Profound Soul | Interview With Charlene Bagcal
Haunting, sensual, gripping, and rife with intoxication, Los Angeles director, photographer and creative director Charlene Bagcal creates work that gives the viewer pause. Bagcal’s distinguished work evokes an atmosphere replete with wonder, contrasting yet arousing tones, sumptuous hues and breathtaking balance. On the heels of completing filming for the film “21 Days”, of which she was Art Director, Bagcal took some time out to share what makes her heart stir, her lauded technique, her acclaimed work with Chelsea Wolfe, “Scarface”‘s Elvira Hancock’s signature style, and bravery.
DITTE DENNISOR: Tell me about your childhood as it relates to you as an artist today.
CHARLENE BAGCAL: When I was young, I was always encouraged to explore my creativity by my parents. My nurturing upbringing definitely played a strong role in my decision to pursue the arts in my adulthood. My work has also been characterized as being somewhat dark and this does not surprise me because I have always been interested in dark subject matter. As a child, I enjoyed watching rated R horror films (without my parent’s consent) and also played pranks on my parents like walking around the house and speaking in creepy demonic voices or crossing my arms over my chest like a vampire, pretending I was sleeping. I suppose I was a strange little girl with an odd imagination. In high school, I painted a lot and used my own blood for one painting and this really alarmed my mom. I remember her sitting me down and asking me if everything was alright. My paintings were particularly dark to begin with though, and I honestly feel my parents were genuinely concerned and confused because I came from such a happy household. Thankfully, my painting teacher spoke to my mom about how he felt I was a gifted painter and I suppose it eased her nerves a bit. I do not feel my views on art are much different than those of when I was young. My work has only matured and I have learned to develop it into something marketable. I also now know that painting with my own blood may be a bit unhygienic and disturbing to some, as romantic as the gesture may seem to me.
DD: Your portraiture work is gripping and unlike any other portraiture work I’ve seen. How do you approach taking portraits?
CB: Thank you so much. I really try to get to know my subjects prior to photographing them so I get a sense of who they. Taking generic portraits never appealed to me because it says nothing about who that person is. I want my portraiture to be intimate and reveal something special about someone.
DD: Everybody has their own idea of what a dream is. When I look at your work I feel enveloped in a dream – what do dreams mean to you?
CB: Dreams are very crucial to my work and often inspire my films. Since I started directing, I have started having very cinematic dreams where carefully composed “camera” angles feel very prominent. My dreams have matured visually which is really interesting to see my career play a role in my subconscious mind. I am currently writing a screenplay for my first feature film and I am bringing a lot of my dream concepts into this film. This is definitely going to be the most challenging project for me, mentally and physically. I will begin filming early 2014 and aim to film overseas.
DD: Do you feel that as a woman of German and Filipino descent that you bring a different perspective to your work that isn’t currently present in film and photography?
CB: I do not relate much to my Filipino heritage only because my father was raised in Hawaii and even he feels more connected to Hawaiian culture. My mother did speak some German to me growing up and also made a conscience effort to surround me with my German grandparents. My grandparents were amazing people and definitely made me really appreciate my German and European roots.
As far as bringing a different perspective, that is hard to say. All I aim to do with my work is to evoke truth, mystery, and sensuality; while creating a world unlike what you have seen in reality. To me, art is about making someone feel something and letting them into your world. It is a very intimate and personal experience to expose this part of you. It took me awhile to be comfortable with having my work out in the world and open to criticism because by nature, I feel humans -especially artists- are sensitive souls. My mother once told me that if you have a gift, it is your duty to share it with the world. Her words always pushed me to do just this, no matter how frightful it may be at times to let my guard down.
DD: Your work is surreal, minimal, while steeped in femininity and modernity, with notes of darkness and sensuality– however how would you define your personal fashion aesthetic?
CB: I love to mix designer pieces with vintage. I wear a lot of 70’s dress silhouettes because they are cut the best for my figure. I look for strong tailored
pieces that compliment my frame and I also adore a low cut front or back on a dress, dolman sleeves, and fabrics that drape elegantly. My dream closet would be that of Michelle Pfeiffer’s character [Elvira Hancock] in “Scarface.” Women’s attire from this era was ultra sexy.
DD: Who are your favorite designers?
CB: Alexander McQueen, Lanvin, Iris Van Herpen, Rick Owens, Maison Martin Margiela, and Tom Ford are my current favorite designers.
DD: Who are the photographers that inspire you?
CB: Patrizio Di Renzo, Rankin, Floria Sigismondi, Helmut Newton, Nan Goldin, and Irving Penn
DD: How has your style and approach to art direction, film and photography evolved since you first began your career?
CB: I just learned to follow my heart and stay true to my vision. When I was starting out I was still finding my voice and often found myself trying to please too many people. It was not until I started to do things my way and turn down work I was not interested in, regardless of money, that I started to really understand my place in this industry. The second I let go of all of the things that frustrated me regarding the fashion and film industry, I felt my work started to really take on a life of its own, in a positive light. And, my style is still very minimal like when I was starting out, it is just more sophisticated and refined now. This all came with experience and knowing what was working and what to aesthetically abandon.
