Young, talented, and relentless. The Dutch photographer and artist Calvin Pausania needs no introduction. But what’s the story behind the myth of a self-taught creative that has taken the international fashion scene by storm? We asked him ourselves.
Ready your pen and paper TNCers, photography golden tips are about to rain all over!
Everyone has that friend obsessed with a specific, recurring number. I had a friend who was crazy about the number 22, and actually, the number seemed to pop up everywhere when I was with him. Trust me, this story can make you freak out and doubt your friend…that is until it happens to you.
My personal obsession has been a name. Or rather, a photographer. But also, an art director, graphic designer, and full-time artist.
My obsession has been Calvin Pausania.
Was I reading about the latest Naomi Sharon music? Calvin Pausania was there.
Was I picking my fave Converse? Calvin Pausania has been collaborating with the brand for 3 years.
Was I diving into Frenna’s latest project for Havana Club, Toast to the Culture? Again, Calvin Pausania’s lens captured the moment.
At the end of the day, I didn’t need to even read the name: I could recognize his incredible, vibrant photographic style among thousands. It struck a chord with me. And there, on the third cockcrow, the hands were already googling…
To Lead an Orchestra, You Must Turn your Back on the Crowd
Opening Pausania digital museum, you come across his tagline.
Self-taught photographer, Class of ‘94, Calvin Pausania dropped out of the art academy just a few weeks after his first class. His climb from the days of curating Dutch music covers in 2013 to the conquest of worldwide streetwear labels has been nothing short of outstanding.
The idea that takes place is one of a rebellious genius, a ‘multi-instrumentalist’, that has escaped formal education against any reasonable advice, to find his personal art. Indeed, as it often happens within the editorial environment, it’s quite normal to expect to e-meet an eccentric character. But, since the very first sentences of our talk, Calvin has turned down this misconception, proving that artists do not need a big ego to succeed: Talent silently speaks for itself.
His photography merges architectural prospectives and graphical distortions, blurring the lines between digital and real. Each shoot is a bite of broader, conceptual storytelling that pushes the boundaries of gravity.
The Story Beyond the Myth: How Did all of It Start?
How could Calvin manage such a range of different artforms? It seems that Passion is the proper word to describe this inception. At the age of 19, Calvin attended an art course and he immediately fell in love with graphic design and its linkage with the world of music.
“Graphic design was everywhere around me. I saw every artist having his own single or album cover. It sounded very interesting in that kind of artform. So, I just started to do it. […] It was my first source of inspiration; but when I started posting on Instagram, one music artist reached out to me. On Instagram, I wasn’t interested in making photos of what I was doing in everyday life. I just wanted to show the talent, you know. So, because of that, the ball started rolling. That was 2013.
When I went to art school in 2015, I already was working with several clients. Sometimes I wasn’t able to attend classes and teachers thought I wasn’t fully focused. Which was true!”
Here, the myth of a rebellious, enfant terrible fails, revealing the measured and pondered decision to focus on his rising career. By the end of 2016, Calvin Pausania was already a full-time artist, working as art director and graphic designer for the Mustard’s 10 Summers Records.
It wasn’t a bad decision, after all!
Still, the background in design permeates his current photographic works, informing a unique dynamic and vibrant style.
The role played by graphic design and architecture is a very important one. I grew up with them. I grew up being amazed by buildings, but also by graphic design, obviously. It has made me learn. You get a lot of education from them, especially about composition.
“If you need to work in a certain square for an album cover you need to make sure that within that square all the information is there. It definitely makes you look at photography differently. And basically, that’s also the reason why I stopped doing graphic design and moved into photography.
Especially in the music industry, we received photos and we needed to make something like a collage or graphics to create a single cover. I was used to working with photos of other people took, but I felt a lot of times that composition and information weren’t there. I started to make my photo on-site and make my own version of conceptual art. In the same style of graphic design. And there the blend started.”
In 2017, all the creative process was in his hands from the get go. It started as an exploration and experimentation to understand what kind of photo and angle the graphic work needed. But it ended up being a proper lightning strike with photography.
