bal harbour blog

Michele Oka Doner

Q&A
Michele Oka Doner, photographed by Bruce Weber for Vogue Italia, June 2013.

By Tali Jaffe

Flamingoes. Bruce Weber. Michele Oka Doner. Those three elements are enough to have us anxiously flipping through the pages of this month’s Vogue Italia in search of the 16-page feature dedicated to the artist. Add to that splendid gardens, adorable children and endless objects of nature, and we’re hooked. Sixteen pages just wasn’t enough, so we reached out to Oka Doner for a little backstory to the beautiful portfolio shot by Weber, across several locations, from Los Angeles to Miami Beach.

Flamingoes! Where was this incredible photo taken and what was going through your mind as you sat there with a flock of gorgeous flamingoes just a few feet away?
Flamingo Gardens, a botanical garden and wildlife sanctuary in the Fort Lauderdale area. Bruce Weber talked them into allowing me into the pond! This picture was taken as the flamingoes were retreating; seconds before I had a handful of food and was besieged by honks, squawks and beaks!! What a racket!

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The love in these images is overwhelming! Please tell us about your beautiful family, starting with the little bunny you're embracing.
I have two sons, Jordan and Jeremy. These wonderful images were captured at Jeremy’s home in Los Angeles. His wife, Mishna Wolff, is pregnant with Odin, who is now a beautiful three-month-old baby who coos and gurgles. Oona Michele, my first grandchild, is three years old and loves to play dress up. Bruce brought her the orange fox (in the garden picture). Ahh, those LA homes with plants blurring the border between inner and outer space. My husband Fred and my son Jordan live in New York City.

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Your design for the floors at MIA makes for a wonderful arrival (or departure) experience. What was the process like working on a project of such great scale?
A Walk on the Beach at Miami International Airport is my bouquet to Miami. I loved growing up in the beauty and light of South Florida and I’m happy to be given the opportunity to create something that expresses the uniqueness of the subtropics.

How many different specimens are represented in this installation?
There are thousands of different specimens all cut from wax at the studio in New York City, day by day, year after year.

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Bruce Weber often uses collage in his portfolios. But these also remind me of inspiration and mood boards. Is your studio filled with similar studies, collages and inspiration?
Yes, the studio is filled with collections of natural objects and ancient stones. Ironically, Bruce has not yet been to the studio, though he did photograph my apartment in Miami Beach.

Please tell us about the beautiful chair you're sitting on so regally in the last shot.
The chair is Egyptian revival, from Kin Tut’s tomb. I thought since Miami Beach was going through a revival, I would bring that note to the apartment.

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Have you and Bruce known each other a long time?
I’ve known Bruce several years. I saw the premier of his exceptional film on Chet Baker, Let’s Get Lost, and knew he was soulful! We both love books, delight in sharing our thoughts about images and ideas each time we get together. The photo shoot allowed us time to expand our play.

Is there something special you're working on this summer?
I am completing work on my first freestanding structure, a project so exciting that I’m practically dancing! It is a pavilion at the incorporated city of Doral, west of Miami. It sits in the park in front of the City Hall and will be created from cast concrete and contain feral plantings, evoking the Everglades—so close, yet so far from our urban spaces. Stay tuned! It will be ready by summer’s end.

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