You Want to Go into Photography
So how did you get into photography?
Well first I got into skateboarding because that’s what you do when you're bored and in the suburbs. I was teaching myself how to skateboard off of YouTube videos and then I met a good group of friends who I started skating with. We all got really into skate montages and skate videos - Spike Jones and things like that - and I started to realize that you could make really good skate videos for pretty cheap. So I fell into that, and then one thing led to another, and now I'm here.
What was one of your first work experiences?
I interned at Art Partner for six months back in 2016, at the exact same time that things were really taking off in my work, so I was going to school, interning, and shooting.
How did you balance that?
I think I feed off of it. I start to go into insanity mode where I don't sleep and just think about ideas all of the time. When I was going to school, working, and trying to do photography, I was maybe more successful at managing my time and being efficient because you have to constantly be in overdrive. Everything has to be so hyper-scheduled out, minute to minute, and you do get a lot more done that way. I also looked at interning at Art Partner as studying, I would go through all of the magazines, and their archives are incredible. From that experience, I started to look at my own photos as an actual body of work, and what fit and what didn’t. You have to take every opportunity very seriously. For me nothing comes lighthearted, nothing comes easy. If you treat things a certain way, you'll get that input.
Now that you’re doing photography full-time, how do you stay focused?
Photography being a full-time job is a hard thing to wrap your head around; there are so many aspects to it. There's the researching that goes on before, but then a shoot could just fall out of the sky right now. Ideas come and go, so you just have to be ready for when that comes and you have to be diligent, focused and work maybe even harder when you have all of this free time. Now that I live by myself in my own studio, I treat that as an important place for my work. Honestly, I haven't had much time to think, because straight out of school I was working. The whole summer after graduation I was waiting for August to come around so I could finally take a vacation, but that never came, I just kept working.
From looking at your Instagram, it feels as if you’ve suddenly popped up and started working with the biggest people, was it truly an overnight success?
It may seem that way, but I've been working on it for years, well, that’s at least how it feels from inside the of the belly of the whale. But the way you find out about people, the way information is passed along and perceived these days is the whole trickery of social media. You think that people have done this overnight, but they haven't. Nobody has done that. That's not real. I think what's got kids really twisted these days is that they think they need this overnight success. Yes, things did turn around pretty quickly for me and I'm really lucky, but at the same time, there were so many times where I was hanging around at shows and doing anything and everything that I could. I would be lying if I said everything just kind of fell into my lap.
What’s been the biggest aid to your success?
I was an early adopter of Instagram; I always knew that it was going to be ubiquitous. Three years ago we weren't all on Instagram using it the way that we're using it now, and about four years ago I knew that it was going to be the way everyone would communicate. I still love it, even though it's become more sickening at the same time. It's more polluted and clouded, but I find the good stuff always rises to the top.
The internet also taught me a lot about how I wanted to position myself online, which changed my career in a lot of ways, because then the internet became the main avenue for how someone’s photography gets noticed and propelled to success. It also taught me portrait tricks for sure.
Did you have any other work experiences or how did you first start to meet the people that supported your work?
I interned at this very small, no longer existent film production company, and maybe one other, but my main job was putting my work out there. I was directing a lot of music videos, making any kind of visuals that I could with people that I was meeting on the internet. I was just reaching out to people, and that's how I met Abra, Kevin Abstract, and so many of the people that I work with today.
How do you protect your work? When did you first learn about licensing for photography?
Everything I learned about that side of it came just by doing, by asking and being curious, figuring it out. Nothing about NYU itself was fun, but being in New York City was the biggest learning experience in the world. I very quickly whipped into shape and had to adapt and understand things on a much sharper and quicker level. As soon as I learned what licensing was, I taught myself how to write contracts, as I wanted my images to be treated with the same respect as the photographers that I admired. From there, the way I started looking at photography changed significantly.
How was shooting the cover of Teen Vogue, featuring Emma Gonzalez, Sarah Chadwick, Nza-Ari Khepra, and Jaclyn Corin? What did that mean to you?
It was a very grave and important shoot to do. I had to do it and put all my heart and soul into it. There were times where I felt like crying on set but you just have to keep pushing forward
Do you have a go-to sentence to define your work?
