The Perfect Shot program was established by the Barneys New York Foundation last year as part of its commitment to providing students with valuable hands-on, real-world experience. This year, Barneys partnered with Red Hook Labs Education and Jobs Initiative to select five students and eventually one awardee to shoot a Barneys lookbook. “It’s been really great to continue the program from last year and build on it,” says Barneys Creative Director Matthew Mazzucca, who worked closely with Red Hook Labs throughout the project. “It’s amazing to be able to provide opportunity and foster new talent, but also to allow our customer to engage in new points of view that aren’t always so visible.”
Iconic photography agent Jimmy Moffat, who cofounded Art + Commerce in the early ‘80s, started Red Hook Labs to establish creative communities in developing areas and connect education and continuing skills training to mentorship, internships, and job placement. Moffat is continuously blown away by the talent that comes through the programs, especially among the youth. “I have learned throughout my almost-40 years in photography that if you give individuals the opportunity to express themselves, the tools with which to communicate, and the guidance to help them stay true to their vision, that you will be constantly surprised and amazed,” he tells The Window.
For him, one of the most important goals of Red Hook Labs Education and Jobs Initiative is to instill the confidence in young creatives to be true to themselves—something that Hewitt displayed throughout the Barneys lookbook. “What is wonderful about this shoot is that, with the Barneys team’s support, Denise was able to take pictures as great as those taken by much more experienced and known photographers,” he says. Mazzucca echoes his sentiments: “Denise is 16 going on 32. The level of professionalism she exemplified from the initial meeting and throughout the shoot is so impressive.”
Hewitt collaborated closely with the Barneys creative team to put together the campaign for new label FiveSeventyFive. “It’s so important to provide mentorship and to instill the values of creative expression,” says Mazzucca, who stressed that the process was more important than the end results. Below, The Window chats with Hewitt about falling in love with photography and how it has helped her find her voice.
The Window: What drew you to photography?
Denise Hewitt: I was actually drawn to photography through Pinterest. I remember scrolling through my feed, finding such crisp and colorful images. I always wished I could be behind the camera that took them. Eventually, my interest became more than just casual scrolling. I began to look at images with a more critical eye, noticing the underlying messages and intent. I was inspired to take a photography elective in middle school. I discovered that I was able to speak through my photos. That’s where the real love began.
How did you fall in love with it?
Thanks to Red Hook Labs, I was challenged to overcome my quiet, reflective personality and pursue portraiture as a medium for conveying messages. Typically, I would never approach a stranger to small talk. Now I am always street casting and networking, having practiced these skills with attendees at Labs’ exhibitions and guest artists that come to teach. Photography has not only given me a voice through visuals, but also the incentive to explore my city and talk to new and interesting people.
Do you have a mentor? What has been one of the most valuable lessons or pieces of advice you’ve learned?
I am fortunate to have a few mentors—Jimmy Moffat being one of them. He has given me a lot of advice and direction, which I am eternally grateful for. I have great respect for his input and perspective, which has been crafted by his years of experience. I cannot respond without also shining light on Bashira Webb, my teacher, mentor, and personal friend. Bashira is the Aunty of all of the Labs kids, helping us not only stay on our game, but also being an inspiration and a listening ear. She encouraged me to be true to myself in all of my work. From Bashira, I have learned how to be more confident on a day-to-day basis.
Congrats on The Perfect Shot program! The lookbook you shot is fantastic. Can you tell us a little about the process of collaborating with the Barneys team on it?
When I began looking at the FiveSeventyFive pieces I was working with, I thought of what story I could tell. Immediately, I was reminded of my great-grandmother and her impeccable attire when going to church every Sunday. She was a Caribbean immigrant that worked tirelessly as a seamstress and domestic aide, to support her family. She was eventually able to purchase her own home. I wanted to show the striking elegance of a successful, self-made Black woman. So, I put together a slide of references and images to pitch my idea, and the Barneys team was extremely supportive. I felt I was in a really good place thanks to the crew I had. Everyone on set was super supportive. Will helped me finalize and refine my casting. Collaborating with Rena, Avena, and Neil on looks, while Zack helped me out with lighting, I was really able to focus on composing the best pictures possible. I can’t help but feel humbled.
What was the highlight of the experience?
On the day of the shoot I remember turning the corner onto the block of my great-grandmother’s brownstone and seeing that the usually car-packed block was empty. Orange cones took their place. As I got closer and closer, I realized that space was reserved for the shoot. Seeing the huge mobile dressing trailer for the first time, and the Ryder pickup truck stationed outside and seeing Zack unloading some strobes, it hit me that this photo shoot was about to be intense.
What do you hope to be doing in five years?
My dream is to become the creative director of a magazine or media house. I want to be able to fuse my love for photography and the fashion industry with my ability to manage, multitask, and communicate.