Making Magic

Interview with Destinie Paige

Destinie Paige is currently a 2nd-year student at the renowned Media & Design College, Ravensbourne University, London. Whilst she is busy with her studies, she is also prolific in her making; she directs, shoots, designs sets and is an editor. 

She began developing her craft when she was still in secondary school, shooting videos with friends, however, she found she was drawn more and more to photography so nurtured a parallel skill of telling stories through still imagery.and has found herself combining both disciplines with beautiful results.

Ambitious, determined and talented, she started building a group of creatives to collaborate with by messaging them via social media if their work focus felt aligned with hers. Themes threaded throughout all her work are identity, strong women and under-represented social groups. Co-opting family and friends to be her subjects in both films and photos, she began creating a large body of work (which is bloody gorgeous) and recently joined Sorry to Annoy You collective facilitated by Photofusion.

Renee: Destinie, the first time we met was for a coffee and it was only about after 30 minutes it surfaced that you were a student — I was blown away. All the things you’ve done and are doing, I was convinced you had been established in the creative industries for some time. When did you first start taking photographs and why? 

Destinie: I began taking photographs around 2017 when I decided to go to UAL [for a one-week insights film course]. The film course I applied for had no more spaces left, so I got recommended to try a weeks photography workshop that they were offering. It was here I met my mentor Derek Wiafe, who was teaching and running the photography program. Hes the best person ever. 

It was also here I experienced using film for the first time (as opposed to digital), it was just so fun, an amazing experience. However, I still didn’t think that I wanted to be a photographer, or even go into photography — it was just something I enjoyed doing. 

After finishing the course, I began to take photos on my digital camera [the one I used for YouTube haha — many aspirations]. As I loved cinema, my aim was to tell a story in each still image that I would take. Thats kind of when I began to take photos of my friends, creating my own photographic series called INVENT, where I was able to combine my journey within my photographic practice but also show the people I have connected with over a period of time, creating stories and using colour to show how this can evoke emotions. 

These are the first photos I ever took.

Model: Marcus [taken when attended UAL course]

Model: Adriana— INVENT 1

When first starting out, I loved to stylise my photographs to feel cinematic, have darker tones and really focus on facial expressions and composition. However, over time it developed into brighter, vivid colours and fashion. Everything just began to shape itself. My route into photography was accidental but it was truly so helpful and beautiful. I am glad I took that course at UAL and met Derek, who guided and helped me on my photographic path. 

These are photos from a recent photoshoot.

Just Remember This - Angel

Just Remember This - Casper & Ore

R: Those photos are incredible — I love that picture of Marcus so much. It is both an image you could come across in a fashion mag and a fine art photo that you could see hanging in a gallery. The Just Remember This pictures are so powerful Angel is timeless — it feels like a portrait from a bygone time but also possibly located somewhere in the future. 

You mentioned cinema was your first love. How did this come about and how and when did you pick up a camera?

D: I have literally always loved video and filming. The thought of holding a camera and being in control of a shot, the composition, how I move it in my hand, has always been something close to my heart. My Dad works in a film studio and as a kid, I would always be there with him interested, excited and just ready to learn new things and help people with their creations. I have this term of always wanting to make magic’ and I felt with cinematography / videography I was able to do that. Now Ive gotten better and have built my craft from tons of experience along the way. I still have a lot to learn, but I am grateful that I am on this journey. 

Behind the scenes: Just Remember This

R: You often include still photographs in films to great effect. A beautiful example of this is in the documentary Being a Woman - The Conversation Part II, directed by Jannine Ngesang, where you were both the cinematographer and editor. 

There is something in the pause, a momentary shift on what we are viewing. It’s like holding a visual breath. I’m curious as to how this choice came about and I’d also love to know more about the documentaries / project?

D: I met my friend Jannine through Instagram, I messaged her asking if she would be interested in working on a few of my projects as a muse and stylist. From there we built a relationship and collaborated together — when she asked me to work on her project, Heart to Heart, I was really excited. The aim of the project was to build a platform allowing young people and creatives to address and discuss what really matters to them within their communities. 

Jannine asked me and another amazing young filmmaker called Comfort to help with the direction of the films, I took on the roles of cinematographer and editor and I was so happy I did that. This project then led to an exhibition at the Old Street Gallery hosted by Jannine, and we had an amazing turnout! 

