs and none of them were really interesting to me. I looked through the viewer of that camera and I thought, “Wow this is incredible! I am going to spend the rest of my time focusing on what I want to look at and editing out the rest”. I never thought it could be a profession. I was raised to believe that I had to have a boring profession, and maybe I could do something on the side for pleasure. The idea that I was going to spend the rest of my life wanting to run to work was something I never thought about.

How do you feel your friendship with Helmut Newton influenced your career, if at all?

He became sort of my mentor. I met him through Nicole Wisniak who was doing this amazing magazine called Egoiste, and Helmut was her star photographer. They published my series of pictures of strippers, and Helmut said he wanted to meet the woman behind them. I was very shy about meeting him. He was something big, and I was only twenty-five years old. He decided he was going to coach me somehow. So, every Thursday when Helmut and (his wife) June were in Paris, we would meet for dinner and I would bring my latest pictures. He would criticize them, too much sometimes, but it grew into a real friendship. Helmut encouraged me a lot, he was the first person who told me I should work in color because I was only shooting in black and white. He said if I was going to be a photographer, I had to start shooting in color and going out in real life.

When Helmut would give you a harsh critique, did you ever argue that you had your own style and beliefs that you wanted to stay true to or did you absorb his criticism and learn from it?

I wasn’t taking all of his advice because his vision of women was so different from mine. Our pictures were very different. He was into luxury and treating women like objects in his photography, and I have a different relationship with women. One day I figured enough was enough and I decided “to hell with him” and I slammed the door on our relationship. We did not talk for awhile, but soon he came back. It was like it always was, but he never asked to see my pictures again. He would come to all of my shows though.

Do you remember what Mr. Newton might have said that upset you at that time?

Yes, I think it was some stupid ad job, and he said this horrible thing. He came to my studio one Sunday and he asked to see my latest work. There was a big portfolio that he started going through, and at one point he said, “Do people really pay you to do that?”. I was so offended. I wasn’t going to take it anymore. That was it professionally, but we stayed friends.

You were talking about the relationship you have with women as your subject, what do you feel are some of the main differences between European and American ideas of feminine sexuality?

I think we Europeans are a much more open and straightforward, and there is a lot of hypocrisy in America these days about magazines and what people do and show. What is “politically correct” has become huge in the States and if I had started my career again thirty years later I wouldn’t have found a magazine in the States, maybe a little underground magazine, but no major one would publish my work. In Europe, it’s different. We have always talked in a much more open way about sexuality. It’s not even an issue, it’s just there, a part of our everyday life. Not that I find European magazines very exciting these days, but basically I think we have lost a lot of our freedom. I used to love looking at photography books and magazines, and today I would not know what to buy. Everything bores me and it is so predictable.

I feel like there is a lot of political correctness happening right now which has censored and changed the dialogue of the arts. On Instagram you cannot even show a woman’s nipple without being reprimanded with a warning from the company.

Well, that’s ridiculous! I mean, this is part of the general hypocrisy!

It is also specific to women. If men are shirtless you can post as many nipples as you want, but if a woman does then the photo gets deleted and she becomes a target for bullies and internet trolls.

Well, beyond Instagram, do you think Robert Mapplethorpe could be doing today what he was doing decades ago throughout his whole career?

No, probably not. (laughs)

Probably not. We were pioneers! We were opening doors.

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Rose Mc Gowan sinking in a bath of roses, September 1996, New York © Bettina Rheims | Courtesy of Taschen

You have allowed us to publish some of our favorite images from your new retrospective book published by Taschen entitled Bettina Rheims, could you tell us how you came up for the concept of Rose McGowan in a bathtub full of roses?

Well, I was working very closely with a magazine called Details, and at the time it was a very brilliant magazine. James Truman was the editor-in-chief, and they had a brilliant stylist, Bill Mullen, and we worked very closely together. I worked with them for probably four or five years, five or six times a year. They were inventing stories and I went to the states and shot them. I cannot remember exactly, but I do remember that everything came from our conversations with Bill. We were very free with the pictures and what we wanted to do, and the celebrities were also very free and very brave with the images. They were going ahead and giving their best, and it was really a very creative time for me. Bill and I had an ongoing conversation and I said let’s put her in the bathtub, and the roses would eventually appear and we started pulling them apart. I never really have a concept of what I am going to shoot. I know who I am going to shoot, where I am going, and basically what kind of styling I am going for. I make this stupid list of props which always includes flowers and maybe food, and depending on where we go it just builds up. Working with me is more like a performance.

Many celebrities and their publicists seem to be much less open to risk taking than in the past, do you receive restrictions from talent that might limit your creative vision?

