Every day can be an adventure when you want it to be. That is how North California born Dylan lives his life. Finding his feet in the intimidating city of New York, the 18 year old carries homegrown positivity in the back pocket of his favourite jeans.
Photographer Sarah Benjamin captures Dylan Fender at Fusion Models in his new city, exploring beyond it's tower blocks of man-made concrete, to the greener side of youth in bloom. Perhaps his positivity is linked to his Utah upbringing, or perhaps it’s down to his parents influence. Growing up in such a small, conservative town populated with merely 1000 people must affect the way that you view the world. An optimistic boy, he has since been keen to make the most of every day.
Dylan often surprises a stranger with a smile. In the modern world, an action this simple may seem odd, even scary, to the receiver. Being someone who isn’t content conforming to a world where strangers remain unconnected, is admirable. A further chat with Dylan reveals a technique he learnt from his father that we are now calling 'Three Messages A Day'; a unique gesture of appreciation and a small insight into the way that Dylan works. A lesson we would all benefit from.
At his young age, he subconsciously acts as a voice for a generation of boys. These boys openly accept their feelings and emotions, no masks needed - he even cried during the interview.
Who is Dylan?
I am Dylan! I am an 18 year old boy from Northern California who is still figuring out his place in the world like everyone else.
Sarah mentioned you live in Utah. Is this where you grew up as well?
Well, I spent my formative years in Utah. I moved from Northern California when I was 12, and I’ve lived in Salt Lake City since.
What was it like to grow up there?
Before I moved, I came from a small town with a population of 1000 out in rural California. Cowboy and hunting culture was pretty common. I was never a fan, so I was relieved that when I came to Salt Lake and it was a complete cultural change. Growing up here was interesting, it’s a calm climate, with hardly any conflict. The Mormon Church is huge here, and their influence was noticeable growing up. Non-mormon kids hang with other non-Mormon’s, and vice-versa.
And what is it like to live there now?
Albeit sometimes conservative (compared to NYC), many people are extremely accepting and loving here. Since the older generation living in Utah is quite conservative, it’s interesting to note that the younger kids and those running the art scene here are very much a counter-reaction to that conservatism.
How do you find New York?
It sure is intimidating until you realize how small it is. In a smaller city, there are random events that happen maybe once or twice a week, and those are kind of a highlight for your week’s story, you know? In New York, those types of things occur every day, dude. You’re going to have a gnarly story from your day if you just walk out of your door.
What makes you happy?
So many things! I think my number one thing that makes me happy on a daily level is to make someone else happy, or to smile at a stranger and receiving a smile back! My dad taught me a really lovely habit that he does, and I’m trying to incorporate it into my life. Every morning, he picks 1-3 people to text and he let’s them know how appreciative he is of them, or sends them words of encouragement. I really love that!
What makes you sad?
People who lack empathy really hurt my feelings. Or rather, those who have empathy but act without it. I mean, there are far more things that make me sad, but that is what came to mind. I don’t get sad too much.
What makes you get out of bed in the morning?
Lately, it’s been the light shining through my windows. I used to have my shutters always closed, but since I added two cute little succulents on my nightstand, I like to keep them nourished and that means I cannot continue to sleep in the dark once the sun has risen.
How would you describe your generation of boys?
Oh man. Well, I don’t know very many and I don’t want to generalize too much. I’d like to think boys of my generation are nicer, more aware of our feelings and how we make others feel. Maybe that is just who I choose to hang around though. I know a lot of frustrating boys, but I know a lot of frustrating people of other genders as well. But there is an equal amount of nice genuine people to counter it, you just have to find them. I’ve noticed a counter-culture that values love and honesty over sexual trophies, or objectifying women.
What have your parents taught you?
Many things, some subtly, some by accident, and some as lessons. I learned how to organise my life from them, how to stay modest (I do my best), how to be self-assured and confident without cockiness. How to help others feel appreciated and loved, and how to keep pushing forward when you are down.
Talk a bit about something that you are passionate about.
Oh man rad okay. I get real passionate about a lot of things real fast and lose them, but there are a few things that have stuck with me like Fashion and Music: I don’t plan on leaving them! As of late I’ve been really trying to reconnect with listening to my album collection. Have you all heard 'Hopelessness' by Anohni? Unreal experimental-pop/protest album. Hauntingly catchy as well.
Sarah mentioned you were all laughter, dancing and jokes, which sounds lovely. What is it like to spend the day with Dylan?
I hope you don’t mind if I consult my friends on this one. I don’t think I could give an accurate description of what it’s like with me. It would just be what I think people feel when they’re around me, and that answer is...pleasant? I want people to feel secure and validated.
My friends got back to me, I asked three of my closest friends that I spend a lot of time with how they would answer that question. I figure you’re editing all this, so I’ll include them because I cried when I read them and I really love my friends.
Dana: To spend a day with you is like healing in a way. You're just filled with such good vibes and you have a kind heart, and you love sharing things that make you happy. It's an amazing quality because a lot of people like to keep what makes them happy to themselves, but you're just like "Nah! Let's share the happiness man!"
Biz: Every day with Dyl feels like an adventure. Not deliberately, but because he seeks an adventure in what has to be done for the day. Dyl literally sees value in the mundane things that crowd our lives. To him, every stranger can be a new friend and every sunset deserves to be appreciated. Most people classify their days as good or bad but for Dyl, every day is full of recognition that the shitty things are just the rain that will let you grow.
Sierra: Spending the day with Dylan means having a smile on your face and a genuine, positive energy with you throughout the day. You feel comfortable, listened to, and completely stoked - it's not every day you get to spend time with such an educated, kind, and funny person, who is not only a great conversationalist, but a striking beauty, and an uplifting friend.
What is the nicest thing you have ever done for someone?
What a gnarly question! To be honest, I don’t know how to answer this one. I like to do nice things, because it’s like, if I can do a small thing to help someone out a little bit without much cost to me, why not? I haven’t kept a list of nice things, or written down my magnum opus of a good deed.
Interview and photography by Sarah Charlie Benjamin
Styling by Nini Chitadze
Grooming by Lauren Citera
Introduction by Ede Dugdale