This project enabled me to work more on documentary filmmaking, I was inspired by the people I worked with and this opportunity also allowed me to find yet another love in the realm of film. Previously I hadnt done much documentary work, as I always loved poetry-based films, music videos or narrative cinema much more — but Im so grateful Jannine asked me to work with her on this and bring each film to life. 

When shooting, Jannine took photographs on 35mm film, which is where the photos in the documentaries come from. When it comes to me creating in the moment, I try to think about how this will work in the edit — it saves me more time when creating the entire story but also allows me to be way more creative and try new things. I wanted the documentary to have a cinematic and storytelling feel, by adding in the photographs, I felt it allowed the audience to soak in the reality and story, of each person who was featured. 

R: Your lived experience feels very at the centre of your work. Fashion, beauty and strength are motifs you consistently revisit. Why are you drawn to these specifically?

D: When starting photography, I just wanted to understand how to create stories in still images, but after a while, I added my interests to passion. It didnt happen on purpose, but kind of like subconsciously, I guess. 

I love everything with fashion, beauty and showing powerful women and people of colour on a screen. Like I literally love it. I love that I can be the person to create that experience and work with others who share those interests. Thats where the real magic happens. Despite knowing my work is influenced by these themes, it's from the people I also work with, that share these loves, which allows me to stretch my imagination. 

Behind the scenes: Shae Universe

If Im thinking of an idea that surrounds eye-makeup, and wanting it to be bold and colourful and then I find a model who shares those similar interests, and also wants to throw ideas into the mix — it makes the work I do 10x easier, but also it makes the outcome gorgeous. 

Strength is something that we always need to show that women and people of colour possess, and I want to be the one contributing to that true representation, especially within the film and photography industry.

R: Your work always feels intimate — that I’m up close with your subject. Angel in Just Remember This, which I mentioned above, is a perfect example — I'm suspended in some way in their world. You capture their energy at that pinpoint moment you pressed the shutter or framed the shot at a certain angle that keeps me hanging for what's coming next. I see threaded through your work Nadine Ijewere (whose work I am obsessed by), Cecile Emeke and Janelle Monae. Who would you say are your influences and why?

Behind the scenes: Just Remember This

D: For some strange reason, I always find this question so difficult to answer, because there are so many influences for me — from architecture to fashion, its pretty broad. 

Each influence gives me knowledge. Ill say a few though. Adrienne Raquel — her work just embodies nostalgia, femininity, divine females and beautiful colours. Every single piece of work she puts out, I am addicted to, she is truly a talented force and one day I really hope to work with her. 

Another person would be my most favourite actress Viola Davis — the power of her acting, her words, her facial expression when acting, the emotion she evokes from scenes or even her speeches when she collects an award, just inspires the hell out of me! I literally just am in love with how amazing and how dedicated she is to her craft. She literally gives me reassurance that its okay to start / 'make it’ later in life and still be inspirational. 

I would also say my parents, my dad who I have always followed around the film studio since I was little, just soaking in information. Im now really into set design, he literally has taught me so much when building up a set from scratch, understanding lighting and everything technical. My mum, I would say because the stories that she has always told me. Fiction or real [because sometimes she adds a little drama for effect] and learning more about my parents' cultures — Jamaica and Cuba. Its something that has helped me shape authentic stories in my work. 

A few others: Ava Duvernay who is a filmmaker, photographer Sasha Samsonova, photographer and director Nadia Lee Cohen, Nadine Ijewere [who you also said!], and photographer Juno Calypso. Theres truly a range! 

R: In terms of your direction, I really enjoyed your music video Love Me Right. That sense of intimacy is oozing out of the screen — it is so genuine. What is your process of drawing this authentic performance out of your actors and in the case of documentaries, your contributors?

Video still: Love Me Right

D: Love Me Right was an amazing music video to work on, and Im so pleased it turned out to be something that allows the audience to pass into a dreamlike state, of imaging beautiful moments such as the ones I aimed to create with this couple.

When directing actors, I always love to have conversations with them beforehand, walk them through the process, explain everything that needs to be done, ask for their feedback, ask how they feel. I just really try to connect with them and make them comfortable.

Then I worked at making them feel comfortable with each other. It isnt fun to be working with someone you dont feel relaxed around and connected to, it makes the whole process awkward and you cant get the best performances in this situation. 

When it came to the day of shooting, I also made sure that I had written detailed directions to remind myself, and to also refer back to. It helped me remember the structure of things, whilst still allowing the space for something that might pop into my head on the day. 

