The Ambiguous Dreamer, I Kid You Not: Dana Boulos 016/016
WORDS & PHOTO: Katerina Papanikolopoulos
Dana Boulos’s creative endeavors remind me of a 1920s film reel that keeps exploring a juxtaposed, slightly blurry, and relentless image but a fascinating one at that. She is an inherent pursuer, creating what she envisions with heat and grit. From her photography to her personality, Boulos is a gold filigree. Having created artistic material for Mercedes Benz, Everybody. world, and Cypress the Label, Boulos is also an eminent figure in the film world. With her experience directing eclectic short films such as “Crimson Rose,” “Cam Girl” and a collection of music videos for Courtship, Boulos transformed into a woman with expansive sails.

I met Boulos at her studio in Chinatown, amidst the rain and grey warehouses, as the click of her blue boots foretold her descent from the stairs. This was the version of Boulos I had dreamed up—the immaculate personality which I first encountered online as a high-school senior, then haphazardly at The Standard Hotel in Los Angeles, and now in the comfort of her newly renovated studio. Boulos engineered her career by enlisting her entrepreneurial spirit to define her trajectory as a multi-faceted artist. From her creative process to her whimsical advice on how to discern love from lust, Boulos is an essential dreamer.

What would you like your photography to project? Are there any recurring symbols or thematic agents at work?

When I was a kid I always wanted my photographs to seem like a painting or like an art piece that you would hang. Nowadays, it’s kind of changed, where I still want them to be ambiguous and get this “dreamy” look, which I love, yet I do want it to feel imaginative and different.

It has a sense of the word “ambiguous”

Yeah! Very ambiguous, that was my favorite word as a kid. But now, I feel like it is still imaginative, and I try to push the box and make something different. In the realms of fashion and art, it is hard to create something different. For now, I am really exploring realness. I do not edit anything in my photographs, if anything enhance the light, or if someone is freaking out over a pimple, sure, I’ll do it. I don’t do any retouching— I just want it to be real and reflective of the culture of America..

On Style... fashion and furniture is a sculptural aspect of your creative work. Define your favorite articles.

As for furniture, I love space age—the 1960’s space age type of look. It is so futuristic, almost feels like it should be in a Star Trek set. As for articles of clothing, I love shoes. My favorite shoes are Mary Janes. I’ve always had them. I always like to get a shoe shot, no matter what project. I think you can tell a lot from someone’s shoes—the type of personality they are, it is so strange but it is very much so.

It is also the first shot in some movies when you establish an important character, get their shoe, and then you see who they are.

Hardest rejection?

The hardest thing is not when you work on your own and create your own specific vision, but when you are hired for a brand. Some people say, “Hey, we want to hire you, we love your aesthetic we are such huge fans, can you shoot this campaign or lookbook?” and then show you examples of other people’s work... and they ask you to imitate it exactly. That is sometimes a struggle, and you have to be kind of assertive that the desired project is not my kind of style. If you want that type of photographer or director go ahead and hire them because I won’t replicate someone else’s work. I just think that when it comes to corporate worlds they do want it to have a specific vibe.

A woman of many concentrations, Boulos asserts her style in a multitude of media. It is this diversity that makes her a symbol of the multi-talented creative conductor. She has constructed her life around the essence of complete artistic freedom. The boundaries of one occupation (such as filmmaker or photographer) have no sharp edges in Boulos’ approach.

You seem to balance several roles. How has your modeling background informed your work behind the camera?

First of all, I make every single model stretch before we start. The only reason why is because I always tend to get them in the weirdest angles that they’re like “oh, this looks cool but my neck is going to explode!” So I make them stretch and we go through poses together. I do like to give someone a direction so I can get the desired visual from their face. So if I’m like, “you are going to be a sad alien today that just landed on earth, go!” and then they are like, “oh, ok...” and suddenly, a tear just appears! I think you just have to be comfortable to be weird. Because I have done a lot of modeling and have always tried different types of angles and postures that aren’t the standard, photographers have usually liked it... I know how the camera will capture angles because I am behind and infront of it. It is better to have more direction than less direction is all I have to say.

