The Work of David Maialetti
The Work of David Maialetti By David Norbut
DN- Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about your background as a photographer
DM- I started out as a newspaper photographer, I got my first job out of college, which was an internship out of Bloomsburg, PA where I covered everything from fairs to high school sporting events. I grew up in Philly and I wanted to get back to Philadelphia and work at one of the newspapers there. Something came up in 1997 and I have been with the daily news ever since, I freelanced for them for a little while, and shortly after got hired on full-time. So roughly around 98′ to today I’ve worked for the Philadelphia Daily News & the Philadelphia Inquirer
DN- Can you touch on how Mobile Photography plays a role in your work?
DM- My approach toward photojournalism or newspaper photography, whatever you want to call it, was always to try and make a photo that wasn’t typical, that was a little unusual. I try to bring a fresh perspective to how I see each event. From the very beginning I always felt that it was my duty to not only just capture what was there but to catch something that the viewers may not have seen if they were there, to give them something more than just the basic kind of image. But there was never a real home for my mobile images, I don’t have a blog, I don’t have a photo column, so there were a lot of images that never saw the light of day. I may go out on any given day and make pictures between assignments along the way or just pictures that were too far removed from the event that I am covering, and the paper obviously wouldn’t use those photographs.
So last year is when I really started using Instagram, I found that this was a good home for those images. So what the paper or their website doesn’t use, I could post them there. My main priority is still to give the newspaper the best possible image for any event that I cover. I’m not being paid to Instagram, I am being paid to provide quality images to the newspaper. The other side of it is that I do see many other pictures off of an event or between events and I make these pictures whether the newspaper wants them or not. I found that there was a difference between what I do for the newspaper. when I shoot for the paper I’m using pro DSLR cameras with different lenses or different bodies, it’s maybe a little more complicated work if you want to call it, a little more challenging to capture things. I find with the iPhone, you are free, there is just a simple interface. While my approach is to try and give a fresh perspective on something, there is something liberating and freeing about taking a picture with your phone. You don’t change the shutter speed, you don’t change the f-stop. Something that I feel strongly about is coming up with a strong composition. For me, its finding a subject then composing it in an interesting way. The camera phone lets you do that in a very very simple kind of way. So, Instagram has allowed me to share images with people or subscribers things they wouldn’t normally see, It helps me stay creative.
DN- Would you consider it a sketchbook for ideas?
DM- My approach for the newspaper is to give them what they need or what I think they want to make a safe image, but not being afraid to take some risks. If I’m covering an event with a couple other photographers and everyone is standing off to the left because that’s the obvious place to stand, well maybe I’ll start there, but I’ll quickly want to find another perspective. I know that’s a simple explanation but I’ve always felt that no matter what I was doing with the camera I was always trying to find interesting, fresh photographs, trying to get that next level, and catch something no one else saw. I don’t know if mobile photography has changed how I approach things, but it definitely has allowed me to share images that may not have been seen working for the paper so there’s definitely the sharing, feedback, and commentary. It is a unique thing for us photographers.
Although, on Instagram you are not necessarily getting a critique. I think Instagram is too nice when it comes to that, but I think that’s OK because you are still getting your work out there… either way its a good experience to have
DN- This is just my opinion but don’t you think the “nice” comments are sometimes just feeding into mediocre work, people just posting for recognition? Do you think we need honest commentary or is it not that serious of platform?
DM- When I first started on Instagram I thought about it, why are these 25 other people praising this photograph, when the background is completely distracting, and there is a telephone pole growing out of this persons head. So I would make these comments and I noticed that maybe this wasn’t the right forum for this kind of critique. I don’t know if its rewarding people for taking mediocre photos, because I’ve found you can just follow the work you enjoy looking at… I don’t think you are going to reach everybody, I think some people are just looking to share their everyday photos and they are not necessarily looking for a photo coach or someone to evaluate there photos
DN- Attention to composition, can you touch on how you compose your photos.
DM- I think it varies, what I enjoy doing or how I enjoy seeing. I am always drawn to a surface or a background, an interesting wall. I will see this background, its clean, there is nothing really pulling the viewers eye away from it, I’m using it like a canvas, and waiting for something to come into the frame. I think composition is an important part, the background is the building block. I will already have the camera framed on something and I’m just waiting for a little help from the photo gods to bring someone into the frame. Ya know, I’ve waited sometimes just an instant, someone walks into the frame, boom i can move on. sometimes its 15 minutes.
