Your background briefly?
I’ve been a designer for over 20 years, ran a small agency with my brother for 15 of those, and have worked on everything from exhibition design to brand, identity, product, and a lot of interaction design for the web and screen. Somehow, I only picked up a camera with creative intent about 8 years ago (mostly by accident). Even before I was shooting, photography always played a big part in my approach to design and storytelling so I’m glad I found my way to it.
Looking back does it seem like a logical progression to what you are now doing?
Definitely — it’s easy to see that progression in hindsight, but I believe everything we do as individuals is connected, because all our interests come from a single source (us). Everything I’ve done has influenced whatever it is I’m also doing at the time, and everything that’s come before has informed what comes next. Especially in creative endeavors, things happen very organically — even when they seem to come out of nowhere.
Your photography includes a great mix of outdoors beautiful landscapes and also highly urban settings too, do you use a similar or different mindset when photographing in such contrasting areas?
I tend to be a bit of a chameleon when it comes to photography, which isn’t surprising as that’s also how I approach design and art direction.
My personal work is quite varied though definitely inspired by my design background, and my growing interest in architecture is also starting to creep in; I tend to approach commissioned projects as blank slates, adjusting my style to suit the brief and/or constraints, much like I do with my other creative work. I’ve been asked recently if the photos I publish have been shot by different people — which I take as a compliment to my experimental methods.
What different cameras do you use for your work?
Too many 🙂 I mentioned that my introduction to photography was mostly by accident, and that’s because what drew me in was the design of the cameras themselves — specifically the Polaroid SX–70, the camera that transformed my relationship with photography.
Now, I have over 50 different cameras — film and digital — from 110 and half-frame 35mm all the way to 10×8, all in working order. For commissioned work, I rely on a subset of film and digital:
- 35mm: Nikon F100, Contax T2, Hasselblad XPan
- Medium format: Plaubel Makina 67, Fuji GSW690, Hasselblad 500C/M
- Instant: Fuji Instax Mini, Polaroid SX–70, and 10×8 (the last two using Impossible Project film)
- Digital: Sony A7RII and SII
I prefer shooting film, so if a particular brief is achievable with film the digital cameras become my backup, and only for must-have shots or images where film isn’t practical.
DSLR / mirrorless versus smart phones? What are you thoughts and the pros and cons?
I love shooting with smartphones — if not for embracing the iPhone pre-Instagram, I may not have started doing commercial work as a photographer. They’re also fantastic for practicing and honing your skills.
Different cameras are suited to different things — sensor size, optics, specific functionality, even the physical form changes how you use a given camera. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy shooting so many different formats and cameras: they each excel in certain areas and are lacking in others. The trick is learning the strengths and weaknesses, and how different cameras suit your own style and what you want to achieve.
Being open to the possibilities feels infinitely better than decreeing one format is better than another (and it’s a lot more fun).
What are your favourite images of your own work?
[The images in this article were chosen by Dan as some of his favourites]
Who are your influences and inspirations?
I’ve always tried to steer clear of too many overt influences, especially with photography — I’ve rarely spent much time examining the work of others. But ‘rarely’ isn’t the same as ‘never’, and I happily point to the work and ethos of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Stieglitz, Clyde Butcher, Martin Parr — I knew their images before I even knew their names.
I could list more, especially people who are currently producing work that I love — ultimately I’m inspired more by how people approach their work than the work itself, once said work has captured my attention.
What’s the book that you are working on? Can you tell us more about it?
I’m working on two at the moment: K?ya Bound, a photo book of images captured on an 8-day hike along ancient pilgrimage trails in the mountains of Japan — a collaboration of images and design skills with the very talented Craig Mod, produced in association with Leica and Blurb (launching on Kickstarter on August 1).
The other is just getting started (on track to be released late-Spring 2017) and will be a guide to photography from the basics of light and exposure to post production methods and many things in between, covering film, digital, and smartphone to clearly explain where they all overlap and where they differ. My goal is a book many people will have in their bag and use as a central point of reference, referring readers to other books and online resources that dig deeper into each subject. Part guide, part recommended reading list, if you like. A daunting goal, perhaps, but I’m excited by the opportunity.
From your twitter bio you list 3 quite different activities, how do you balance / interweave the demands of each of these? And do they cross fertilise each other?
I never really achieve any single point of balance — I imagine it’s more like the experience of riding a unicycle while juggling cats. Thankfully, I seem to thrive when my attentions are spread across various interests, and that’s been the case as far back as I can remember.
