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salem mitchell

interviewed

by Satchel Lee

 

Satchel Lee

What does fantasy mean to you?

Salem Mitchell

Anything can be fantasy. I could be living in a fantasy and never know it. Maybe because I can’t see myself the way other people see me.

SL

What you touched on right there… That’s my biggest fear.

SM

Really?

SL

Yes. The idea that I am living a certain way or doing a certain thing, and other people are not perceiving it the way I expect. That really scares me.

SM

It scares me too. I like when people think positively, and I’m always worried about being perceived the right way. So I feel you. But also, if you are living the way you want to live and doing things you want to do, you can’t go wrong. Regardless if you feel you’re being perceived “incorrectly.”

SL

Yeah. Fantasy can be a distant place. It can be a far off thing in your mind. But it can also be an idea that you have, one you bring to fruition through 

manifestation and hard work. The Internet adds another dimension to that, too.

SM

The Internet is crazy. You can create your own universe and your own persona. You can use the Internet to portray your wildest fantasies. You can actually bring them to life.

SL

What did you think your twenties would look like when you were younger? What was your fantasy back then?

SM

When I was a kid I never wanted to grow up. I understood that kids had something special. I was so stuck when it was time to graduate; I had no idea what I saw myself doing. I luckily found a creative profession, one that I feel like I am good at. I went to a performing arts school for seven years, and being around so many types of creative people during such a formative time opened up my eyes. It guided me into what I am doing now. I was exposed to a lot of different types of characters and people really early on, always without judgement. I had friends that were in photography, or costume and design, or musical theater, and we all collaborated. I had to audition to get into that school, and that experience of auditioning is really similar to castings and being in shows. it was a really impactful time of my life, because even though I’m not dancing or singing, I

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am still doing things that revolve around the world I grew up in.

SL

I live in New York, and I always think about the children I will bear one day.

SM

[Laughs]

SL

And if they wanna do art, they should go to a performing arts school. I think it’s so smart to nurture talent from a really young age, along with a curiosity for creative endeavors. And then, like you said, there’s the community. What’s your fantasy for the future?

SM

I like to see the growth between when I started and now, and I look forward to seeing the growth between what I”m currently doing and two years from now. I want to do more with my body, my voice, and my platform, and see all that evolve. But also, there is so much things I can tackle in this life. In reality, I have so much time and so much energy that I can give to the world if I live long, and I hope I do. Right now I would like to go back to the community that I grew up in and help other young women like myself. I want to help people understand they can come from nothing—or even just an average place— and find their way to greatness.

SL

I was talking to my friend about this the other day. Once you feel like you have “made it” to whatever degree that means, it is so important to give back and reinvest in your community.

SM

Yeah, I agree. I feel like I invest in everything. Well, I haven’t invested in stocks.

SL

Yeah. [Laughs"]

SM

I should. But I invest a lot in my friends and my family. My friends will be like, “Oh, I have an idea,” and I”m just like, “What do you need from me?” Because I believe that they can do it.

SL

What has been great about DRØME expanding is it really feels like we’re collecting friends. So it keeps getting bigger and bigger, but at the same time it feels very small and close-knit, which is cool. And since it’s something annual, it does feel a little bit like a yearbook.

SM

I know! Because the magazine is published once a year, it feels super special.

 
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SL

Yeah, and it’s always such a fun group of people! It’s really nice to have all kinds of artists, some more well-known and some less. It is hard in this day and age to figure out a balance. I find that a lot of my friends struggle with doing things for exposure, even if they’re not things they are particularly interested in. Just to get to a certain place or atmosphere, or their work will remain unknown.

SM

That’s always the struggle, for anybody and everybody. With modeling, I think about if I should only stick to jobs that I care about, or that I feel are worth my time. I like to try everything, but then you also can’t say yes to everything, which is my problem—I always say yes to everything. [Laughs]

SL

That is definitely a philosophy of life. It keeps experiences coming. I feel you. If you think about all the different directions you could go in with your life, what keeps you focused and grounded? What helps you recalibrate?

SM

My core group of friends and family help keep me focused, grounded, and on the correct path. They really welcome everything that I’m doing. When I pick up new things or think about what I want for the future,


I think about not only what would make me proud, but what my support system would be proud supporting. Because a big thing on the Internet right now is talking about whether you are supporting good people. And for people making art: Are you supporting who they are as well as supporting what they do? So I always try to do things that are going to make my friends, family, and anyone else who supports me proud to continue to do that.

