Dragan is a multidisciplinary artist from Toronto, Canada. He specializes in directing and photography. His style is very dark, moody, and cinematic which reflects in both his video and photo work.
Dragan has worked with artists such as NAV, Roy Woods, 88Glam, Killy, and more. He is the founder of his own production company titled The.97 Collective. The company was founded in 2020 specializing in music video production.
We recently sat down with Dragan and discussed his come-up, his transition from photography to directing, working with NAV, and becoming a mentor at HXOUSE:
Q: Where are you from and what’s your background?
A: I was born and raised in Oakville, Ontario. However, I come of Serbian descent with both my parents immigrating when they were younger.
Q: How did you originally get into photography?
A: I got into photography back in high school. My best friend and I would travel downtown every day after school just to take pictures of buildings. We didn’t really know what we were doing, we just liked taking cool pictures. From there I came across this photographer on Instagram named “@visionelie,” and I instantly fell in love with his work. He definitely inspired me to take my craft more seriously. From there, I started reaching out to local artists to see if they wanted me to take portraits of them just to build my portfolio. Through that, I met Christo, who was a director for a production company called Kid Studio. He invited me to my first music video set which was “Get You Good” for Roy Woods. This set was my intro to the Toronto music scene. From there I became Roy’s personal photographer, and the rest was just a chain reaction of work from that.
Q: Let’s talk about the start of The.97 Collective. How did the business come to fruition? It seems like you started with photography and now transitioned into direction as well. How did that happen and why the transition?
A: A music video production company was something that I’ve always dreamt of starting because of my passion for film – I’m a movie buff. I always wanted to expand my passion for photography into something more and that opportunity presented itself at the start of the pandemic when I got a phone call from my good friend, Roy Woods. I remember this phone call like it was yesterday. He just called me out of the blue and said that he believed in creative visions and really felt like I could direct a strong visual for him. 2 years later, here we are.
Q: From what we’ve seen you’ve directed multiple music videos so far, with artists such as RoyWoods, Realest K, and 88glam. Can you discuss your experience with each and how it felt to work with such notable names from the jump?
A: Apart from working with these artists on the business side of things, I’ve also built long-lasting friendships with them, which is usually how it goes when the workflow between two people is so organic. Roy, RealestK, Derek (from 88Glam) are all my boys, we came up in this city together, and we hang out outside of work. I’m so grateful that I have so many genuine friendships with so many talented individuals. It makes my job that much better knowing that I’m creating bodies of work with my friends that millions of people are going to see and appreciate.
Q: We’ve also seen that you’ve shot a lot of work with NAV in terms of photography. Recently, however, you were able to direct his single “Never Sleep” trailer. Can you talk about that original connection and the background behind the trailer video?
A: Working with NAV is always a blessing. I had the opportunity to photograph his first digital photoshoot back in 2017 when he initially signed with XO, so he and I go way back. NAV always appreciates and listens to my creative ideas. When I pitched him this trailer he was immediately down to do it. He’s very down-to-earth and easy to work with.
Q: It looks like you have a very close relationship with the XO camp, and recently flew to New York to photograph The Weeknd’s After Hours Til Dawn Tour. Where does that relationship stem from and how was that recent experience?
A: XO is family, and that will never change. I owe a lot of my success to La Mar, the Weeknd’s creative director. He believed in me before anyone did very early on in my career, and I owe a lot to him, so shoutout La Mar for always helping creatives achieve their dreams. In terms of photographing the After Hours Til Dawn Tour, it felt surreal. It was an experience where you just had to be there, it was crazy. The highlight of 2022 for sure. I was familiar with capturing Abel in a live performance setting due to photographing The Legend Of The Fall Tour back in 2017. So to see him take the stage again on a stadium tour was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Q: You’ve shared that you were a mentor for The Weeknd’s non for profit organization “HXOUSE.” How did it feel mentoring up-and-coming creatives in the city?
A: It was an honor, to say the least. I remember when HXOUSE first opened, I wanted to enroll as a student at the time, but a lot was going on with my career. I was on my first tour and work was very busy. Fast forward to 2022, I did not expect to be a teacher and mentor at a place I once hoped to enroll in as a student, life is crazy. Huge shoutout once again to La Mar and his amazing team over at HXOUSE for believing in me and letting me spread my knowledge and experience to up-and-coming creatives.
Q: You’ve hosted two panel sessions over these past two years, with both selling out. Can you describe the initial concept behind these panels and the feeling behind both of them selling out?
A: It’s crazy because a lot of my milestones in the last few years have happened during the pandemic era. A week before the lockdown happened, I launched a poster for Moments 1, which was initially supposed to be my first panel discussion back in 2020. Unfortunately, that had to be put on pause due to the lockdown but ended up being a blessing in disguise because once the lockdown restrictions got lifted, the popularity of the event doubled in terms of demand for ticket sales. I sold out the first panel in November 2021, and then sold out the second panel with over 450 guests just recently in August. I’m very grateful for all the support I have in my city and around the world.
Q: What impact do you hope to continue to make in the world of photography and direction?
A: I hope to inspire people to chase their dreams and realize that no goal is unachievable. We live in a world where anything is possible with the right mindset. 2 years ago, I never thought it would be possible to direct a music video. Here I am today having directed hundreds of music videos looking back at my older self in disbelief that I had ever doubted my capabilities and creativity. A negative mindset could ruin you, which is why it is important to believe in yourself, invest in yourself, and put in the hours to get to where you want to be in life.
Q: Any names of artists you hope to work with in the future?
A: A couple of artists I hope to work with in the future are Snoh Aalegra, Giveon, Jenevieve, Travis Scott, Drake, The Weeknd, and Lil Baby.
Q: Do you have any quick advice for people just starting to get into photography and direction?
A: I can’t stress this enough, network as much as you can because knowing the right people can open so many doors for you. Make the first move, and don’t hesitate to reach out to people you want to work with, you never know who might message you back. It could change your career forever. Don’t stress over how many likes or followers you have, focus on creating timeless work that you are proud of and the rest will follow.