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An Interview with fine art photographer Seb Duke, a.k.a. "The Big in the Small"

March 01, 2019

An Interview with fine art photographer Seb Duke, a.k.a.

Seb Duke is a fine art photographer from Toronto whose body of work focuses on colorful bubbles. We first met in early 2014 through fragrance-related Facebook groups and we quickly became friends. Over the last few years, he has gained widespread recognition for his colorful bubble photography under the name “The Big in the Small”. A collaboration between Zoologist and The Big in the Small had been on the back of my mind for quite some time. With the launch of Chameleon, I just knew his colorful bubbles would be the perfect opportunity to expand upon the world of this animal and fragrance.So, I asked him to create a set of prints in order to bring Chameleon’s world to life in a visual way. Before we get to the interview, here are a couple of his pieces. I promise you, if you’re not familiar with his work, you’ve never seen anything quite like it. And then, read on further to see the four pieces he has created for the launch!

– Victor Wong

Various Art photos by Seb Duke, "The Big in the Small"

Ok, I have to ask. How do you create these bubbles?

Oh, this is definitely the question that people ask the most! Everyone wants to know!

All I can say is that it’s a mix of three ingredients in equal parts: Love, Magic and Secrets!

You see, I like to keep the mystery alive. In today’s world, with YouTube and the likes, you can find a tutorial for almost anything. To me, that takes the magic away from certain things, such as art. There are a few things left in this world that are unexplained, I like to keep it this way.

One of my missions is to spread a sense of wonder through my art, and I feel like sharing the process takes that sense of wonder away.

But, in a nutshell, without saying too much about the process, it involves mixing different liquids together in a way to encapsulate them into bubbles. Then, once I’ve mixed the liquids together, I grab my camera and use a macro lens to shoot these bubbles up close and then turn those pictures into art prints! So, it’s a mix of fluid dynamics and highly technical and precise photography.

Your art is extremely unique, how did you discover this form of photography?

It was a total fluke. Before I got into photography, I used to be really into music. I played music, recorded music, released music and shot music videos.

Two years ago, I wanted to shoot a music video for one of my bands, but I was out of budget for props or actors. I owned a good DSLR camera and a lens that allowed me to shoot macro, and I thought mixing liquids together might create cool and colorful interactions that would look good on video.

So, I looked around the house and the shed for household liquid and started mixing them together. Quickly, I became obsessed. I sold all my music gear and reinvested it all into photography, and that’s been my life ever since!

Seb Duke, The Big in the Small, holding art photo, "Dreaming of Silver and Gold"

What do you find so fascinating about liquids?

I’m fascinated that liquids can be used as vectors for many things. Medicine for well-being. Alcohol for pleasure. Fuel for energy.

But, beyond that, I’m really fascinated that it can be a vector for beauty in different ways. And it’s exactly what bridges the gap between my photography work and the olfactory art: liquids here are the vector for beauty. You and I share the same purpose: creating beauty using liquids as a vehicle, we just happen draw on different senses!

What keeps on drawing you back to creating bubbles?

Beyond enjoying working with liquids, I am attracted to spheres as a shape.

It’s been said that they are the perfect shape and I wholeheartedly agree with that. I find them aesthetically pleasing. When you add the colorful whirls, twirls and swirls and all the volutes, marbling and billowing that happens, it complements the spheres in a very unique way.

I’ve been working in my studio creating bubbles every day for the last two years and I still am as fascinated every day as the first day. Maybe now that I’m actually good at it, I enjoy it even more!

You create under the name “The Big in the Small” – What is the meaning of this name?

One of the things I enjoy out of my art is that you lose the sense of scale when you’re looking at it. The bubble you’re looking at could be the size of a grapefruit, a golf ball or a marble, and it’s impossible for you to know that. Sometimes they’re as small as a pearl.

When you take a look at the solar system, it’s very similar to the structure of an atom, with a very dense core (neutron+protons/Sun), and elements gravitating around it (electrons/planets) and a whole lot of emptiness.

That’s what the name “The Big in the Small” encapsulates and celebrates: the intricate details in the infinitely small.

What’s the piece you’re the proudest of?

There are quite a few, but to me they are the ones that come with a meaningful story.

Let me tell you about this piece called “The Truth Emerges”. To me, it has become a wonderful reminder that sometimes, art can be about more than just art. It can take on a very human aspect that I could never have imagined when I first started creating bubbles in my kitchen back in 2016.

Seb Duke, "The Big in the Small", holding art photo, "The Truth Emerges"

A few months ago, a US-based client purchased a large print of this piece called “The Truth Emerges”. I shipped her order, thank you very much… and I thought that would be the end of it.

But, she recently wrote me to tell me her story. See, that client is a child psychologist, and she purchased this piece in order to hang in her office where she treats her patients. I have to admit, I thought that was pretty cool to begin with.

The part that really touched me was this: she noticed that her young patients’ eyes tended to gravitate towards the piece the first time they stepped into her office. Now, more often then not, she now uses this piece to initiate conversations with young kids that go in for a first consult, as an ice-breaker. She uses their sense of wonder as they look at this piece in order to get them to bypass their initial shyness!!!

