People often ask me if I came out of my mother’s womb holding a Rolleiflex. My answer: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask my mother.
Since childhood I have been creating images in one form or another. As a kid, I took my art very seriously and much to my parents’ discontent, I produced countless Crayola masterpieces on the walls of our house.
Then I set out to become a painter so unconsciously; even before I got into photography, I trained my eyes to perceive everything in terms of geometry and light. The first photographs I took were of inanimate 0bjects and landscapes that I used as subjects for my paintings.
When I began painting people, a lot of my subjects were impatient and refused to sit in front of my canvass all day, so I took the easy way out and photographed them, transferring the image onto the canvass later via the photo.
Pretty soon I realized this was a redundant process, especially since I could produce my ideas in a photograph in a fraction of the time it took to do a painting. Perhaps it was the laziness of youth or a natural progression, but I abandoned the brush and picked up the film. In hindsight, it was the best move I ever made.
I began taking photographs with an old titanium-bodied Minolta camera passed down to me almost 2 decades ago by my father. It was only half functional but I learned enough about the basics with that camera before I saved up enough money from a summer job to buy a used Leica R3 and a 50 mm lens.
It took me all summer to scrounge up the necessary cash and when I finally put my hands on the Leica, it sparked my life-long love affair with German cameras. The R3 was a sexy piece of machinery that invited me to explore and experiment with many different techniques and styles.
I never took a single photography class in my life nor did I ever assist anyone or ask for anyone’s help. My schooling came from running around in the streets early in the morning or in the middle of the night and shooting just about anything and anyone, and learning from my mistakes.
You could find me in cemeteries, churches, schoolyards and parks, or in the seediest parts of town; anywhere that had any character, I’d be there with the Leica in hand waiting for an elusive moment. Those experiences were invaluable and taught me more about photography than any school ever could.
I was fascinated early on by fashion photography. In my high school days while most of the other guys at the corner store were checking out Playboy, I’d be on the other side flipping through the pages of Vogue because for me, that’s where the real beautiful women were.
I spent countless hours sprawled on the floor of the local library, studying the composition and techniques of the photographers I admired.
The works of Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin made a lasting impression on me with their cold, sometimes androgynous, always disturbingly beautiful imagery. Richard Avedon and Irving Penn also impacted me with their carefully composed portraits and clean, natural style.
Their images spoke to me in a language that transcended words, and connected me to some profound emotions. Even as a teenager, I felt the power and relevance of what they were trying to convey. I wanted to communicate in that language too.
These photographers and their work represent an important milestone in the evolution of my personal style and to a certain extent, in the evolution of photography as a whole.
That was then; this is now. Almost twenty years later, fashion photography is a more complex and contradictory mixture of variables. As computers become more and more prevalent and accepted in art, photographers and retouchers manipulate or enhance images to create realistic ideas that blur the line between fantasy and reality for consumers.
While photography spent its first hundred years slowly perfecting its mechanics, its lenses, cameras, film emulsions and lighting, the speed and breadth of its evolution have accelerated exponentially with the advent of the digital era.
Our blind reliance on technology is a direct reflection of our culture’s current worldview, and by examining the subtleties of how technology affects us today; we can derive some interesting observations about where photography may be heading in the future.
Digitization, sampling, recycling, automation, genetic engineering, cloning, cosmetic surgery, artificial intelligence, virtual reality- all these fields are expanding into mainstream society and each one brings into question the separation between nature and technology, human and nonhuman, real and virtual, truth and fabrication.
A new era
If this is an accurate indication of where we are headed as a civilization, then the future of traditional analog photography, as we know it, indeed looks bleak. This does not imply that images will no longer be made, but rather that there will most likely be a dramatic transformation in the way they are made, and consequently in their intrinsic value and significance within society.
As a lover and advocate of traditional analog photography, I often lament at the thought of its inevitable demise yet on the other hand, I can only hope that the new era will herald a completely new way of seeing and being that will transform not only photography but also the way we interact with one another in the real world.
