In Bravo TV’s reality show Make Me A Supermodel, the photographer behind the lens for one of the episodes, Indira Cesarine, is so striking that you wonder why she isn’t in front of the camera instead. Yet the photo world would be deprived of one of the most talented fashion and beauty photographers working today. She’s also the editor in chief and creative director of The Untitled Magazine, a transmedia publication exploring the worlds of fashion, art, film, music, photography and culture. The magazine’s mission is to cultivate a deeper recognition of the cross-pollination of mediums in the multimedia world.
While finishing a triple major in Art History, French Literature and Women’s Studies at Columbia University, Cesarine started shooting for New York model agencies to build her portfolio and those of the agencies’ new faces. A move to London followed where she did a shoot for a new magazine that generated her first tearsheets. She soon parlayed those into commissions for British Vogue, GQ, Glamour, Marie Claire, Tatler, InStyle and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as many other international publications and advertising campaigns. Her career as director began with her first short film City of Love, featured at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.
Over coffee at a café in Paris where the New York-based photographer, director and magazine mogul is in town for the City of Lights fashion week, we discuss her life and work on all sides of the camera.
DPP: One of the things that has brought you a great deal of success is your conceptually driven series. How do you develop your ideas?
Indira Cesarine: I work very thematically. I like to have an idea and really develop it. Throughout my career, I’ve always gone through waves. In the mid-’90s, I went through my night phase where I was obsessed with shooting after the sun went down, using the ambient light—moonlight, neon signs, shooting through windows with streetlights. I did so many editorials with the night look. I will expand on a theme for a few seasons, then move on to something else. My work goes through waves of concepts of lighting, as well as content. Before, a lot of my shoots were highly lit—very lighting-driven. At the moment, I’ve been exploring the simplicity of daylight in entertainment and talent-based portraiture. As I mature as an artist, I’m finding it more interesting to work with subjects that have a story and to develop concepts to bring out their personality. It could be with an Olympic athlete or a politician or a musician or an amazing actor doing groundbreaking work or developing a new direction.
DPP: Such as your work with Vanessa Hudgens.
Cesarine: Her previous image was totally different. She had teen icon status in America. I thought, she’s growing into this very sophisticated actress and nobody has really caught this new side of her work in still images. The public eye still saw her as this teenage girl. She has all these new movies coming out where she’s this amazingly sophisticated, sexy seductress so I thought, why not push some boundaries and present her this way.
DPP: Do you sketch out concepts before a shoot like this?
Cesarine: I’ve done storyboards, and I’ve found that in the end I often throw them out the window. I tend to be highly instinctive. For a lot of my shoots, I’ll have an overall idea of where I want to go, but will allow the shots to happen in situ. I’ll have an image in my mind of where I want to go with it visually with ideas regarding the styling and the hair and makeup. You need to know what you’re going to do with the lighting so you can prepare for it. I find improvising I can go with the flow and get the most out of each situation. I don’t like to copy previously existing work, and I find this is the best way to be consistently original.