ECR: Tell us a bit about yourself and what the practice of photography means to you?
JD: During my studio arts training it was all about painting and illustration of the human form and in a highly realized style. My biggest challenge was the lengthy processes involved and I was yearning to capture the same impact and emotion but more immediately. Around 2004 I started borrowing a friend's camera and taking lengthy, slightly intoxicated, bike rides around town documenting urban settings. I knew that I wanted to capture real people in real places in a pretty way.
ECR: What themes, issues, or concepts are you most interested in exploring through your work?
JD: I am very much interested in the beauty within the mundane, how light and texture provoke mood. I also draw a lot from past experiences and interpersonal relationships in the hope that I can address some sort of similar being in all of us. Lately it's been all about nudes and walking that thin, blurry line between erotic and innocent, of course tasteful (ahem). I do still shoot a fair bit of portraiture, or what I like to call the candid portrait, which for me is about setting them up then distracting the hell out of them and then snagging that composed but real moment. Definitely not contrived or stiff.
ECR: Beyond the process of capturing, framing, and contextualizing, you are adding additional layers to your images. What has the addition of projection, cast light, and shadow brought to your work?
JD: With my nudes I have been lighting the subjects with projections and working in further distortion with a miniature mirror alongside the lens. Makes for some pretty psychedelic, happy accidents. I recently built a rig that harnesses an iPad to my leg so I can manipulate the projected image with my left hand while I shoot with my right.
ECR: Do you differentiate your personal work from your more commercial work in terms of methods, processes, and approach? Is one an extension of the other? Do each bring insight to your practice overall that provoke deeper questions and investigation?
JD: I think every shoot is a completely unique bag of tricks. I definitely approach a paid job differently simply because there are usually other cooks in the kitchen lending their two cents but there is also a certain level of professionalism that is expected from them and client. When I was starting out I art directed with/was mentored by a veteran shooter who had this beautiful balance of “quirky + expert” that worked well to disarm and reassure everyone on set.
I know I am always gaining new interaction tactics from all the talent, be it makeup, set designers, or art directors. There is often a buffer of personal shoots in between commercial work where I can cleanse pallet and dabble with new approaches both technically and with the subject. I definitely look forward to learning more from others on the set both technically but also who they are as people.
ECR: How would you define the role of photography within the broader context of contemporary culture?
JD: I have recently started traveling to the not-so-popular US states looking for random adventure and documenting the unexpected in the day-to-day as I go. I recently spent NYE in Oklahoma with the Flaming Lips + Yoko Ono and it presented a plethora of random, not-so-exciting happenings combined with once-in-a-lifetime events, both of which made for incredible photos from a journalistic stand point. We also got to spend a few days with Wayne Coyne and the incredible team supporting him (biker gang loyalty), documenting the typical everyday stuff.
After editing the photos it dawned on me that I could totally transform the story/message, even within the mundane shots, to say something completely different than what was really going on. Photography was once the truth-teller and with it came a great responsibility. With so many blog/news sites we are exposed to so much more photography, which then changes the context of the shot even further.
We now see tumblr sites feeding incredible National Geographic-esque war shots taken by some student in their backyard, and these shots are then fed to Huffington Post and shared on millions of Facebook pages. That clutter makes my job - turning the mundane into the extraordinary - all the more challenging and, at the same time, important.
ECR: The human figure occupies a major place within your work? What is your interest in its exploration, and what are you attempting to reveal?
JD: I like a shot that is technically sound and composed as though it were set up but capturing it in a natural off the cuff candid way. I also like seeing the human form appear natural and relaxed in a setting that is completely foreign and possibly unsettling. I try to create this juxtaposition through projection of texture and foreign objects onto the subject and their background. I can have them completely naked and totally relaxed and display a train wreck or some entangled grid work that completely changes the tone.
ECR: In terms of gear, what are you currently using and experimenting with?
JD: These days it's the 1Ds and 5D MKII. I shoot predominantly with a manual Zeiss Plannar T 50mm and 35mm L 1.4. As mentioned above I rig an iPad to an HD projector and an old half rusted hand held mirror for reflection work.
ECR: In your opinion, where is photography moving in the future? How do you see your own practice evolving? Do you have any thoughts on how the image (or its role) might change?
JD: I heard something last year about Adobe's Light Field project and it being able to capture all depths of field in one snap and then the accompanying software allows you to edit what is in focus in post. I get this is taking technology to the next level but what will this mean for current photographers if anyone can just hold up a camera and push the button and decide later what its about?
I am not saying this is a good or bad thing I am just curious if all images will start to look the same and what will this do for craftsmanship. I am quite interested in advancing the moving portrait not unlike the cinemagraphs surfacing in the last year. I love the idea of something that appears static at first glance but demands a longer look simply because its moving.
ECR: Has photography provided you with any memorable life lessons?
JD: There have been a few models lately who have canceled the day of the shoot and it left me quite high and dry. I don't think that is very cool, I find it incredibly irresponsible and ultimately it only comes back to haunt them. What I did learn was to keep my cool and not allow any of it to shed negativity on my day - after all it's just camera equipment and rental space. Ultimately I got a free day out of it which led me to meet up with some folks I wouldn't have run into if I had been shooting. You always have to find the glass half full I guess.
ECR: Do you have any advice for others?
JD: Yes: treat your subjects with care. Don't lose sight of the fact that they are people and not props. Treat them with respect and be on time for them! You will get far more out of them in the shots which will make your life easier and the shoot more rewarding. Subjects talk and that is your best form of advertisement.JD's Online Portfolio on 4ormat