Meet Christina Paik, the Photographer who Puts Women at the Very Heart of her Work
Christina Paik may have six hours of lag in the legs on the day of our meeting, her energy is contagious. "Hey guys, sorry I'm late!" She rushes to us, her loud laugh echoing in the courtyard of a small, discrete building in the Marais. "I rented this apartment during the Fashion Week in Paris because I love this neighborhood," she says, "I lived there for four years!" Originally from New York, Christina Paik has indeed found in Paris a second house, a second refuge, in which she regularly comes to recharge her batteries to find inspiration. It is also in Paris that she created most of the photos that make up "Meufs" - a project that compiles candid portraits of young women in natural, sometimes bare and sometimes dressed in the creations of Off-White, the mark of her friend and collaborator Virgil Abloh.
Christina Pailk, who is very affiliated to the world of fashion, is now preparing to unveil "My Kind Wall", a photographic installation that she has traveled between New York and Tokyo, and is about to exhibit this Saturday March 4th in the adidas boutique located at 3rd rue des Rosiers, in the heart of Paris - an opportunity for us to learn more about this fascinating and ambitious artist.
I’ve read that before being a photographer, you were a figure skater… Is that true?
Yes! Everyone loves this story (laugh). My family skated. My father and my brother played hockey, so I knew how to ice skate at a very young age. I wanted to do hockey as well, but I was too small, too fragile and most of all I was really sick when I was younger, for several years. My stomach was not handling food at all so anything I would eat I would automatically threw up. So I tried figure skating and I happened to be good, so I stuck with it and then I got better. I started when I was about 10, until 18.
When did you start doing photography, and what interested you at first in this medium?
In middle school I was like the school artist, so I did drawings and posters for the school plays, the school magazine... After that, I heavily studied fine arts in high school and then I majored in Photography in college. That’s how everything started.
How would you describe your style of photography?
I guess I like really candid, natural environmental shots. I always thought I did not have a specific style, but every time that I talked to someone about that they were like: "Are you kidding me? Of course you have a style!" They always told me they could look at a photo and can tell it's my work, which is kind of cool because I can't see that.
Who are the people that inspire you for your work?
My favorite photographer is Richard Avedon. He's the one who got me into portraiture work, and black and white film.
“In Paris, people enjoy living.”
When did you arrive in Paris, and why did you decide to settle there?
I'm from the East Coast so I've always knew that New York was there, and in 2012, I thought it was time to start something new. The reason why I left New York is because I felt like the city, the aesthetic, the landscape and architecture of it, was everything kind of opposite to my aesthetic of work. Back then, I used to shoot everything horizontal with natural daylight, but NYC is a very vertical city, anywhere you go in this city you can't find anything like this. And there's always people in the frame – while I like to have no people in it.
I moved to Paris in 2012, but before that I've taken classes during the summer and I fell in love with this city. The architecture is obviously beautiful and there's lots of walls here (I love walls!) so that worked pretty well (laugh).
Today, you split your time between Paris and New York. Which one is your favorite?
People are always asking me this question and I always tell them I can't choose because they're completely different cities. What I love about Paris is that people enjoy living. Whereas, in New York they're always rushed and we kind of forget to enjoy living. In New York, you get a coffee to go, but in Paris you actually sit down and you drink your coffee.
“I am a very huge feminist!”
When did you start to bring your passion for portraiture into fashion photography?
Modeling agencies in Paris started to contact me, saying they kept seeing my work and wanted to send me girls every week, but they wanted me to shoot them my style, not the regular agency way, with Polaroid profiles and stuff. So the girls started to showing up but obviously, models don't know how to...dress (laugh). So I started styling them like I would dress - mixing streetwear and high end clothes because that's what I’m really into. And that's how I got into fashion photography.
I like fashion but I've never wanted to be a fashion photographer. And even to this day, I don't call myself a fashion photographer. I'm more a portrait artist. They may be styled good, they might look good, but for me the clothing is just an accessory; it's a way to get a good portrait.
Portraiture and women seem to be the two main aspects of your work. What do you like so much about capturing female faces and bodies?
My perception of beauty is very simple. I like natural beauty, especially in our generation, where everything is so saturated and you don't even know what's real anymore. So when I started working with modeling agencies, I would tell all the girls to not wear make-up and I never did any retouching. I kind of wanted to show this new idea of beauty to everybody, saying: "You don't need to have all this make-up. You don't need Photoshop." That's my main kind of goal.
Can you tell more about your project "Meufs"?
“Meufs” is a fun and simple body of work that I started in 2008 until now. I called it "Meufs" because, even though I started my career before I moved to Paris, I did a lot of my career in Paris, so that was influenced for that. And of course, I mostly shot women so…
Is it even more important for you to put women in the spotlight those days? I mean, especially with what’s going on currently in the U.S., with Donald Trump and his misogynist ideas…
Yeah for sure, more than ever, definitely. I mean, I am a very huge feminist (laugh), so yes it does matter to me.
“Not every artist have to show their face, it's about the work itself.”
Can you tell me more about your new installation “My Kinda Wall” that you’ll present it in Paris?
For my ‘Meufs' exhibition that I did in Tokyo, Seoul and New York. I made an installation with photos that I shot in each city, and I kind of improvise for each space, so it's very specific to that place. And that's what I'm going to do in the adidas shop in Paris.
What about your other project, @MyKindaCozy?
My main goal when I dress is that I need to be cozy, and I always mix high end and streetwear. I'd be wearing an adidas T-shirt with a Céline pants for example. So I started to post photos on Instagram that say "My Kinda Céline", and I would tag @MyKindaCozy. And I just got 10k in a week so, I was like, "Ok, it could be something." I rarely post on it actually. I mostly post on my main page. That's just like an ongoing series. I work with a lot of brands that want to be a part of it, so it's a cool project to me.
You’re pretty active on social media, but you only started posting photos of your face in the last year… Is it important for you to keep a bit of mystery in this very digital age?
The reason why I've never posted my face was because I did not want people to judge my work based on what I look like or who my friends are, etc. I think it's pretty difficult to be a female in the streetwear industry. Guys make a lot of jokes about it so I didn't want that to be: "Hey look at me, I'm a girl AND I'm in the streetwear.”
But then I got all these fan mails saying: "You must be ugly. Why don't you ever post your face? You must be fat. Blah blah.” So I was like: "What the fuck?!" (laugh) Then I thought: "I'm not ugly. I'm just trying to prove a point, saying not every artist has to show their face. It's about the work itself". But then... I started posting my face and it's weird cause I got more jobs! So fuck you society (laugh)!
But you keep hiding your face in your self-portraits, especially the "Me" series...
Yes. The reason why I love that series is because it's everything I love in my craft, where I like to kind of trick my audience. I don't want just a pretty photo. In this very digital era, I want the viewer to look at the photo more than just one second. I want him to look at it again and be very confused, and asked himself what's happening, what's going on. That's the goal that I want for my audience to have.
Words: Naomi Clément
Photography: Kevin Jordan