POLAR APPOSITES;ON THE ONE HAND, BENITA RAPHAN HAS MADE SOMBER, STUDIED SHORT FILMS IN EUROPE, AND ON THE OTHER SHE'S ART DIRECTED MARTHA STEWART LIVING MAGAZINE. NOW SHE MAY HAVE FOUND A HAPPY MEDIUM AS A COMMERCIALS DIRECTOR WITH HENRY SANDBANK

By Published on .

AFTER SPENDING MOST OF THE 1980s in London and Paris designing elegant promotions for Parisian clothiers or creating ominously obscure photo collage films, Benita Raphan returned to her native New York in '94 and took a job art directing at Martha Stewart Living magazine. It was enough to throw her into culture shock; "I was too far into my collage trip," Raphan explains of the stint that lasted merely three months. "I can do clean looking design," she's quick to point out, "but it doesn't make me special."

Well, something makes her special. After long worrying that Americans "don't understand my work," Raphan is pleased that she's found some that do. After winning a Gold at the '95 Art Directors Club Awards for the international animated film "Within/Without," Raphan met Henry Sandbank, who's just taken this 33-year-old director under his wing to direct commercials at Sandbank & Partners, where she's just finished an animated/live action PSA for the Bronx Dance Theater.

"I have a great respect for her design and conceptual sense," says Sandbank. "She also has a great sense of theater."

Like many projects on the art film circuit, Raphan's shorts aren't easy viewing; they unfold in a cryptic, dreamlike fashion, echoing the Surrealist influences of Rene Claire, Man Ray and Luis Bunuel. The eight-minute "Within/Without," for example, mixes French and English dialogue in a story loosely based on a friend who felt trapped in his home, shuttered in by haunting memories. Composed of still-lifes, portraits and landscapes that Raphan took in the French countryside, the film is a rough narrative told through visual flashbacks, multiple dissolves and a haunting score. "It seems more beautiful to create a sense of fantasy," she says of the style. "It's like working in a subconscious state, you're not controlling what you're doing, it comes naturally."

Raphan, a former photographer's assistant to Albert Watson, studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and has a masters in graphics and animation from the Royal College of Art in London, which is where she made "The Immediate Subject," a six-minute film that was fea

tured on Britain's Channel 4 and won special honors from the Arts Council of England. After working in Europe for close to a decade, Raphan returned to New York to freelance as a designer at Altschiller & Co. and Deutsch, and while she has continued to extend her commercial reach she's still busy in the fine art scene, working on a documentary for Channel 4 called "Absence Stronger than Presence," which explores the life of Polaroid pioneer Edwin Land. But is Raphan's fine-art style adaptable to American commercials, where she fears that people tend to take her work "at face value" and are often afraid of it?

Noting that he too built his career on a collection of personal films, Sandbank says he has every confidence that Raphan's style will find its commercial niche. "People are going to say, 'I like the way she thinks, the mastery of the story

In this article:
Most Popular