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Behind the Scenes: Paolo Testa x Sharaya J

Some Thoughts After the Shoot

by Choi, David


I love talking with Paolo. When we get together it’s always about discussing our next move. We feed off each other’s ambition and push each other to make things happen. And today, when he told me about his shoot with dancer-turned-musician Sharaya J, I wanted to be there to capture a part of his journey. It’s an extraordinary experience to be able to watch a close friend work towards a dream that you have mutual passion for. It’s like running a marathon with your friend running next to you. Extra fuel for your tank.

Paolo and I also rant a lot.

Both of us having a background in assisting photo shoots, we share a frustration with the industry where we want an outlet to share our ideals.

So we rant.

The underlined code of ethics working as assistants for multi-million dollar productions can get really tedious and pretentious. There is an expectation of how we should be treated, and it’s generally accepted for what it is. As assistants aspiring to become our own entities, we actively try to network and learn, but this is frowned upon. There’s not much that assistants can do to change that, because the community has become content with what the job has evolved into. Being a first assistant for a famous photographer will pay the bills, and even if you lost your passion to compete for your own name, the steady income can persuade you to find happiness elsewhere in life. Neither Paolo nor myself came to New York to be content. We want the whole pie, and we’re here to slice it up.

Art itself is a fantasy, but in reality there is a business behind it. There is a rage of denial among artists on what it means to create art for yourself, as opposed to working under the vision of others. As my mentor (and fine artist) Jaime Permuth has always told me: surviving the industry is a slow arm wrestle between understanding the business and pursuing your own creations. In the end, Paolo and I both grudgingly accept the industry for what it is, and agree that disciplined hard work is how we will be able to accomplish the feats we chat about.

During the shoot, I talked with Sharaya J. I came to find out that her situation was the same as ours. As a child, she loved performing on stage – it gave her the greatest joy. As a young artist she paved her way into the industry as a dance choreographer. It was a matter of timing for Sharaya J: pay your dues in the industry, market yourself, then gradually show people what you’re really capable of. Eventually, the ‘Banji’ artist gained trust from Missy Elliot, who continuously helped to support her.

Although we rant and complain from time to time, we understand the need for blood and sacrifice. We work and play the game to keep our feet down, but we keep working on our own projects on the side. As an artist, it wasn’t long ago that I came to terms of what the industry expects from me versus what I expect from the industry. We play a game of patience and longevity; you have to build on what you can make from the business but never lose focus of your end goal. There are sacrifices and trade-offs. As my pops the scientist would say, all life needs equilibrium.


Behind the Scene by Choi, David // www.choidavid.com // Instagram: @choidavid420

Paolo Testa // www.paolotesta.com


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