How amazing is that?

As an artist, I spend a lot of time alone in the studio trying to take the vision in my mind and bring it to life. I know I enjoy creating my art, I know I enjoy looking at it: that’s why I do it. If I didn’t enjoy creating this art, then I wouldn’t do it.

But, knowing other people enjoy it enough to purchase a print and put it up on their wall? That’s extra gravy. And on top of that, knowing that my art helps people, that’s something I never would have expected, and that’s what makes it so much more meaningful for me!

All in all, it’s a beautiful reminder that sometimes, art is more than art!

I’ve seen your work featured in many media outlets, I even remember you being on national TV here in Canada. How have things evolved in the last two years?

It’s been absolutely mind-blowing. I have not spent much time marketing my art; most of my time has been spent creating.

Every opportunity that has arisen out of my photography activities have come out of people approaching me, not me seeking them out. I’ve been extremely fortunate so far with my work being featured on national TV, in many media such as Business Insider.

I pinch myself every day. I mean, I definitely wasn’t the popular kid in high school, so that recognition and attention is a bit alien to me.

When I started doing this in my kitchen, I had no idea it would blow up. I started doing it because I loved it, and to be honest with you, even if I did not have experienced any widespread success, I’d still be doing it. Success has been a byproduct, not a pursuit… But I’m enjoying every moment of it!

When I first approached you with the idea of creating a series of limited prints to portray Chameleon, how did you tackle this project?

Since we’re friends, I’ve had the privilege of being able to observe how you tackle the creation of your fragrances, and how you bring them to life, from inception to execution.

I used a very similar approach: I tried to picture the environment that a chameleon would live in, I watched many documentair studied its traits, its behaviour and recreated this mental image through colorful bubbles.

Oh, and here’s a fun fact that I hadn’t even shared with you until now. Remember how you gave me a bottle of Chameleon for inspiration when we started working on this collaboration? While I did use it for inspiration, every piece in this collaboration was created using a spray of Chameleon in the liquid mixture!

Seb Duke of "The Big in the Small" and Victor Wong of Zoologist Perfumes

Can you tell us a little more about the set of three prints you created for this collaboration?

All four pieces were designed to represent a specific aspect of a Chameleon’s environment, or life. The intent was to bring a Chameleon’s world to life in an abstract way, through my visual language that is colorful bubbles!

Madagascar

Zoologist Chameleon Art Print, "Madagascar"First let’s starting the journey into a Chameleon’s world by exploring the island it inhabits. Madagascar is a unique island, an environment that allowed for so much of diversity in species to occur. Such a fascinating island…

Orchids

Zoologist Chameleon Art Print, "Orchids"Madagascar is not only famous for its many different species of chameleons, it is also well known for being host to over 1,000 different species of orchids. The queen flowers’ legendary beauty is an integral part of a chameleon’s environment, and I really wanted to portray it by shaping the bubbles into an orchid that stands out within a setting that resembles Madagascar’s flora.

Rainbow

Zoologist Chameleon Art Print, "Rainbow"Madagascar is host to two seasons: a cool dry season from May to October also a hot and rainy season from November to April. With heavy rainfalls, it is often the theatre to many beautiful landscapes – including very colorful rainbows. Between a Chameleon’s ability to shift its colors and those heavy rainfalls inducing prismatic rainbows, I really wanted to bring this to life!!!

Camouflage

Zoologist Chameleon Art Print, "Camouflage"Camouflage is one of the most mind-blowing defense traits any animal can have; the ability to shift colors to match one’s environment. I wanted to represent this in a subtle manner by creating a green-centric piece with hints of color here and there that allows for the mind to wander through. If you look long enough, you might even be able to see the same Chameleon in there as I do!

We became friends through our common love for fragrance. How did you first get into this passion?

In 2013, I had a major operation which kept me bedridden for a few months. Aside from binge-watching TV shows in bed, I didn’t have much to do.

My then-girlfriend worked at Sephora so she had a decent collection of designer bottles. She happened to keep them next to the bed, so in order to make my time less boring, I started spraying fragrances every day and studied how they evolved over time while I was watching TV shows and movies.

Pretty soon, I became obsessed with it. Within two months, I went from ordering a bottle of Terre d’Hermes to ordering a few Attars by Amouage.

How would you define yourself as a fragrance aficionado?

My approach to fragrance is very singular: I’m obsessed with finding the best fragrance for every note. The best rose, the best incense, the best amber, the best leather… The best everything!

For instance, I don’t need 10 patchouli-based fragrances, Coromandel is enough!

Seb, thank you so much for your time. What if someone wants to keep up with your art?

Well Victor, thank you so much for the opportunity to unite both our artistic worlds.

I really hope Zoologist aficionados will enjoy this collaboration as much as we had fun working on it it!

If anyone wants to know more about my art, they can visit my website, like my Facebook page or simply follow me on Instagram.




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