Name: Leslie Bembinster
Current Location: LA
Tell us your story? Who is Leslie?
I am an artist and a scientist. I am a model and a Molecular Biologist. However I can be
classified, I'm a blip on this pale blue dot hurling through an expansive unknown.
Where are you from originally?
Lemont, IL - a suburb of Chicago
Tell us about your hometown.
I grew up in an unincorporated part of Lemont. My house was a 70's style ranch that had front
outdoor landscaping of succulents, which is a little unexpected in a Chicago climate. Inside, we had wood paneled walls, orange shag carpet, and a mustard yellow metal fireplace. I never attended school in Lemont, so my memories of the village are more of that of a weekend visitor. The town sits across a long, narrow bridge, that we would take to get us over a river and a shipping canal.
The bridge turns into the main street, and the picturesque village dotted with church spires and steeples rises up out of the hills (Illinois is a pretty flat state, so this is a somewhat unique
sight). Exiting the town was especially memorable as a child in the back of a station wagon because the steep decline of the main road made for some entertaining jumps and I pretended to be like Bart on his skateboard.
Where are you based now? Are you planning on staying for a while?
LA, Venice specifically, and yeah, I'll be here for a minute.
What inspired you to be a model?
I have a minor in French, so it was my exposure to French cinema and a course on the history of photography that really made me see stories through still moments in way that I had not thought to look before. I started to learn photography and was very much inspired by character complexity in films by people like Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Éric Rhomer with cinematic direction of Raoul Coutard and others. I began to put myself in front of the camera for self-portraits, both composed of a characters like Cindy Sherman, or
simple and raw like Patti Smith. It wasn't until I met my boyfriend that I trusted someone else to take photos of me. We immediately both shared a similar eye for photography as he had studied cinematography in school, so when we traveled on tour, we picked up clothes in thrift and vintage shops and took photos of me to catalog our experiences, sometimes with a nod to Jeff Wall.
I was also a dancer from the age of 2 through college, so once I no longer had an outlet for
choreography, I discovered that my training helped me understand body positions and limb placement within the frame of the camera. Rather than narrate through fluid motion over the course of several minutes in a dance, I could stop the motion and create something telling out of a single snapshot that would have neither existed before nor after the shutter, but held forever static in the resulting image.
How long have you been modeling?
It wasn't really a conscious decision to start modeling since it was a sort of evolution out of
photography for me. I had a few jobs here and there and signed with my current agency in the Spring
Tell us about your earliest modeling gig. How do you remember it?
I was actually 6 years old and my grade school was putting together an advertisement for the
school. I remember I had to pretend that I was reading a book with an older boy, so I laid on my stomach, kicked my feet up in the air and put my chin on my hands while I stared intently at the book. I took a really, really long break from modeling after that.
What’s your favorite part about being a model?
My favorite part is just creating art. Being able to tell a story through a single, unique image -
sometimes it takes only the photographer and the model and other times it takes an entire production team. I love that I can use my dance background to continue expression through movement because I have had several surgeries on my left ankle post-dancer days, and actually two on my spine while I was still a dancer, that have restricted me a bit, so I am happy to be able to work movement into a new outlet.
Tell us about your most memorable experience as a model so far.
My most memorable experience came this year. It was jumping on a trampoline in Celine and Yohji Yamamoto in various outdoor locations all over Chicago in 55 mph wind for an incredibly whimsical editorial. It was published in Huf Magazine in May along with a piece that ran in the Chicago Sun-Times documenting behind-the-scenes.
The photographer, Kirsten Miccoli, chose me for the project because of my agility and ability to model through physically enduring conditions.
How do you manage your time as a model?
I check the clock on my phone every once and awhile.
If you could compare your modeling experience with your favorite movie, what would it be?
I am always asked to give some range of emotion on set for editorials so that the photographer can put together the best story. I would say that I use a range from serious to utterly theatrical as seen by the character of Angela (played by Anna Karina) in "Une Femme est Une Femme".
Your favorite food.
Starter: fresh baguette with selles-sur-cher and chevre noir cheese Main Dish: Gnocchi with a rich marinara sauce, basil, garlic, and excessive olive oil - my grandfather was from Italy, so there was no shortage of Italian cuisine from my mom and family gatherings.
Dessert: Gateau Basque - I studied abroad in the South of France and it cultivated my palate for
different regional cuisines
What book are you currently reading?
