5 Minutes with film prodigy Dexter Navy
At 23 years young, London-based photographer Dexter Navy has already built up quite the portfolio. Navy was first noticed by cultural bible i-D, who observed the striking photography on his Tumblr page. Dex’s gone from strength to strength, shooting more than a handful of projects — for i-D in addition to an enviable client list of brands, publications and musicians. The allure is simple: Dexter’s photographs capture youth with an innocence and sense of honesty that’s missing from the more posed end of editorial photography. It’s likely that this has a lot to do with his organic and admittedly, nonchalant, approach to client work. He shoots everything on a Yashica T4 point and shoot camera, hardly the most inimitable piece of equipment on the market, but a tool he explores in all of its latent utility.
Last week saw the launch of Dexter’s debut photography exhibition at East London’s Hoxton Gallery. Presented by OG branding agency a number of names*, the show — 36 — saw Dexter present 36 of his favorite shots taken throughout his career thus far. Based on the concept of a 36-exposure film, the underlying idea was to show how every shot counts. By all accounts a success based on opening night turnout, we caught up with Dexter the next day to see how he was feeling about the show, and to discuss his moves in the photography world and beyond. Check it out below.
SlamXHype: Hey Dexter, how did last night go?
Dexter Navy: I didn’t expect so many people to come. There was a constant flow of people. Everyone was really into it; everyone knew it was film. I’ve never talked so much in my life — I wouldn’t want to be famous. I had a great time. Do you know what’s really crazy? I’d never printed one of my pictures in my life, it’s too expensive. I never had enough money to print.
SXH: But all of these photos were shot on a [Yashica] T4 right?
Navy: Yeah, I got it for £50 on ebay. I just started shooting. This is actually the second one I bought. The first one was what I was using until I did a BBC shoot in Arizona. They gave me the chance to go to Arizona with 50 rolls of film and a camera, and just the chance to shoot and I was like, “I need to get a back up”, but I couldn’t find one. So then I was in a flea market in LA and I found one, fifty bucks. So I bought it just in case. On the final shot, we were doing a wheel spin in a car and all this dust went into the other camera and I had this as my back up. So this is my one at the moment.
They’re super versatile.
Yeah, it’s just like, you don’t feel intimidated. It’s just like a phone, but the lens is so good — Carl Zeiss. So I just started and I didn’t stop. I’ve been shooting on this for two years.
Let’s talk about the concept of the exhibition…
Basically, a film roll has 36 exposures. With film, I feel like it’s the best way to get the best out of a subject, because every shot is really expensive. A roll of film is about £8, and then another £13 just to develop it, and that adds up. So every shot I take has to look good, otherwise I’m wasting money. It’s not like I can just shoot like it’s an Uzi. I wanted to show people 36 of my favorite pictures. It’s all really natural.
I have tried to do every shoot on one roll. Especially in the beginning because I didn’t have a lot of money.
How did you get into photography in the first place?
Funnily enough, I never wanted to be a photographer. I love film – filmmaking is my thing. But I made a Tumblr, and just started taking pictures with a Yashica, and i-D found it. They wanted to use some of the pictures in their magazine; I thought that was cool, because that way I could meet musicians — so I could make their music videos. But then it was like, every few days, they’d ask me to shoot stuff. And I’m a really last minute guy. If you ask me at the last minute – I’m there. I’m always down to do stuff. So they kept calling me and I just kept shooting. Photography took over.
So it was quite a natural progression from your filmmaking?
Yeah. For me, it’s a way to talk to people without having to say much.
It’s kind of like a street photography mindset in a way – you seem compelled to take pictures of what’s around you…
For me, I try and make every shot look a little bit like a film. The shots should be able to turn into a film scene in your mind. It’s all about characters and locations. I’m not big on studios — I like to run around with people.
Speaking of film, you’ve just shot something for A$AP Rocky…
I met Rocky through photography. Somehow I kept bumping into him. Earlier this year I was in Paris and I bumped into him, and then again in LA, randomly. We started talking about videos and I was like, “I really wanna do one”. So I went to his show in Manchester recently and I was still thinking, “I really wanna do a video with Rocky”. Anyway, after the show we went back to his hotel and started talking about it. We were there for about 6 hours just talking about videos and he was like, “let’s shoot one next week”. I was like, “you mean, next week next week?!”
But it was like damn, I finally got the chance. We came up with the idea together and shot it within a week. We shot on two vintage Bolex cameras. It was wicked.
How does your relationship with a number of names* work?
I met Craig [anon* founder] at Bread & Butter in Berlin. Basically, I was like, “give me a box of BBC and BAPE and I’ll take some shots of cool people wearing them”. He’d never seen any of my stuff, but he was still like, “OK, cool”. I was going to LA for two weeks and I said I’d give him three cool people — Anwar Carrots, Travis Scott and Ian Connor. I shot them and five extra people, so I over-delivered. So Craig kept sending me boxes of BBC and then I pitched for the lookbook. We shot it in Arizona with four models from Fairfax. From that, I just kept on working with Craig. He’s a man of his word.
It was Craig who came to me with the idea to do the show. I had so many pictures but I never thought of doing one. So he made it happen; it was very organic.
Were you a fan of these brands before you started doing this?
I’ve been a fan since I was young but could never really afford them. Then I started to shoot them and got some free stuff, which was tight! It’s just great to work with people who are so easy to deal with. With a number of names* – if they say something, they’ll do it.
A lot of these photos are taken from editorials you’ve shot. Would you say that the way you shoot editorials informs the rest of your work, or vice versa?
With the editorials I do, I try to make it look like me and the models are friends. I mean, most of the time, we’re friends before I shoot them and it’s more a case of trying to shoot them when I’m in town. It’s like we’re hanging out. I’ve never been able to describe my photography, but this one kid on Tumblr messaged me like, “If I was to describe your photography I’d say it was like a Kodak moment, but a real refreshing one!” [laughs]. He hit the nail on the head.
The way I look at it, your editorial photos come across as the power shots and then the lifestyle shots are almost a bit more discreet – they’re life moments. They’re in stark contrast to, say, the BAPE shot of Ian Connor.
Man, Ian is such a character. He doesn’t particularly do anything, except be himself, so shooting him is so easy. He’s literally being himself and he doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks. He’s blown up just from being himself. I mean, he crowned himself the King of the Youth and now kids just say it.
There’s definitely a youthful energy to everything here.
Everyone in these shots is of a similar age, it’s all very youthful. We’re just hanging out, really.
What element of your photography interests you the most? What do you want to build on?
…The fact that I’m just shooting my friends and that’s getting me work. I’d like to keep traveling, finding cool locations – maybe work with some bigger budgets so I can shoot at even more amazing locations.
What else would you like to cross off your list this year?
I want to make a short film. I just got signed to [production company] Partisan, as a music video and commercial director. So that was something I wanted to do, but have done now. I really want to do films.
For more visit dexternavy.com