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CATCHING UP WITH DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHER BESS ADLER
Bess Adler’s white and gold bike and five pound bag always catches our eyes when she rides by. We caught up with her and wanted to know what catches her eye. Turns out it’s been a pretty wide range of subjects from the competitive world of American bodybuilding to the building of Ubuntu Blox Factory in Port-au-Prince. As a documentary photographer, she currently is exploring alternative approaches to sustainable living with a family who has created their home inside a gutted school bus which runs on vegetable oil.
“My work is driven by a curiosity to capture subjects who invite me into unfamiliar worlds which is why I try to travel as much as possible. I am extremely appreciative of the learning process that my personal projects have taken me through and I’m always excited to tell these stories.”
Within her ever growing body of work, we were especially inspired by her photojournalist work seen in some our favorite Brooklyn newspapers.
“I love shooting for newspapers because of the vast diversity in assignments. My day could bring me anywhere from photographing a new restaurant in Red Hook to documenting Brooklyn’s last working seltzer factory in Canarsie”
Having grown up in Midwood and now based in Greenpoint, navigating the borough to get from one assignment to another for this Brooklyn native is an easy task, made even easier with her single speed Trek District 3 which has not only become her standard form of transportation but also a source of inspiration.
“Riding is just relaxing – it lets me clear my head after one assignment so that I can focus on the work ahead. Also ideas will always pop into my head as I am visually taking in the landscape.”
But her favorite way to relax is Thursday night tastings at Dandelion Wine on Franklin Street.
“It’s a great community activity and I always say yes to delicious wine and cheese. The only times I don’t go is when I have a lot of editing that needs to be done. Then I bring my laptop to Troost and order a beet sandwich with iced tea. I guess it’s a win win situation.”
Bess Adler, braving the elements in the, the ,
MEET THE ARTIST/MODEL
To walk into Ibrahim Baaith’s spacious and colorful Crown Heights apartment is to walk into the mind of the artist himself. With every inch of the wall covered in murals and paintings, Baaith’s home is an outward expression of the artist’s personality, philosophy, and journey – capturing the artist’s vibrant story in a way that no gallery could. While Baaith, the model for our Summer 2012 campaign shot in neighboring Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, is comfortable in front of the camera, his real talent lies in turning the lens on the colorful world he inhabits.
While many artists take years to discover their artistic talent and voice, Baaith, as he described it himself was “born creative”. Though his family was poor and couldn’t afford art supplies, paper and pencils were always readily available, and he constantly took advantage of them, drawing comic book characters and portraits of family members and friends by the time he was six. He also scrounged raw materials from his multi-talented father who had built the home they lived in, to construct alternative worlds for his GI Joe action figures. Baaith received no formal art training until his senior year in high school, when an unfortunate skirmish with a fellow student led him to being dismissed from the track team, but fortunately lead him on a track to art schooling. Starting with a mentorship with an art teacher his senior year at the Corcoran School of Art next to the White House in D.C., his mother and mentor then encouraged him to apply to Pratt in Brooklyn. His past nearly derailed a promising future once again, as another fight landed him in jail right before the open house at Pratt. Luckily, he was accepted into the prestigious art school, but on a subsequent trip to D.C., he was mugged and shot in the face. For Baaith, the incident was the cessation of one timeline – one where he died, and the beginning of a new timeline that has led him to a life in the arts, positivity, and the magnificent home and neighborhood he resides in now.
Because of his turbulent past, Baaith’s paintings are charged with social, political, and emotive content, never relying on style and aesthetics to push feeling. His compositions ask viewers to look at the work and rely on their own interpretations to understand themselves and their feelings – in other words, to “get it” the way one personalizes the emotive content of a song. Unsurprisingly, music is a reoccurring thread within his paintings, from iconic reggae artists to a popular mural of Ol’ Dirty Bastard gracing a corner in Bed-Stuy.
These days, between painting and modeling, Baaith has found time to cofound Artist Republic, a nonprofit with the goal of finding inspiration within all artforms for children, whether it be painting, nutrition, filmmaking, or even martial arts – another passion for Baaith. Opening the art school is important for him so that other kids could have the opportunity that Baaith himself did not have, and to avoid the dangerous pitfalls that could have wiped out his own career.