What Are Your lenses Seeking to Grab?
“I combine the words ‘Motion’ And ‘Emotion’ in (E)Motion. I always would like to tell a story with a series of photos. And sometimes I do it even in commercial campaigns, depending on what the client wants. That’s always really nice to tell a story from multiple angles”
If Emotions and Movements are the keys, then the next medium to bring in conversation comes quite naturally: in the last two years, Pausania has started embracing video direction.
“I’m branching out more medium, but it is still not something that I post a lot. I’m learning as I go. And I think it can bring my work to new heights. We will see what the future holds” – And he seems quite serious about it!
But, generally speaking, what makes a good photograph is hard to say: Calvin belongs to that branch of artists that recognizes the subjectivity of art and tastes.
“You can never, really, please a crowd. But I suggest to find your own style. In photography as well as in other forms of art. Because that’s what keeps you going! That’s what keeps everything in one style. And this way, the art that you put out, is true to yourself!”
The true self of Pausania is unveiled by his main inspirations: his everyday life. From the music to fashion and the architectural buildings reflected in the composition, Calvin breathes inspiration in from his surrounding. He melds them into a perfect blend that captures the essence of contemporary society, blurring the lines between the real and the digital.
What’s the meaning behind it?
“The blur between digital and physical is our current life because of social media. Here, you never know if something is real, or if it really happens or not. I’m inspired and sensitive to everything around me, the current state of society is one of them”
How Do You Choose Your Subjects for Your Independent Projects?
“It depends, sometimes it’s a real-life situation and sometimes I’m very inspired by an unknown topic. In the first case, I’m able to really capture that memory and give it a special place. In the second case, I’m able to learn about a topic and create new memories.”
Impossible to forget is his Amnesia / Unknown Memory. A deep exploration of the symbolism of flowers encoded in the story of Alta. Due to the touch of a poisoning flower, a new, powerful version of herself takes control: Nova.
‘Touched by a poisonous flower. A new reality led by an unknown memory. Do I trust myself well enough to control me?’
Nova represents the inner journey in an unknown, yet familiar self: She finds out that this new version has always been there; she just couldn’t connect with it before. It is a journey through unknown memories.
Pausania’s works count also many artistic collaborations, where the art of blending arts can’t be defined as anything other than incredible. And it seems to be a matter of personal and professional connections.
“Every talent has its own characteristics, they own their story. By embracing that, you find a certain connection that you can only have with one individual. This makes every shoot unique.
[…] That specific story shapes something that you cannot create with someone else.
It’s always like exploring, I got this feeling. It’s always like exploring you and new people.”
Take Notes! It’s Raining Golden Tips
FIND YOUR OWN STYLE!
“It is the most important thing! Find your own style, keep it, and stick to it! And it goes with every type of art, whether you’re into sculpture or photography. If you’re operating within your own style, you’re true to yourself, and you will get an audience. So if you stick to that, and you improve your quality, the right people will find you, and then you are in your niche. But if you mimic, and if you do a lot of different things, people won’t understand.”
Yes man, that’s a critical point for any emerging talent!
Pausania teaches that pleasing the client doesn’t mean sacrificing your personal style. Rather, a balance between commercial requests and artistic expression is necessary.
What’s his secret?
“It happens sometimes that I’m pushed in a certain direction. For instance, when I have a lot of commercial clients in a row. Sometimes they just pick something that you’ve done before, and they want just a new version of it. So, I’ve been recreating a lot of older work.
If I find myself working on too many client projects, and I lose a little bit of focus…
…That’s when I work on personal projects to really put out there what I really want to make!
And it also helps my client work in the end.”
“There’s an artist for every client. If the work doesn’t fit my style, I think someone else could make it great. And just accepting a client and shooting something that’s not true to yourself, just because of the money… In the long run, could not be beneficial for you”
Follow your own style, never stop learning and exploring, dive deeper into your passions, and find your own community. Those aren’t slogans. Those are the keys to make of your art a living.
You’ve got the golden tips now… What are you waiting for?