Friday, July 12, 2013

An Interview with Steve Dunn...

   I was very fortunate to spend my week on Monhegan with photographer Steve Dunn.  Steve has been coming to Monhegan for 20 years and has just published a book of his images of the island entitled Monhegan: Timeless Impressions of a Special Island. (You can follow this link to preview and order the book.)  Steve has graciously agreed to an interview for this blog that will give us some insight into his process.  He calls his style, photographic impressionism.  I call it evocative and captivating.  I get lost in his images.  The following are Steve's responses to my questions on the "why" and "how" of his work.

PT:   In your book you call your images "artistic meditations".  Could you expand on that idea?

View from Fish Beach
SDThe images I have created and included in this book are not traditional tack sharp images of my subjects but my artistic interpretation of those subjects.  They are impressionistic images in which the subjects are recognizable but are not literal renditions of how the subject looks in real life.  The images are intended to evoke feelings.  My hope is that the viewer will take time to study each image and discover what feelings the images evoke in them.  For me, one of the feelings these images evoke is a feeling of timelessness which is one of the feelings I have when I am on Monhegan.  This is what I mean by artistic meditation.  Artistic meditation is when you spend time viewing and thinking about an image so that you go beyond the initial visual impact of the image and find its deeper meaning.

PTYou acknowledge Freeman Patterson and Andre' Gallant for inspiring you and teaching you the "art of seeing".  What for you is the most critical element of this act?

SDFor me, the most critical element in the "art of seeing" is to be in the present moment.  If you are not in the present moment it is impossible to see what is around you.  If your thoughts are in the past or the future you cannot recognize the beauty that surrounds you, you are just going through the motions.  You must be in touch with all of your senses in that very moment in order to make a successful photograph, one that has true meaning.

PTYou have been returning to Monhegan for 20 years to photograph this unique landscape.  What is it about this place that keeps you coming back year after year?

SD:   I believe each of us has that special place where we feel truly at home and at peace.  For me, Monhegan is that place.  I feel like Monhegan is part of me and I am part of it.  It is where my soul is most content.  I love everything about Monhegan, from its slow pace of life, its incredible natural beauty, to its caring, strong, self sufficient people.  Monhegan is a place where there are no pretenses, it is what it is.  It is a place where people know and look out for each other, where they work hard to make a living, but know true freedom and great joy.  It is a place where thy take time to appreciate each sunrise and sunset.  It is also a place where change comes slower and not at the mind numbing pace it occurs on the mainland.  For me, Monhegan is a place that makes it easy to be in the present moment because I do not want to be anywhere else.  For these and many more I will return to Monhegan each year and I will continue to create images of this special place for the rest of my life.

PT I've often used the phrase - "I am my photographs."  You mention the Ernst Hass quote, "If beauty were not in us, how would we ever recognize it?"  How is the person you are reflected in your photographs?

SD I believe that when we take photographs the images we create and how we create them are greatly influenced by our subconscious.  My images reflect my life long love of Maine and in particular the coast of Maine.  They also reflect my inner quest to express love, peace, beauty and happiness.  I  spent 34 years working in various law enforcement positions where I encountered many of the negative aspects of the human experience.  Although I enjoyed this work, it was emotionally draining.  Photography offered me an opportunity to recharge myself emotionally and express my true self.  The images I create express the contemplative and ever hopeful person that I believe I am.

Three Dories
   In the world of photography today there seems to be a trend to concentrate on showing the negative aspects of life, the cruelty, hatred and suffering that are all too prevalent.  While there is certainly a place for this type of photography, there is also a need to show the positive aspects of life.  There is nothing wrong with creating beautiful images.  As humans, we need to see the beauty in life for it is what inspires us.  If we concentrate on the negative we will soon become disillusioned about life.  For me, beauty symbolizes peace, hope and love which are all things the world certainly needs more of.  So, I will continue to create images that show the beauty that I see in the world around me with the hope that in some small way they will inspire others to see more of the beauty of life that surrounds them.

PTFinally, I wonder if you would share some of the technical aspects of your unique photographic style with my blog readers?

SDFor many years as I was learning photography, I took photographs in the more traditional manner; they were tack sharp and showed every detail of the subject.  I was happy with these photographs for awhile but as I became a better photographer I realized that the images I was taking were not fully expressing the feelings that I wanted to express about my subjects so I started reading about some alternative photographic techniques.  I then learned about the photographic workshops offered by Freeman Patterson and Andre' Gallant.  I decided to take their workshop which is focused on visual design and in which they teach many of the alternative photographic techniques I now use.

   When you first learn these techniques you tend to want to use them on everything but you quickly realize that the technique does not work with every subject.  These techniques should be used when they help to better express the feeling you want the viewer to get from the image.  Never use a photographic technique that overpowers the image itself.  I believe the photographic techniques I used to create the images in my book helped to express the sense of timelessness and other feelings that Monhegan evokes in me.

What follows is a brief description of each of the photographic techniques used in the book:

1. Photomontages (Slide Sandwiches) - With this technique you combine two or three frames together to create an artistic effect.  There are many variations on this technique.  You can combine two totally different images (one as the subject and the other as a complimenting detail) in order to create a surreal scene.  You could also combine two images of the same scene with one frame in focus and one frame out of focus in order to make an impressionistic effect.

2. Multiple Exposures - This is a technique where you combine two or more images (I usually use 9 or 10) of the same or different subjects whether in the camera or in the computer.  It can be done with film or digitally.

3. Rear Projection - Project images, either slides or digital images, on a rear projection screen and photograph them through textured glass.

4.  Selective Focus - This technique is created by keeping the subject in sharp focus and other parts of the image out of focus and blurred.

5. Polaroid Manipulation Process - Using Polaroid SX70 film, I manipulated the emulsion with a stylist after exposing the film which gave the finished print a painterly quality.  Unfortunately, Polaroid SX70 film is no longer available so I cannot use this process now.

   Steve has certainly given all of us a lot to think about and digest.  The "takeaways" from all this are quite simple though...photograph what you love and be willing to keep at it....use photographic techniques with care so that they are used to express your heartfelt intention and not to merely impress others...and don't be afraid to look for the beauty in the world around you.  I think a reminder of my Four Be's of Contemplative Photography would be a good way to conclude this post since I feel they sum up Steve's process as a photographer:

Be Still, Be Present, Be Patient and Be Persistent

1 comment:

The Mad-Eyed Monk said...

Thank you for posting this! Such useful information and reference. I want to read his books and look at his photographs...wonderful...