DPP Home Profiles Michael Dweck: Forever Young

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Michael Dweck: Forever Young

Pulling together spontaneous shoots and making the most of the unique look of film, Michael Dweck captures fleeting glimpses of youth

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Jessica With Board, Montauk.
"Montauk" and "Mermaids" make up the bulk of Dweck's photographic career. His first project, "The End," was centered on a Long Island beach community and initiated as a commercial portfolio to garner assignments. But the subject resonated with him, the youth inspired him, and his path was set.

"I try to explain the difference between focusing on youth and focusing on young people," he says, "but it's lost on many. I've described it as the difference between boiling water and steam, but that doesn't really clear much up. I just like the idea of what youth represents and how a well-framed photograph can capture that essence and make it last forever. The irony, of course, is that you're preserving something ephemeral, but that's what makes it particularly poignant for me. So much of my vision is about getting the hell out of where we are at a particular time and reflecting on where we want to go and why. So youth is a big part of that, particularly that segment of youth; that age where you stop wishing you were older and aren't yet wishing you were younger. Your dreams stop involving where you are and start encompassing what you want to do and where you want to do it. And that's a beautiful point from which the rest of your life will bloom—though you don't always see it that way at the time. To see images of that exact moment, I think, can take you back to that place—and maybe from there, you can think magically again and stop wasting time on wishes."

Dweck's most recent project "Habana Libre," unlike "The End" and "Mermaids," does contain an element of documentary realism. "There's this really complex circle of privileged artists," he says, "a farándula. It's all real. This wasn't quite like 'Montauk,' which was all carefully controlled scenes. That's why I had to make eight separate trips to Cuba—I wanted 'Habana Libre' to be a narrative about real people in a real place and a real time. At the same time, though, I never wanted to present it as 'documentary.' Yes, it documents something, but so does Gone with the Wind. And I don't know anybody who would call Gone with the Wind a documentary.

Legs, Habana Libre.
"The point," Dweck continues, "is that the project was never meant to be about Cuba. It was meant to take place in Cuba. It was meant to be Cuba—my ideal vision and impression of it anyway. The only intention I had in crafting this narrative was to capture a story of an island and a certain group as I envisioned them. There are plenty of ways to read 'Habana Libre,' and I'm not suggesting any are wrong. But when it comes down to it, it's a work of art about a very particular story arc involving a very unique group of people. I love when people explain to me their interpretations of the work; I'm just not keen when they explain my intentions to me."

The line between truth and fantasy, documentation and fiction, is an important one. Dweck adheres to that constantly, and bristles at the idea that a captivating narrative must be anchored somehow to reality.

"I always find it interesting that this idea of arrangement seems to be considered more in photography than other arts," Dweck says. "There's a large amount of ignored participation by the subjects and audiences of, say, painting or music or film. In the end, if the art is good, it can ultimately allow you to forget all that. You can interact with the art itself and not the process that created it. It takes a bit more convincing for this to work with photography, I think, but that's what I try to do—and a big part of that begins with controlling your environment."


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