A Photographer’s Cinematic Images Show a Glittering Urban Fantasy at Contessa Gallery

The photographer David Drebin moved to New York and built his artistic reputation on a certain kind of image: dramatic shots of femme fatales set against glamorous urban backdrops. It’s fitting that his new show at Contessa Gallery is called “Chasing Paradise.”

“Chasing” is the operative word here. As many New Yorkers might attest, the more glamorous side of urban living can feel far away in Manhattan—making it the basis for innumerable fantasies. Drebin’s work plays with the concept: his photographs are aspirational, representing a glittering lifestyle that might not exist in New York, or anywhere else, for that matter. His paradise is dark and sumptuous. His heroines look like supermodels, and his settings range from gorgeously illuminated architectural landmarks to luxury hotels. There’s a cinematic quality to these scenes—each looks carefully directed and styled. 

Perhaps it’s no surprise to learn that Drebin entered the art world via fashion photography. Born in Toronto, he attended the Parsons School of Design, in New York. After graduating in 1996, he began working as a photographer, and eventually went on to shoot ad campaigns for the likes of American Express and editorial spreads for Vanity Fair, Travel + Leisure, GQ, and Rolling Stone. He also photographed a number of portraits of celebrated women, including Charlize Theron and Diane von Furstenberg.

These experiences clearly helped shape his dramatic signature style. Though there are certainly elements to “Chasing Paradise” that call to mind glossy magazine spreads or celebrity portraiture—like the stiletto-clad and platinum blonde subject, and the idyllic landscape of Wish I Could Fly (2015), or the romantic Dreams of Hong Kong (2015)many of Drebin’s photographs don’t feature women (or human subjects) at all. Jerusalem (2011) and Dreams of Central Park (2012) are sweeping cityscapes, and Because I Said So (2013) is not a photo at all, but rather a neon light installation.

But many of the works have something in common: a voyeuristic air, a hint (or more) of sensuality, the sense that something is about to happen. Drebin seems interested in the moment of impending climax—whether figuratively, or literally—and his eye for capturing that particular moment, in all its excitement and anxiety, is what lends a human feel to his otherwise strikingly glamorous images.


Bridget Gleeson


Chasing Paradise” is on view at Contessa Gallery, Cleveland, Oct. 2 – Nov. 7, 2015.

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