To view more works, visit
MEET THE ARTIST/MODEL
Event and party designer Adam Aleksander talks about the creative process, the business side of art, and creating fantasy environments for you to play in.
I met Aleksander in the kitchen of his two story, beautifully worn in Lower East side tenement at one of his regular artists salon/dinner parties, known as Les Salonnieres. Downstairs, guests sipped on Sazeracs in anticipation of a four-course dinner prepared by Aleksander himself, followed by performances by artists representing various disciplines. For most people, bringing their work home on a weekend night would be unthinkable, but when your day-to-day job consists of throwing elaborate and interesting parties, Aleksander’s fete appeared effortless, natural, and consummately stylish.
For almost every accomplished artist in New York however, there is usually an accompanying arc that begins with pursuit, struggle, and self-doubt. After arriving in New York City 11 years ago, Aleksander saw a performance of De La Guarda, and was inspired to create fine art experiences himself, enrolling at the School of Visual Arts and learning drawing, painting, and theory. Frustrated by the institution’s lack of tutelage for real world applications, Aleksander dropped out and decided to blaze his own path, beginning with an internship at a costume shop that sent him on bike errands around the city where he familiarized himself with fabric and millinery districts, learned where to hunt for props, and the intricacies of intensely multimedia costumes. His next internship afforded him the opportunity to fly down to Atlanta to work on a mural for the Coca Cola museum with the renowned artist, Takashi Murakami. Paid gigs with Macy’s and Lord & Taylor soon followed, where he found himself in prop shops working with 3D modelers, carpenters, and animatronics designers to design holiday windows. While he acquired invaluable construction skills, one key element was still missing. “I grew up addicted to T.V. and the props department was just rigging thing for viewers,” Aleksander recalled. Instead of creating environments for passive viewing, his true desire was to be able “to live in it.”
Carnival of Ascension
Aleksander’s first foray into designing events started at the Macao Trading Company, where he threw the Drunken Dragon Party, but when the economy crashed and funding dried, he was forced to throw his own parties, beginning with the Carnival of Ascension, a high concept theme party that recreated the progression of life to death. Participants came dressed as either the living or the dead, and dined off the raspberry and spongecake covered flesh of each other’s bodies. Other parties followed, including the Epic Prom, where he ended up losing $3,500, nearly putting an end to his short career. But Aleksander persevered, eventually landing a high profile gig for Hendricks Gin, designing an immaculate enchanted forest, where woodland sprites served cocktails in a woodsy landscape complete with moss laden floors. “I really knocked it out of the park,” Aleksander beamed.
Hendrick’s Gin Enchanted Forest of Curiosities
These days, Aleksander recognizes the importance of establishing strict business principles to his endeavors, even hiring an agent to manage and attract bigger clients… and to play hardball. “I’m too nice to people,” Aleksander admitted. “I talk too much and I turn into the grandmother that holds peoples hands.” He also explained the importance of starting off client relationships with the right expectations. “I always take the initiative over the art director. First, I send out an introductory package detailing exactly what I do, I set a price for each service, and I outline payment schedules. I can’t get excited about projects if the client is underpaying or being cheap.”
As for his approach to developing compelling creative deliverables, Aleksander is strategic and methodical, employing a four-part progression that consists of information gathering, which involves learning as much as possible from the people who are in charge, incubation where he gathers inspiration and passively thinks about ideas, illumination, where ideas are molded into concepts, and elaboration when budgets and marketing decks are built. And one more thing, Aleksander added, “a lot of espresso.”
“My favorite class I ever took was a creativity course I took in high school, where the teacher taught principles of creativity and how famous creative people work. He taught us that the fear of failure is the single greatest inhibitor of creativity. People who don’t want to try something new and unchartered are the most dangerous to work with. Every person on my team needs to be intrepid.”
Putting the finishing touches on his four-course meal, Aleksander appears neither intrepid nor anxious. Cooking, he admits, brings him a sense of balance and calm to his life. Downstairs, guests dressed in ostentatious outfits are cavorting and sipping their cocktails, awash in the moody glow from the candelabras, and unaware of the long journey their host has undertaken to create the world they get to play in.