I don't have an elevator pitch when it comes to my work because it's always evolving. It's looking at people of color, black people, and black lives, and it has to do with portraying honesty and truth in that. I always wanted to see people for who they are with sensitivity and optimism. My only description would be that it is about the black experience and humanizing black people. For me, it’s all about people, which is why I always wonder how I fell into the fashion space. My favorite photographers are more documentary, like Clayton Patterson or William Eggleston, pictures that just make you smile.
You mainly work with film, what do you think about the anti-digital movement that’s coming from our generation?
I think we shouldn't shame digital cameras as much as we do. I love digital cameras, some of the first videos that really mattered to me were made digitally, or on tape. I think using film was almost like me maturing my taste palate, I started to understand what texture was, and what a real photographic process gave you, but I think at the end of the day, it's about choices. It's not about A or B, film or digital, what's better, and I hate, “You're not a real photographer unless you shoot film.” I think that as a generation, because we grew up with so many tools, it's like swimming in just too big of an ocean. So, maybe that's why people are going back towards film. When you have too many options, when everything can be manipulated and lied about, in a way you just want to get back to some truth.
I think if I were mentoring someone or somebody wanted to learn photography and they said, "Which one should I take?" I'd probably give them a film camera first, sure. But I just think we're seeing this generational hate on digital cameras right now, and I don't necessarily want that to happen. I love film cameras. I shoot on film cameras, because they work for what I do, but digital cameras work for some things other people do. Not to be corny, but these are paint brushes, so just pick one. They work for different things.
How has the influx of digital media influenced your work? I know you spent time in Havana, Cuba, where you were completely removed from technology.
Havana was exactly what I needed at that moment, it was a saving grace. It was time spent away from the craziness, but at the same time, there was a lot of chaos going on in my mind about what I was going to be doing when I came back. It was 2015, right in the middle of college, the summer between my sophomore and junior year. So going there, I had the opportunity to have some space and time and think in a less scene-related way, in a less industry-related way. It was the first time I was forced to be introspective, I was asking, “What do I think is cool?”, “Who am I really?”, “And what about Havana do I really like?” The colors and the whole palette was the language that I wanted to be speaking. I started to realize, black people, are the same worldwide. We love being outdoors, we're vibrant, and those are the things that I started to understand and build into my language. You go out in Cuba; everybody's in the street, everything is both really beautiful and crumbling. The way things are expressed there, naturally, just started to work for me.
And you were also there during a really interesting political time as well.
Yes, I went when the travel ban was on. I had to get an artist visa, and there weren't really any Americans there. It was a really special time. In the last week we were there, Obama announced that there was going to be a US embassy in Cuba. That might've been the first time I went somewhere where I thought, I'm never going to see this place like this again. It made me realize that the work I wanted to make needed to be a bit slower, a bit more humble, and less machine like.
The moment I got back from Cuba, my best friend, Santangelo, transferred to Parsons and we started hanging out a lot. Then because he had to start over at Parsons, I started exposing myself to younger people as all of his classmates were two years younger than me. In this pretext, it sounds like we're two years apart, but I started to notice that these people interact so differently, every two-year gap is like a whole new generation. These 18-year-old Parsons kids have such an encyclopedic knowledge of anything, from memes to a whole different language. Even the way that they interact, I didn't actually think people talked like this, I'm was like, “What is going on? Help me adopt a bit of a younger spirit!” Now I understand how things are changing at a very rapid rate. That was when I started to pick that up and at the same time that’s when I was designing and putting together the book.
Now, what's always on my mind are ways that the industry can do a better job of representing diversity and having more diverse castings. We are getting better, but I want more of it, as I'm sure a lot of other people do as well. For the industry, why do you think that this is such a slow process?
What we’re seeing now is a divide between a lot of the older folks, who are trying to hold on to how this industry used to be, and the new, younger people who are coming in and changing it. I think if you worked in this industry years ago, it was easy to form a habit of viewing women and people in a certain way, it became ingrained in your brain that this is what a fashion picture should be. Our generation in challenging that.
