New York Ballroom Legend Dashaun Wesley Proves Paris is Burning Brighter Than Ever
Voguing master Dashaun Wesley maintains his composure through fierce dips and spins in today’s black-and-white short by photographer and filmmaker Michael Hemy. In the 1980s, when the grandfather of voguing Willi Ninja still ruled the New York scene, the dance style was an underground movement among the city’s black and Latino gay communities. Today, thanks to YouTube’s global reach, awesome battles and jaw-dropping performances are just a few keystrokes away, inspiring a whole new generation of voguers from Finland to Taiwan. Leading the pack is 28-year-old Wesley, a member of the House of Evisu community who frequently travels to far-flung places preaching the voguing gospel and insists there’s more to the style than meets the eye. “People only see the floor slams, the layouts and the dips,” he says. “It’s not about that—it’s about your personal experiences, which you display through your body movements.” In today’s film, co-conceived by New York journalist and entrepreneur Robert Cordero, Wesley weaves a compelling narrative based on his ballroom antics. “You can almost feel the camera shaking and hear the crowd go wild when you see him perform a drop,” says director Hemy of his subject’s delirious Vogue Femme technique, evolved from previous generations’ methods. NOWNESS caught up with the dance hero for some more insight into how and why voguing has become a worldwide phenomenon Willi Ninja would have been proud of.
What’s the biggest difference between voguing in the 1980s and now?
Dashaun Wesley: YouTube has had the biggest impact on voguing. Social media such as Facebook, Myspace, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. have all played a part in making it more popular. Although Madonna kicked off the whole trend, today people can just type in a few letters and you can get a voguing video. The energy is so high.
Why is voguing so incredible to watch?
DW: When a person vogues, their character comes out. It’s like telling a story, and the way I align my body or throw my hand may be different from someone else.
Can it be taught?
DW: You have people teaching voguing who have never walked in a ball. When you get someone from the scene, you get the real stuff, so I think it’s important that I travel and teach. I found that people only think that voguing is what they see on YouTube—and it’s really not.
How do your students outside New York react differently to the hands-on experience?
DW: In the US, my students can’t do a lot of things I teach. But when I go to Russia, they do everything. I also teach them there’s a difference between knowing how to do things, and knowing why you’re doing it.
The Parisian Graphic Design Duo Celebrate Twenty Years of Visual Alchemy
An illustrated duck on a Björk album cover, a typeface dedicated to Carine Roitfeld and bit-character humanoids populating a deconsecrated chapel feature in this series from two of the most acclaimed creatives of their generation, Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak, better known as M/M (Paris). Since crossing paths at Paris's Les Arts Décoratifs school, the pair have worked as graphic designers and art directors on distinctive fashion, art and music projects incorporating unconventional typography, print, illustration, photography, film, objects and interior design. Envisioning their commissions as “conversations,” M/M (Paris) have collaborated with the likes of photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, and Mert and Marcus, and designers Riccardo Tisci, Nicolas Ghesquière and Yohji Yamamoto. Invited by Thames & Hudson to produce a monograph of their oeuvre some 12 years ago, the pair have finally collated their trailblazing imagery into a definitive 528-page softback, designed by Graphic Thought Facility, that includes dialogue with close collaborators alongside hundreds of illustrations. “You can't design a book for your own work because it becomes too self-centered,” explains Amzalag. “It was important for us to put ourselves in the position that we have put so many others in—what it feels like to put our work in the hands of someone else.” Ahead of their 20th anniversary, M/M reveal the secrets behind their innovations.
On establishing collaborations…
Michael: Most of our relationships have happened organically. Riccardo Tisci came to the studio to buy some of our posters as he really liked our work. I lived near Nicolas Ghesquière before he was working at Balenciaga. A friend introduced us to Yohji Yamamoto. We met Inez and Vinoodh at an A.P.C. party in Paris and clicked straight away.
On translating an artist's message…
Mathias: We think of all of our collaborators as artists. They all have something they want to communicate visually. Each collaboration is about understanding an individual and working out how to communicate their world, in a graphic sense. The work we've done for Björk is a succession of portraits—she's a transformative character.
On their love of alphabets…
Mathias: We have always thought of our work as a series of signs and from the beginning we decided that we wanted to create our own “language” so people would immediately be able to recognize our work. Our own typefaces allow us to create our own language; each letter carries meaning. Our own alphabets form part of our collection of tools.
On their working dynamic...
Michael: Oliver Zahm came up with the perfect metaphor for our working relationship. He said one is the bone, the other is the muscle. To me, it's the most accurate description of how we work.
M to M of M/M (Paris) is published by Thames & Hudson in October. Their exhibition Carpetalogue, 1992-2012 runs at Gallery Libby Sellers from October 10–December 15, 2012.
Donna Karan on The Otherworldly Storytelling of Visionary Photographer Deborah Turbeville
Ahead of her much-anticipated exhibition Tainted Beauty at Donna Karan's London boutique, we present an exclusive portfolio from the iconic fashion and art photographer Deborah Turbeville. Classically composed, softly focused, elegant and melancholic, Turbeville’s distinctive photographic tableaux present us with broken narratives. Describing herself as “avant-garde and extreme”, her stories are only partly told, featuring seemingly lost characters connected to the audience through their direct yet subdued interaction with the camera’s lens. Born in 1938, Turbeville is of a generation of fashion photographers, alongside Richard Avedon and Guy Bourdin, who focused on the subject in their photographs as opposed to the clothes they are wearing, and who followed their own distinct conceptual agenda, rather than that of the stylist. With her work collated together for the first time in a forthcoming monograph from Rizzoli, we discuss Turbeville’s legacy with designer and Turbeville collector Donna Karan, alongside founder of The Wapping Project and curator of Tainted Beauty, Jules Wright.
What first drew you to Deborah’s work?
Donna Karan: She captures the beauty and power of a woman, as only a woman can. Deborah’s style is so distinctive and original, soft, yet with a strong presence.
Jules Wright: It’s not obviously fashion photography. There’s always a narrative in her images, a less obvious sensuality and sexuality that lies within them. It is always her models that are powerful within the image, much more so than the client.
Do you feel there is an iconic yet timeless nature to the photographs?
Donna Karan: Very much so. That’s something I relate to as I've always put the woman before fashion, making her look good and feel good, rather than making a fashion statement of the moment. Like Deborah, everything I do is to capture the spirit of a woman with sensuality and sophistication.
Jules Wright: She’s increasingly moved into a fine art territory. It’s much more about the stories she’s telling, which seems to be always about abandoned people—people who are lost, people who are dislocated.
How does her work connect with younger photographers today?
Jules Wright: They copy her like mad! Her heyday was before branding overwhelmed the images. Now you have to make sure that you don’t miss out the bag, shoes or the scarf. It is about looking back to a time when the stylist didn’t dominate the shoot. That’s not the case anymore. I think mostly we’re looking at images by stylists.
Does Deborah represent the world of Donna Karan?
Donna Karan: Deborah’s style is unique and celebrated for its poetic grace. She bridges the boundaries between commercial fashion and fine art photography. The Donna Karan woman embraces her femininity with confidence. That's where her power comes from and she knows it. That's why I know my customer appreciates the intelligent beauty and grace in Turbeville’s work. It's all woman.
Deborah Turbeville: Tainted Beauty opens at the Donna Karan store, 46 Conduit Street, London, on 8 September as part of Vogue's Fashion's Night Out.