Monday, March 05, 2007

Interview with Daniel Grant

When Dianne and Tom saw some of my Holga work, Dianne said, "I think someone we know is also using a Holga." Later she confirmed they did know Daniel Grant and that Daniel was using a Holga for some of his work and had work in several shows. I googled for his web site and saw several wonderful portfolios. I sent him an email. So that is how I met Daniel Grant. Six degrees of separation......Ha! With the Internet, Two degrees of separation! At any rate I've had several email conversations with Daniel and thought that you might be interested in getting to know him and his work too. Daniel's day job is as a Landscape Architect but his passion is photography.

Billie: How did you initially get interested in photography and when did you start working with the Diana and Holga?

Daniel: In my early years of college, I had a crush on a girl that was taking an Intro to Photography class, so I politely stalked her and added the class. I was not serious about photography, but our first field trip was to a gallery to review and critique an up and coming new photographer, Keith Carter. When we entered the gallery, I was immediately drawn to his images.

We are obviously a very visual society, bombarded with images in magazines, on billboards and on TV and the computer. This was the first time I took the time to view the art of photography and witness a storyline, a history and the depth of an images vocabulary.

I have always been into art, and taken many drawing classes. this was a new and different way to be creative. Being in the darkroom and witnessing your image emerge while in the developer is a magical thing that is addicting.

On my first trip to Europe, a close friend gave me a this piece of black plastic called a "holga" and a handful of film and told me to document my trip. It was ridiculously light and easy to travel with, but I had no idea of the camera's f-stops, aperture, focal was a mystery. I came back with the film and I believe eight images were salvageable. But those eight had a huge impact on my photography. The images were incredibly unique, different than images you are used to viewing. They related incredibly well to the histories of European architecture and the square format reminded me of many of my family's turn of the century images.

Billie: In your statement on your website you say that the toy cameras seem like the best ways to express yourself because of their soft focus, childlike naivete + ageless qualities. Would you expand on that some more?

Daniel: The cameras plastic lens has a unique voice and mood, uncomplicated and a bit blurry, as a memory of the past or a recent dream. This is one of the main reasons I use these cameras. I try to take images without anything that can date them, such as automobiles or someone wearing fashion that would set them in this era. My purpose of using these cameras is to create a mood or a feeling that is familiar, but unclear. I find this expression to be very satisfying and compelling.

Billie: Do you have a preference between the Diana and the Holga?

Daniel: I really enjoy the diana over the holga for a few reasons. I am able to get 16 images instead of 12 from the holga. With the diana both the sharpness and depth of field are enhanced. The edges of the images seem to be a bit crisper or sharper with the diana.

Billie: Most of your work is in B&W. Do you do all your own development and printing?

Daniel: I went to an amazing grad school that allowed me access to fantastic darkroom. I was able to experiment in the darkroom endlessly, burning through paper and chemicals. Then I was introduced to a real job and the real world. Here in this world there are budgets, deadlines, paychecks and bills. There isn't much time or access to a darkroom.

What I have done is have my negs developed at a pro-shop. I have a small darkroom where I make my own contact sheets. I then scan my images on a film scanner and clean them up with Photoshop, and have the pro-shop print the images on Epson UltraSmooth Archival paper. I am such a purist with photography, and I never saw myself working with a DRY DARKROOM.

Billie: Have you tried other holga-like digital methods such as the Lensbaby or a holga lens cap on a DSLR or even using Photoshop to give a holga look to your images?

Daniel: I was able to go to the Santa Fe Workshops a couple of years back and took a workshop with the photographer that changed my life back in college, Keith Carter. In his class everyone else had thousands of dollars worth of top of the line digital cameras and gear. After the first few days everyone purchased the lensbabies to have the Keith Carter effect on their images with some o.k. results. I'm not a big fan of the lensbabies or the holga lens caps. In my opinion they are a bit like cheating. There is no guessing, no light leaks, no wasted film, what you see is what you get. Maybe I'm a bit bitter that I spent the last 6 years understanding my toy cameras, and now there are these adaptors that save time and frustration...
With Photoshop, all I do is clean the dust off the images. They are pretty true to the original negs.

Billie: What is your favorite film for the toy cameras?

Daniel: Ilford HP5+ is my favorite at the moment. I am able to get some great contrast and the film is middle of the road for speeds.

Billie: What size do you like to print your images?

Daniel: I have been producing editions of 50 at 10"x10" and editions of 35 at 16"x16".
I see you have done some color work. How does working in color with the Holga or Diana differ from working in B&W? Light is your enemy with color film, and I have had little success in getting exposures correct. I'm still experimenting with chromes and offspeed color films though, I'm not giving up just yet.

Billie: Since I am printing my own work with an Epson printer, I can't really see much difference except getting the color balance right which means not necessarily truly balanced is a bit tricky. I agree that the exposure/ISO is a bit more difficult with color over B&W film. Do you modify your toy cameras?

Daniel: Typically, people tend to use black tape to cover the lightleaks on the cameras, but after traveling to the grand canyon on vacation, I found the sticky mess needed an upgrade. I have since modified all of my cameras with velcro.

Billie: How many do you have and tell me about your favorite toy camera.

Daniel: I have purchased 4 holgas and 3 dianas, one of which broke after I purchased it. I tend to carry a messenger bag with me often and I carry both dianas, one with b+w and the other with color. There are subtle differences with them, but both have a mind of their own.

Billie: Tell me about some of your projects? Are you currently working on one in particular?

Daniel: I have been working on one recently: Surf Culture. I grew up at the beach and have been surfing for most of my life. There is a unique bond that people have with the ocean, and its not just in Southern California. I've been fortunate to have lived in some amazing places such as Santa Barbara, San Diego, San Francisco, Maui, Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina, and San Sebastian, Spain. In all of these places there is a "stoke" for the ocean that goes well beyond geographical location or language. I am attempting to document and identify this unique culture.

Daniel's work is getting recognition in competitions:
If you are in NYC this weekend you should look for him at the Soho Photo Gallery at 15 White Street. He has work in the show and is planning to be there for the opening of the Krappy Kamera 9 Competition on March 6.

More of his work can be seen in the 2007 International Juried Photography Competition at The Coastal Art League of Half Moon Bay, California. Through a Lens - Life in Motion opening March 17.

And at the opening on April 14, at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, Daniel will have work in the Texas National Art Competition.

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