If people did not think my images suited them then they wouldn’t work with me. Some big celebrities have declined to work with me because they say that it is not a good fit for them, and I totally respect that! We all have the freedom to say yes or no. When I have a feeling that someone would not fit into my world, would not want to play these games with me, would not want to collaborate, would not want to trust me, then I just say no. It’s like a blind date. You have to make people fall in love with you and the other way around, and it has to be a feeling that you will be together for the rest of your life, and after a few hours you just leave them and never see them again! I love that. (laughs)

Kind of like a one night stand. (laughs)

bettina_madonna1_web_rgbMadonna lying on the floor of a red room, September 1994, New York © Bettina Rheims | Courtesy of Taschen

Well that brings us to this photo of Madonna, and considering everything you have said, we also know that Madonna is known to be very controlling, and she has a vision that she very rarely strays from. How did you find working with her on the creative level?

The fascinating thing is that she saw this book, my most famous book, Chambre Close, which features women taking off their clothes, anonymous women that I found in the street who took off their clothes in this cheap hotel in Paris, the ones you find near a railway. Madonna said, “Find this woman I want to work with her”, and it was easy because she was already into it.

She would not come to Paris and there were no hotel rooms like the ones in Chambre Close in New York City, so we had to fly over with these huge rolls of wallpaper and props to create the Parisian hotel room. It was just brilliant! One of the longest shoots ever, many hours, a whole night. I was exhausted. We had enough pictures to do a book, so I said let’s call it a day and go to sleep. But she just wanted to keep shooting more! She approved loads of photos, and she just loved them all. It was fantastic. I have barely used any of them really, out of the ones that she approved. Sometimes you meet someone and it’s amazing chemistry. 

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Breakfast with Monica Bellucci, November 1995, Paris © Bettina Rheims | Courtesy of Taschen

Another photo we love is of Monica Bellucci with a plate full of pasta, can you tell us the story behind this photograph?

Well, that is a very old picture. I was working a lot with Monica when she was a model, and at that time girls started being very skinny and models started to become very androgynous. Monica was always really a feminine woman. We were in a tiny apartment shooting for The Face, a British magazine, and the stylist pulled out this latex type of red dress and I thought something was missing in the picture. I thought about Monica looking like one of these Italian actresses, like Sophia Loren, and in those films you would always see the female character cooking or eating in the kitchen.

So I thought let’s push it to the edge and give her pasta, and the pasta needed to be red because of the dress, and then it built up and suddenly this picture had become iconic, and I really do not know why or why any of these pictures became so famous. Some of these have been with me and surrounding me for more than twenty years but people still want to publish them and collector’s still want to buy the prints. I still haven’t really figured out what gives an image this iconic quality.

I think it has to do a lot with what you were saying earlier. When you have a good creative team and everyone connects, there’s this magic that happens–

It’s a magic moment and you know it doesn’t happen every time. After all these years you can always make a picture that can be published, but to make a great image, it’s a miracle. I know when the image is there. I stop shooting because there is like a red light that turns on in my head and I know that it cannot get better.

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Kristin Scott Thomas playing with a blond wig, May 2002, Paris © Bettina Rheims | Courtesy of Taschen

Our next photo is of a brunette Kristin Scott Thomas pulling off a blonde wig; can you tell us more about that image?

I remember my favorite hairdresser David Mallett was doing the hair, he was working with me constantly at that time and I remember calling him the night before and telling him to bring a blonde wig. I didn’t know what I would even do with it, or if she would even wear it, but then we went with it and it was perfect– but something was still missing. It was too normal, too pretty. Then as you would strip someone, I started stripping the wig off, and then it just happened. Intuition. The perfect moment. It’s what I love about photography.

From your vast library of archival photography, how long did it take you to edit down the photos to the final 500 images that are in this latest retrospective book?

A year of working on editing and doing the layouts and I wanted to have this little diary that would describe the life of a photographer. What my life has been like and the people who have helped me, taught me, collaborated with me, and inspired me. While also giving a tribute to all of the people who aren’t really talked about like the teams of assistants and hair and makeup, without these people none of these images would exist. I am not a writer who is alone with a white page and a pencil. It was probably two years total from meeting with Taschen to finishing everything.

As a woman working in photography for decades, did you find it hard starting out in a predominantly male-dominated industry years ago?

No. No, when I started in the late 70’s there were very few women in photography. A lot of women would say you betray us, but this was a long time ago. Feminists were angry with me because they thought these sexualized pictures should be taken by a man and not a woman, but eventually they understood and they backed me up. Obviously, those (images) could only be shot by a woman. This complicity, this close relationship, this trust that women have with me, they would not have it with a man. Not the same way. It could be more of a seductive relationship, but with me it’s a game and they know it is not a dangerous game. What’s the worst that could happen? They could regret they did a picture and call me back, but it doesn’t happen.

Earlier we discussed working with celebrities in the past, but what about today’s celebrity? Who would you be inspired by today in this new age of social media?

