A striking, long-legged brunette runs after a revved-up Ford GT40, pink stilettos in her hand and exhaust in her face. Is the driver fleeing a mistress who won’t go quietly? Or is the owner in pursuit of her stolen car? It depends, really, on who’s looking at the photo.
“Every guy imagines himself being in that car,” says David Drebin of the image in his latest monograph, Chasing Paradise. “But every girl looks at her and thinks, ‘Wow, she’s so sexy, she’s so stylish, she’s so sophisticated.’ And that’s the riddle right there.”
It’s a riddle Drebin’s been telling for years in the form of engrossing photos portraying fantasies anyone can get behind. The Toronto-born photographer has gained international recognition for capturing scenes with a dreamlike, cinematic quality, making the viewer feel as if they’ve stumbled upon a moment of hedonism right at its climax. Though Drebin’s shot countless celebrities for high-profile brands and magazines, his work is at its most tantalizing when his subjects remain anonymous.
“So many of us live in our minds. We look at Facebook, we look at Instagram and we’re always somewhere else.”
In Chasing Paradise, mysterious femme fatales bask, cavort and seduce against soaring, iconic backdrops, from Los Angeles to New York to Tokyo. The saturated beauty of the photos lures you in, but a closer gaze reveals deeper layers: hints of irony, despair and underlying drama. All the while, the ladies stay incognito, making it easier for viewers to imagine they’re either the beguiling heroine or the object of her wiles.
“My photographs are just reflections of the people looking at the image,” says Drebin. “So many of us live in our minds. We look at Facebook, we look at Instagram and we’re always somewhere else.” So, in his work, he aims to depict an exaggerated version of what that “somewhere else” might look like. “It’s all about chasing the future. Dreaming. Because we live more in fantasyland than in reality, and it’s always just beyond our grasp.”
Not that Drebin isn’t also guilty of dreaming. He began chasing metaphoric GT40s in his early 20s. Knowing he wanted a creative career, he attended New York’s Academy of Dramatic Arts, hoping to break into Hollywood. The only problem: he was far from a Pacino. Following someone else’s script wasn’t his forte. But before long, he had a vision of his own. “My roommate wanted to be a photographer — the last thing I ever wanted to be,” he recalls. “He came home one day and laid out all these emotional black and white images on the floor. I’ll never forget the moment: I saw my whole destiny in front of me. I realized I want to pull stuff out of people visually, and I’ve been obsessed ever since.”
Fast-forward 20 years, and Drebin’s tackling his fantasy like it’s a sleepy quarterback. He’s part photographer, part hypnotist; tapping into our ids via intoxicatingly voyeuristic details — a writhing silhouette, a lifted skirt, an arresting skyline view from a woman’s bedroom. Should we feel exploited by the way he toys with our hungry psyches? “It depends whether you’re scared to chase your dream or focused on making it happen,” Drebin reasons. “I always ask people, ‘What would you do if you couldn’t fail?’ And what I would do if I couldn’t fail is exactly what I’m doing now.”