My boyfriend recently bought several vintage, hardbound fiction books with various macabre titles such as "Streets of Death", "Someone's Death", "An Expensive Place to Die", etc because they make for an interesting display (especially with a silver skull book-end). Even though they're sort of meant to be prop books, I'll take one to the beach because I've never been a casual reader and it seems like the thing you're supposed to do on the beach, you know, read about death. I'm more into works of Andre Gide, Sylvia Plath, Ray Bradbury, Jean Genet, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, Albert Camus, Thomas Pynchon, Eugene Ionesco to name a few to pick from short stories, plays, and novels. Alas, my collection is back in Chicago.
What else keeps you busy aside from modeling?
Up until I moved to LA, I was splitting my time between modeling and Molecular Biology. I was doing research in an Immunology lab at University of Chicago. My background is Molecular and Cellular Biology and I have had the pleasure of co-authoring several publications (you can PubMed my name).
I've always harmonized my love of science and art by describing them as both expressions of
communication. It's story-telling through molecules and embroidered gowns as a study of being human. I am also trying to bridge the gap between science and the public, so I have done some creative photography content for Biotech startups. Outside of that, I have recently taken up composing music on Garage Band. I put my piano in storage last year and most of our (mine and my boyfriend's) instruments are back in Chicago. I'm pleasantly surprised at how
much I can get out a music program when I can't get to physical instrument.
What comes next after modeling?
I've never been one preclude pursuing one interest from another, so I can't really imagine ending one thing in order to begin something else. Something that I would like to start getting into more now that I am out of academia is science communication. There is a great disconnect between public understanding of research and what is being done at the bench and I would like to help disrupt the Hollywood idea of the "Mad Scientist" and humanize science.
Any Advice you can give to any aspiring models out there?
It's hard to not compare yourself to others in success and physical attributes, but just keep on
your own course and always embrace your unique qualities - especially the ones that people point out that have probably made you uncomfortable - because the more unusual, the more impactful you can make a photograph. If you have a telltale birthmark, display it with pride. If your elbows are pointy, use them to create angular shapes. If you have long fingers or large feet, draw attention to them with prominent gestures and positions.
I like to be challenged, so anything that I have not yet done, like a fashion film or a tap-dancing campaign, would be great. It would be cool to move for an animated character, too like a video game. If you have an idea, send it my way!
It would be an honor work with designers that I admire: Acne, Alexander Wang, and Gucci to name a few. Acne always creates a clean and cohesive, structural vision from head to toe to packaging.
Alexander Wang speaks to the street and music styles of the everyday cool. Gucci is the epitome of whimsy and play and I am always drawn the bold campaigns and unabashed mixing of colors and patterns.
I would also really love to work with designers who are incorporating new technology into garment making. As a scientist, but really more just as human on Earth, we should be looking to more sustainable clothing. Design and tech should not be mutually exclusive and a dream client would be someone who executes both with fervor.
Tell us a secret
If you’re gonna have a book what title would it be?
Like an autobiography? Or a piece of fiction? I wrote a one-act comedy play in 8th grade called "The Plaza Motel". I used classic bedroom farce conventions (think Fawlty Towers) with all the characters rotating through the lobby with their own agenda. All the while the manager is trying to prevent complete chaos, which is actually a fabrication of his own doing - turns out, no one was murdered! I guess the title would be pretty translatable to the cynical or pragmatic side of my autobiography if you think of my career choices - model and Molecular Biologist - as being unattainable/ unimaginable for most people, with the glitzy and elite "Plaza" shell, but inside can be just as chaotic, gritty, and mundane as an unassuming "Motel".
If you will be given the chance and opportunity to help a specific charity, what would it be and
Scientific research as the necessity of progress - everything from renewable energy to disease
prevention. I would work a with any nonprofit organization that awards grants to basic science
researchers because funding is the hardest part about moving forward with new ideas in science.
Most people don't think about the fact that academic research in the US relies on government
funding and that researchers often have to source additional money from various organizations to keep their projects going and laboratories functioning. You would be shocked at how expensive it is to run a modest-size laboratory at a top University with basic equipment, reagents, and staff.
Scientists are grossly underpaid and overworked because they have curious minds that can't be stopped by funding cuts and we need to support those who are trying to untangle the secrets of the Earth and make it a better place.