SL

Definitely. Speak your truth. Do you.

SM

Yeah, that’s a big thing, speaking your truth.

SL

Really! It’s so hard. It’s hard sometimes when you realize that nobody else is doing what you’re doing, and to be okay with that.

SM

And, for anybody who is in a position where people are looking to them for guidance and inspiration, it’s hard to understand yourself. When you have a lot of people trying to give their opinions on how you should understand yourself, too, that’s tough.

 
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Photographer Lili Peper joins Salem and Satchel.

SM

Where do you find inspiration, Lili?

LP

I watch a lot of films. I’m really inspired by cinema.

SL

Which films are your go-to references?

LP

David Lynch’s films are always up there for me. I love surrealism, so Luis Bunuel’s films, too. Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek director, is my favorite contemporary filmmaker, I love him… Dario Argento, who did Suspiria in the ‘70s, has these great colors, so for colors I go to his films.

SL

You’re a photographer, and clearly films are visually inspiring, but do plot and story ever inspire your work as well?

LP

I’m fascinated by being able to tell an entire narrative with a single image. Drawing inspiration from films is less about camera movement and visual tricks, and more about putting a camera down and letting the scene kind of play out. And I notice how they load it, both with the actors’ performances but also props and set design, location and lighting, how all of these things affect the scene.

SL

If you could give the audience something that they can really interact with, even just a photograph, you can give people enough that they can really—

LP

Latch onto it.

SL

Exactly.

LP

I love using a lot of domestic signifiers in photography, and objects that link people to things. I love wide shots, too, because you see a door open, and you see a person sitting there, and you see a phone, and maybe the phone is off the hook. These are things you can identify, and identify with. You latch onto that, but then you start projecting all this subjective experience onto that image, so you are invited into the narrative as it is being told, and it’s not just spoon-fed to you. What happened the minute before this photo was taken, what happened a minute after, what’s happening in the next room right now while this photograph is being taken. You, as the audience, project all that onto it, and I think that is all you can ask for from an image. Another reason I get a lot of inspiration from films is that I think there’s a huge difference between films that let audiences be passive versus ones that all spectators to be active participants. And there are specific ways that films use tricks to create that, to force the audience into that. A really long shot, for example, is something a lot of people don’t have the patience for, so when a filmmaker uses that as a device, it makes the viewer more aware of what’s going on.

 

It makes you aware of yourself in the theater, it makes you aware of the person sitting next to you, because you’re stuck there with the shot, with the performance. There’s this film called A Ghost Story—have you seen that?

SL

A Ghost Story?

LP

It’s an art film by David Lowery about a woman who loses her husband really early on, and it’s basically a ghost story told from the ghost’s perspective. So for the film’s majority, the male lead in the film is under a sheet. He’s this personified ghost on camera. it’s so beautiful, it’s a very photographic film, and it’s risky. There is one scene where the female lead, played by Rooney Mara, comes back from identifying her husband’s body at the hospital, and she walks into her house and finds that somebody brought her a pie. She takes the pie and stares at it for a while. And then they cut, and she’s on the floor with it. The frame is completely still, in the same exact spot for eight minutes. And you are just watching this person in mourning. She eats the entire pie in one sitting—they do not cut the shot. And you are just there with her. The director said when he screened the film, a lot of people walked out. Audiences often can’t handle that level of longevity anymore in film, because they get too uncomfortable, or get bored.

SL

I think also with a lot of art films, people just don’t expect stuff like that,

because some movies are the cinematic equivalent of fast food.

LP

Well, you go to the cinema to forget everything else. You go and watch action films, you don’t have to think about anything. You’re kind of just a blob.

SL

We shouldn’t even call it cinema. How did that scene make you feel, though?

LP

Well you are on the floor with her for eight minutes while she is eating this pie, thinking, I can’t believe this. At the end of the scene, she runs into the bathroom and throws it up.

SL

That’s so sad.

LP

It is unbelievable. I get goose bumps just talking about it.

SM

Did you cry?

LP

No, I didn't cry. I saw the film with my friend Nick, and after we were just sitting outside, smoking a cigarette, contemplating the movie… And at the exact same time that I asked, “How amazing was that?” he asked, “How boring was that?” [Laughs] That’s just how it is.