I would love to photograph Kim Kardashian. I think she is fascinating. I would love to go back to LA all of these years later and do another LA story. All of these girls, I am fascinated by these “It Girls” who have really done nothing but be there. They don’t do such great movies, they don’t have such a great voice, but they’re just there. For somebody of my generation, it’s absolutely fascinating.

I saw yesterday that Kim Kardashian is on the cover of Forbes Magazine because of what she has done with social media and how she has been able to brand herself and make millions simply by posting on Instagram and Snapchat. She is a social media mogul now. She captioned her own post of the photo #notbadforagirlwithnotalent.

I mean, I love the idea of no talent turned into genius! I have always been interested in what’s happening in the present, I’ve always been inspired by people I had found on the street, etc. You know, I wouldn’t post pictures of me or my grandson or even pictures of what I have on my plate, but you have to be fascinated by that. I would love to go back and do a new LA story with Bill Mullen, it would be great.

I wanted to also ask you about all of the books that you have published, and if you had to choose, which one is closest to your heart?

Oh my god that’s like asking which one of my family member’s would I not drown! Of course my heart goes to this current one because I worked so hard on it. I did it because I am a grandmother. Benedict Taschen was asking me for a long time if I wanted to do a big Bettina book and I always said it was too early, but then I became a grandmother which became something major in my life. I never thought I would, I thought I’d be dead! So, if I disappeared tomorrow I want to leave him something that he would know his grandmother by. I want him to read the text and see the images and go, “Wow, she really was different”. I love all of the books I did with my gender questions and I love my celebrity books and I love Chambre Close. My big pride is that maybe, just maybe, I have opened up some doors for people. I have helped people understand things that were not out in the public. I think that’s what we should do as artists, open doors. If they want to try to understand something or learn something, that’s how I start to work on a series. Because if I do not understand something. It always starts with a question, and I try to answer with my camera.

Was that your approach with diving into Gender Studies?

It really started with androgyny in the late 80’s. It was during the AIDS epidemic and all of our friends who were dying. I lost many of my friends in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I was doing a casting for a job, and at that casting was this man named Cameron who had long hair and who was very, very beautiful, but not feminine, more like a Christ figure. This girl came in named Josie who looked like a little boy, but had a woman’s body. I did a polaroid with the two of them, and I started wondering what is this androgynous thing and what is happening? This hasn’t been around since the 20’s. Then I went to London and started casting and I found this bunch of kids who weren’t able to have sex anymore because of AIDS,
so their only approach was seduction. They found this new androgyny, playing on both sides. After meeting Kim Harlow, I did a book, Kim, where she was transitioning and it was my first approach with transgenderism. Then she introduced me to her friends in the early 80’s, and people had no desire to look at transgender people. They thought they were just drag queens and they should just stay in the woods. Slowly, little by little, this phenomenon started to grow and take up space. I did a casting on Facebook and
said if you feel different and feel you belong somewhere else then send us a picture. I got hundreds of pictures from the suburbs of Rio to Orange County, from everywhere. Crying for help, saying “take me, I want to pose for you.” Then they came and it was brilliant! I met all of these people who decided they were a part of the third sex. It is fascinating, this new phenomenon.

Did you feel like you were helping them, the people who you met throughout those castings, by immortalizing their stories through photography?

There has always been that thing. I was going to bring them out of their bedrooms, from their closet, and they were proud of that. We talked and made this beautiful soundbyte where they discussed their difficulties and issues with family and friends and sex. It was brilliant. I have this feeling that when you support a cause like that you add stones to a monument that is being built, and it’s great! Voila!

Actually, in our last issue we did an interview with the curator of the Irving Penn exhibit, and she mentioned that a lot of people were attending without any knowledge of film photography. She had to come up with an interactive way for them to realize that the images had an art to them because of the lighting and the the developing and the dark room. Many people today do not understand that the technical side of photography is also part of the art process.  How do you give photography advice to the younger generation?

I wouldn’t know what to say. I don’t think photographing your food and your clothes is the way to get there. I mean, I think you have to have a vision and subject. You have to bring something new. The world is full of images. We’re overwhelmed! We’re drowning in images.

Today, if I were young, I definitely would not have become a photographer. Also, nobody realizes how much work it is, You know, to have a show at twenty five years old and be brilliant for five minutes is not that difficult. When you last for almost forty years and you are still working hard and getting up with headaches and toothaches and still getting to work, then you realize that this is all just work. Maybe you do not have to study, but it takes the experience of life. I don’t believe you can become a great photographer in twenty years, I think you have to live your life and then try to start thinking.

You spoke about how the book was for your grandchild, but what would you want your legacy to be as a photographer in general?

I don’t know, I never think about that. I think, “I am going on vacation now, but what I am going to be doing when I get back? Do I have a project? Do I have an idea?” Legacy would be very presumptuous. What’s the future of the world? What do we leave for our children? What great values, what essential thing? This is more important to me than what do I leave them.