On paper, we are seeing things get better; we're seeing companies like Marc Jacobs giving people like me opportunities, we're seeing Burberry give Ibrahim Kamara opportunities, Kerry James Marshall got a solo exhibition at The Met, and Campbell Addy collaborating with Getty. I’ve only just named black artists there too; I haven't even talked about all the beautiful Indian artists, Asian artists, female artists, etc. On a literal ‘what's happening’ level, things are getting worse, but they're getting better too. I'm an optimist.
Also, with the influx of digital media, we now get to see the art that’s not from Europe or America; we can see someone's work from halfway around the world, in a small remote town. I think that can also help with diversity.
Yes, I love these little things that go viral now, like a Japanese artist who is just making sculptures in his room but it means the world to everybody. People need to be seeing that.
In your opinion, what are the elements of good fashion photography?
When I think about my experience at Art Partner, specifically learning what I liked about fashion, I understood that it was very instinctive, almost a primal understanding of what I liked and didn't like about a magazine. It's about taste. It's about preference. There's this shift going on in the kind of imagery that’s being made now and Art Partner was the one to teach me that.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to pitch something?
Yeah, definitely. I actually have this little guide for how to pitch that I’ll send out to people if what they’re pitching isn't quite right because I want to hear from them again.
The art world and the fashion industry are both becoming increasingly democratized, so I was wondering why you think both are heading in that direction at the same time?
It's definitely the internet because you have a platform to show yourself, but I don't think that you can judge the quality of your work through social media. There are posts that I know will do well on social media because they're easy, attention-grabbing, a great image or something. But it doesn't mean that they're always the best quality of work. It’s the things that are super deep and important in theory that don’t get the hits because they're too complex in theory – or maybe make people uncomfortable – for social media.
Also, it does give a new level of accessibility, you can get in touch with people, and people can see your work no matter where you live. It brings a new space that is outside of the gallery walls or agent’s books or whatever.
But art doesn't... I feel badly for art because it doesn't always come across well on the internet. You need to physically be in the space, feeling the art in front of you, feeling the scale of it. On the other hand, though, photography is great for the internet, and I think that has opened up a new world. But, I also think that it’s tricky. I have seen people straight up copying other shoots, straight up copying masters from years ago and they palm it off because people don't have that knowledge of what’s come before, so they get all of the credit. The internet has democratized art and photography which is great, but since there are no real rules people need to think about what they’re putting out there and looking at. So not just taking something at face value. In other words, it has both good and bad sides like anything else.
Also, Instagram has enabled everyone to think of themselves as a photographer. Someone might get 1,000 likes on a photo, and that makes them think that they’re a photographer even though they’ve only been taking photos for 2 weeks. All of a sudden they’ll say, “I want my photos to be in a magazine or on a website." Then when someone gives them feedback that might not be to their liking, they take it very personally. The thing is that you need to give yourself time to develop. Just because we get everything so fast, we get what we want when we want, people don't allow themselves the years that it takes to develop into an artist and to work under someone who's already been established. There’s a reason why a lot of people in the past haven’t gotten their big moment until they’re 30, 40, 50. Obviously go out there and knock on people's doors and send them emails but take a moment to consider your work and where you want to be and understand that time can be a good thing.
I agree, I also think that makes it challenging for someone who is coming up in this industry. All you ever see are these 19, 20, 21-year-olds making their big breaks which makes it hard to realize that maybe it's not so bad to take a slow route and to really learn and study your craft and to develop your own point of view. I feel like putting value in longevity is a bit overlooked these days.
Exactly, because you need to be prepared for that big break. People need to realize that being on a website isn't the be all and end all of your career. It's one moment that might do something or do nothing. Your career goal can't be to get on Dazed or to get on i-D for the sake of being on it. What is important though, is you creating what is authentic to you. People get really caught up with being featured, when maybe your work is amazing, but it doesn't fit with that one aesthetic that that magazine caters to. That’s just one magazine, or one place to put your work. It’s not the end of the world.
Yeah, and just because you think Dazed is cool, don't switch up your work because then you're going to end up tripping yourself.
You're going to trip yourself, and you're going to feel shit about it, and people need to understand that this social validation is nothing after you get that post because 3 days later everyone’s onto something else. So that can't be your main thing.
I heard you say in one of your interviews that you become interested in a photographer that has a strong point of view and that has a certain take on the world. So I was wondering when you're looking at a new photographer's portfolio, how does that come across?