Enter the web
With the emergence of the Internet as a powerful new media force, yet another variable has been introduced into the equation. The web now allows static images to be delivered with emotion by fusing music, interactivity and motion to create a stimulating experience for the viewer.
It’s no surprise then that some of the best and most cutting-edge websites currently online belong to photographers. As broadband penetration gains popularity, photography websites will continue to evolve and push the limits of sensory experiences.
Hence, it may not be so far-fetched to think that perhaps today’s two-dimensional static visual style of photography may be replaced in the future by a complex, fully dynamic “stereo-sensory” style where the aural, tactile and olfactory senses are also taken into account.
The new generation
Perhaps the new generation of Avedons, Newtons, Penns and Bourdins to emerge will be the sensory architects and computer cognoscenti of tomorrow who design brand new immersive hyper-realistic worlds, offering unique experiences and feelings, accessible to all. These new pioneers will break through and manipulate space itself- something akin to what we are able to do now via video games.
It is quite conceivable that the new sensory elements and beings born out of their imagination could even co-exist amongst us, not merely on a neurological level but also on the physical one. It would be a world of holograms and simulations interacting with atoms and electrons in real time.
As old paradigms continue to break down in all dimensions thanks to technology, the stage is being carefully set for a major shift in the way we perceive reality. Reality, as always, continues to change, transform, and evolve with our consciousness.
Into the future
In the next generation, we will not interface with the electronic world via computers; rather we will live directly in it. The Internet will be like electricity and running water in our homes- it will be there, transparent, yet omnipresent.
We will always be plugged in to this brave new world- no more logging on to access sites or any arcane mechanisms or shackles around it. We will float in this virtual universe freely, unconsciously- completely unaware of its presence and without questioning its purpose.
The Internet may even eventually begin to develop its own intelligence, a symbiosis of algorithms, code and fuzzy logic, so that one day, individuals may actually end up interacting with the collective knowledge and experiences of all humanity. The relevance of this obviously extends far beyond just photography and has many philosophical and moral implications.
All this is a long way from the makeshift darkroom I set up in the basement of my parents’ home where I learnt my craft, honed my skills and developed my love for mixing chemicals like a mad scientist and watching a black and white print miraculously come to life under a dim red light.
All this may one day be a lost art in our hectic modern world, where more and more, everything seems to be about efficiency, fast-food, cheap thrills and quick fixes, where style over substance rules, and where the destination often seems more important than the journey.
Whatever the future holds, photography, in whatever form, will always be more than just technique. Photography is an exercise in touching the world by viewing it and we will always need new eyes to imagine it as others wouldn’t. At least that much should never change.
Sacha Dean Biyan
About the author, Sacha Dean Biyan
Sacha Dean Biyan is an international gypsy who speaks five languages and has lived in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia and Latin America.
He grew up and went to university in Montreal, Canada where he earned a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He worked as a consultant for some of the world’s largest aerospace corporations for over ten years before diverting his attention fulltime to photography.
Biyan now works both as a fashion photographer and photojournalist specializing in high-end editorial, commercial, fine art and travel photography. His images have appeared in publications such as Uomo Vogue, Marie Claire, GQ and Photo, and he has shot for diverse clients like Sony Music, Adidas, Lexus, the Gap and Discovery Communications.
He has also exhibited his work in Tokyo and Paris, and recently wrapped up a major exhibition in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
His two websites, Eccentris.com and Sachabiyan.com have been featured in countless print and online publications and have won numerous awards including the Communication Arts Interactive Design award and the FWA SOTD award in October and November 2003.
Eccentris.com is currently one of the most popular fashion photography sites on the Internet according to Yahoo while Sachabiyan.com is featured in Taschen’s new book, "The Top 1,000
Sacha Dean Biyan presently resides between Rio de Janeiro and Bali, Indonesia, and is working on the publication of his first book.