I believe that we live in a very complicated time and there are so many issues that are more important than my own legacy. I just hope that we can conserve our freedom, that the environment isn’t going to eat us up– there are so many big issues at the beginning of this millennium. I have always lived an honest life and my work was always honest, it has always come from my heart. There was never a calculation to see what I had to do to work in fashion or what I had to do to work with certain people. I just kept on doing what I thought was right.  ‡

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Karen Elson, nue couronnée de fleurs, Octobre 2000, Paris  © Bettina Rheims | Courtesy of Taschen

CHRIS VON WANGENHEIM

Prolific fashion photographer Chris von Wangenheim’s iconic images have pushed boundaries and inspired an entirely new generation of photographers. His career and his work is garnering new attention with a new book Gloss: The Work of Chris von Wangenheim .

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“We sort of fell into it,” explained New York’s PR powerhouse duo, Roger & Mauricio Padilha, “We have always loved Chris von Wangenheim’s work, but other than seeing his work in vintage magazines, there was no outlet to fully appreciate his body of work.”

Inevitably for von Wangenheim, the memory of he and his work slowly faded from the fashion scene shortly after his death in 1981. Decades later, von Wangenheim is back in the spotlight with Gloss, a provocative new book by brothers & business partners, Mauricio & Roger Padilha. Gloss is the third photo essay book by the Padillha brothers, who have similar works on other fashion world visionaries. It is an extensive photographic journey, featuring over 200 images of artist’s published, unpublished, and personal work. It also includes a collection of evocative interviews with some of his favorite subjects such as the iconic photo of model Lisa Taylor, being fashionably mauled by an equally dashing doberman pincher.

When photographer Chris von Wangenheim died at the age of 39, he was on course to becoming one of the most emblematic photographers of the 70s art and fashion worlds. Along with his contemporaries, Helmut Newton and Guy Borden, von Wangenheim transcribed the hedonistic cultural mood of the times into gorgeous photographs that pushed the boundaries of art and fashion. His work included advertising campaigns for fashion heavy-weights like Dior & Valentino, as well as iconic fashion editorials for Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, & Interview.

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From Bianca Jagger to Jerry Hall, von Wangenheim’s subjects were always as prolific as how he chose to envision them. Skimming through Gloss, the reader is bound to encounter such enigmatic imagery as Gia Carangi’s nude body suggestively juxtaposed behind a chainlink fence or the iconic photograph of Grace Jones mounting a taxidermy leopard.  Along with the glamour, disco, sex and drugs of the 70s, they were also violent times. Cars vandalized and set ablaze were real-life backdrops to a rising number of murder cases plaguing the city of New York. Von Wangenheim’s work was a titillating fusion of fashion glam with the grit of the Nightly News. The result elevated the commentary of the images and branded them with edge, mesmerizing his clients and fans with an exhilarating shock factor.

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“Chris moved to NYC in the late 60’s and assisted a lot of photographers such as James Moore before venturing out on his own. We’d say that the primary inspiration behind his images was NYC itself. His photography captures the grittiness, violence, danger, and glamour of New York throughout the 70s,” explains Roger.

“It was so sexy, dangerous, and always had a cool narrative,” says Roger, about his and Mauricio’s discovery of von Wangenheim, when they were teens living in Long Island. The narrative element of the images piqued the brothers’ imaginations as they’d leaf through Vogue Magazines.

Despite fashion being the medium, “He cared more about the women and the direction of the images than he did about the fashions of the time,” say the brothers, “Our main goal is to always spotlight artists who were super influential but never got their due. So much of contemporary photography owes a great debt to Chris and when future generations look at work that they feel is new or exciting, we want them to know where it comes from and who did it first.”

What was your intention in creating Gloss : The Work of Chris von Wangenheim ?

We have always loved Chris von Wangenheim’s work but other than seeing his work in vintage magazines, there was no outlet to fully appreciate his body of work. As he died at such a young age
and his archives were unattended to, Chris (or any absence of a celebration of his work after he passed) became an enigma in the fashion world. This mystery, coupled with truly extraordinary photographs and a continuing fascination with anything to do with fashion in the 1970’s were all the elements we thought could make a fascinating book.

Did you decide to use Chris von Wangenheim as a book subject organically or was it a calculated process that happened over time? 

All of our books happen organically through our interests. If we were more calculated, I suppose we’d pick a subject that had a guaranteed massive sell through. It’s a lot harder to market a book on a forgotten artist than it is to market a book on one of those housewives on TV! But if we aren’t fans of the subject matter initially, we just can’t spend a few years of our lives writing a book about it.    

How did you find a starting point to sort through the tons of archives and what was your editing process in selecting the final images to publish in the book?

