Get in the Van
Get in the Van – with dayzdandconfuzd by Fletch
Discovering David Ingraham – @dayzdandconfuzd – on Instagram was one of those watershed moments for me on what photography could be. It was everything I had been looking for – although I didn’t know I was looking for it until I found it. It was black and white, it was gritty, and it was slightly surreal looking, but not to the extent of melting clocks and flying elephants – just enough to make you question it.
So his work has definitely had an influence on me and my own style, just as others have influenced him. That’s the beauty of art in any form, you take something from someone else, and then you twist it your way and create something new.
David has been living the dream of many of us - trekking across the county playing in a rock band. And when he’s not doing that, he is taking photos and twisting things his way.
F: Fletch D: David
F: Can you tell us what you are up to right now? When I contacted you for this interview you said that you were on the road, and were going to be for a while.
D: Well, as has been the case for the last fifteen years or so, I’m on tour for most of the summer, if not most of the year, every year, banging away on the drums for a living. I’ve been playing with the Irish Rock band “Young Dubliners” for eleven of those years, so I’ve been blessed with a relatively long career as a full-time musician, avoiding the 9 to 5, but of course I’m not getting any younger and this isn’t getting any easier to sustain, so I’m trying to enjoy it while it lasts, because it won’t!
F: Traveling around must give you plenty of opportunities for photographing new places. I recall seeing pictures of yours from Alaska, and one of my favorites was from Reno, Nevada. Do you get time to get around and check places out, or do you just blow in and out of town in a blur towards your next destination?
D: It’s a whole lot of both. Some days the schedule is really tight and we don’t get to see much more than the hotel and the venue. But there is a good amount of free time as well, and I’ll usually hit the streets looking for a good shot when the opportunity presents itself. Photography is the ultimate on-the-road hobby in that sense.
F: How did you come about getting into Mobile photography, and when did it “click” for you that it could be a valid form of photography, and not just something for snapping shots of pets and desserts?
D: For me, getting into mobile photography came in phases. Between some New Yorker magazine covers I’d seen where an artist had basically finger painted a city-scene using an iPhone app, and the first time I saw some Hipstamatic shots on flickr, I became aware of the artistic potential of the iPhone. Combined with the fact that I was getting tired of lugging a DSLR around on the road all the time, I guess getting an iPhone was inevitable.
But it wasn’t until I got on Instagram that things really “clicked” for me. As frivolous as Instagram can be, you and I both know there’s some really amazing talent on there waiting to be discovered and inspired by. So once I started seeing what mobile artists such as Intao ( Buckner,), i-lein, and Koci Hernandez were up to, just to name a few, that’s when the lightbulb went on and I really started to realize the creative possibilities of mobile photography.
I connected with Koci’s work in a huge way, and it continues to be a big influence. Black-and-white street photography had been a first love of mine, but I’d sort of lost the plot over the years, being distracted by the myriad styles and trends, so stumbling upon his work really helped me to refocus my vision and get back to what had gotten me excited about photography in the first place. Of course, I don’t want to be a Koci copy cat, so the challenge for me has been “how do I do what Koci’s doing without actually doing what Koci’s doing!” I’m trying to put my own spin on a similar approach.
F: Yeah I know what you mean, it can be difficult to carve out your own niche and keep to your own path when you are surrounded by so many great images and influences. I find it all a bit overwhelming some days and have to switch off from the internet and try and focus on my own work.
D: Absolutely! There’s such a bombardment of imagery on the internet, it’s inspiring to a point and then it just becomes a distraction. And I used to spend more time slowly digesting people’s work through books or magazines. Nowadays I find myself just skimming over dozens of images online or on my phone, rarely giving them my full attention. So many images, so little time!
F: When I look at a lot of your images, I can’t help thinking they are from some sort of Orwellian dystopia. Is that a fair comment, and is that something you are aiming for when you create them?
D: Wow, that’s actually very interesting. It’s always fascinating to hear someone’s perceptions of my work, even a little disconcerting at times! Although I am known to have a bit of a dark and gloomy disposition at times ( my band mates lovingly refer to me as “Dr. Doom”! ), and I’m definitely drawn to dark and moody imagery, I certainly wouldn’t want to think that there is a sense of oppressiveness or hopelessness to my work. I’m a Christian, so I’m a firm believer in the idea of “hope”, and I believe in the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak; but, with that said, I find bright, perky, sunshiney-fresh imagery to be utterly unappealing. There’s got to be some darkness to fully appreciate the light; some doom and gloom for there to be a need for hope!
