07.19.2022 Daniel Malikyar

True Colors

Daniel Malikyar

Daniel Malikyar is a photographer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles.

His work is known for exploring popular culture with a conceptual and stylistic twist. 

In 2015, Daniel became the youngest official FUJIFILM X-Photographer in the USA at 20 years old. He’s shot and directed projects in over 40 countries for brands like Nike, Google, and Mercedes-Benz with impactful voices including Drake, Snoop Dogg, and Ice Cube. Daniel also worked as the Creative Director for anonymous DJ & Producer, Marshmello for 4 years. He is a Co-Founder of production company & creative agency, MGX CREATIVE, and fine art gallery, Santo.

Splashed in viscous tints and mixed pigments, faceless models stand ready to perform. Equipped with his X-H2S, Daniel Malikyar identifies the blends that symbolize these shades of human experience

Buried deep in the inner workings of the retina are cone photoreceptors: intricate mechanisms that detect color via light wavelengths. Sorted and catalogued by the ventral optical lobe, the eye interprets these beams before transmitting them to nether regions of the brain. From here, the signals are converted amid the visual cortex – rendered and translated into what we colloquially know as tones and tinges.

Reflected in various filtrations, the span and trajectory of a ‘wave’ is perceived as one of the primary building blocks of sight: short waves are construed as blue, medium waves seen as green, with long waves observed as red. Residual hues are produced by fusions of these three fundamental components.

For as long as he’s been creating images, Daniel Malikyar has been captivated by the breadth of this scale. It’s no surprise when his work oscillates between opposing sides of the spectrum – he’s constantly balancing sleek commercial work with the hard-nosed realism of documentary ventures, donning different hats, and owning every genre he touches. Rich, vivid, and dazzlingly pitched, color remains the key tool in his artistic arsenal. It communicates everything from the stark to the stylized in arresting visual streaks, and it’s always characterized by a gripping sensibility.

“Color is something I’ve always been fascinated by. I’ve spent a lot of time researching the theory, association, and psychology – why humans have such a puzzling relationship with it,” he says. “For me, it’s the primary device in photography, because it’s visceral. The immediacy transports the viewer. I try to utilize it in that way – capturing the feeling I had, the moment I originally took the image.”

Working with X-H2S, Daniel recently elected to explore his fascinations with Mixed Emotions – an experimental short film that explores the bond between color and its associated sentiments. Utilizing various media formats, an uncanny, avant-garde focus enhances an invigorating message about abandoning cliché and embracing individuality.  

“This whole project has led me to understand that our reactions are essentially guesses that the brain creates, in response to external stimuli,” he reasons. “What we see and feel can vary vastly from person to person, depending on experience.”

Whether molded by cultural, social, or psychological factors, people construe color in countless ways. Narrative traditions may have set the boundaries and defined the stereotypes, but for Daniel, this film pushes back against those platitudes. The blues don’t have to be tinged in sadness; red isn’t always a cause for alarm. What matters most is subjectivity. Here, the individual is sovereign, and his or her opinion is never wrong.

“Whether it’s a photo or painting, everyone has a different opinion, and a lot of that is to do with the way we comprehend. It’s a personal upshot. We’re all inimitable – our reactions to color should follow that same rationale.”

  • A woman is soaked in a thick, white paint
  • A woman is soaked in white and green paint, posing for the camera

Pondering the most cogent means of conveying this message, Daniel settled upon a distinctly physical portrayal of this response. Made up like mannequins, a selection of professionals were doused in a layer of base paint, posed on large plexiglass sheets. Additional glazes of dye were tossed and hurled across skin, forming a fleshly concoction of juxtaposing stains. Drawing attention to the human form, Daniel emphasized a tactile metaphor – color and body were indistinguishable from one another, underlining the ways emotion can taint and highlight our very nature.

“The most tangible way to experience this concept was through coats of paint. Using the figure as that vessel of expression… it was in keeping with the idea of experience and color being linked.”

For the film itself, FUJINON Premista glass was paired with X-H2S for stunningly sharp results. The clarity of these lenses coordinated with the lucidity of the vision, and thanks to a committed crew of like-minded creatives, Daniel realized what he set out to accomplish.

“It was really interesting. We used all three Premistas – 19-45mm T2.9, 28-100mm T2.9, and 80-250mm T2.9-3.5. They’re high-level cinema glass, so the connection between those lenses and the X-H2S produced really precise outcomes – 6.2K in the white and black void moments. Being able to get a hair wider in post without losing any noticeable resolution was fantastic.

“Color was the focal point, so having 14 stops with F-Log 2 allowed me to properly convert the ideas into what we achieved on set. The ability to use ProRes in-camera was also useful. We had our editor on-hand – immediately testing out those shots was great, and also very reassuring!

“The camera housed an impressive amount of information. Image quality continues to get better with everything Fujifilm puts out, and X-H2S is testament to that. From a grading standpoint, I had so much flexibility.”

Afforded the precision of a controlled studio environment, Daniel planned out the cadence of each pour in-between shots. More often than not, aesthetically pleasing drips were hard to come by – opportunistic moments had to be exploited, or they’d vanish completely.

“Visually, the aesthetic I was aiming for would only last a few seconds. After that, it would start to sit and get clumpy. Then you’d have to reset, and wait a whole hour for the next attempt. Mid-run was when it looked best – when the colors would fuse, generating those gorgeous marble effects that you can’t plan. Having that electronic shutter was vital. It was extremely fast and opened up a lot of possibilities, especially when capturing action-packed sequences, when time was really of the essence.”

Inverted angles, pan and scan, stop-motion, slow motion – these are just some of the techniques employed by Daniel in his attempts to encapsulate a whole gamut of feeling. Sequences are dreamlike and surreal, overwhelming and frenzied, slow and placid. Distinctions in cinematic practice enhanced dissimilar color schemes, and by extension, the idea of differing sensations.

“It wasn’t just about presenting color. I wanted to showcase how certain techniques can enrich that too,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what I’m making. You’ve got to have humility and try to think outside of the box.”

As researchers and specialists strive to uncover color’s empirical truth, it’s safe to say that this phenomenon is, in part, rooted in enigma. The mysteries of this perception remain elusive, so until a scientific certainty is found, we rely on the optical arts as intermediaries. Film and photograph are our pictorial canvases, illuminating the human condition with technicalities that riddle and resound. Sometimes, those strains just so happen to be kaleidoscopic.

BTS footage