It's about someone being so dedicated to something that you can see it instantly. It's such a specific interest and this need to understand and to explore something through images. It's so important for me to meet photographers because it's so easy to have an impression of someone through their work but what I’ve realized is that you can't assume any of that stuff. You have to meet them to understand what their intentions are. Otherwise, you can never commission well because you're making up the story for them.
And they're never going to be able to give you the work that you want because you have to hire the photographer that has what you want already so that you can take it to this new level.
So Dazed Media continually uses their voice to inspire conversations that surround current affairs and to give a voice to people who are facing adversity. I was wondering from your perspective if there are specific components that a fashion editorial needs in order to successfully and tactfully portray a strong opinion on sensitive matter?
It's a genuine interest in people, and that's what Dazed particularly as a magazine does so impressively, like blows you over every time.
They engage a community of people around them, and it's authentic. I think that actually sums up Dazed completely. It's the authenticity with how they do things. It's the real life conversations.
When you’re looking at the shows and more specifically how the set and location were used to further the collection, how does that affect the way that AnOther reacts editorially?
It has the biggest impression on the magazine. We basically can't even think about the magazine until the editors have come back from the shows. There might be carryovers, ideas of photographers that they want, that everyone wants to talk about, and also in terms of themes, that all comes out of the shows as well.
I also find it really interesting because I don't go to the shows. So after they come back and they’ve digested everything, I'm so interested in the stories and ideas that they've seen and seen repeated. Those threads are stitched throughout the whole issue, but it does come from a fashion perspective.
One thing that stuck out to me is that you’ve continually participated in things that are educational and accessible for people who want to make their way in the fashion industry. So I wanted to know why you feel that’s important?
When I was at Saint Martin's, the industry felt so impenetrable, and it's not. It's like a bunch of really normal people up there who have this as their job, and this is their passion. They have a group of friends just like anyone else and boyfriends just like anyone else and problems just like anyone else. I feel really passionate about breaking that wall down, and I keep saying all we do is work really hard and want it to be great. It's as simple as that. I want to tell people who are interested or intrigued or passionate about going into this industry, that you have to work really hard and you have to know your shit. Then you'll get there.
And it's a really exciting industry to be a part of. I was speaking to a photographer this morning who just started working in fashion in the last couple of years. He said “It's so weird. One thing is so relevant, and then it's on to the next thing. That’s so exciting being able to generate those ideas so quickly and being able to satisfy all these little things that you're interested in." And he’s right; it's all relevant to fashion. You can bring all these different interests together for fashion.
Tell me a little bit about how you got to where you are today.
Well I got my first camera at 14; at first I was shooting around here in Split, Croatia, where I grew up. When I started shooting, I immediately knew that it was something that I wanted to get into deeply. I entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. I studied photography there where I lived for five years, that's how I learned about magazines and books and fashion, things like that.
So in your opinion, were your experiences in school paramount in your development as a photographer?
Not really actually. Maybe school just helped me with some technical stuff, but really the best thing about it was the access to connecting with fashion students, because it's really a fashion academy. The Royal Academy of Fine Arts is famous for its fashion department. Meeting and talking to those students was so valuable because it opened up my point of view on everything.
What’s your most important learning experience?
With every shoot, you learn something, especially at the beginning because it’s so new. Also in exchanging ideas and experiences with other photographer friends, and things like that, you learn. I didn't really have one big thing that happened to me it was more of just a constant evolution.
Why did you choose 2DM to represent you?
2DM was actually the very first agency to represent me. We have a good connection, so I just stayed with them.
What does it mean to be represented by an agency and how do they help you develop your career?
Well, you can always talk with them, and they’ll give you advice while looking at it from a business perspective, which can be really helpful. In the sense of what is a good job for you or not. Sometimes something may seem like a bad job, but it can bring in some options, you know?
The agent is the one who should take care of you, they're looking at what’s going on, and they have a good idea of your development and what direction you’re heading in. Basically, they tell you what you should do and what you shouldn’t. There’s always someone to take care of the money and the contract aspect of the shoots. Talking about money can always be tricky, so agents are a big help in that department.
What advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?
