Dusan Reljin

No Compromises

Dusan Reljin presented his work at Belgrade Design Week 

ELLE Serbia, June 2012

By Ivana Semerad

As experienced and passionate lovers of world’s fashion periodicals, we started to follow Dusan Reljin’s next projects closely. This curiosity taught us some interesting info – born in Belgrade in the mid-seventies, moved to Australia with his parents when he was fourteen, later to Norway; living in New York, he is the author of the beauty campaign for L’Oreal Paris with Eva Longoria… On basis of this, we got the idea to publish a November premium edition of ELLE magazine, produced 100% locally. We tried to come up with something exclusive to offer our fairly demanding, picky and fashion-sensitive audience… What kind of print would we have to present to make it truly special and timeless? And then it hit us: we will book Dusan Reljin. Excited like a freshman before the first exam, we went to the airport to pick him up with a team of assistants and went directly to the first scheduled photo shoot, since Dusan had only five days to produce the photographs for the entire edition – over two hundred pages that would include the biggest local names in fashion, film, theater, music, literature… from Natasa Vojnovic to Mirjana Karanovic and Emir Kusturica. I could write an entire book about those few days, and another one about how much we learned about the business of fashion and the other one: of the creative, artistic kind. But this is where I intend to stop, because this whole story is a brief introduction into how we met and fell in love with a photographer whose portfolio includes almost all important names in the business. By this summer, he is booked to complete the campaign for Victoria’s Secret, Gucci, the Italian Vogue, V Magazine, Armani cosmetics… “Yes, but the list of those with whom I haven’t worked yet is pretty long: Iggy Pop, Charlotte Gainsbourg, David Bowie, Stephanie Seymour…”.

The Belgrade Design Week audience will have the chance to see your lecture on June 8th. You were announced as one of the special guests, a star of the week…

I was invited by the organizers of the Belgrade Design Week to come to Belgrade and hold a workshop for fashion professionals and photographers. Unfortunately, I am only staying for a few days. The last time I was here was last June. I didn’t even know I was announced as a special guest. I thought I was just one of the many talented people who would be there. I am truly glad I am perceived that way. It makes me feel really proud. I am grateful for the invitation. Since he topic of the week is freedom (the slogan of this year’s BDW is Freedom Squared), I intend to talk about artistic freedom in photography, about how I see it, and how much it matters.

Two and a half years ago you did a special premium issue of ELLE Serbia with Natasa Vojnovic on the cover. Our team feels that the entire project, the issue containing only your photographs, is truly special. Would you agree?

I was very satisfied with that issue. First of all, I was very glad that the Serbian ELLE contacted me, that I was given such an opportunity – to do portraits of well-established Serbian individuals, but also of those who are just making their breakthrough, to create fashion editorials in which Belgrade is not just the scenery, but one of the leading models. It really meant a lot to me to create something like that in Serbia, collaborating with people from Serbia. I am really proud of it. I even saw one copy of that issue at the famous Spring Studios in London! I hope this project will remain as a significant inspiration to young photographers, that it will give them hope and encourage them to persevere in what they started, because the most important legacy of such work is the fact that there is enough room for creativity and good ideas, anytime, anywhere!

That issue, in a way, brought you back to Belgrade after many years…

Yes, yes … five years…

After that you renewed your ties with the city where you were born, you began spending more time on our art & fashion scene?

It is true, we reconnected. I always look forward to coming to Belgrade. I love its energy and it inspires me a great deal. I am proud to be a part of that scene. Once again you worked for the Serbian ELLE, this time in New York, with Marina Abramovic, no less. After that photo shoot, Marina and I become good friends and we see each other quite often. I always considered her to be one of the most original artists whose art has always inspired me. When we were scheduled to work for ELLE, it was the first time we met, and I have to admit I was nervous. After that we worked together again several times, once for an exclusive edition of Visionaire, a magazine dedicated to fashion and art. That particular issue was a study and presentation of the delicate link between fashion and art, and the portrait that I did – Marina like the Virgin Mary breastfeeding, her good friend, art director of the house of Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci.

Which of your projects was particularly important for your career?

That’s a difficult question. I usually attempt to only do the things that mean something to me, personally. I always dedicate myself 100% and every project feels special to me. So the right answer to the question would be – the most recent project I did. At this point it’s a fashion movie with Chanel Iman.

