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06/25/14 Photographer Regine David

Creative dormancy can be both a risk and a challenge for an artist in New York. Moving to the city with a degree from the renowned Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) and an artist agency internship under her belt, photographer Regine David decided she wouldn’t surrender to the dictates of sink or shoot. Instead, David took a year to keep still.

In that stretch, the subjects in front of her lens were friends and the photos she took were personal rather than professional. It was a change of pace from her snap-happy days in Hong Kong, churning out shots that would be featured in Vogue Italia’s PhotoVogue section, or the whirlwind of experimentation she undertook at SCAD.

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Taking a year off proved necessary. In the interim, David ditched the wearisome Upper East Side to live and work downtown with maverick photographers Eva Mueller and Iris Brosch. Inspired by her roommates and given creative freedom in a recent project for Benchmark, an envelope-pushing magazine by Filipino retailer Bench, the once-burned-out 24-year-old has rekindled her passions.

In the thick of test shoots, David takes a break to chat with NOUS about hustling in New York, not becoming Annie Leibovitz’s 11th assistant, and what’s been firing her lens up lately.

You’ve been churning out test shoot after test shoot. You just did one yesterday, right?

He’s this really interesting model that I got to work with. He just did stuff for Fader and Vice. When I was contacting people for a shoot for Benchmark, I got in touch with this one agency called Adam Models and they said, ‘We like your work’ and they wanted to do some tests. Obviously I wanted male models so they gave me this big list and I said, ‘Let’s shoot with these two guys.’ One had a really soft look, the other one had a really strong look. It was pretty fun and we might submit some of our stuff to Fucking Young! Magazine, so that should be interesting.

When it comes to test shoots, do you have a ready pool of concepts you can just pluck from? 

I have a general inspiration board. I have stuff that’s based on flowers or nature. I have stuff there that’s super kitsch. I have stuff that’s really simple and dark. I’d have a general idea but I wouldn’t tell the agency. I adjust it to how the model is and what the general mood is. I try to give them what they don’t have already.

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Is there an overarching theme to what you shoot?

It’s two contrasting things. Sometimes I like really soft images but there are times that I want something that’s really silly, like they’re making stupid faces or the anti-portrait or anti-beauty, which in a way makes them beautiful. I’m still experimenting but I work with people who can transcend a trend or the look of the moment. When you work with people here and they’re willing to get outside of the whole modeling mode, I feel like that’s where the magic shot is.

It’s been quite the journey to New York. The past five years, you lived in Hong Kong and Georgia before finding yourself in the Big Apple.

I started out in Hong Kong for a year and a half. I loved living there—it was great, chaotic, always something to do and shoot. Moving to Savannah was kind of unsettling. It was the South. It got better, though. Savannah’s a weird place. One part is beautiful and the outlying areas are completely ghetto. In one street, you’re going to run into people wearing dresses and the next, you’ll literally get mugged. I only grew to love it when I was about to leave.

I got an internship for my last quarter in SCAD. It was at Bernstein & Andriulli, the artist agency. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my career at the time. I didn’t know if I wanted to pursue something more fashion-based or something more documentary-based, or fine art. So I figured the best way to learn was to work for an agency that represented all the different types of photography, and understand the business side of it. I was there a few months, and then I graduated, and then I got exhausted. I took a break from shooting, I just spent time in the most expensive city in the world staying away from anything art-related. It was kind of stupid because you’re wasting time while everyone around you is hustling.

It was necessary, though.

You need that break. You need to know what you want before you go for it. You can’t go for it half-heartedly. So around January, I was able to get a job working for this one photographer who shoots for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, she’s done stuff for Valentino. Working with her and her friends helped me build my confidence. It’s more one on one versus working for…I mean, if I work for Annie Leibovitz, I’ll be the 11th assistant and I wouldn’t understand how she works. But working for some of these photographers, they let me be more hands-on. Seeing how they work made me feel like I could do this.

And when Raymond [Ang, editor of Benchmark] came over and hired me to do stuff, that’s when I realized, ‘Okay, I can do this.’ Everything’s gonna come out in October [for Benchmark] and I couldn’t wait that long. So I just started shooting. And the past two weeks, I’ve been shooting every day or every other day. I was like, ‘I need shit out. Everything’s so old.’

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Tell me about the two photographers you work with.

Iris Brosch and Eva Mueller. They have two extremely distinct styles and it’s really funny because Iris does very soft romantic work that’s full of flowers and drama. It’s very feminine. Eva’s work is very harsh and strong and precise, and she works with a lot of masculine imagery. She shoots a lot of projection work. And her fine art work is a lot of LGBT, transgender people, a lot of male nudes. The two contrasting styles, I really picked up a lot from. I realize I’ve been shooting the softer side of men. I like working with the masculine form and I’m not so afraid of the sexual aspect of it. I’m not so afraid of asking them undress for me. I think it definitely made me more comfortable. Right now, I just want to focus on shooting men and the male form.

And I suppose it’s good to be the go-to girl for that kind of photography.

It’s good to obsess over something. Did you watch that documentary with Ryan McGinley and his commencement speech at Parsons? He says something like, ‘It’s really important to find something you obsess over and do it, and just keep on doing it.’ It’s kind of like that. For a while, I felt like I didn’t know what to do and never attempted to do it because I was so afraid of failing. I think now that I’m in a city that gives you so much access, or in a time and place where they’re like, ‘Just do what you want,’ I decided, you know what, right now I’m gonna photograph men. It’s been pretty fun.

Is there something about your living situation now that spurs creativity?

I lived in the Upper East Side for a time. It was quiet, it was clean, but you kind of get creatively bankrupt because there’s nothing there for you. When you move downtown, where everyone’s always moving around, there’s so much artwork everywhere, it kind of makes you want to create more. The people in my house have such interesting lives. They’re a lot older than I am. One of my roommates was Nan Goldin’s assistant and she photographed his wedding. All of the artwork in the house was made by my roommate. On the wall, we have paintings by people during Andy Warhol’s time. I think it really helps just to see that every single day versus a plain blank canvas. I have this other roommate, she used to work in the music industry and made boy bands in Germany. What I picked up from them is that you can be any age and do whatever you want. When that freedom is around you, you don’t need to separate work and play.

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