As far as aiming for a specific idea when shooting, I very rarely do. There’s been a few rare instances when I had a pre-visualized idea in mind and went looking for it, but usually when shooting and editing, I’m working on a very subconscious level, sort of in a creative trance, not really thinking about what I’m doing. It’s not until the piece is finished that I may stop and analyze what the image means to me, or what it makes me feel.
I like ambiguity in art — dissonance in music, songs that don’t resolve in a predictable way, movies or novels that leave you hanging — so I don’t necessarily want to tell a specific story, or tell the viewer what they should feel; I prefer leaving that up to them. That’s one thing about art in general that’s exciting for me — it’s so subjective. Two people can look at the same painting, and one might say “ that’s gorgeous!” while the other says “that’s disturbing!”
F: Photographers have been manipulating images since the beginning – dodging and burning, and cropping elements out of a shot. There are purists who consider even cropping a street photo to be sacrilegious. With the advent of mobile photography and all the easy to use editing apps that come with it, manipulation of street photos has become wide spread (to varying levels of success). This is one of the things that I really like about your images, you subtly alter them to create a feeling of disquiet, it’s not always obvious what’s real and what’s not. How do you stop yourself from going too far with your post processing and do you set out with an end product in mind?
D: I’m not sure I do stop myself, I probably go too far most of the time!
That’s actually a really pertinent question and something I’ve struggled with.
On the one hand, I come from an old-school background — my early inspiration coming from guys like Henri Cartier-Bresson, and some of the great National Geographic photographers like David Alan Harvey and Alex Webb, where it’s all about capturing the decisive moment, straight-out-of-camera. I still think that’s where all photographers should start. But I was equally influenced by people like W. Eugene Smith, who was notorious for spending days in the darkroom trying to get one print just right – dodging, burning, bleaching – it’s believed that he’d even add elements to a shot now and then, whether the whites of someone’s blackened-out eyes, or the silhouette of a hand in the foreground — and this was back in the fifties! So like you say, the idea of a photographer altering their images to help realize their artistic vision is old news.
Yet to this day there still seems to be some sort of unspoken rule that photography needs to be entirely representational and reality-based — you want to create a work of fiction? Then write a novel, or direct a movie, paint a picture, but do it with your camera?… how dare you! I say phooey to that.
Clearly, if you’re a photojournalist working for the New York Times, or National Geo, then yes, there are specific rules: No altering allowed! I get that. But for me, iPhoneography is an entirely different animal all together. Part of the fun is having the power to create a fictional reality, something that’s almost real, but not quite, or maybe something that never actually happened at all, just like a painter would. I try to keep my DSLR work pure, as well as when I’m shooting with my Holga. But with the iPhone, it’s all about challenging myself to just create a compelling image, whatever it takes, without worrying about rules.
But even as I say all this, my conscience isn’t entirely clear about it.
There are times when I feel like I’m blurring the lines a little too much, especially with some of my more realistic-looking street-photography-composites. Naturally I try to make them look as realistic as possible, which involves matching the direction of the light correctly; otherwise, if it’s not believable, and doesn’t draw people in, then what’s the point? But at the same time, if it’s too believable, I start to wonder if I’m creating the illusion that I’m a better photographer than I actually am! That’s when I’ll hit the streets and try and nail some straight-out-of-camera shots, if for no other reason than to just prove to myself that I’m not a complete fraud!
F: Sticking with editing and post processing again; what are your thoughts on the mobile apps that take much of the technical challenge out of the hands of the users? I just spotted one the other day that allows users to add rain to images with the click of a button; and I recall you once drawing parallels with using Decim8 and playing a slot machine.
D: Well Decim8 is special just because there’s no other app out there like it, at least that I know of. And even though you’re just pushing a button and waiting to see what it gives you, you’re still ending up with something random and unique. But I’ve got one of those painting apps where you push a button and in a minute or two it’s turned your photo into a painting. Kind of bunk. I messed around with it once or twice and then just forgot about it.
F: Perhaps you could share with us some examples of how you go about editing your pics and the thought process behind it.
D: What?! Are you crazy?! Well, OK, if you insist.
This is a favorite straight-out-of-camera Hipstamatic shot I took in MacArthur Park, near Downtown L.A. – a wonderfully seedy place full of all sorts of characters. It’s a good example of subtle editing, in that no elements were added to the shot, but I dodged his face to bring out the details, and then ran it through ScratchCam to give it a bit more of an urban edge. Besides the scratching, and the added frame, the editing is really no different than what one would do in the darkroom.