We always know what we want to include in our books. We are the subjects ultimate fans so we approach selection of images to reflect what we, as fans, would want to see in a monograph on our favorite artist. So many times we see books on artists we admire and disagree with what
the authors might choose to include or the order or classification the images are in.   

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How extensive was his archive?

Not very. as his death was sudden, he didn’t really organize them to leave behind as a body of work the way an aging artist might. Also, the archives were spread apart between many different parties so there was a lot of investigation work done on our part to make sure we saw the best and most important work to include in the book.

What is your goal for the reader to take away from the publication?

Our main goal is to always spotlight artists who were super influential but never got their due. So much of contemporary photography owes a great debt to Chris and when future generations looks at work that they feel is new or exciting, we want them to know where it comes from and who did it first. 

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IRVING PENN: BEYOND BEAUTY

Interview by Dustin Mansyur | Photos by Irving Penn

Bee, New York, 1995 by Irving Penn

A discussion with Sue Canterbury of the Dallas Museum of Art on the iconic American photographers latest traveling retrospective in nearly two decades.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, a retrospective of iconic American photographer, Irving Penn, will be on display at the Dallas Museum of Art for the first installment of the Smithsonian American Art Museum-organized (SAAM) exhibition. While known and beloved by fashion for decades, the exhibition delves into the body of Penn’s work, exploring the full range of his career. Often overlooked early periods of the 1930s street scenes & his study of the American South in the 1940s, these earlier works were crucial in the development of Penn’s approach surrounding his lifelong endeavor to experience and create beauty in all subject matter. The exhibition, now on display at the Dallas Museum of Art through August 14, 2016, debuts 100 photographs recently donated by The Irving Penn Foundation with over 40 more additional images drawn exclusively from the Smithsonian’s holdings.

“While Irving Penn was one of the key photographers of the 20th century, this will be the first retrospective of his work in 20 years…His mastery of lighting and composition, and his technical prowess in the darkroom, reveal him as a true master of modern photography,” said Sue Canterbury, the presenting curator in Dallas for the exhibition and the Pauline Gill Sullivan Associate Curator of American Art at the Dallas Museum of Art.

 

 

Perhaps more notable is that all 100 images donated to SAAM were printed during the artist’s lifetime and approved by Irving Penn personally, 60 of which Penn himself donated personally to the Smithsonian in 1988 and which span his career from 1944 to 1986. The photographs donated by Penn’s foundation, and now on display at The Dallas Museum of Art, include unpublished early works of postwar Europe; a host of color photographs produced for by Penn for his editorial and advertising work—some of his most highly recognizable fashion imagery, celebrity portraits which include Salvador Dali, Leontyne Price & Truman Capote, and a selection of still-lifes.

“Penn’s role as an innovator in the medium of photography is a compelling story, and the DMA is pleased to reveal, and celebrate, his artistic legacy,” Canterbury explains. Here Iris Covet Book spends time with Sue Canterbury to discuss the iconic photographers career & life’s work and the exhibition Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty.

 

Head In Ice, New York, 2002 by Irving Penn

 

A lot of people are familiar with Irving Penn’s work as a fashion photographer and for the work that he did later on in life. What foremost qualities stands out to you about Irving Penn’s work and his creative process?

In some of his early works he had this real attraction towards surrealism. His earliest photographs of shop windows, or storefronts with cut-out signs have a surrealistic quality to them. This sort of approach continues throughout. Sometimes it’s not as obvious as others, but it’s there.

Another thing that stands out is his idea of beauty as an absolute value, and his interest in how people present themselves. All cultures have their way of self-adornment, which is part of what makes them beautiful. It’s how that culture sees and appreciates beauty.

He had, I think, a fascination with that beauty. While on assignment in San Francisco, you see it in the way he photographs the Hell’s Angels and the hippies. It didn’t really matter if you were a model from Manhattan or a woman from New Guinea. It’s just part of a continuum within his work.

 

Truman Capote, New York, 1979 by Irving Penn

 

Issue Miyake Fashion: White and Black, New York, 1990 by Irving Penn

 

Do you think that his approach to beauty, and how he understood it, helped him to become an innovator in the world of photography?

I think one way he was really an innovator was his approach to fashion. In the ’40s, fashion photos shoots had become tableau-like.  A model would wear a particular dress, and a contextual situation would be created around her to basically give her the excuse for her wearing the dress. It was a lot of work to put it all together, but another aspect of it, it really abstracted the eye from the main event, which was the piece of clothing.

In contrast, Penn deviated from that aesthetic and pushed a very stripped down background, which would have been considered minimal for the time. That’s something we also see with his portraiture, for example the Warner portraits, in how he stripped things down. The result is, there’s this wonderful emphasis on silhouette, light, and composition. And for his commercial clients, the designers and editors, this approach emphasized the costume itself. Because of its simplicity and elegance, other photographers began imitating.