DN- What about cropping to help composition?
DM- I don’t do a lot of cropping, sometimes if I’m going to crop its because the lens on the camera is limiting, like I can’t physically get close enough to something, ya know? I’m trying to be the zoom lens myself, maybe there is something preventing me from getting closer or getting the right angle, so there may be a crop there. But with the mobile image we are limited on how much we can crop, we can’t take a small piece of it like we can with a larger file. I am really trying to compose it as I see it on the screen and mostly using the square apps to begin with, so I’m composing it to display as a square image. I rarely use native camera, which I think is maybe already cutting a bit of the image quality down. so again I think composition is really important. When I am taking someones portrait, I’m looking for the nicest, cleanest, interesting background and of course paying attention to light and shadow; obviously hoping to catch something interesting.
DN- Shooting for the paper you get a lot of great opportunities for shots, please tell us about your dream scenario…
DM- I do feel very fortunate to do what I do, working for the newspaper you do sometimes get access to things the general public won’t get. But larger events, when there is a lot of photographers, all trying to get the same picture, its not that I don’t like that, but there is a level of competitiveness among photographers and sometimes people don’t work well together.
Those images are hard to make, when everyone is trying to make the same picture, ya know for me, that would be really boring if I had to do that everyday. My dream assignment would be for me to show up and be the only one there. I can photograph how I want to photograph, without restriction, without a police line, or a public relations person telling me to stand over there
It would be to really just find someone interesting and spend some time with them, photographing just to make nice images that tell a story. The connection is really important. While its great to photograph the super bowl or a world series, I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but theres a lot of aggravation and so much work involved and doing that all the time would be a highly stressful situation to be in.
DN- Can you tell us what inspires you, not necessarily just photographers, lets talk other mediums. Things that get you going?
DM- That’s a good question. When I’m really down, I have a huge collection of photography books to go to, full of photos that always inspired me. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, basically any magnum photographers, when I’m in a rut that’s where I go. Something about opening a book and seeing the photos in print, it helps me think about why I do what I do. You can pull inspiration from anywhere, go through a gallery, go through the art museum. For me, its sometimes not necessarily seeking out the photo collection, but looking at the paintings, looking at how painters see light, I think that’s an important thing to remember. While photography might be the step child in the fine arts community, I think your pulling from and being able to understand and use light. Sometimes its as simple as walking around Philadelphia and running into something that is completely fascinating. I tried to listen to music while making pictures, it doesn’t work, but I definitely listen to music. I don’t know if it inspires me to make photographs but I think any time someone is producing or making something it is easy to pull from that.
DN- Well, what are you listening to right now?
DM- laughs, Oh man, anything from TV on the Radio to Led Zepplin to The Lumineers… might possibly lose some credibility for this but anything from Macklemore to Fresh Espresso, the Seattle band. I’m just all over the place.. it just depends on what type of mood you’re in. Going back to listening to music while shooting, I tried to do that while covering a football game, and it was a complete disaster, I had to take the head phones out. For me, its part of your senses, I need to hear whats going on
DN- Can give us any advice on just starting out taking photos and perhaps for folks already in the field trying to make better quality photos.
DM- Overall if you are just starting out, some people are just lucky and they are born with some level of creativity and no matter what they pick up they are good at it, but not everybody starts at that level. For me, it was taking classes to really get a basic understanding on the principles of photography, how to use a camera and probably the most important principle, to remember what makes a photograph is light. Without light you are not going to have an image. I think my best advice to someone starting out is understand light, don’t be afraid to experiment with it, using light in different ways, don’t limit yourself. I hear so many young people say I want be this or that. I think you will miss out if you aren’t open to different styles of photography. If we limit ourselves, you are probably missing out on styles you may be good at. Always try to improve, to seek advice, to accept critiques from photographers that you look up to, find photo books, look at the work of others
As far as mobile photography and the square format, its really finding an app that is simple to use. I recommend 6×6. Find something that controls exposure and focus. For the people that are at that next level, its really your commitment to want to improve. It is easy to get discouraged, don’t dwell on your failures and don’t celebrate your success so much, because the next day you have a chance to do it all over again. I think if you don’t push yourself you’re not going to grow. The idea is to always keep it fresh and keep pushing forward. You almost have to fail to really grow, if its easy for you, I don’t think its art.
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