DPP: Helmut Newton talked about The Grand Illusion as a reference; Peter Lindbergh cited the film Metropolis. When you pull from that depth, the resulting images can be much more meaningful.
Cesarine: My short film Second Circle was inspired by Dante’s Inferno, the "second circle" being the circle of "lust" in his verses from this historic book. I love using these interesting references. At home we had an amazing library. You’d be surprised where your references come from. From all these books I became a bit of a dreamer.
DPP: Where are you from originally?
Cesarine: I was born in Iowa. I didn’t grow up in a fashion family. My mother is highly supportive of the arts. She’s a lawyer and highly academic. She was a great role model. She was an orphan from the age of 11. She was a careerwoman before there were careerwomen. My father is more of an entrepreneur. He worked in the auto industry and also in real estate. They had five children, and they encouraged us to follow our dreams. Everybody thinks that the Midwest is full of hicks who live in trailer parks and mobile homes or on the farm and they’re cowpokes. Des Moines has a highly developed culture. I took classes at the Des Moines Art Center, which was designed by I.M. Pei. We have a great public school system in Des Moines. They were teaching art history from 3rd grade. I remember studying about Picasso and Monet. I was studying French from age 11. I went to live in France when I was 12 with a French family in Metz in an exchange program. I was so inspired—this experience really opened my eyes. That same year my father took me with him on a business trip to Tokyo. I wanted to explore the world.
DPP: How did you develop the technical side of photography?
Cesarine: While going to Choate, I would go to the Parsons School of Design in Manhattan during the summer break. I also had a darkroom and studio at Choate Rosemary Hall’s Art Center, which was ironically also designed by I.M. Pei. I started photographing models for the Elite Model Agency right after I graduated high school. My older sister who was modeling hooked me up with them. They were paying me to test models for their portfolios, and at the same time I was developing my portfolio. Then I started working with Ford. I did the first photos for a lot of all young models like Carolyn Murphy and Mariacarla Boscono. I photographed about 2,000 models in my testing days, all medium-format black-and-white and color film.
I moved to Paris while I was in Columbia University as part of their studies abroad and tested for all the big agencies here. I also did two years of modeling while I was at Columbia, but I felt I could better express my point of view from the other side of the camera.
DPP: What was your breakthrough?
Cesarine: After Columbia, I moved to London as a model and continued shooting. I met the editor of a new magazine called Don’t Tell It and showed him my photo portfolio. He gave me 10 pages in his launch issue. I did a story called "Tropic of Cancer," which was a Henry Miller reference. I photographed five girls behaving badly in 1920s decadent Parisian style. I became the magazine’s New York editor covering fashion shows and wrote features for them, as well. I photographed and interviewed Molly Ringwald for them and a lot of other interesting stories, and I did a shoot for each issue.
DPP: The industry has really changed since you first picked up the camera, and you seem to always be on the first wave of its evolution.
Cesarine: You have to be more of a creative director these days. Just taking a photo really isn’t good enough anymore. Anybody can pick up an iPhone and be a photographer today. You’ve got Instagrams and Hipstamatics, and these images are getting published. You’ve got to be able to produce the whole package—the photo shoot, the video campaign, the viral marketing campaign. Everything is evolving and coming together. You have to be thinking, how am I going to make this a vision that’s creating a movement?
You can see more of Indira Cesarine’s work at www.indiracesarine.com. The Untitled Magazine can be found at www.untitled-magazine.com.