1. When you were a young boy growing up in Israel, what did you think of becoming when you got older? I was very visual from an early age but I did not know where it was going to take me. It wasn't until I got to New York City, in my early twenties, when I discovered photography and later on digital art that I found myself. I always knew that it was going to be something artistic and I first pursued architecture, but it was not as fulfilling as what I have since discovered later on in life.
2. How do you study humans?
The main subject in my photography is the human face, especially ethnic faces and their "exotic" features. In my travels I study ethnic groups of Asia, the Far East, India, as well as the Middle East, some of which are featured in my current exhibition. Travel ignites inspiration for me. When I visit foreign countries and observe the people in their unique garb, going about their daily routines, praying, celebrating, or even protesting, I absorb what they are, what they look like, how they are dressed as well as their colorful traditions. When I come back to New York, that inspiration leads to the creative process for me.
3. How do you come up with the different photo concepts and themes?
Creating is not something I calculate or premeditate. It is an instinct. It is an intuitive process. It could start with a person I see on the street, an exotic piece of Indian jewelry, an Arab model I discover online, that may spark the inspiration to create which leads to a strong desire to fulfill it. The next step is to capture it on film, followed by transforming that conventional image via digital tools, to a final art piece, which fulfills my artistic vision.
4. What takes longer for you, taking photos or editing them?
Taking the photos is usually simple and quick. Bringing it into the form of an art piece hanging on a gallery wall takes a very long time. Fortunately, I take pleasure in every stage of the process, from finding the right subject to photograph, designing the lighting, sets and styling of the photo shoot, up to the most important stage of digitally editing and transforming the chosen image. Editing and transforming a single image may take weeks, sometime months, but for me it is the most fulfilling stage of the process.
5. When do you know or feel satisfied with an image?
I can work on an image for a whole year, but then a special moment occurs. It is as when you take a very long journey, not knowing where the final destination is going to be, and then there is this moment when you know you have arrived…a euphoric moment in which you feel complete and 'at home'. I never go back or touch that piece after that moment.
6. How was it making the transition from fashion to art photography? How did you become involved with galleries and museums?
I was a fashion photographer for 15 or more years, but when I discovered digital tools such as Photoshop, I realized that there is more potential to conventional photography and decided to go in to that direction, mostly for myself. My fashion clients had no idea that I was working on the computer until four in the morning creating all these images. I did it to satisfy an inner need. Emmanuel Fremin, now my representative, saw several of my pieces on the wall in my apartment and said that other people had to see it. He was so enthusiastic about it and went full force to show my work. To my delight, my work received lots of positive reaction. Today, having my work featured in art galleries and museums feels very satisfying, but I still only create art for myself, at my own pace. It’s really through Emmanuel Fremin and his belief in my work that the last six years were possible.
7. What is your favorite image out of all the images that you have?
It is the female half of a diptych image entitled ‘Porcelain Promises.’ Completing her was a euphoric moment. She is my favorite, and every time I look at her image it makes me happy. It took about a year of very difficult work to complete it, but the minute it happened I actually started laughing. It was in the middle of a night and I was alone. There was this one moment, after hundreds of different options, when the image looked just right. I stood up and started laughing. I thought I was going mad for about five seconds. It felt incredible. The image was done.
8. What advice do you have for emerging photographers?
Stay true to yourself and follow your own inner voice. It is always nice to hear other peoples’ opinions, but listen to your artistic inner voice and what it is communicating with you.
9. Tell us about your current project and its inspiration and message to the world?
This is another chapter in my travels. I have been to several Muslim countries, such as Morocco, Jordan, and various countries in South Asia such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Visiting those countries brought me the inspiration to create the pieces in this exhibition.
The message in the art is really what the viewer wants the message to be. They make up their own story while they are viewing a particular piece. I am really just an observer of these subjects. I agree with the concept that, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” –Edgar Degas
10. What do you want your audience to feel as they see your work?
I am celebrating the differences between societies, cultures and religions. I hope that the viewer will join me in celebrating the diversity in humanity and see that beautiful images can be created even of such "un-beautiful" subjects, like war and social injustice. Yes, we are different from each other, but perhaps there is something we all have in common, perhaps there is hope. There is beauty in all cultures. Although we are worlds apart from each other, there is some hope for mutual understanding and unity.
11. What is your astrology sign?
I am a Libra and my birthday is on October 7th.
Drew Tal’s new body of work is called Worlds Apart. The show will run from October 10 through December 14, 2013. The opening reception will take place on Thursday, October 10th from 6-8PM at Emmanuel Fremin Gallery 547 West 27 Street, Suite 510, New York, NY.
Interview and photos by Marsin Mogielski