David Drebin is one of the most interesting photographers in the world right now, his images having this uncanny ability to reach out and smile at the viewer in the face. Each picture encases a dream-like scenario of scenes from imaginary worlds set in real life. Next week, his solo exhibition opens at Only Art Club in Hamburg, aptly titled Smoke and Mirrors.
David Drebin is an absolute rockstar—not in the kitschy, bullshit hype kind of way; in the life-changing imagery of magical worlds kind of way. I was curious about his work for awhile, so it was great to talk to him about it, his website and what’s behind the glory.
I love your photography, I think it’s amazing! You know, I think I feel sometimes when photography gets too ‘perfect’, people seem to sort of forget about the photographer. When I see your images, it makes me really wonder about who you are…
Well, have you seen my website as well? (www.daviddrebin.com)
Yes, I did.
What did you think of my website?
I think its pretty good—I think its more informative than other people’s..
Just ‘pretty good’?
I mean, the images are awesome. If you have good images, you are already a lot further, but I think it’s pretty good as far as accessing information about you, too. I mean there a lot of people with less information out there, so I think it’s good.
What do you mean?
I mean there’s a lot of other celebrity photographers who have very basic websites, which focus mainly on the photos—which is great—but it doesn’t go any further and you can’t find any information on them. I like how you can get through the information quite easily. It’s good how it’s broken down and you do get some sort of sense about the contemplation of the image. I guess I’m just more fixated on the myth-making behind the images. When an image gets famous, sometimes you stop thinking about who took it (Sorry, I’m not trying to play down your notoriety or whatever.)
No, give it to me straight. I like direct.. I’m always interested in people’s feeling about my work, because it’s different for everyone. As I’m meeting you for the first time, I want to hear what you think…
Well, I like your images, especially the ones where a lot of things are going on at once.
Yeah, me, too.
And what I think is amazing about them is that when you look at the finished product and it’s so perfect, you don’t think about it, but when you look at its technical aspects, can’t help but wonder how you got everyone to do the same thing at once.
I know, I know. Sometimes it’s planned, sometimes it’s not. Afterall, photography is like magic.
But how do you do it?
How do I do it? Well, give me an example of an image.
There’s the one image of the girl flashing the cars on the highway from the overpass.
‘Flasher” – that’s one of my earlier images and a sold out edition worldwide.
I know a collector who has that photo hanging in his bedroom.
Yes, I was invited to house one time and he was showing me his personal art collection. He had Flasher in a really special place and I loved how happy he was to own it. I guess that’s what I’m sort of talking about, about with this celebrity photography or…
I don’t do a lot of celebrity photography anymore., When I make a photograph, my goal is to make the people in it look like a celebrity.. It’s really about making the images look a certain way, instead of promoting the images. I’ve done a lot of images, which are very well known for people who especially like photography. I have an idea and I just make it happen, that’s how I get people to do it—I just get people to trust me and then I show them, then I collaborate, and then I show them again, and I just make it happen. I do a lot of thinking on the spot. I’m very spontaneous. I don’t draw my ideas out. They just come into my mind and we make it happen.
Where do you think it comes from, though, this perfect shot and the ability do execute it simultaneously. Does it come from you having a camera in your hand?
It has zero to do with the camera in any way. The camera is like a gun, you know? Guns don’t shoot people; people shoot guns that shoot people. It comes from imagination—it has little to do with the camera. You know when people ask me about my camera, I just wink at them and say, ‘Click! There you go, that’s my camera.’ And your imagination is your camera, too.
I don’t really describe my images, either. I like to have minimal explanation of my images, because I want the people who look at the images to come up with their own interpretations.I make images of things I love, feel, imagine or dream about…then people see it… and it becomes their image (it’s not my image anymore—it’s what they want it to be).
You know, that LA overpass photo is such an interesting image that I don’t even think about who took it.
Exactly. I love it when the works make people “feel” something that they think about the image when they’re not even looking at the image. That’s what I like.
But doesn’t that sound a bit like a ‘Schtick’? To ‘not care’ if people know you did it?
I don’t really care about that. I’m not ego-driven. It’s not my priority ever. If the image is in their hearts or minds, I’m good
I get what you’re saying and this is a theme I have with my own stuff I do, and I see this a lot in how people view art; but it’s really fascinating for me to think about your situation, since your images really do feel like celebrity photography, even a bit mass-media (but in a very very good way)—it’s kind of like you are speaking to the masses…
So what is it about photography that drives you? Is it as connection you have to something you see or someone you look at or something? What is it?
Not really., What drives me when I make a photograph is that I have an idea in my mind and I just want to see it and then share it with the world. Photography for me is magic. I have an idea and I just want to make as an image—that’s the reason why I become a photographer in the first place. I like taking the images in my mind and creating places and situations that don’t usually even exist. That’s what drives me, it’s understanding myself and sharing the visuals of my imagination. All my photographs are self-portraits in a way. You know, Richard Avedon said, ‘All my photographs are self-portraits,’ and that really resonated with me when I first started making images twenty-five years ago.
Yeah, I can see that, too.
In an obvious way, it’s not obvious; but in an elevated way it’s obvious. It all depends in how you look at it.
Ok. So, if it’s a self-portrait of yourself, its again interesting how you do it on such a large scale. (Smiles) You know, like with these massive nightscapes you do. What do they say about you?
Those are just me dreaming and hopefully the viewer who looks at those images imagining about all the possibilities out in the world. The landscapes aren’t really self-portraits– they’re just my interpretations of iconic and dreamy places that people can interpret in their own way. The Dreamscapes are my interpretation of special places around the world, that people dream of visiting one day or that hold lifelong memories. When you overlook Paris from afar and above, you can’t help but imagine all the lives living and lived. People all over the city doing, imagining and chasing their dreams. Don’t we all do that?
Yeah. Makes total sense, and that is the feeling you have standing there.
Just dreaming dreams—I’m basically a Dreamweaver. (Smiles) That’d be a great title for this interview.
SHOW OPENS 29. June 2017 19h.
29.06 – 10.09.17
David Drebin — Smoke and Mirrors
Only Art Club / Eppendorfer Weg 235 / 20251 Hamburg / Fr – Sa 14 – 18 + by appt
Photos: Copyright + Courtesy of David Drebin