Digital museums, photography maps, routines (or lack thereof), Instagram and escapism
Calvin Pausania doesn’t like labels. His work is a unique blend – with a bite. Found imagery meets architecture across vibrant plains of colour, and models strike poses distorted by digital dynamism. Combining skills from art direction, design and photography, if he had to label himself it would be the catch-all ‘creative director’.
King of the concept, Pausania’s process starts with his secret: photography maps, where images are geotagged to locations. Sourced from social media, the internet and digging deeper into books and conversations with colleagues and friends, his camera captures people and places across the world. The images come to life on the screen, twisting and morphing into a language that speaks only of its vision for the brand.
The label ‘art school dropout’ might conjure a picture of an enfant terrible. Yet Pausania’s decision to drop out of his local art school eight weeks in was far from a rebellion. After finishing high school, he hit the ground running working in photography and graphic design, frequently travelling to London to work on commissions. His decision to pursue the professional path was measured, motivated by the climbing momentum of his career. ‘Within a few months I was able to do the work I wanted to do and finance it independently,’ he says.
Since launching his own studio, Pausania has collaborated with international fashion brands and musicians – all from his hometown base of Arnhem in the Netherlands. His crack is telling stories, helping young brands define their identity and inspiring others to be creative.
Today Pausania operates a busy studio, often collaborating with two photography assistants and a graphic assistant for extra support – and speaking of busy, January is his busiest month, when fashion brands are eager to showcase new collections before they jet off to Paris and Milan for fashion weeks. ‘With no agency, you have to figure everything out for yourself,’ says Pausania. And what about his routine? ‘That’s the whole problem…’ he says.
While Pausania’s days vary from shoots and travelling, to emails and admin, he has established a loose formula for his artistic process that works. ‘It always starts with an idea. Very quickly, I select a bunch of images – a couple of hundred – filtering them through and drawing a story line between the references. The photography is where everything comes together, and then I apply the graphic design to create something out of the ordinary.’
Post-production is where Pausania gets to play – building bridges between reality and fantasy, while shifting and blurring boundaries. Through his subtle manipulation, objects and people jump out into a fourth dimension: ‘editing creates an image that feels dynamic.’
If you dare to enter Pausania’s warped and wonderful world, his website is his very own ‘digital museum’. Projects are layered into cubist portfolios that collide visually across the screen, forging an electric current through his personal style and expression. ‘My website is like an exhibition of my work that someone can enter,’ he says. ‘It’s a place people can experience my work and where it comes to life – I want people to walk in and feel the vibe.’
His world is all-absorbing, specially for Pausania himself. ‘If you are your own business, it’s hard not to focus on work all the time. But it’s important to take some rest and live in the moment,’ he says. This year he took his first holiday since starting his business, spending a week alone at Ricardo Bofill’s La Muralla Roja: ‘In the architecture and the scenery, I was able to recharge myself and my ideas. I zoomed out and thought about what I wanted to create in 2019.’
Layered over pale blue skies, Pausania’s images of La Muralla Roja combine self-portraits with building studies, emerging as modernist vistas injected with his own style. Architecture is a returning inspiration for Pausania, which he traces back to growing up in Arnhem where the modern built environment is a stage set to a backdrop of long flat plains of green space, fields and forest.
While on this solitary quest – a holiday and a way to rediscover his art – he deleted Instagram and totally disconnected. He practises what he preaches in his motto: To lead an orchestra you must turn your back on the crowd. ‘You don’t always need to listen to what most people think, or what they want from you,’ he says. ‘You should focus on what’s close to your heart and listen to yourself. Don’t get too caught up in the traffic and the noise.’ Hear hear.