Shedding Light on David duChemin
David duChemin from Pixelated Image was May’s F-BoM. Traversing the whole of the American continent we find ourselves in Vancouver, Canada, ready to bombard David with questions. So here we go!
Do you speak English with a Quebecois accent?
No I don’t. Was raised by a British mother and had a British accent until I was about 6 or 7.
I know it’s early in the interview, but I don’t want you to think this is a walk in the park, so tell me, which is your favourite photograph that you’ve taken, and why?
That changes from day to day. I’ll often go through stages and prefer one image over another, then realize I’m in a rut and prefer something totally different. Right this moment it’s still an image I shot in Boudhanath, the Tibetan side of Kathmandu. It’s a motion blur shot in front of a prayer wheel and currently it’s on the front page of my website. I like the memory it brings to mind. I love Kathmandu; it feels like home to me.
You took a rather strange path to becoming a photographer, as you relate in this story. You got a degree in Theology, and then did the obvious thing: You became a professional comedian. After a little over a decade on stage you (finally) admitted that what you really wanted to be when you grew up was a photographer. So, to sum up your life up until now, can you tell us a joke involving God and photography?
If my life could be summed up with a joke about God and photography I’d need more than a sense of humour to deal with that. So, reluctantly, no. But you’re right, my path has been a winding one.
Who is your favourite stand-up comedian? I’ve always loved stand-up, and for a time daydreamed that I could do it. When I told my family and friends I wanted to be a stand-up comedian they started laughing, and that’s a good start, right? As for my favourite comedian, it has to be George Carlin, although recently I’ve been digging Louis C.K. George was an avid pianist while Louis is a photographer (and a Leicaphile, no less). Do you think there is something about comedy that attracts artistic, creative types?
My favourite comedian at the moment is Brian Regan. He’s intelligent, plays a great character, and does a clean routine that kills me over and over. Eddie Izzard runs a close second. Dane Cook is dead last. But what’s funny to one is not what’s funny to another—much like perceiving art in a photograph. To one person it’s art and speaks to them, to another just a snapshot. Does comedy attract creative types? Of course, it’s a creative field.
I love this Eddie Izzard routine, especially the ducks! Did all those years on stage use up all your comedy? I ask because when I look at the work in your online portfolio I do not sense any humour. I’m not saying your images are depressing or sad, but they mostly tug at my heart strings rather than making me laugh.
No, they didn’t. But the things I find funny now differ greatly. There’s a very thin line between comedy and tragedy. These days the stories I tell are a much better balance of the two than the relatively shallow comedy I performed.
I have the same view on working as a photographer that you did in the past: If photography is something I have to do, then it will lose its appeal and the passion will dry up. I imagine you have a different opinion now, but I still have to ask: How do you keep the fire alive when you know you have to pay the bills with your photography, whether you like it or not?
I know this’ll sound profoundly idealistic but I simply don’t shoot projects I don’t want to. I wouldn’t write a book I didn’t want to, or perform a routine I didn’t want to. Life is too short and while I’m saying that from the position of one who’s not living close to the survival line, I know that if I shot work I had no passion for the work would suffer. So I guess I keep the fire alive by not putting water on it. I don’t think my opinion on the need for passion in my work has changed at all. The difference, from the days I opted not to shoot for a living is that I didn’t know then what stories I wanted to tell. Now I do and it’s a joy to do it.
As I mentioned in my F-BoM post, you use the words
Passion, Vision, and Dreams very often in your posts. Could you give us a quick definition of what each of them means to you personally in respect to Photography?
Not a simple or quick one, no. It took me a whole chapter in Within The Frame to wrap my words around vision and I’m still not sure I nailed it. The closest I could come is to say that your vision is not only what you see but how you see it and includes the things about which you are passionate. For me that’s the people, places, and cultures of this planet, but more specifically the poor and the excluded.
Following on from this question, I have one from Ian Furniss, who heeded my request for questions on David’s forum. I paraphrase, because Ian’s initial question was quite long, but I think this is the substance of it: He also notes you talk a lot about vision, and wants to know if by vision you mean the capability to “see” pretty pictures, or if it’s a vision that guides you in a path of inner, self discovery.
It’s both, Ian. I think the more you know yourself, and your own journey, the more capable you are of seeing with an enlarge heart, mind, or eyes. It’s also the ability to see ugliness, injustice, expressions of faith or hunger, etc. Photographic vision isn’t just saying “Here’s what I see” it’s about interpretation, saying “here’s how I think or feel about what I see.”
Of all the countries you’ve visited, which did you like the most as a tourist (i.e., imagining you hadn’t been a photographer)? And as a photographer?
I can’t imagine going anywhere without my camera and as a tourist. The thought of it makes me curl into a fetal position and whimper. But if I HAD to, probably Bali or somewhere I could just relax, go snorkelling or sailing. As a photographer, I would love to return to Mongolia. Or Ethiopia.
I ask these questions because I want to know whether you can disengage your Photography Superpowers 🙂 Do you always carry a camera with you?
No, I’m pretty OK with just walking around without the thing, but even then I use my iPhone a lot. There are times I regret that, but I do have a life, though not an exciting one, without my cameras.
My wife has been a supporter of World Vision for almost a decade, and I’m sure we’ve seen your photos in their publications. I always considered the photography they used to be much better than that of other charities, and often wondered whether one of the higher-ups was a photography fan, or just somebody who recognised the power of photography. How did you become involved with World Vision, and how deep is your collaboration with them?
My participation with World Vision is only now going into it’s fourth year. I think their ethics and mine intersect at a lot of points which makes it a pretty great working relationship. I shoot almost exclusively for their Christmas Gift Catalogue and got the gig through an agency that collaborates with WV in it’s creation. I haven’t even met the higher-ups but I spend a lot of time with field staff and I love them.
Do you have a special affinity for children? Do you think the fact that you have, or don’t have, children influences your photography?
I’ve worked with children in some capacity since I was a teenager. My wife and I have no kids and that gives me more freedom to do the work I do but I think that’s irrelevant to the work I do.
You use both monochrome and colour in your photography. Do you decide ahead of time whether a particular photograph will be colour or monochrome, or is that something you figure out in the digital darkroom?
Sometimes both, but usually it’s not much of a decision. I see an image in a certain way and then do what needs to be done in post-production to bring into alignment with that. Sometimes, on rare occasions, both a monotone or duotone image and a colour image will express my vision equally and then it’s a matter of staring at them until one resonates with me a little more, and that be for all kinds of reasons.
If I am a good boy for the rest of the year and finish my vegetables every dinnertime, will you take me with you to Ladakh next year? Please…?
We’d be happy to consider you, but all the brussell’s sprouts in the world won’t get you to the front of the line. Matt Brandon and I plan these on a year-to-year basis and while I’m sure we’ll do Ladakh again in 2010, we’ll only be making those choices after this year’s tour with Ami Vitale is done.
You have a book, Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision, that started shipping a few short days ago. Again, that word: Vision. Please tell us what you hoped to accomplish when writing this book, and what you left out that might make its way into another book.
Mostly I wanted to write a book that would do for other photographers what books like Freeman Patterson’s books did for me when I was just beginning. I see the shelves full of how-to books but their perilously thin when it comes to books about why we do what we do and how that drives our choice of technique with visual language. I think it’s a book with a healthy connection between theory and practice, information and inspiration. I left lots out and have more books coming, but I’ll let my publisher let the cat out of the bag later this year when the next one is released. But the next couple will follow different themes than Within The Frame does.
Thank you for your time, David. I wish you the best of luck with your book, and we look forward to the next one!
All photos: ©David duChemin.