Milah Libin Under the Microscope
Milah Libin is a writer, photographer, videographer, and artist based in New York City. She is the Editor in Chief of Dizzy Magazine, Co-founder of Smart Girl Club, and Program Manager at Picture Room. Some of her most featured work includes music videos which she directed for performing artist, Princess Nokia. However, in addition we found a more personal reflection inside her portfolio- a free spirit of a creative mind through a lens influenced by friendships, family, and love.
A sense of play comes to mind when looking into the layered intricacies of her personal photos, drawings, and poems. The artistic expression is an intimate portrait of Milah's childhood experiences and interpersonal relationships. We find ourselves blushing, as if we had walked into something we weren't supposed to...Her works translate a deep rooted connection with the people whose images she captures and the fantastical stories she tells.
Above portrait of Libin's friend @princessnokia
1. How did you get into photography and video? Has art always been a big part of your life?
I started taking photos and videos at a young age. I had a DV camcorder in elementary school, and I would make weird experimental films on it playing multiple characters. I had the fortunate opportunity to take a black and white darkroom class over a summer when I was around 12, and that was my first experience taking film photos. Film and photography is a huge part of my family, and so my upbringing. My dad is a cinematographer, as is my brother, and my mom made incredible 16mm films in her early 20s. I was watching films from Blade Runner to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in elementary school.
2. Tell me about Dreamhouse. Why is this a project you chose to be a part of? What is the meaning behind it?
Manon Macasaet, who curated the show, is a good friend of mine. We were on a trip to Tokyo together, and she brought up the idea of wanting to make a dollhouse with her friends art inside. From there, Arvid Logan and I (DIZZY) helped Manon flesh out the idea and supported her creative vision to create the Dreamhouse show. It was a fun, whimsical project that coincided with the release of Dizzy’s first art book publication, a collection of photos by Manon titled “Sab & Alex.”
Video: @dizzymag AND @xgirlus Dream house, a group show inside a dollhouse. Curated and designed by @mingblingbling
3. Your recent works seem to be based in Japan. Are you currently based there or was that just a trip? How was it?
I have had the opportunity to take a few trips to Japan this past year, but I do not live there. One of my best friends, Cai Oglesby, lives in Tokyo and hosts an event series called “SAY IT LOUD” at The Breakfast Club. We launched the most recent issue of DIZZY at her event. I am extremely inspired by Japanese art and film - but specifically, in terms of my project Dizzy Magazine, the design. I source a lot of reference material, including printed matter, toy design, etc. for the magazine and my own artistic practice.
A spread in @dizzymag. Co-founded by Milah Libin and Arvid Logan.
Tell me about the poems you paired with each location.
The first poem I shared was written while sitting in a cafe in Nakano Broadway, a mall in Tokyo. It is a reflection on a conversation Cai and I had, that developed into more meditation on death. My friend Cai inspires me so much, and I was so enamored by our little adventures in Japan and the quietness of her neighborhood (Asagaya) that differed so much from where I live in Brooklyn. A few days later, Cai and I traveled to Okinawa, an island south from Tokyo. We stayed with a retired marine and his family. They showed us an area called “American Village” where we somehow wound up at a club on the terrace of a Japanese mall, filled with soldiers stationed on the island dancing and taking shots. We saw the island through bizarre lens, and also explored more traditional places, like castles and caves. The island holds so much history and you can feel it. We went to a beach called “Tropical Beach” and watched the sun set as we wrote. I don’t often share my poetry, but it is in fact the form of expression I feel the most connected to, and I’m trying to be more open with showing it to people, as it is received differently than photo and video through social media.
Portrait of friend @princessnokia
4. What were the concepts and motifs behind Flava that you wanted to incorporate when directing and filming? /What about womanhood and feminism was important in capturing for Princess Nokia’s brand?
Flava was a story written by Destiny (Princess Nokia) inspired by her life, but crafted in a way that spoke to a more universal experience. The concepts and motifs included showed the reality of being a woman of color - to show that only recently was it that certain characteristics, physically and culturally, were suddenly seen differently and taken from them by people who haven’t had their lived experiences. We also wanted to show the dreams of the young women and that it is possible to attain them. Princess Nokia’s “brand” is just her being herself.
Libin is the Editor in Chief of @dizzymag Pictured here are her friends @mingblingbling and @sickysab
5. Your style of illustration seems to differ from your style of photography. Would you agree or would you consider them equally playful?
My drawings are a fantasy world that exists inside my mind, whereas I take photos more as a documentarian. I’ve never been particularly drawn to “staged” photographs, other than some of Cindy Sherman’s early work. I think the closest thing I have gotten to photography that mirrors the world of my drawings is the recent photographs I took of my friends Manon, Sabrina and Alex in Tokyo dressed up as Hansel & Gretel and the witch - but those were taken on Halloween, and not a planned shoot - so in away, again, they were more documentary than staged “fantasy” photos.
6. What world do the characters in your illustrations live in?
Arvid Logan and I are working on a project right now called “Lumi’s Garden.” We’re creating a world that exists inside a garden, and I don’t want to reveal too much about it just yet…
My visual art is very inspired by my childhood backyard in Brooklyn, where I would spend a lot of time collecting leaves, looking under the limestone for bugs, etc. It was a wonderful little slice of nature in an urban upbringing. I’ve always been drawn to creating characters, which I would mainly do in writing as a child. Most of my drawings / visual art has recurring characters appearing throughout - a linked story. They all exist in the same universe. Drawing is a way for me to tap into the mind of little, young Milah, which is comforting to me.
Lumi’s Garden No. 2, 2018, in collaboration with Arvid Logan
7. Describe your best and worst experience you’ve had shooting. How did they help you grow as an artist?
The thing about shooting is that there are always mishaps and unexpected problems that arise. I’ve experienced it almost every single time, from big to small. It teaches you to be more open and to go with the flow. In a way, it helps you more as a person than an artist.
8. Which people/things/energies do you surround yourself with to stay inspired and creative?
I read a lot of fiction, which helps me detach from a lot of the things in the material world that distract me from being creative - like my phone. It exercises my mind, and something about reading a novel is so inspiring to me - to see how someone was able to craft an entire story with just their words. My friends inspire me so much. They take me and my work very seriously, and it’s important to have friends around you that do that. Arvid Logan does the same, and has made me see myself as a visual artist (illustrator / painter), which I never did before. Growing up in Brooklyn, I have so much attachment to it. I always had the idea that I would never leave New York, and it has been where I draw so much inspiration from. In recent years, I see how important travel is to my development as an artist and writer.
Libin is the co-founder of Smart Girl Club along with Destiny Frasqueri (Princess Nokia).
9. What are your hopes for the future?
I hope to travel more - have new experiences. I want Dizzy to continue to develop into the vision we set out to create, and to publish more art books as well as the bi-annual magazine. I’d like to publish more of my poetry, and show more of my visual art. I’d like to extend my public representation as an artist beyond just photo and video. I’d like to work more with children - to continue to take them seriously as artists, and not put a separation between them and adults when it comes to their work and practice.
ALL PHOTOS BY MILAH LIBIN