 

Salvador Dali, New York, 1947 by Irving Penn

 

Were there any photographs in the exhibition that surprised you or that you were particularly drawn to?

I think in particular, the lead image which is on the cover of the catalog, Head in Ice. This image is unlike everything else that’s in the exhibition and it demonstrates his unusual approach to subject matter. After submerging a mannequin’s head in water and freezing it, Penn proceeded to photograph the head through the fractured block of ice and it’s incredibly surrealistic. He was always thinking outside of the box in his approach to his subject matter which is why he was such an exemplar in the advertising industry. He made images that were memorable.

 

Yeah, it almost appears as if it is a painting, the part where it’s fractured, as if it could almost be like texture from brush strokes on a painting. There’s a very painter-like quality about that image.

Yes, that’s very true. It’s sort of interesting you bringing that up, because when he was starting out, painting was what he wanted to do. So there are particular aspects of that in his work, and in the approach of it.

For a long time, photography wasn’t really respected as a viable art-form the way that painting was. Much of Penn’s work was geared towards commercial publications, but what about his work as an artist?

He had already began working in that vein to some degree in the ’40s. You see it in his early shots from Philadelphia or New York, and also the ones he did in Mexico in 1941, some of which he submitted to a surrealist magazine at that time. So he was already thinking of photography as an art form early on. It isn’t until 1942, when he returns from Mexico that he is hired by Vogue.

That’s when Penn became very oriented towards mass-publication magazines. A lot of photographers leading up to mid-century were picking up the greatest exposure through printed matter. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, when magazines quality began to suffer due to poor paper qualities and printing techniques, Penn turned away from that. It’s in the ’60s when he starts his research and began working with the platinum printing process. Still throughout the entire body of work, both commercial and art, his approach is always an unusual one.

With the accessibility and the popularity that has happened with photography, how do you think that society’s view of photography as art is going to continue to evolve over time?

It definitely becomes more democratized, not just because of digital, but because of smartphones actually. That has been one of the challenges for this exhibition because we realize we are speaking to a generation that may have never seen a piece of film negative.

They don’t understand the concept of shutter speeds or apertures. So we’ve been trying to do some other educational things on the side to inform them about what that process is because it’s difficult for them to realize what Penn accomplished and how he accomplished it.

 

Irving Penn In a Cracked Mirror, New York, 1986 by Irving Penn

 

Especially because the printing techniques and the technology was so different then. Today everything is Inkjet. Unless you’re still working with film creatively, and doing those types of printing processes.

Very true. His processes were so evolved. He had to be a bit of a scientist and alchemist in the dark room, not just an artist. I think another aspect of his work that people don’t realize is how he altered cameras to suit his needs.

An example of this is in the Underfoot series. Penn used a 35 millimeter that he had modified by attaching a tube to the body. At the end of the tube he put a macro-lens. So essentially, he could sit in a chair in the street and have the macro lens hovering as close as possible over the chewing gum. The detail, of course, is really quite amazing. He makes grains of grit and dirt sparkle like crystals. It has this wonderful tone and richness.

Another example of how he altered cameras, was in the ’70s. He purchased a Folmer & Schwing wide format, banquet-view camera, which had a 12 by 20 plate on it. That’s a camera that was manufactured in about 1910. So he reaches way back in technology, pulls it forward to ’79 and does these really great still-lifes. The wide format still-lifes in the show were shot with that banquet-view camera. What it meant was that he did not have to enlarge it. It was a direct contact print. So the resolution was really wonderful. Then he would go on to take that same camera in the ’90s and use it for his experiments with moving the light.

What are you hoping people will garner from the exhibition?

One of the things that I want them to take away, is that Penn’s work encompassed so much more than his body of fashion work. There was the public commercial areas where he had his own clients, but also his personal work that he did on the side, and how innovative he was with his eye – to understand how he saw beauty. Penn felt that he could pull beauty from any object, given the right circumstances, proven by his street trash, for instance.

One assistant recounted many years later how he would go out to find things for Penn to photograph. He would bring back things he thought were interesting. Penn said to him, “I don’t want things that are interesting. I want things that can be made interesting through photography.”

It’s a subtle difference, but it’s a big one. And that’s something that he brings to all of his work. That beauty extends far outside the fashion body of his work to encompass all of it, really. Everything is done with such intention, such precision, such perfection because he was a perfectionist. It’s incredible to see these really wonderful works and to realize what went into them.

ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE

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The groundbreaking photographer Robert Mapplethorpe continued to push the limits of contemporary photography until his untimely death in 1989 at the age of 43. This summer, thanks to a joint exhibit held at two venerable museums in LA until July 31st, even those most familiar with Mapplethorpe’s provocative images may see his work in a new light.