How do you go about the creation of music videos and short films, as they are very different and yet you have the same directorial role. Enlighten us on your process...

For music videos, I personally like to listen to the song like a million times, I kid you not. I’ll probably just have a vision, just right then and there with little elements. If it is water, or scribbles, or whatever it could be and then I begin to develop a plan on what the video is about. With an artist, I just send it to them. When it gets to companies and different references I send them a whole deck of what I am thinking to do: the coloring, the type of cameras we are using, DP (Director of Photography) choices, and everything we can think of is planned out ahead of time. Music videos versus movies both have the same aesthetic in the sense that everything is planned and thought out, even light. In music videos, I like to do something dark. In film, I do have something dark as well, but you have to do something in order to tell a story in a limited period of time. You have to be quick with music videos. Again, it brings back the decision making, if there’s an issue you have to solve it between one to two minutes. There is no time because everything is planned out and money is involved.

What you learned on your own...

A lot, it is ridiculous. I think believing in yourself, that is number one. Just to keep pushing. I am the type of person that just does not give up. Even if a video or photo is not getting released by the other party I will find ways to persuade them to get it released and I know it will look amazing and people aren’t always as open to things. I learned not to give up. I work really hard to the point that I am usually in my studio from 7am to 10pm and I learned to not schedule all things during the same day. I’ve learned to take days off, or try to.

What others taught you...

Others have taught me that your opinion really matters. I am assertive, but I’ve learned to be more assertive. To make sure no one is really stepping on you. I learned a lot of entrepreneurial terms. I have learned to never just say, “yes, I will do everything for free.” No, everything has a price to it. Clients think they can get a lot out of you for being so young and for being a female.

What you may teach others...

Never, ever give up. I think that not alot of people are ambitious in life and you just have to make it happen and no one is going to do that for you. That is something that is very important—and I always try to teach my interns that no one is going to feed you. One will have to learn and struggle on their own. The most important thing is just to jump into it, get an internship or contact your mentors and be like, “How did you do it? What do I have to do?” Just make it happen. I’ve been drinking some mocha drinks, and when I untwist the cap, a fortune appears. This one had a specific slogan: “good things happen to those who hustle” and that is something I bring up to clients and everyone... you have to hustle to get what you want in life.

“Transitioning from more of the process to the personal, Dana illustrates below matters more close to the heart.”

How to know if it is not a fling or not...

I can tell if someone is serious or just a casual thing. Usually, I was really casual just because I don’t have time to deal with the bullshit, I have goals and I am a dreamer. In a partner, even if it is casual, usually if it is someone I am really interested in, they have to be a dreamer. They have to be thinking of what they are doing, if they are a writer or a producer, they really have to have a dream, a vision of exactly what they want to get in life. They have to be a dreamer.

What would you tell your nineteen year old self?

“Don’t worry, don’t stress. You will be doing exactly what you want to do in life. At nineteen, I wanted to do photography but I was going up the corporate ladder in retail and I was an audit for stores and I would say, “Dana do not worry about retail, that is not you, you are not going to be stuck there.” I learned how to manage people, I know in five minutes as a hiring manager if someone was of quality or if they were a bullshitter—never bullshit a bullshiter, number one rule. I would tell myself don’t worry, focus on directing. You should have been focusing on film and not wasting your time at fashion school. You learn more when you are working than when you are in school. Because I juggle so many roles, primarily, what I want to focus on is directing. Again, I go back to that line, “good things come to those who hustle” so if I hustle a bit more, I can make directing full time so I don’t have to juggle different jobs at the same time.

Boulos taught me to pursue, relentlessly, that which the mind creates. A sacred interior space, it is the visions of the mind that become materialized, and in Boulos’s case, the primary template to assert creative control. Boulos’s collective work can be viewed at