Do you prefer campaigns or editorials?

Mostly editorials, because I can fully materialize an idea, exactly as I want. I have much more control than I do in campaigns, and they are also mostly based on some editorial that I did. Even though making editorials also means having to deal with a lot of restrictions, because the focus is on the clothes which must be shown in a certain way, along with the hair, the makeup…

You often photograph celebrities. Who was particularly good to work with?

Lately, I have been working with celebrities more and more and I like the fact that it’s completely different than working with models. I recently photographed Willem Dafoe for the Russian edition of Interview, and it was great. I am supposed to work with Grace Jones, I can’t wait.

You worked with almost every renowned fashion model. Is there someone you can single out as particularly interesting, different, unique?

My favorites are Kate Moss and Crystal Renn. Some of my favorite Serbian models are Natasa Vojnovic and Olja Ivanisevic.

The last time you were here, we went to Mokra Gora and we both had the opportunity to work with Kusturica. Did you two meet again after that?

The man is my idol. I have a great deal of respect for his work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the time to attend Kustendorf this year, but my dear friend Abel Ferrara was there and confirmed everything I expected from Emir and from the festival.

Have you got any experience in the world of film?

I directed several short films with my wife, and now I am working on a feature film for the first time. I want to go further in that direction.

What are the key moments in your career?

At the very beginning, it was working with the artist Vanessa Beecroft – that paved my way into the art and fashion scene; after that, it was the contract I had with Lancôme, which was also financially important. And last year, when I did a movie with Fischerspooner, that was shown at MOMA in New York.

How does one become a top fashion photographer?

As with everything else, you must believe in yourself, work hard and be self-critical – at all times. If you are not honest with yourself, you will never succeed.

You studied cinematography and after graduation you went from Norway to London. That was in the mid-nineties?

Yes, I went to London to work as a photographer, but after a few months I was out of money, so I couldn’t continue. I was forced to return to being an apprentice, which meant I had to work as an assistant all over again. During this period I thought London was horrible, cold, grey, the food was disgusting, I was broke… And then, a photographer whom I assisted in Norway introduced me to Craig McDean. When he learned that I was out of money, he invited me to work with him and offered me a permanent assistant position, and I worked for him for three and a half years. I learned a lot from him, especially about fashion photography. The first thing I did was a Calvin Klein campaign, and I immediately got an opportunity to feel and understand how things work on that professional level. Craig moved from London to New York because in America there was a lot more work, so I moved with him. I have been living alone in New York for 15 years and would gladly return to Europe tomorrow. My wife and I would love to live in Italy, but in terms of work, that’s not feasible. I would have to travel too much, but one day, it might happen.

What are your plans for the future?

To finally finish the book of my work. Also, I have been working on a new video for Massive Attack for a while now. I can’t wait to finish it. We used a variety of new technologies and can’t wait to see how everything will turn out.

What is the secret of a good photography?

The secret is in the eye of the photographer.

What is the secret of a good fashion photography?

The secret is in the team – a group of people with whom you can make a common vision come to life. But when I say “team” I mean all the people who participate, from a model, to stylists, to make-up artists and hair stylists, to photo assistants. When it comes to beauty photography, I like it when it’s real, not over-retouched. I like it when you look at it and you can almost feel the skin.

Is there something photographers who are just starting in the fashion & beauty industry should pay special attention to?

It’s always better when the photograph itself is created in the camera, not on the computer, through postproduction. I would say to those who are just starting that it is important to focus on light and the idea itself. And it is extremely important to understand fashion.

What do you do when you are not working?

If I don’t spend time with my family, I play tennis. I have two sons and a daughter; she loves fashion, and my boys are always trying to play with the camera. We’ll see what they will choose to do eventually. It’s doesn’t really matter; I am most creative when I am with them, and when they are teaching me about the meaning of life. And of course, when I am behind the camera.

Who are your fashion favorites? Which fashion houses give you the greatest pleasure and a sense of prestige to work with?

I work with Rick Owens, whom I consider one of the most original designers of today. I also collaborate with companies such as Costume National and Gucci, we have a very creative relationship. I also like working for magazines; it depends on the project. The only thing that matters is to fully implement the intended idea, without any compromises!

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