The 11 Question Interview Series continues with danconnortown sharing his thoughts on art, life, and photography. Learn more about the artist and visit pivotartgallery to see his featured portfolio.
1. Could you please give us an idea about how you became interested in image making?
There weren’t a lot of pictures when I was a kid. I couldn’t really show you a picture of me when I was 7, or what was going on in my world in say, 1980. So, I think it was the idea that I could actually prove that things happened. Even if they were boring, with a photograph, I could prove it. I could show you the Columbia bicycle I had with the banana seat, or the skateboard I made myself, when I was 10 or 11. I loved the idea that by pointing a box at something and pressing a button, I could prove that it actually happened. That what I saw was really there. I imagine that everyone thinks they see things differently. I don’t know if I see things any differently, but some things were always just more attractive to me. Sometimes those things seemed like the most ordinary things, a salt shaker, a trash can – i mean, i’m making it up, but really. Things that don’t get any attention because they’re just sort of ho-hum. I liked the idea of taking a picture of those types of things. To remember them by, because (for example) the dumpster behind the Cumberland Farms where I grew up? It’s a safe bet it’s not there anymore. But if I had a picture, I could prove it was. And if you saw it, you’d be like, “huh. I can totally identify with that. We had a dumpster where I grew up, behind the…” and so on.
2. If you have artistic/creative role models, who are they and how do you relate to them?
Gosh. I have no idea. There’s a million names that jump to mind, but I don’t know if any of them would be considered role models. I appreciate people who’s work feels like they weren’t really trying hard, it’s just who they are. Like, Terry Richardson, Jeurgen Teller – these guys aren’t busting their asses to get the shot. They’re just doing it and could give a damn what anyone else thinks. I admire that. I really loved the work of Mondino back in the late 90’s, he was really pushy but kind of getting away with murder, and I thought it was really funny. I admire work that makes me laugh out loud when I look at it. I remember being in Finland and I saw a billboard some 10 years ago, and it was that famous shot for I don’t remember who, but it was a billboard – it had the girl down under the cow drinking the milk from the udder. It was a fashion ad. It was Terry Richardson, and it was nothing short of raunchy, and especially by the standards of the day. I thought that was so bad ass, that all I ever wanted to do was photography like that forever. Is Terry Richardson a role model? Well… I don’t know about that, but he’s funny and he does alright on payday, and I’ll be damned if his work doesn’t stir the pot.
With that said, I really love the work of Stephen Shore. His work is just awesome. And though I didn’t grow up hearing his name, and I didn’t study his work in college, I sincerely hope that my work will one day make someone feel the way I did the first time I saw Uncommon Places.
3. What is most satisfying to you about the creative process?
There’s a moment of release when the shutter fires. It’s this feeling that you know you got it, or you know you missed it. It’s funny if it’s when taking a picture of something stupid like a piece of garbage on the street- I mean, how do you MISS that shot?! but there’s a definite feeling. You just know. And it’s in that moment that nothing else matters to me, where I need to be, what I’m supposed to be doing, how i’m going to process the file later, is it going to be saturated, desaturated, black and white, split toned, cross processed, is it even going to be processed at all? Will I just delete the whole card? What if I get in a wreck on the way home? – etc. – In that moment when the mirror flips up and the shutter is opening and closing, I am 100% in it. Me the camera, the subject, the light, everything – and it feels like new age hippy to say so, but that moment is truly why I take pictures at all.
4. What do you learn through your work?
I think patience is something I learn through my work. It forces me to slow down. To breathe. To think about the moment. To be a part of the moment. So many people go to places or events and it’s just 2nd nature to them to watch the whole thing through the LCD screen on their iPhone, they aren’t even really there. And nobody’s ever going to watch their iPhone video, and they’re probably never going to even take the time to edit it, they’re just wasting time and mucking up the view – for me, my work is really not work at all. It’s pleasure. It’s what I enjoy. I see the thing I want to photograph. I look at it. I soak it in. I breathe. I pay attention.
When the camera comes to my face, I look at the numbers in the view finder, I look back at the subject, i breathe. I do some calculations – do i want it brighter, do i want it dimmer? Do I want the lens wide open? Why not stop it down a pinch… and then I watch through the little window. I see something nobody else can see. Who ever is there around me does not see what I see when my eye is to the viewfinder. I am alone in that moment, so I have learned to be very patient before pressing that button. Once I press it, that’s my proof that it happened. So I need to make sure every corner of the frame captures what I’m seeing and feeling at that moment.