Well, if they have a passion for photography I would tell them to just create work and to do their thing. They have to find a way to do it, maybe it's not always a straight line to success, but if they really want it, they will find the best solution for creating work that satisfies them.
What’s important to you when working with a stylist?
At first, when I check out their work I need to like the way they style. I need to see something that interests me. Then I look at our relationship, we don't have to be best friends, but there has to be positive vibes and the same level of thinking about the shoot.
And for a casting?
I really need to like them. When I say that I don't mean that I have to be attached to their personality before, but I do need to see something in it that's really interesting and intriguing. I often do casting online which I hate because you can’t really get their personality from that.
I think models can bring a lot to the shoot with their personality. The way they act is something that's inspiring to me while I work because I always leave my shootings a little bit open. I don't come with a 100% finished idea of what I want to have. I have a main base, a main idea and then when I come to set, and I meet the models, I try to understand how they are, how they move, and how they talk. I like to have as much reality in my pictures as possible, and so I try to bring out the personality of the models in every shoot.
Being a female photographer do you think that makes you have a different perception of the guys that you shoot versus a male photographer?
I’m not sure. I have a special kind of view with the guys. Let's say this; I shoot more guys because I observe them more and I'm more intrigued by them. I also like to shoot girls, but I have to say that guy models are more inspiring to me.
How does the fashion world influence your photography?
When I started doing photography, I didn't think about fashion. It wasn’t really my first goal. I got involved with fashion after I started to do work for Dazed, they wanted some of my personal work to mix with fashion, so that’s how I got involved with it. Even when I’m shooting fashion I still don’t really think about it; it’s just part of the finished product.
Also, I like to be a bit distanced from the “big city” because I believe that every environment influences your work and your style. The things that you feel and what you see everyday are reflected in your work, subconsciously or otherwise. I like being away from fashion sometimes as it doesn't really exist in Croatia, at least the fashion here is nothing like the fashion from London or Paris. It’s so different here. I like the combination of going between a small town and a big city, and I love to live in Croatia because that’s where I’m from, my family is here, and we have great weather. The quality of life is great, it’s a nice contrast from the city, but I like going back and forth between both environments.
What do you feel makes your work stand out from your peers?
I don't really think about that, but people tell me that I have a certain kind of style. I don't know what to say about that though because I just see it as my work. It's hard for me to observe my work from an outside perspective because I’m obviously so close to it.
Do you have a definition of success?
I think my definition of success it to be satisfied with my work. I mean, everybody has some idea about what they want, and the point of art is just to be happy, to be working, and to have nice projects, that's about it for me.
Do you see your work in nature helping your fashion work, and vice-versa?
I'm always shooting stuff that inspires me. I don't think about the “next level” or anything. I shoot things that intrigue me. I like the combination of nature and fashion in my work because it can create something really lovely. I don’t really combine the two or use one to help the other with a lot of initial intention; for me, the process is just about going as I feel, I don't plan anything out much.
Are there any challenges for shooting on film rather than with a digital camera?
Not really, it’s just a different way of working. First of all, nobody on set can see what I'm shooting, so there isn’t any sort of live selection. I definitely have to be more focused on every image that I shoot because I only have a certain number of frames. With digital, you can shoot as much as you want, and then you can look at the images right away and change your mind, but that can actually make it really hard on set. With film, you don't know what you get, though, so there is always this thought of, "I hope there are pictures on it when I come home." Like, imagine there is nothing. You come home from the shoot then, nothing. Luckily that hasn’t happened yet.
Why do you think film is becoming more and more popular among younger photographers?
I think that they’re experimenting. Film can never be replaced by digital photography, and they probably like the feeling of the film. Film is much better for documentary photography and creating emotion. When I’m shooting, I don’t use digital unless a client really wants me to because they need to have the images right. 90% of my work is film, even editorials. Some commercial jobs too actually.
With the rise of social media and sites like Instagram, so many people call themselves “photographers,” do you feel the need to put forth extra effort to keep up the status of professional and fine art photography?
Yes, there are many people shooting in similar ways and copying each other, it’s happening a lot more than before. People can do whatever they like now. If they want to photograph in that way, okay, but I think if you are a true professional you progress in the business. What is good is going to stay and what isn’t disappears after sometime; you can’t just copy forever.