coming of age with dexter navy
Filmmaker and photographer Dexter Navy has risen from Tumblr star to critically acclaimed talent in six short years. Directing music videos for A$AP Rocky, working on his first feature film and receiving shout-outs from Kanye West, this West London boy...
Eagle Blakk wears cap and necklace model's own.
Six years ago one-time i-D staffer Milly McMahon was scrolling through Tumblr when she stumbled upon the photography of Dexter Navy. At the time Dexter was a precocious West London teenager with a knack of capturing Kodak moments of his mates and posting them online to an audience in single figures. Seeking a photographer to shoot portraiture for i-D's burgeoning website, Milly contacted Dexter and enveloped him in the i-D fold. What followed was a break-neck race to international acclaim as a filmmaker and photographer, MTV VMA and Grammy nominations before the age of 25, and a tweet from Kanye West that now comes complete with 35,000 thousand likes.
As Dexter's career has sped from one success to the next, the constant has remained his allegiance to La Haine, Mathieu Kassovitz's 90s black-and-white feature film that follows three 20-something lads' struggle to find their place in the politically volatile suburbs of Paris. It's arresting and honest, depicting real life through the eyes of the youth. On watching the film, the connections to Dexter's work are immediately apparent. Now 20 years old, the imagery in La Haine is still particularly relevant, it captures a generation but also transcends it entirely. Its depiction of youth communicates a spirit of curiosity and passion and the same can be said of Dexter's imagery. Although his work lives and thrives in the 21st-century ecosystem of the internet, it also represents much more, because in a world of over-composed selfies they capture a childlike honesty and intrigue.
"I think youth is about how you feel. My granddad is 72, he has energy, he still plays football and he says he feels 17. It's not an age bracket or a style, it's not about saying you're young, it's the way you think," Dexter explains. It's capturing that youthful energy that has marked his success. Whether photographing rising stars for i-D or shooting critically acclaimed music videos for A$AP Rocky, he's fast-becoming 'The Youth Guy'. "When we were young all we could do was change the channel on the TV. I didn't have the internet as a kid, I had to use my imagination. Kids now don't have to imagine anything. They don't need to imagine a tree with a flying horse next to it, they can find a picture of it." So how does being an 'inbetweener' impact the way he works? "My style is not old but it's not new. Every time I take on a project, I look to shoot the opposite way to everyone else. I shoot on film not because I'm nostalgic but because it gives an aesthetic and colours that I like and because it's different to everyone else. I work with new people and I do things a different way." The recipe is working. Where previously Dexter's over-active imagination was inhibited by shoestring budgets, now that teen spirit is something people are keen to get a piece of. "Before I was doing everything with no money. Now I can make these things I'm imagining into a reality." They're playing by his rules too: "Success for me is when people will hire you to do exactly what you want. Where they trust you to make a film the way you want to make it. Luckily that's happening for me and I know it's not that common."
Though he may not have been fed an internet-based diet as a child, his adolescence was played out on social media. "I'd only put up a couple of pictures on Tumblr and then I had all these people hitting me up. I just started enjoying it so much. Once I'd got 10,000 reblogs on one picture, it made me hungry to get my stuff all over the internet." This network has been Navy's making: "Tumblr was like my own magazine, that's how people found me." Six years on from that first post, social media and Dexter have grown up together: "All the work that has changed me has come through the internet. If someone wants to ask me a question they just ask me. I'm always hitting people up online."
This issue, Dexter has photographed his own IRL social network. "I've just shot people I'm friends with, people that I'm surrounded by. There's Lucien Clarke, who I haven't worked with before but I met him when I was shooting Supreme in Paris recently. JME and King Krule are great musicians that I really like. Jamie Isaac I just shot a video for. They're people I admire." And what's in it for Dexter? "Every time I do something, I'm learning. For me, all of this is school to make a feature film. Every job I do is a test for a scene in a film, to figure out the light that I want, the colour I want."
Born and raised in Notting Hill, Dexter is endlessly inspired by the world outside his window: "In West London you have such a mixture of people. All these second generation kids have been brought up here but with parents from all over the place; the West Indies, Morocco, Iran. There is this amazing mix of languages, energies and cultures. Everyone has a story and everybody is willing to tell it - and I talk to everybody!" So will London be the Paris to Dexter's La Haine? "I think people would expect this West London Kidulthood from me for my first film but it's gonna be based in Egypt and it's all gonna be in Arabic. Land like that is incomparable to any set I could ever build, from the pyramids to the place my dad grew-up." Though Dexter's heart may lie in Notting Hill, he's headed for bigger things and if the last six years are anything to go by it's going to be quite the coming of age story.
Text Sean Baker
Photography Dexter Navy
Hair and make-up Amber Pitkin using M.A.C and Bumble & Bumble
Photography assistance Finn Constatine, Idean and Martin Al-Shouti
Styling assistance Sean Armstrong
Hair and make-up assistance Grayson Galway
Models Lowell Delaney. Tatiana Stark. Kiki Karayiannis. Lauren and Maddie Mills. Mimi Quiquine. Olive Uniacke. Bella Berenguer. Isabella Bornholt. Ibeam Griffiths. Emily Bador, Soraya Jensen and Coral Kwayie at Nevs. Lily Galbraith-Helps at BMA. Grace Ming at View. Serena Marques at d1. Yasmin Childs. Zaz Roddam. Fred Page. Nickolas Larsen. Nat Roberson. Fabian Wood. Malikai Nwaka. JME. Kase. Baby Kase. Robie Uniacke. Baby Noir. Sean Armstrong. Finn Constantine. Elliot Jay Brown at Wilhelmina. Ben Reese at AMCK. Lucien Clarke. Gile Clarke. Tom Emmerson. Montell Martin. Nathan Mitchell at FM. Phoenix Cronin at Select. Eagle Blakk.