Archive of Week 14 interview with Mike Calanan.
1) Tell us about where you're living now and how it's influencing your photography?
Last summer my wife and I relocated from Buffalo, NY to Salt Lake City, UT. Buffalo is an old town with a blend of gorgeous, classic architecture and dilapidated, abandoned warehouses that make for an interesting backdrop to street photography. It also has large, vibrant neighborhood communities each with their own distinctive look and feel affording a photographer fantastic opportunities for subject matter. Buffalo's the butt of jokes but it's truly a beautiful city and now that I've left it I miss its people, buildings, neighborhoods and parks.
Salt Lake City rests between two beautiful mountain ranges and is seated next to the Great Salt Lake itself, placing the whole city within a spectacular panorama of nature. However when I first arrived I found that its infrastructure was much less visually interesting than Buffalo's. The architecture here seemed more homogeneous, the neighborhood districts felt smaller and less diverse, even the downtown area of the city itself was smaller than Buffalo's and I was disappointed to find my photographic opportunities so limited. It didn't take long, however, to shake those initial concerns. After spending months walking and driving through the city my impression has been refined and I've come to realise that the opportunities are plentiful, I just needed some time to appreciate the many finer details the city offers.
2) Can you show us an early photograph you took which made you realize your talent was taking shape?
This one is from 2006, not so much early in my lifespan as a photographer but early on in my transition from hobbyist to a more serious passion.
The subject is Juan, one of the housekeepers in the building where I used to work and this was one of the first posed portraits I took of someone who I didn't know well. It was challenging for me to work up the nerve to ask him to do this and to try to make enough of a connection that he would feel comfortable allowing his character to show through. I came to know Juan well after this and honestly feel that I captured his true self that day.
3) Tell us briefly about your drive by theater set www.flickr.com/photos/calanan/sets/72057594048931046/
Years ago I came across the photography of David Bradford in the form of his book, "Drive by Shootings: Photographs by a New York Taxi Driver" and I was captivated. David was initially an illustrator who began driving a cab as a way to spend more time on the streets of NYC looking for visual inspiration. He took to using a camera to capture scenes simply as a reference for his drawings but as he progressed he realized the photos themselves were artistic creations. I was especially moved by his photos of people:
...and began my own project, first by emulating his style, later by perfecting my own technique and then by developing my own style. I eventually came to the realisation that my photos were beginning to resemble the look of cinematic stills and from that point forward I've sought to capture people both interacting with and against the backdrop of the city.
4) Do you prefer a candid portrait or a staged/composed one?
I'd always preferred taking candid portraits and I used to tell myself that it was more honest and pure to take a candid but I eventually accepted the fact that it actually was due to my shyness and apprehension of interacting with the subject. Since then I've been taking more staged portraits and even asking strangers to take their photo and am finding it not only a hell of a lot easier to do than I thought but also that it's making for some very interesting portraits.
5) How important is the equipment you use in good photography?
I don't subscribe to fanboy-isms or pixel-peeping and honestly feel that in general it is not about the gear, it's about the interest contained with the photograph. It's not difficult to find some fantastic contemporary photography made with either cheap or outdated technology but I have to I admit that I do enjoy having the flexibility that a good digital SLR and fast lenses afford. I currently use a Nikon D200 and Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens exclusively for my drive-bys as well as for many of my candid portraits and street photos but they just happen to be the tools du jour at this point in my development.
6) Are there any photographers that you admire or seek to emulate?
I've always admired the portraits of fellow S7er, Francois Coquerel for his masterful use of light and composition within the square frame.
Aaron Hobson (he was known as Barkeater here on Flickr) does some amazing work with panoramic photography, his Cinemascapes series is powerful, evocative and so well suited to that wide format.
Finally, I think that local photojournalist with the Deseret News, Mike Terry excels at combining basic reportage with his artistic vision in his storytelling. I first saw his Shandelee Road: Youngsville, New York series where he photographed of all the residents of a single road in a small town and was instantly hooked on his style.
7) You try to respond to many of your comments on Flickr, why the hell do you do that?
Just to piss you off.
I enjoy the social networking aspect of Flickr. I've found some beautiful photos and met some interesting people here, which would not have happened had I not been so interactive with the photographers who comment on my photos.
8) What are your long term goals in regards to your photography?
I fear becoming stagnant, cliche, pigeonholed. I do love my drive-bys but I have accepted that I will end that series soon and move on to something more challenging. I want to pursue portraiture, especially so posed portraits and eventually want to do some conceptual, strange stuff with complex lighting in weird locations.
9) Which photo chosen for spotlight seven is your favorite?
"By then, penitence comes so easily" is one of my early, successful drive-bys and one of my favorite photos in general. I was fortunate to catch the priest mid-stride set against striking lines of architecture, all cast in diffuse-yet-harsh lighting. He's on the campus of Buffalo's Medical Campus so there's an air of sadness for me as he's likely there to comfort both the dying and their survivors.
10) Show us a photography you wish you took on Flickr?
Oh that's tough! I'll limit myself to contemporary shooters here on Flickr and give just a few...
"Sailors Stroll The Arcade #1" by theGentleman (Nick Payne Cook) inspired me to take more hip-shot street photos. Nick has a wonderful eye and knack for timing. www.flickr.com/photos/thegentleman/1530637914/
"charles steam" by Perpetually (Olivia Wright) for its beauty and its mystical and intimate nature www.flickr.com/photos/perpetually/399903978
"hold" by birdcage (Jennifer Foley) for the moment and its timeless look www.flickr.com/photos/birdcage/299995412/i
Bonus question - how smooth is smoothdude really?
Smoothdude is smooth like a 1970's Ben Gazzara as seen in John Cassavetes' "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie" - FACT.