5. Do you edit your work into various categories, before, during, or after shooting?
I really don’t. I always say I will, but I never do. I do not have a library of “people” or “places” or “things” – which I consider to be the least time consuming and possibly the most simple or basic edit anyone should make. The reality is, I always assumed there would be an intern for that one day. Problem is, I’m probably so particular, I can’t imagine there’d be an intern out there with the stamina for my keyword and naming conventions.
6. Do you imagine a narrative when you are making your images?
Sometimes I do. Sometimes I’m talking right out loud when I’m making them. Sometimes I’m whispering to myself, other times the whole play is happening in my head, but for sure there is always some sort of dialogue. Many years ago I saw Dewitt Jones talking about his photography. The big take away from his talk was that it’s polite to say “thank you” after you’ve pressed the button. Thank the earth, the lord, or whoever whatever it is that made that moment possible. Kind of like you know, the Native Americans and the Earth- I’d like to think that I mean to say thank you all the time, and sometimes I actually do. I’ve certainly thanked a tree or two along the way.
7. Your images often feel very spontaneous. Is there any sort of conscious decision-making process that happens?
Yes. For a long time I couldn’t afford to process my film. I wound up with bags and bags of film in the fridge. To this day, I’ve still got great big bags of film I shot in the 90’s and early oughts before switching over to digital- There was a time when it seemed stupid to keep shooting so much if I was never going to process the film, so for a long while I took my camera out without film. I still checked my exposures, focused, framed, thought about it, and pressed the shutter – even though the camera was empty. Even now, if i’m somewhere and driving or walking or whatever, and I don’t have a camera close to hand (which is rare) I hold up my imaginary camera and frame it on the subject and shout “BOOM!” at whatever it is that I see. I can be driving by with the top down and my hand is out the car and any passerby would hear “Boom! … Boom! BOOOM!” – the decision is internal. It’s like when you catch yourself holding your breath. You’re just sitting there not thinking about it and you’re like, “hmm. maybe I should draw a breath.” You never say to yourself, “why was I holding my breath?” – I see an image, i see the finished product and my hand is on its way to my face, and my finger is on its way to the button, with or without a camera in hand. With that said, I absolutely do get up some mornings and say, “I’m driving to the desert, and I want a picture of something specific. I have no idea what it is, but I’ll show you once I see it.”
8 Do you have other creative outlets besides photography?
I used to paint a lot, though it’s been years since i’ve painted a thing. I like music, and wish I could play guitar about 10x better than I do. I like to drive a sports car quickly through the turns with the top down, and I love Video and Motion Picture too. I don’t do much in the way of video, but slowly my eyeballs have been turning in that direction.
9. How do you feel about contemporary photography and your contribution to it?
I love it. I love that everyone and their great grandmother has a $2500 DSLR or an iPhone or a little pinner cam, and that most people have flickr and tumblr and zooomr and every other possible photo sharing sites. I think it’s awesome. I love how much work there is to see, and I love the “bad” stuff just as much as the “good” stuff. I love that people just love to share their work, that’s another thing that keeps me shooting. Knowing that there’s an audience. That someone cares. Someone wants to see my proof. I am always flattered when people like my work, because I don’t know, it makes me feel like they get something more than the picture. It’s like, the viewer gets me. And I suppose that’s what your next question asks.
10. What is the most important thing you want viewers to come away from your work with?
For me it’s not so much important that a viewer come away with anything more than an understanding. This is who I am. This is what I saw. This is how I saw it. Sometimes a photograph may feel painterly, or emotional, or graphic, or ironic, but they all need to be seen together, understood as a whole. They are moments specific to my life. I’m sharing my life with you, and I’m hoping that there’s a bit of recognition in it for the viewer. Something that says, “hey, I’m kind of like this guy. I get it. I get him.”
11. What can you add that would help us understand you and/or your work better?
Hmmm. Well. I grew up in New Hampshire.
I was a punk rock kid in the 80’s.
I bought a 1 way plane ticket to California when I was 17.
John Steinbeck is my favorite author.
My work is really a testament to my life & lifestyle. The intent (I think) has always been to make images that stir the emotion in someway. My images are very regional. Like, the flavor is meant to feel different between my east coast and west coast photography. The feel and texture of my Los Angeles vs. San Francisco vs. New York, etc. photography is deliberate and 100% on purpose. The differences are meant to evoke my feelings about each place – for instance, though I love New York, my photos of New York are always a hell of a lot rougher than say, my images of Palm Springs. The images are all meant to reflect the most present state of mind and serve as a sort of diary as I grow. This is most evident when viewing from the beginning of the archives to the present, and will become more so in the years to come.