DD: Your jewelry line, myYUKIKO is stunning and features pieces that are directional, contemporary- full of structure and architecture with subtle elegance which is achieved through fine woodwork. Has jewelry always been of interest to you? What are some of your favorite pieces of jewelry from your personal collection?
CB: Thank you for the kind words. Yes, I have always been drawn to jewelry design for its architectural quality. myYUKIKO was a line I wanted to develop for years so I was very thrilled to finally launch this year. myYUKIKO’s next season is something I am really proud of.
My favorite jewelry piece from my personal collection is a vintage signed green enamel pendant necklace by Eisenberg (circa 60s) that belonged to my mother. It has a gold snake chain and it is such a wonderful statement piece. I wear a lot of black and usually choose to introduce color through my accessories.
DD: Fashion is a large part of your work, but there’s also the element of music and musicians that play a role as well. Who are some of your favorite musicians? What are you listening to now?
CB: Music is definitely very inspirational to me and I will definitely be working with more musicians since I am directing music videos now. Nowadays, working with musicians is more rewarding for me because it feels like a true collaboration, combining their sound and my vision. With fashion photography, it always feels very one sided where I am orchestrating whole editorials.
I work with Chelsea Wolfe a lot and I am always inspired by her music. We have a new project in works before her next tour in September ‘13 that I am excited to begin.
I am also a fan of The Knife, Bat For Lashes, NIN, and David Lynch’s music. Although, I do listen to a lot of the same music I did in high school such as Bauhaus, Bjork, PJ Harvey, NewOrder, and Joy Division.
DD: Your film Dreamland for Dresslab was chosen as an official selection for the La Jolla Fashion Film Festival and you’re currently working on a screenplay for your debut feature film (congratulations!). You’ve taken a step back from photography and are steadily moving more toward directing film. How has this experience of transitioning from photography to film been for you?
CB: Thank you! Yes, it is currently a very exciting time in my career for sure. I started to become really interested in moving image in college. This was when I created my first video for a new media course I was taking. From this point, I knew moving image was going to somehow play a role in my creative career. It took me years to find a strong enough film crew to carry out my vision though. Now that I have a solid film crew that I respect and admire, I feel very confident moving forward with each new project that comes my way. My film career has definitely moved at a faster rate than I ever could have hoped for and I owe a lot of this to the hard work of my team, the international press my work has received, the support of publications/commissions, and my amazing producers.
I have only been directing for a little over a year so I am still very much growing as a writer and director, always wanting to push myself and further fine tune my skills. It makes me look forward to how strong my work can be 5 years with continued hard work and perseverance.
DD: The fashion film “Library Etiquette” for the SS13 myYUKIKO campaign is inspired by experimental student films, academic educational films and European cinema- who are some of your favorite European directors, auteur’s and films?
CB: I really admire Alejandro Jodorowsky, Dario Argento, and Ingmar Bergman. “The Holy Mountain” and “Santa Sangre” are probably two of the most influential films for me. I am a huge fan of surrealism and the avant-garde so, when I first saw Jodorowsky’s work, I felt something truly remarkable. He is a true visionary with a unique way of storytelling. His impeccable art direction is what really excites me the most though…simply stunning. I can only hope to someday create work as wondrous as his.
DD: You’ve worked with remarkable musicians and artists in your films. Are there any actors or musicians that you’d like to work with in the future?
CB: I definitely have an ambitious goal of working with Bjork. I am currently working with a worldwide production company that has directed several of her music videos so I feel closer to actually realizing this dream than ever before. Sending those positive vibes out there!
David Bowie is also a phenomenal musician/actor and it would be a dream to work with him. I am also a fan of Helena Bonham Carter and Eva Green. Both of these women are highly inspiring to me.
DD: Your attitude towards the industry is inspirational. You’re candid, completely earnest and forthright. I read a quote of yours in a previous interview with The Creative Book where you discussed a life changing event that encouraged you to pursue fashion photography. Of the event you said,”… it also taught me to fight for what you want by putting yourself out there and being brave.” In regards to your work when was the last time you were brave?
CB: That is very kind of you to say. Well, I just wrapped being Art Director for a feature length horror film, “21 Days”, and it was definitely a challenging experience because I worked with limited resources and a small art department. My art department played a crucial role is realizing my vision as Art Director and I am very grateful to have signed on two very talented individuals to join my team. In the end, I feel extremely proud of the art direction and the film’s overall outcome. It was a very positive experience all around and I am glad I decided to make it work, even though in the beginning I was apprehensive to tackle such a large undertaking with such financial odds against me. I suppose I also try not to shy away from a good challenge. There is a quote I just read by Johnny Depp that I felt very connected to. He said, “There’s a drive in me that won’t allow me to do certain things that are easy.” This quote sums me up very nicely.