Michael Dweck is a photographer with a vision. But if you call him that, he’ll protest. Not about the vision, but the label; he prefers the term "visual artist." The other carries too much baggage.
"We’re entering a time when people think downloading Instagram on your iPhone makes you a photographer," he says, "and I think it’s important that any true photographer, one who has heart and vision, distances himself or herself from that."
Dweck isn’t being pedantic. Speaking of his work—defined by a vision for depicting fleeting, vibrant youth—he’s quick to explain that it’s not just about making pretty pictures of pretty people. Were he an advertising photographer, that might be enough, but as an artist striving for a deeper connection, he’s building a narrative, telling a seductive story about youth—not a sexual seduction, but rather the allure of youth.
"There’s a very noticeable difference between allure and desire," Dweck explains, "between something like burlesque and porn. And it’s not just a tease; it’s a suggestion. It draws you in without pulling you by the tie. If all you want is to be teased by something you can’t have, you can find that anywhere. Pick up a travel brochure or watch a Corona commercial or, hell, rent a porn video. The real allure in art, for me at least, lies in the relatable humanity of its images and in the meaningful direction of its narrative. Even that seems simple in a way—and the concept, again, is simple—though the execution is quite difficult.
"I don’t care if things look beautiful," he continues. "I want them to feel beautiful, feel reflective of ideas and the places in which they’re set. This all goes back to my choice to shoot in black-and-white, which is slightly removed from reality, and in film, which retains something that reminds you that you’re dealing with an artistic medium and not a bedroom window. Because, for me, hyperrealism isn’t seductive. That’s the problem I have with digital, in general. It’s too real. There’s no exchange between the artist and the audience, no seduction. Digital feels like perfection, and that doesn’t seduce or insinuate."
Dweck’s cinematic work is primarily photographed in black-and-white as it allows the artist to take an additional step from reality. "It’s like trying to explain why you like a certain flavor," he says. "You could use a thousand adjectives to describe taste or texture but never get close to explaining any immediate sensation. For me, black-and-white toes that line, and it drags it to a place that sits nicely between reality and fantasy. That’s a realization that came from my work in Montauk. Once I realized I was framing a narrative, black-and-white just seemed to feel right. It lent itself well to a mixture of fantasy and documentation in ways that would have been lost if the colors of the ocean, sky, skin were popping off the page. I feel like there’s not much room to sway your audience when they’re distracted by sunsets. Subtle contrast can be much more suggestive.
I’ll take natural light 99 times out of a hundred, Dweck continues, especially when I’m working outdoors. It would have to be a very special scene for me to favor something fabricated when the sun is shining for free.
"The only exception for me is the ‘Mermaids’ images," Dweck adds, "which I shot half and half—black-and-white at night and color during the day. But that was a much more abstract body of work, which color couldn’t really interrupt. Color was much more dangerous with ‘Habana Libre.’ I made a conscious decision to avoid the clichéd shots of Cuba—the contrast of bright paint and rusty cars. That’s too obvious, too easy and didn’t really serve my purpose. I needed stark ideas to come out of those images and draw the eye without manipulating it. It’s intended, after all, as a cinematic narrative, and not a desk calendar."