Titled Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Medium, it’s a detailed and thorough retrospective set in the City of Angels: West of the 405, the Getty Center presents the story of Robert Mapplethorpe exclusively through a finely curated selection of black and white prints taken from the 1970s and 1980s, including his controversial “X Portfolio”. To the east, the LACMA presents additional photographs from the artist’s oeuvre, in addition to seldom-seen work including colorful drawings, small to large scale sculptures, and even behind-the-scenes video footage. Collectively, it’s an important exhibit that showcases the breadth of Mapplethorpe’s diverse work made possible when both institutions acquired a significant portion of the artist’s art and archives in 2011. Following its launch in Los Angeles, the exhibit will travel internationally to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Canada later this year, followed by the the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

The LACMA opens its exhibit with a quote from Mapplethorpe in 1988, one year before his death. It says “Perfection means you don’t question anything about the photograph.” The collection of photographs shown in the opening gallery highlight Mapplethorpe’s male-centric figure studies in the 1970s – some depicting friends, others of lovers.

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Unapologetically focused, his early pictures document the gay community found in the New York, San Francisco, London, and Paris leather bars. One gets a more intimate look at Mapplethorpe’s childhood influences and through his education at the Pratt Institute of Brooklyn in the next collection of works in the “Art/Identity” portion of the exhibit. Here, rarely-seen drawings, collages, and sculptures from 1965 to 1975 are exhibited which touch upon Mapplethorpe’s fascination with Catholic iconography. “I was a Catholic boy, I went to church every Sunday. A church has a certain magic and mystery for a child. It still shows in how I arrange things. It’s always little altars.”

The exhibit then focuses on Mapplethorpe’s experimentations with Polaroid photography in the 1970s, covers his important and influential relationship with Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr., and his entrée into the innermost circles of the art world in the “Camera/Career” segment of the exhibit. Here, you’ll find iconic portraits of Patti Smith, Andrew Warhol, and Deborah Harry. Perhaps the most challenging part of the exhibit, “Sex/Success” outlines the span between 1973 and 1980 when Mapplethorpe created his “sex pictures.” This series of images presents Mapplethorpe at his most raw. Mapplethorpe is quoted as saying, “For me, S&M means sex and magic, not sadomasochism. It was all about Trust.”  Wrapping up the exhibit is a study of female bodybuilder Lisa Lyon and an entire wall featuring Mapplethorpe’s beautiful floral still life prints – a poignant way to end an exhibit that sought to embody perfection in every form and technique.

Taking a more exclusive look into Robert Mapplethorpe’s black and white photography, The Getty surveys the artist’s most iconic prints in the second venue of the exhibit. The exhibit introduces Mapplethorpe as “the third of six children in a middle-class, Roman Catholic family. He is best known for his elegant, flawlessly balanced figure studies that explore gender, race, and sexuality… Mapplethorpe’s influence is pervasive, and almost three decades after his death, his work remains necessary to any serious discussion of late twentieth-century art.”

The exhibit opens with a self-portrait taken in 1980 of the artist sporting a pompadour and a black leather jacket. A description on the placard reads: “One of the strongest motivations in Mapplethorpe’s life was his desire for fame. As a visual artist, he understood the importance of creating a dynamic public identity and purposefully adjusted his image to suit his needs.”

Studies of male models including Jamie, David Croland, and Nigel Waymouth follow, as well as candid portraits of Sam Wagstaff, Marianne Faithfull, and Patti Smith. Here, too, does the exhibit celebrate Mapplethorpe’s fascination with the human body. In 1987, the artist is quoted as saying: “If I had been born one hundred or two hundred years ago, I might have been a sculptor.” In the first series of images depicting both the male and female form, comparisons to classical themes are made, particularly to the nineteenth century Italian sculptor Antonio Canova to the French painter Jean-Hippolyte Flandarin. An exhibit highlighting Sam Wagstaff and his prized collection of photographs are also part of the program.

Throughout their relationship, Mapplethorpe emphasized the importance of photography as an art form to Wagstaff. In the end, Wagstaff ultimately acquired nearly 27,000 objects in his collection from artists around the world spanning from the mid nineteenth century to contemporary figures at the time. The exhibit also presents bold and sexually charged imagery from Mapplethorpe’s “X Portfolio” from 1978, in addition to select interior and still life imagery as well as his collaboration with Lisa Lyon that lasted until the mid 1980s. “I’d never seen anybody that looked like that before. Once she took her clothes off, it was like seeing something from another planet.” One of the latter works in the exhibit is a self-portrait of the artist taken in 1988, one year prior to his death. In it, the artist confronts the AIDS epidemic head on. Mapplethorpe, showing signs of the illness, poses with his had gripping a skull-topped cane. It’s a powerful image that represents the strength and fragility of Mapplethorpe and what he stood for as a revolutionary artist.  ‡

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EMERGING: RHYS KOSAKOWSKI

Interview by Dustin Mansyur | Photography by Johnny Vicari | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Grooming by Melisande Page

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Since joining the Houston Ballet, Rhys Kosakowski has used a lifetime opportunity to help attract a fresh young audience to the dance arts. We got a chance to see just why the artist has also become a muse to many.

