Epic, dreamlike, sexy: these are some of the words that come to mind when looking at the work of David Drebin, a New York based, world-renowned photographer and multidisciplinary artist. With the staging of his first solo exhibition in Istanbul, the full range of his imagination is on display.
By Yao Hsiao
David Drebin hadn’t intended on becoming a photographer. Born in Canada in 1970, he moved to New York to pursue acting but it didn’t work out. “I was a terrible actor,” said Drebin, “because I couldn’t follow anyone else’s script and prefered to create my own.” Instead, he stumbled into photography and became an imaginative storyteller evoking emotions through visuals. “Photography is where I could write my own script in pictures,” he said.
After graduating from Parsons School of Design in 1996, he began working as a commercial photographer, and soon made a name for himself through his glamorous, voyeuristic scenes and dazzling panoramas.
He has worked with major celebrities, global brands such as Adidas and Mercedes, and top publications such as Vanity Fair, the New York Times Magazine, and National Geographic. He branched into visual formats beyond photography, and has had pieces exhibited across the globe. His panoramic photograph The Bosphorus is displayed at İstanbul Modern and several other of his pieces are displayed at Borusan Contemporary.
Drebin’s first ever solo show in Istanbul, Cinematic Beauty, opened on October 25 at Sevil Dolmacı Art Gallery. The exhibition displays some of Drebin’s most iconic works: mysterious, cinematic photographs of ‘femme fatales’ as well as ‘dreamscapes’ featuring sweeping, breathtaking shots of cities.
Making dreams a reality
For Drebin, photography is about capturing and creating moments: “I love to capture moments that I create, and create moments that I capture,” he says.
Drebin’s work is always alluring and people tend to associate it with their own emotions. “We all have dreams and desires that are often experienced in minds more than in reality,” Drebin explained. “I like to make my dreams a reality.” He wants to photograph what can be imagined in a fantasy world as a break from reality. “That is what art can do.”
Drebin’s signature filmic style is instantly recognizable, whether in his photographs or other formats—such as photo sculptures, lightboxes, neon-light installations, and etchings on glass. “I like to create epic, cinematic moments that leave the viewer with some sort of feeling about not only the moment that was captured,” Drebin emphasized, “but the moments before and after that moment!”
This is what makes him a brilliant visual storyteller: challenging the viewer to imagine what’s beyond the piece. “What makes a great story are the parts one doesn’t reveal and the viewer can imagine,” he said.
‘See’ than be ‘seen’
While speaking about his working process, Drebin pointed out the difference between photographing people and landscapes. “Landscapes always seem to cooperate,” he said, but to deal with people you have to convince them of the vision: “Building trust is everything.” That’s why he often works with the same subjects and models.
Throughout his career, he has faced difficulties. “Every day is a challenge to balance the art, and the business of art,” said Drebin. “The key to success, I’m finding more and more every day, is to surround yourself with the right people—and this is a lifelong process.”
Drebin is as passionate about life as he is about photography. “I love interesting, interested people and studying human nature, and traveling the world and experiencing different cultures and different ways of thinking: different cuisine, different mindsets, and different ways of living,” he said fervently.
The fact that we are only alive for a short time adds urgency to his daily practice of observation, and he believes that the more silent we are, the more creative we can be. “I prefer when I go out to ‘see’ [rather] than be ‘seen’,” said Drebin. “That‘s how I developed my photographic vision, which extends to all aspects of my life.”
Cinematic Beauty is at Sevil Dolmacı Art Gallery until November 22. Open Tue–Sun, 10am–7pm; Mim Kemal Öke Caddesi No.35, Nişantaşı; T: (0212) 258 95 85