The trick is that those three things — design, photography, creative/art direction — have more similarities than differences. Thus my ever-growing interest in architecture and filmmaking makes sense in the same way as the myriad types of ‘design’ I’ve done/am doing/want to do all relate and build upon each other.
Even music — yet another creative endeavor for 25 years — has so much in common with the thought processes that go into design and photography in all their forms. All are related by similar concepts: line, contrast, harmony, texture — and of course, stories. Ultimately, most things humans do are more similar than not, as we’re the constant, and I love how frequently that’s reinforced through various practices.
— Dan Rubin (@danrubin) July 11, 2016
What are you excited about in the future of photography?
I would love to see a return to 3D/stereoscopic images — one of the oldest forms of photography, it’s still one of the most impressive end results. This could be one area where light-field cameras like Lytro help take us, once their technology improves.
I’d also like to see more experimentation with the form and behavior of digital cameras — currently they’re still heavily influenced by their film predecessors, with smartphones doing more to advance what a digital camera could become than what we still think of as ‘traditional’ cameras.
There’s so much information available now, both in terms of captured data in an image and contextual data available before, during, and after the shutter is released. No one is really doing anything with that yet, at least not publicly, and that’s where the biggest leaps could come for photography in general.
— Dan Rubin (@danrubin) June 26, 2016
Considering that volume of information on a broader scale, we’re collectively creating tens of thousands of images every day but not doing anything with most of them — how can this be addressed in the future?
The number of images we’re sharing is certainly imposing — nearly 100,000,000 per-day on Instagram alone — and we capture far more: an estimated 1 trillion photos in 2015. But those numbers become far less intimidating when you consider how few images are shared and viewed within a given social circle, and in that context, I’m not sure much has changed in the digital era compared with the long reign of 35mm and other small, consumer formats.
My parents’ house has shelves of prints and negatives, almost none of them in albums, and there’s a good chance most of those images were only seen once or twice unless they were stuck in the corner of a mirror frame or stuck to the fridge with a magnet.
That said, there are definitely ways that technology can help us deal with the volume of information (the same is true for anything we create, from writing to video and everything in between). One thing missing from digital imaging is any sort of practical constraint that’s based on human capacity, rather than technological limitations. Sure, being able to capture thousands of images on a single SD card (or in the case of Apple’s iCloud Photo Library, a near-infinite number of photos) sounds appealing, but humans aren’t equipped to deal with anywhere near that volume of data. We shoot far more images than we will ever look at; more than we’ll ever even review when deciding what to share.
Google Photos takes an interesting approach to solving this sort of problem after the fact, scanning all your photos and creating something new from what it judges to be the best images. EyeEm’s new app, The Roll, takes a slightly different approach, evaluating the images on your smartphone, giving each a rating and assigning keywords, and then showing you your best images in various categories. This sort of thing is a good start and definitely helpful, but it’s plugging a hole in the dyke — I’d rather see camera manufactures improve the experience of shooting in a way that leads people to shoot fewer, better images. Exploring how this might be achieved would be an exciting design problem, and it’s exactly this sort of experimentation that’s easier to do on smartphones than bigger cameras thanks to their inherent flexibility.
— Dan Rubin (@danrubin) June 22, 2016
Finally, do you feel like the rise of short form video (Vine, Snapchat, Boomerang, et al) is diminishing the value of still photography?
Ah! There’s so much potential with motion that doesn’t exist in stills, though that’s nothing new: it’s incredible just how long the idea of watching a moving image has captivated us — over 100 years — and yet it hasn’t killed still photography, so why would that suddenly be true now? People thought photography would kill painting, and that certainly hasn’t happened. If a medium is strong enough in the way it allows a story to be told, it will continue to thrive alongside newer media, even if it loses its place at the top.
What’s more interesting is how short form video is changing the rest of the video landscape — the stories people tell on Snapchat are so different, and the platform so readily accessible to viewers and producers alike, that it’s created an entirely new category of content and behavior. If you define ‘value’ purely from a business perspective, this ‘new motion’ has far more potential than stills when it comes to capturing the attention of the audience.
Vine and other platforms (including Instagram’s various video offerings) are in a lot of ways more like extended stills than what we think of as more traditional storytelling with motion: they are to vlogs on YouTube and Vimeo (and even Snapchat) what photography is to video in general.
Perhaps most importantly, people have different expectations from still photography, short form video like Vine, vlogs and YouTube channels, music videos, Netflix, network and cable TV, and motion pictures — consumers aren’t judging one against the other because they see them as completely different with their own place within a daily routine of consumption. As long as the audience continues to show up, there is reason to keep creating for them, no matter the format.