dion bal work


Certain people have emerged OUT OF THE BLUE. When taking a closer look, a long journey has often let them walk the path to where they are now. Today: the story of PHOTOGRAPHER DION BAL. “I learned to just go for it.” Cover photo: courtesy of Dion Bal


“It’s funny that people feel like I emerged out of the blue,” Dion Bal starts the conversation over a cup of coffee at Toki, his favorite coffee spot in Amsterdam. “I think it’s hard to say I’m there yet; what does it even mean? Since last year, people have often come to me and said: ‘I see you everywhere! You’re high in demand, this is your momentum!’ My everyday hassle makes it hard to reflect on.” At 16, photographer Dion Bal started his career at a local fashion store, selling brands like Diesel, Paul Frank, and G-Star RAW. “I earned just enough to buy new Diesel jeans at the end of the month.” 

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Fashion and pop culture have always been a red thread in his life. “I grew up with MTV broadcasting video clips all day. I was obsessed.” One video clip that stood out? Dirrty by Christina Aguilera. “It magnified my love for aesthetics and the creation of a fantasy world.” His favorite video clip led to a fascination for Christina Aguilera, with Dion collecting images of the singer in a folder on his computer. “I would collect the images and go through them. I loved to watch them as a source of inspiration.” Only when he started photographing a few years ago did he discover that one of his most significant sources of inspiration, David LaChapelle, directed the video – “It made everything click.” 

Dion Bal


After graduating high school, Dion applied for a theater academy. “I had one clear goal: to become an actor.” Taking acting classes since he was eight was his ultimate dream and how he pictured his adult life. “When I got denied, I was devastated. Looking back at that time, I thought life was falling apart. I was the typical dramatic teenager, walking the dog in the forest and crying loudly. My life was ruined.”

Soon after, Dion decided to move to Amsterdam and desperately needed a job. His obsession with jeans led him to an appointment on Weekday while still modeling on the side. “Modeling introduced me to the fashion industry on another level. During these jobs, I discovered I wanted to create the imagery alone. A colleague suggested I should assist a stylist, so I did.” The stylist in dispute was horrible, unkind, and discouraging. After a few months, Dion did a test shoot with many friends. “You should stick to styling,” she responded when he showed her the result. “I knew she wasn’t right; I saw a certain potential in my work,” reminds the photographer. “So, I quit my styling job and devoted myself to fashion photography.” 


His first paid job as a photographer was for Tommy Hilfiger, shooting lookbooks. He saved his earnings to launch his photography career soon. However, the world decided differently when the pandemic hit in 2020. “I couldn’t work on set, but I could work with friends. It led to free work I created with Sheila Janet (Butterscotch Isle).” It was the first time he got noticed for his creativity, and Wandler soon approached him to shoot a campaign – a “surreal” experience. 

It marked the springboard for the rest of his journey. His first campaign led to a bunch of shoots for Viktor & Rolf, Mirror Mirror Magazine, Schön, Numéro, Glamcult, Nasty Magazine, and Fucking Young!, without any experience in editorial photography. “I just said yes and went for it. I wouldn’t say I have courage like ‘Pippi Longstocking’; whatever she does, she is very sure of her case. I can get nervous before shoots, though, doubting my capabilities. In the end, things always work out well. I think the worrying part keeps me sharp.” 


His lack of education forced him to work in daylight studios. “I had no clue how to work with artificial lightning, but I knew what the result should look like, and somehow it worked out.” He took a year to figure out artificial lightning, starting with continuous light. “Someone suggested I should hire an assistant to handle the light. And so, I did. It radically changed my work and brought it to another level.” Not much later, as if it wasn’t a coincidence, Eugene Berkovski –a light expert– sled into his DM. “He is very professional and great at what he does; he never complains and just goes for it. Together, we always find a way to make things work.” It led to a new interpretation of Dion’s aesthetic. “I don’t want my work to become a gimmick, so I always look for new ways of working.” Since the start, they have been inseparable and have done many shoots together. “The past year was a rollercoaster, so yeah, now that I reflect on it, I somehow get why people feel like I emerged out of the blue.” 

Some of last year’s highlights? A shoot for Harper’s Bazaar in collaboration with Cartier, campaigns for Yume Yume, Filling Pieces, 1/OFF Paris, and a calendar for the Netherlands Dance Theatre. “The Cartier shoot was my first shoot outside The Netherlands, my home country. I felt frightened and empowered simultaneously.” It added to his confidence; “I know what I’m doing now. I trust my vision.” 


Many people heavily inspire him, with the work of Steven Meisel and David LaChapelle as great examples. “Meisel’s style inspires me. LaChapelle’s sense of camp triggers me, too. I love camp!” Another source of inspiration is Lady Gaga. “Since the start of her career, she has been fascinated. Gaga is a living fantasy. Her storytelling is beyond anything; her outfits are close to cosplay.” The sexiness and glossiness of Hajime Sorayama appeal to him, too. “His work and collaborations are magnificent. It’s playful and on-point. In my photography, I aim for a similar energy.” 

Dion Bal

“I am aware that everything has been done already. However, I try to be as original as possible. I guess it helps. I’m not trained formally, so I go with my gut. But I do not believe creative work must be new; you cannot reinvent the wheel.” It shouldn’t be confused with copying, though. “I know what I like, and I always find ways to visualize my ideas. Together with Eugene, I reached the results I’m looking for.” His work is solely visual; the concept often comes second. “I work with mood boards instead of storylines. People at photography or fashion academies learn to create an extensive story with their work; I don’t. And it doesn’t withhold me from creating the imagery I want.” Hence, diversity is critical to everything he does; it comes naturally. “I prefer to work with diverse teams, from skin tone to queerness and everything else it entails. It’s not done enough yet.” It’s a must when working for commercial clients and editorials for renowned magazines. “In many cases, bigger organizations lack diversity, and I feel privileged to change the status quo with my work.” 


Dion describes himself as “very structured.” The adventures that come with his photography job take lots of energy; therefore, everything else should be in order. “My Amsterdam apartment is always very tidy. A peaceful house leads to a calm mind. For me, that means light colors, and less is more aesthetic. Everything looks perfect, like a showroom.” This way of living helps him stay grounded and gives him room to focus on his work. 

With a relatively short career filled with many highlights, Dion is excited about what the future has in store for him. I suggest a Diesel campaign since that’s where it all started. “Of course, I would love to do a Diesel campaign, but that is not the biggest goal I aim at. I would love to shoot campaigns for the world’s biggest fashion houses–preferably Versace and Gucci. Topping it off with a Vogue France cover would be great, too. I will not stop before those dreams are fulfilled. Besides, I would love to combine my love for pop culture with photography; shooting artists would be a dream. I know it takes time, and that’s fine. I’m not rushing.” Looking back at his younger self, he would advise him to do it. “The past year I overcame many fears, and I just went for new jobs like I would do it for years. Previously, I could doubt myself too much to take on certain jobs. So, if I had to advise my younger self anything, it would be to stop overthinking and go for it. Trust your gut and capabilities.” 

@dionbal |