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Judging by the amount of fashion insiders hobnobbing at the Dactyl Foundation's Grand St. space last Saturday night, you might have mistaken the soiree for just another faaabulous event. Helena Christensen demurely held court in the corner, Olivia Palermo fluttered about, Kelly Cutrone stalked the premises and Patrick McMullen engaged in some cameraless mingling.
But lo and behold this wasn't your typical photo exhibit opening. The impressive crowd had assembled to celebrate "Slow Road to China," a collection of intimate portraits of Nepalese natives snapped by 26-year-old Drew Doggett on a recent trip to the rugged region.
"Anyone without Nike hats and Adidas tennis shoes is kind of what I was going for," Doggett said of his blown-up, black and white digital shots, whose proceeds help benefit Nepal Trust, a charity providing health and education services to the impoverished region. "I wanted to be able to do something with those images that would give back to the communities I was photographing."
So how did the fashion crowd fit in to the mix? Simple: Doggett is in the biz. The up-and-coming photog launched his own career shooting for magazines like Zink and Ocean Drive after working with the illustrious likes of Steven Klein and Mark Seliger. But it wasn't until a family trip to Vietnam two years ago that Doggett discovered a passion for photographing indigenous people.
Temporarily ditching models for mountain folk, Doggett trekked to western Nepal last September for a month-long project that had him living between 9,000 and 14,000 feet and popping plenty of Diamox to combat the onset of altitude sickness. Thankfully, the people were much more welcoming than the landscape.
"They're extraordinarily humble people and very welcoming to outsiders. They've got a very private side to their lives, but at the same time they are willing to show it and share it with outsiders like myself whom they very rarely see," Doggett remarked of his good fortune, looking cleaned up from his mountain man days in a grey suit.
"So it was nice to be able to walk into some of these people's homes and have a meal with them, share tea with them and to be able to photograph them in an intimate way and see a little bit deeper into their lives than the average tourist."
After Doggett partnered with the Dactyl Foundation, Helena Christensen -- whom Doggett met on a recent job and who has a similar love of photographing non-western communities -- added extra buzz to the more-than-worthy exhibit.
"Helena recently went to Peru and did a job where she was shooting indigenous people. So we share that passion and were able to connect and she agreed to support my cause and it went from there," he said, obviously content to have the backing of a supermodel.
The future seems bright for the talented Doggett, including more work in the fashion world as well as a 2011 trip to Africa, which he sees as chapter two in his ongoing project to chronicle the lives of indigenous tribes. But first, with a successful opening in the bag, it was off to the lower level of Tribeca hotspot Macao (conveniently owned by Dactyl Foundation co-founder Neil Grayson) for the event's after-party.