(Apps used: Hipstamatic, Snapseed, ScratchCam, Pixlromatic)
This next example is where things get a little bit more… deceiving? I took this while waiting to meet a friend at Starbucks. Pre-edited, it’s a very lackluster shot, and I’m not sure what I saw in it in the first place. But once I was home and looked at it, I thought “Hmmmm, if only the reflection of the palm trees in the window had made it into the reflection of the side-mirror, instead of a boring, blown-out sky.” So I walked out to my street and shot some palm trees and then blended them in using the Juxtaposer app. I’m sure it doesn’t match up perfectly with the reflection in the store window, but who cares?!
I then dragged it into Snapseed and did a whole lot of “darkroom” work. ( mainly a lot of dodging, and upping the contrast in certain places. ) The edit works because the light works – the first shot and the second tree-shot taken on the same cloudy day.
(Apps used: Hipstamatic, Snapseed, Juxtaposer, Cameramatic)
This next one is an example of subconscious editing, and something more along the lines of painting. The band was traveling somewhere across middle America and I was shooting out the window at random landscapes. As is usually the case with a lot of my edits, I’m eager to get out and shoot, but stuck in a van or plane instead, so I start digging through the countless accumulated photos on my phone, seeing what I can come up with.
I combined these three shots: 1) a landscape out the van window, 2) an old boarded-up house that was near a hotel we’d stayed at, and 3) our guitarist, Bob, walking down a frozen river in Alaska.
The end result.
(Apps used: Hipstamatic, Juxtaposer, Blender, Snapseed, PhotoCopier.)
As I was working on it, a poem by Leonard Cohen that I’d really liked came to mind, so I posted it with that , and the combination seemed to really resonate with people, because to this day, it’s my most commented-on image on flickr.
This next one is an example of when my conscience starts to get a little uneasy, because, stylistically, this shot is very much in the tradition of street photography, yet it’s a composite. I’m convinced if I’d stayed in this location long enough, I probably could’ve gotten the straight-out-of-camera version, but I was in a rush to get to another location before I lost the light, so I got a few almost-but-not-quite versions, and moved on. Later that evening, while looking through what I’d gotten, the editing demon hopped on my shoulder and said “You know, if you combined these two average shots, you’d have a pretty good one!” So that’s what I did.
(Apps used: Pro Camera, Blender, Photo FX, Simply B&W)
F: Hipstamatic is launching its Foundation for Photojournalism, I’ve seen examples of professional fashion shoots taken entirely with Hipstamatic, and I’m personally using Hipstamatic for portrait shoots where in the past I would have used a DSLR camera. Do you think we will even be talking about mobile photography in a few years time, or it will just blend into other forms of photography? I know I tell people that my camera allows me to make phone calls.
D: That’s a good question! I think they’ll always be some sort of differentiation, but just as Holgas and other toy cameras have become so commonplace, I think the novelty of mobile photography will eventually wear off. Maybe it already has! But that’s ok, because at the end of the day it should be all about photography and the images themselves, as opposed to what tool was used to take it.
F: Favorite place to shoot?.
D: Well, the streets, obviously, and the more urban and desolate the better. But I like shooting anywhere there’s light that makes you go “oooooh, ahhhhhhh!” As much as I love L.A., it’s not my favorite light to shoot in — a little too harsh. In all my travels I’ve noticed that the further North you go, the softer the light becomes, and I always find that type of light to be very inspiring.
F: Favorite Mobile Artists – you have already mentioned @koci, @intao, and @i-lein?
D: Wow, like I said, there are so many talented people just on Instagram alone, people who’s work inspires me daily — you being one of them — but I’m hesitant to ramble off a long list because I’ll inevitably leave out so many people, and I’ll feel bad!
I will mention two people on Instagram who’s work I’ve been intrigued with lately: euci and y_mysk. They’ve both got their own thing going on.
F: You said at the start of this conversation that you aren’t getting younger and the rock and roll lifestyle is getting harder to sustain. If I bump into you five years from now, where do you think it will be, and what will you be up to?
D: I wish I knew! Then again, maybe I don’t want to know. I sure hope it’s not at a Walmart, pushing a mop in the men’s room! No, seriously, that’s actually a huge question mark for me that’s been lurking in the background for quite a while now; the stuff that sleepless nights are made of! After so many years of doing something creatively fulfilling for a living, and getting used to a certain lifestyle, I know I won’t ever be able to become “Corporate Joe”. But, at the same time, as passionate as I am about photography, I’m hesitant to pursue it as a full-time career because I’m afraid of it just turning into a job, and the joy getting sucked out of it. But both my parents are teachers, so I can’t help but to think there will be some of that in my future. Maybe teaching drums AND photography! In the mean time, the band’s finishing up a new record, so hopefully that’ll buy us another three years of a career. We’ll see!
For more of David’s images:
Instagram: @dayzdandconfuzd \ Flickr