A quick Google search for “Rhys Kosakowski” brings up a plethora of artistic images of the dancer who has developed a strong following across multiple social media platforms. By collaborating with many emerging photographers around the world, Rhys has successfully infused a fashion-forward and youthful approach into his work. Though Rhys may appear boyish, he has been dancing since the age of six and his talent is evidence of years of training and dedication to his art. With an effervescent demeanor and playful charm, it is easy to see why the artist himself has also become a muse to others.

You’ve been dancing almost your entire life, when did you know you wanted to become a dancer?
As soon as my mother put me in a small tap group back in my hometown called “Tap Puppies” when I was six, I was hooked with the idea of movement and performance.

Any favorite places or experiences that have helped shape your career trajectory?
I think definitely performing at the the Switzerland Prix De Lausanne ballet completion in 2013, which is an international ballet competition for pre-professional dancers to compete against each other for a prize/scholarship to a leading school or company anywhere around the world. It also allows the dancers to work with professional ballet directors for exposure and job offers. It was definitely a big part of my dance career.

You’ve been very savvy and successful in using social media to attract a much younger and diverse audience of people to ballet, How important do you view your various social media platforms in regards to feeling artistically fulfilled ?
In this day and age, social media is so big because it helps express so many qualities about a person if you use it right. I love social media because I can show people my art and other versions of dance. It also opens a lot of doors in the dance/photography/arts world, and I love that.

What if any importance, do you attribute to your collaborations with photographers in building your presence on social media?

It has definitely gained me more followers and views. It’s also great to collaborate with these amazing photographers because you meet so many talented people in the process. And meeting more people means more opportunities. I definitely love collaborations and will hopefully continue doing so.

What is the importance of social media in shaping people’s perspective or ideas about ballet today ?
I think it shatters a lot of people’s stereotypes, now I’m no macho man but a lot of other successful male ballet dancers that have Instagram and Facebook are. I think it’s also good to just show a perspective of being yourself and not to let anyone drag you down. I think that’s what I’m kind of trying to express through my social media.

I know that you truly view dancing as your art, and that it brings you great fulfillment and satisfaction, I’m curious to know, How would you describe your artistic approach to ballet?
I always try and put my own twist and individuality on the art I create whether it’s a photo or a new piece of work we are doing at the ballet. It’s interesting if you’re different from everyone else.

Due to the extremely physical nature of ballet, it’s absolutely necessary for you to maintain fitness in order to create your art,how many hours a day do you train typically?

We train and rehearse Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 7pm. And when we have performances we also work Sundays.

Do you have any daily practices that help keep you centered or grounded?
Probably just having some me time, like grabbing a coffee or relaxing in my sun room.

Do you ever find yourself infusing other influences outside of ballet into your work?
Not necessarily but I do find influences from other dancers everyday at work. That’s what’s great about working in a ballet company, you are surrounded by people with the same drive and dream as you.

What inspires you artistically?
I’m not sure really, I think just the fact that I love dancing and that you can always learn more and more. You never are a perfect dancer because there is always room for improvement.

Who is your biggest inspiration in life and why?
The only person I can think of right now is Roberto Bolle. He is doing, and has done all the things I would love to do. And the way he has done it, is everything I would want.

You moved to Houston about 4 years ago [when you joined the company], how did you come to be a part of the Houston Ballet?
It was about a year after I finished a 3 year tour with ‘Billy Elliot the Musical’ in Australia, and my grandma told me there were Houston Ballet auditions. I never thought I would be hired, but I went to try out and ended up getting a scholarship.

Is there anything from back home you can’t live without?
Yes! The beaches from back home in Australia. I wish my mom could bottle that up and send it over but she can’t!

As an artist who has collaborated with many photographers, what does it feel like to slowly amass a large and beautiful collection of images that document your art?
It feels incredible to me, it’s always stuck with me that pictures are a thousand words, and are a memory forever. I will easily forget later on in life a lot of the amazing things that have happened traveling and collaborating with these talented photographers. It’s exciting to know that I have a whole bunch of photographs tucked away or on the internet that aren’t just an image but a lot more.

Any dream collaborations (photographic or otherwise) that you would love to do?
I think my dream would be, to be on the cover of Vogue magazine, and a spread showcasing and telling people of my ballet qualities. That would be life-changing!

Any advice for young people who are interested in a career in the arts?
Just be yourself and be an individual if that’s what you want. Don’t let people tell you it’s wrong to be different. And always keep pushing because there are always rewards for your efforts in the dance world. ‡

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