Drew Tal is a fantastic photographic artist. I first saw his work while visiting art dealer Emmanuel Fremin’s display space at Art Hamptons a few years ago. I was stunned by Drew’s work http://drewtal.com/ which is beautifully human and mysterious. I think you’ll find that Drew’s intellect matches the beauty of his work. Read on …
MICHAEL: Drew, where do I even begin with you? Your work is so exquisitely human. Your photography is aesthetically beautiful, but I don't think it would be possible to capture and create this kind of beauty without loving people and your subjects first. What are your emotional and spiritual states of being as you're creating this work?
DREW: First, thanks for the enthusiasm and kind words about my work. Emotionally and spiritually, I am undoubtedly motivated by a fierce passion. It’s a passion for photographic art, for digital editing and for all other aspects of what I do. It is a lengthy process from the moment an image is conceived in my mind's eye to the point of making that vision into reality in the form of an art piece hanging on a gallery wall. Fortunately, I take pleasure in every stage of the process, from finding the right subject, planning the photo shoot, designing the set and lighting, styling and posing the subject … up to the final and most important stage of digitally editing the chosen shot to fulfill my artistic vision. Editing a single image can take many weeks, sometimes months, but when passion is the driving force, 18 hours a day (on editing) seems to pass just like 18 minutes.
MICHAEL: You seem to be pretty steeped in world culture and acknowledging people from various cultures. Where does this come from? Why does this inspire you?
DREW: Growing up in Israel in the 1960's brought about my attraction and interest in world culture. At that time in history, the young state was a true melting pot for millions of immigrants from all around the world. Surrounded with such a colorful collage of ethnicities, languages, nationalities and religions made me realize from an early age that the world beyond me was a rich and complex place. This revelation opened my eyes to the exotic and made me extremely curious about people and their customs, costumes and histories. It also planted an insatiable desire in me to travel to faraway lands. Fortunately, from the age of fifteen, I have been able to realize that desire and have been traveling extensively throughout Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas ever since. To this day, every journey brings with it a whole new set of inspirations and a fresh impulse to create.
MICHAEL: What would you say are the main things you've learned from your travels about people and the world?
DREW: Traveling has taught me that deep down, human beings all over the globe are very much the same as far as our basic needs, desires and hopes, but it's our differences I choose to express in my work. Celebrating the differences in cultures, appearance and beliefs intrigues me and has become the main source and inspiration for my photography and my art. I can give you an example. Recent travels in Jordan and Morocco sparked the inspiration for my upcoming museum and gallery exhibits. The focus of these shows is my point of view vis-a-vis Islam, primarily women in Islamic society. Observing the local people in their unique garb going about their daily routines or during prayer (or sometimes in silent protest), prompted most of the images for those exhibits. There is always more to learn and that's why I will continue to travel.
MICHAEL: I have never understood why differences are "bad." They're an opportunity to grow and learn from other people which is what you're clearly trying to promote through your work. Does communicating this message ever get frustrating? I mean, not everyone is open-minded enough to even consider art.
DREW: Not at all. You have to understand that I create art first and foremost for myself, neither to please nor provoke others. I listen solely to my own inner artistic voice and ultimately aim to fulfill my own artistic need for expression. Of course, I do hear others' opinions and criticism, but it does not affect why or how I will create my next piece. Should my message resonate with a viewer of my art, so much the better. Art is about communication and my next exhibits, spotlighting Islam, (certainly a polarizing and controversial subject) are an interesting "barometer" for people's level of open-mindedness or prejudices.
MICHAEL: Physical beauty appears to play a big role in your work. I also see a deep connection to inner peace and harmony that seem to be a function of spirituality, No?
DREW: Harmony and inner-peace most certainly stem from spirituality and all have been essential elements in my work. Several in-depth trips to Asia in the late 90's opened my eyes to Buddhist philosophy and the concepts of meditation, compassion and enlightenment. Naturally, impressions from that travel prompted me to create and in the mid 2000's, I completed an extensive series of portraits called 'Facing East,' the series you are referencing in your question.
MICHAEL: And what about the beauty aspect of your work? What I have seen of your work is not dirty, grimy or gritty. It's elegant and aesthetically pleasant. Do you think spirituality is a stronger component of beauty than the alternative?
DREW: Philosophical question, but a very simple answer - there is spirituality in beauty as there is beauty in spirituality. They go hand in hand only to enrich and complement each other. I leave it to the viewer's degree of awareness to recognize their individuality and/or coexistence.
MICHAEL: Yes, but should this beauty be a main component of all contemporary art or just YOUR art?
DREW: When we go into such depth about the process of my motives and intentions, I find myself almost "forced" to put into scholarly words what is actually for me a very intuitive and genuine process. I don't know how other artists work, but I'm afraid that over intellectualizing may give the false impression that my work is premeditated and calculated when, in fact, my process is precisely the opposite. Creating for me is a spontaneous process that is inspired by something that I see in the real world. As I experience it, it is almost a kind of magical impulse. I usually prefer to leave it to art critics, writers and historians (and collectors) to hypothesize about the origins of this natural and "unprocessed" process. For me, it just IS.