I enjoy communicating with people I am working with so that everyone is on the same page. It just makes the experience and the filming day more fun! 

Originally, Love Me Right was going to have three different couples, but due to complications on the day I only got to film these two actors, however, I literally felt in my heart they were perfect enough to have for the music video entirely. When directing, I would ask them to talk about random things, sometimes I gave them a topic and just used that to generate their conversation and therefore make it more authentic. 

Video still: Love Me Right

R: When we met - actually the reason why we met - was to discuss a project that you are in the early stages of, BEING. What is its focus and what’s your ambitions for it?

D: BEING has been so many things! Right now, its still in its infancy — and to be honest, I feel in my heart its going to be many things that I am passionate about and want to share with others. 

Im focusing on creating an educational platform on YouTube and Instagram interviewing industry professionals, and those starting out and those on their journeys in their creative careers and facilitating a discussion between them. I want to create fun, authentic opportunities, and learning experiences for those taking part, as well as those watching. 

Im also hoping BEING will eventually form into a studio / agency / company that gives a platform to creating magic. A place where people can learn about the industry, get experience, jobs and opportunities to help them on their journey. Id also love BEING to have a magazine, there so many ideas for it! It is going to be great.

R: Do you ever sleep?

D: For a long time, I didnt sleep as much. One music video shoot I had I stayed up 24 hours, as I did the set design and wanted everything to be perfect. I need to sleep more though! Sleep is a luxury and I need to take more advantage of it.

R: Where and when will people be able to get access to BEING?

Right now, there is no definite answer so I dont think for a while — however, the work I am creating now will contribute to BEING and used as content when it kicks off. Be ready guys! 

R: What is your advice for someone who wants to work in photography and/or film?

D: Explore and begin to create, learn about it, understand its craft, talk to people who are also in these industries, collaborate constantly with people who want to create magic like you. 

Try to be true to yourself and your work at all times. There will be times you start to wonder and question if this is something you are truly passionate about. It isnt an easy craft to attain, because whether you're aspiring to be a photographer that documents everyday life, your friends, events, or someone who does editorial fashion or a filmmaker that wants to create music videos or do narrative films, it all takes time and effort. 

If you want to be a photographer or filmmaker, figure out what you love, from there you will be able to shape your passion and that will drive you. It will show in your work and will allow others to feel inspired by you. 

R: I know you also have very focused plans to direct a film in the near future. How is that going? What is the focus? 

D: During the quarantine, I had the chance to take ideas and pull them into a script format. I am really so happy to be unlocking new skills that I just never tapped into as much. It is a short film, I want it to be part of a feature film Im hoping to create down the line. It is about a young black woman wanting to get the lead role in a new feature film, however, she not only faces barriers from the outside world but also difficulties at home about her aspirations. 

This film is close to my heart because I really want to offer an authentic representation of the film industry and the struggles that women — and also people of colour — face. 

Over time, I want to add to it and shape it into a feature film that holds a mirror up to the film industry showing the difficulties and sometimes the beautiful struggles that many aspiring artists go through and how they can overcome it. 

I am also working on another feature film — the narrative is in its early stages. It will focus on my heritage and how it can be growing up in Jamaica, taking influences from both of my parents' experiences of immigrating to England. Its really exciting!

R: I love the concept of a short forming into a feature over time. I mean, dare I ask, any other projects that you are currently working on? 

Monet - Facetime Shoot

D: I have been creating photoshoots via FaceTime, its something Ive been doing for a while but Im now also incorporating video. Its a refreshing process, although it was quite weird at first soon as I discussed fashion and beauty ideas with the models, we made magic (over FaceTime!). 

Desi - Facetime Shoot

Im also working on a short narrative film surrounding the topic of lockdown. It will be totally relatable for everyone as we navigate this strange time! The aim is to submit it to film festivals. 

R: Destinie, I don’t know what I'm looking forward to more — your shorts, the launch of BEING or continuing to see how you manage to bend FaceTime into making magic! After this catch-up, I’m even more in awe of all you are doing and your talents! Thank you.

D: Thank you so much for having me! I loved doing this interview, this was pretty much my second time getting an interview // Q+A done! Another mark to add to my journey! 

You connect with and see more of Destinie's work via:

- Her website

- Instagram @onlydestt

- Vimeo - Destinie Paige

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