With perfection put on a pedestal, a little polish could be the crack in the surface. Finding a synergy between synthetic beauty and unnerving undertones, fashion photographer, filmmaker, and visual artist ELI REZKALLAH morphs a cookie-cutter reality into surrealism, incarnate in his publication Plastik Magazine. Imagination–life is his creation.
Not all things artificial are fake. Veering away from the constructs of society, Eli Rezkallah looks to vibrant and flawless reiterations of reality. Through his love for fashion and fine art, he chased his plastered dreams from point to point, finally realizing an outlet for his visual language in Plastik Studios–a Beirut-based creative studio for photography, film, and design that has worked with Christian Louboutin, Kipling, Wondertan, Kamishibai, and more–and eventually branching out with his own Plastik Magazine. But before setting out to pursue his art, the sentimentality and surrealness behind his vision was shaped by his early years in Beirut. “I grew up in Lebanon. I lived with my family in a sort of gated community that we shared with other families because of the political situation in our country,” he recalls. But instead of being warped by the harsh havoc of a war-torn reality, the young artist took comfort in the strong facade kept up by the ones who ran the world of imagination–girls. “Having grown up in this secluded oasis, I was always surrounded by women who were constantly putting on their ‘Sunday’s best’ and deliberately turning a blind eye to the country’s tense socio-political situation. I later realized that this was their defense mechanism and survival instinct kicking in. Through the years, my work became a visual representation of the measures we take to escape reality, and to recreate our own. No matter how colorful and vibrant the women would paint their world, they could never hide the sentiment of dread they had from living in an environment on the verge of destruction.” As to how art manifested slowly into his world, he shares, “I was always interested in art, whether it was TV shows, musicals, or plays. At school, I had a teacher who noticed my talent at a young age and pushed me to embrace it whenever I could. And to this day, I am extremely grateful to her, as I never had to wonder what I would want to do when I grew up. I knew.”
“I never had to wonder what I would want to do when I grew up. I knew.”
Just as he was as a child, Eli stayed just as hungry for any shape or form of artistry. At the age of 16, he worked as a stylist for a top photographer in Lebanon to get his foot in the door. “The styling part of my career was very brief as it quickly evolved into art and creative direction. I just had to start somewhere.” Moving on to being a creative director for fashion shows, his distinctive taste led him to conceptual shoots, which then manifested as Plastik Studios. “I spent the first five years as a creative director working with several photographers until I felt that it was more practical for me to communicate my idea if I shot it myself.” With an uncompromised vision as his cutting edge, he sees his art as a sum of its parts rather than pieces to a puzzle. “I’ve always loved fashion as a form of art, I only look at it as a whole: the vision of the designer and the execution of that vision in clothing, from the choices they make in their campaigns, runway presentations, music, and models to the story of each designer, how it changes, and where it goes. But I have zero interest in the ‘fashion consumer world’ in terms of today’s street interpretation of this industry–although I understand how those two worlds cannot exist without the other.”
“I hope I can transport people from their reality to a surreal world that triggered their imagination.”
Searching in perpetuity for an outlet to be as loud as his ideas, Eli sought a medium to reflect his world in the confines of his mind, a manifesto of sorts for his ever-evolving taste in Plastik Magazine. “Through the years, I feel that I developed a certain sense of aesthetic. It’s a constant work in progress when it comes to telling a story behind your work and making it more than just two-dimensional.” With its groundbreaking work, it quickly gained recognition, earning the 2010 Premier Print Award by the Printing Industries of America, Inc. and the Golden Award for “Best Publication in the Middle East” at the Dubai International Printing Awards. Pulling inspiration from his roots, he shares, “First and foremost, Plastik wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Beirut. The reason why it was created was to add more colors to my city. That was eight years ago. Beirut is my home and I allow myself to grow here. I came to a realization that the ease this city offers is what makes you active; my story, my inspiration wouldn’t be the same if I wasn’t living here.” From glossy pages of picture-perfect takes, crisp and clean dresses with dead eyes staring straight to the lenses, Eli paints the pained prick of unsettling scenes like something lurking beneath the surface.
“There’s a story behind each shot. There are two sides to my personality–one that is melancholic and dramatic, and another that is sarcastic. I feel my stories are always one of the two, depending on my mood. But when creating content for the magazine, I follow my visual instinct at the moment, which is always fun to work around.” With features to boast of including artists David Lachapelle and Yayoi Kusama, designers Karl Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs, Miley Cyrus, Paris Hilton, and many more, Plastik also focuses on the underground current of drag queens from Rupaul’s Drag Race, featuring Violet Chachki, Kim Chi, Detox, Katya Zamolodchikova, and Alaska Thunderfuck 5000. “The first time I met Alaska, I had one question for her. ‘When did you become Alaska?’ She answered, ‘You mean since when has she been with me?’ Then we went on to explain that when she puts on Alaska’s face, it feels like this person that doesn’t exist on this earth comes to life through her body.” She continues, “I thought that was such a beautiful way to put it. We all have many facets to our personality, and being able to fully develop one of those facets and create a persona is such a wonderful way to live life. I admire the courage of those artists to go there and not be labeled as one personality that your surroundings expect you to sustain.” Diving into the duality of beauty, the young artist says, “I hope I can transport people from their reality to a surreal world that triggered their imagination.” Eli Rezkallah pulls us into his world–wrapped in Plastik, it’s fantastic.