MICHAEL: I totally understand. I don’t like to deconstruct art either. I find that I enjoy it better when I accept it as a whole, complete expression as it is. Still, many people want to deconstruct contemporary art.
DREW: I am neither an authority on the subject nor do I follow art trends while I am creating. I can only speak about what I do and what appeals to me. So to answer your question - yes, beauty is a prime component in my work, even when the topic I elect to address is ugly, such as war or social injustice. I create only what is aesthetically pleasing to me and it starts with the subjects I carefully select to pose in front of my lens. They must have a unique beauty and a seductive allure in order for me to be inspired and for them to convey my message effectively. Since beauty is subjective and is 'in the eye of the beholder' I am always delighted when a viewer, such as yourself, recognizes my intention to capture and communicate beauty through art.
MICHAEL: Your work would be perfect for the United Nations or humanitarian relief campaigns. That's what I think when I see it. I first saw it at Art Hamptons and that's what immediately came to mind. Switching gears, isn't it amazing how photography has grown in recent years? Everyone and their grandmother has a camera. I ask all photographic artists this question and now I'll ask you... Thoughts?
DREW: I would love to see my work exhibited at the UN, especially the current series I'm working on which deals with Islam and the place of Muslim women in both Islamic and Western societies. Regarding photography - The fact that digital photography and, consequently, digital art, have grown so rapidly is terrific! In the late 90's, when I first explored digital photography and Photoshop editing, there was strong resistance from art critics and dealers toward the new media. In fact, many of them did not regard it as "art" and didn't know how to classify or represent it. Is it art? Is it photography? It was a new way of creating and producing. An unfamiliar way of using new artist's "tools." As we know, unfamiliarity tends to unsettle the traditionalist, so, for a few years, many galleries and museums were reluctant even to consider, much less accept and exhibit the new media. Fortunately, with the popularity of the internet and social media and with the availability of small cameras and camera phones, it seems like we all communicate with photographs these days, more often and more so than with words. Inevitably, the traditionalists became enlightened and came to embrace digital media as a valid new art form and to accept it is as yet another legitimate vehicle for artistic expression.
MICHAEL: How do you decide who you're going to use as subjects for your work? Do you search for the “right” people? By the way, they all look like model types. Are they?
DREW: I am extremely selective about my subjects and oftentimes it has taken me many months to find the ideal model who can provide the artistic expression I am seeking. My eyes are constantly open in search of subjects for my art - on the streets of New York, on the subway, in crowded restaurants and through amateur models' websites. The type of subjects I seek is not the typical fashion model you're probably referring to. While most fashion models in the U.S. are "All-American" looking, my models are exclusively ethnic-looking. Sadly, ethnic models rarely make it to magazines and advertising campaigns, but it does not deter me since the ethnic face is an essential source of my inspiration. Living in the melting-pot that is New York is a blessing for me since ethnic groups such as Arab, Pakistani, Indian, Persian and Chinese are all here and in abundance.
MICHAEL: Trust me, you're getting no argument on that from me! For me, the overwhelming message of your work is that all of humanity is beautiful and valuable. So, what's the problem? Why can't people see this in day to day life?
DREW: The question of "why can't we all get along" is an age-old question. I am not going to pretend to know the answer. I'm not sure why it is that underneath our civilized, peaceful, compassionate facade hides another persona that is competitive, combative and at times hateful and cruel.
There is a term I learned growing up in the Middle-East; tribal mentality. I feel that it is the cause of so many conflicts between various peoples, religions, races and nations. In general, people seem to relate to and prefer to associate with those who look like them and share their own belief system, religion, political views, language, etc. By the same token, people tend to feel threatened by those who do not share the above. Such a feeling can manifest itself by simply ignoring and disassociating from those who are different or, in more extreme cases, it can foster hostility and even lead to all-out war. In my art, I celebrate diversity and make an effort to give voice to all "tribes" of humanity, especially to those who are persecuted, oppressed and ignored.
MICHAEL: Given all of that, what do you think about the art world and art market and how they function? World peace isn't their top priority.
DREW: I create art for myself, not for the art world and not to sell in the art market. In reality, I don't get involved in those two. For that I have a representing gallery. They deal with markets and collectors and should probably have a better understanding and comprehension of how it functions. Regarding world peace as a top priority, I cannot generalize since it is a personal and individual direction an artist chooses to take in his own work. Some artists choose to express it in their art, some don't. In a small way, I try to promote spirituality and peace through some of my work because it pleases me artistically. Apparently, it seems to resonate positively with collectors and with critics as well.
MICHAEL: Finally Drew, what would you like to explore in the future through your work?
DREW: I plan to continue my photographic travels through our fascinating planet, observing and absorbing the myriad ways of people's lives, cultures, customs, celebrations and conflicts. Through my work, I will continue to reveal both the spirituality and the beauty that make us unique from one another as well as to explore and communicate what universally connects us all to one another. It is a never-ending journey that keeps me inspired, stirs my imagination and ignites my creativity, time and time again.
MICHAEL: Thanks Drew. Great chat and your work is exquisite.
DREW: Thanks Michael! Keep in touch!
Check out Drew and his work at http://drewtal.com/