These images of Leslie Bembinster by Grant Legan for frilly have a kind of power to them that at first I couldn’t put my finger on. There is a seriousness to her beauty that Legan saw and froze for all of us to examine. I felt like she knew something I didn’t, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. It turns out her dead set gaze and angular features, set crisply against modern walkways and geometric diners, was only skimming the surface of what there is to see.
Because when I talked with Leslie I was stopped short all over again, intimidated in the very best of ways. I am always interested in learning about the lives of the people in photographs, how three dimensional they become, how real we all become when you take the time to talk about it. Leslie is a molecular biologist who has spent the past few years shooting lasers at cells to understand their base structure so she and fellow scientists can study our immunology. That is the most simplified way I can even begin to talk about what she does.
When asked about a typical work day, she explains, “There is no ‘typical day’ in research. I could say that I arrive promptly at 9am, put on a lab coat, safety googles and gloves, and diligently work in silence at the bench until 5pm when everything is perfect and time to go, but that’s a bunch of bullshit. To humanize the scientist: I would only wear the lab coat if I happened to wear something nice to the lab (but forget about ever wearing those Saint Laurent boots – those would be covered in bleach by the end of the hour), there’s a lot of swearing (like, A LOT), rejoicing if some simple thing like getting ONE bacterial colony on a plate, spending at least an hour of sweltering hot room of cell culture taking care of multiple cell lines from insect to human (our room was at 28 C because insect cells grow at that temp), digging through the trash because you initially thought that tube was a failure but 4hrs of other experiments prove that it’s valuable, hearing a barrage of timers going off across the floor at any given minute, and endless writing of “IT FAILED” after 4 whole pages of writing in my lab notebook that day. There’s a lot of cloning, cell culture, protein purification and 99% failure.”
“Science is mostly humility and patience with a touch of good luck and one moment of clarity.”
She’s been living that lab life for a few years and recently relocated to Los Angeles, her efforts moving toward bridging the gap between the laboratory and the public because, as she says, “Let’s face it, science is pretty damn cool.” She splits her time between modeling and science, or rather layers it, because the unique complexity of each job feeds and fuels her inspiration and work ethic for the other. We are complex humans. She is an archetype of that statement.
Leslie has found a deep-rooted connection beneath the surface duality of her two passions: “I have a penchant for doing the unexpected, but art and science are partners. I am curious about untangling and rearranging complex systems. This allows me to move between the seemingly dichotomous disciplines of molecular biology and modeling.”
“I dissect the nuances and subtle beauties of expression, be it the fevered dance between antigen and receptor or the opposing bends of a wrist and elbow cloaked in a bell sleeve. I narrate both science and art as an exploration of being human.”
It all makes sense when you revisit Legan’s images with more pieces to the picture of who she is. The unapologetic angle of her limbs, the powerful expression on her face, the graceful way she occupies space. She is quite the wonder, a serious beauty with a serious brain, schooling us in the science of modeling and the art of living a full and richly textured life.