Dan Domme - Burrito Massacre
Dan Domme self publishes small run print zines, and I have had a chat to him about that, as well as general banter about photography. Have a read below. Images in this post are all rights reserved and ©Dan Domme unless stated otherwise.
1. Thanks for spending some time having a chat Dan. Can you speak a little about yourself and your work?
Thanks for the request for an interview. I'm always taken aback to a degree when someone takes an interest in my work, and I'm always happy to chat about photography. I'm not really sure how to talk about myself so broadly, but I'll try to encapsulate myself.
I first got into taking photographs in 2008, and I started shooting film in 2010. By 2012 or so, I finally sold the last of my digital equipment. I shoot some large and medium format portraiture, but most of what I do is go around with a 35mm rangefinder and take what I think could be interesting photos of the people and things that are all around us. In many ways, it is "street photography," but I never like to call it by that name. It's such a loaded term by this point that many people associate it with a very specific style, and it's become a pretty derided cliche. I would say for good reason, too. It's still probably the term that fits best for my style, but I don't call myself a street photographer. On my business card, I instead put "fine art and social documentary photographer (or impersonation thereof)." I think that's more accurate, and it's slightly witty, which is much more my style. Some of my best photographs are a bit tongue-in-cheek, and I try carrying that through to my zine printing. For example, each one is a "super-limited edition of however many got printed," and I strive to give them very ambiguous titles.
2. Talking about photography works as well Dan, and I do understand the feeling of being taken aback by people taking an interest in your work. Can you list a few of your own influences in photography, either well known or otherwise, and talk a little about why?
As far as "street" photographers, I first got inspired by Garry Winogrand, which I think is kind of an obvious choice. For a long time, I considered him to be my main influence, particularly when it comes to subject matter and observing what people are doing. Elliott Erwitt became another big influence, and a good one to have because I think his photos probably appeal to a wider audience than Winogrand's. I should also mention that I will forever be fascinated by Daido Moriyama. He's probably the one photographer who's most challenged my understanding of what art is and how photography works as an art form. Most recently, I've discovered the work of André Kertész, and while I haven't had a chance to really get into his photographs, it would seem that there's a lot of stylistic overlap between his work and the kinds of photos I like to take. Looking through the work of other photographers is a really passive activity that I don't spend a lot of time on. I probably should do it more often.
In terms of portraiture, Chris Buck, Dan Winters and Helmut Newton.
3. Winogrand is an interesting choice, and I do understand it, but for some reason other than being prolific, he hasn’t done a lot for me personally. Can you select one image of his that you love, and one of Moriyama's? I think it would be a very interesting contrast.
Interesting exercise! Winogrand is fairly easy. Just look at any photo from his masterpiece book The Animals, and you're probably looking at something that is very definitively Winogrand. I have a copy of Figments from the Real World, a posthumous collection of all his major work, and I can comfortably say that The Animals was some of his best. There are many great photos in that collection, but I will probably choose the photo shown below, Couple at Zoo Looking at Each Other, Wolf in Cage, New York, 1962.
Couple at Zoo Looking at Each Other, Wolf in Cage, New York, 1962.
Daido Moriyama, however, is a photographer whose work is extremely hard to encapsulate in a series of well-written paragraphs, much less a single photo. He constantly challenges my notions about art and photography and subsequently makes me renew my perspectives on a regular basis. When I think of Winogrand, a number of iconic images pop into my head all at once. Moriyama has a few such images, but it's really his overall aesthetic that I envision at the mention of his name.
If I were forced to choose a single photograph for Daido, it would probably be Tights in Shimotakaido, shown below. It's not his most iconic—that would likely be Stray Dog—but it's up there. It also serves as a bit of a tame warning for any prudes out there not to dig too deep into his work. To be honest, though, the only way you're really going to get a feel for Moriyama is to get your hands on one of his many books and look through it. Fortunately, my library has a number of them in stock, although I've yet to see a copy of Farewell Photography, which might be his most famous. It will allegedly seriously challenge your views of what photography is and can be.
Tights in Shimotakaido, 1987.
4. In my very short yet enjoyable exploration of zine printing thus far I have been coming to the conclusion that film photography and zine printing seem to be correlated. Something you agree with?
I wouldn't be surprised if there's a strong correlation. When you compare the advantages and disadvantages of the two mediums, there's a lot more reason to shoot digital. Therefore, those who shoot film must have strong reasons for doing so. One reason that keeps being mentioned is that working with film is a welcome respite from a backlit computer screen. Another advantage is that the process leaves you with a physical product in the form of a negative. So already, it makes sense that film photographers are the type of people who would realize the value in a tangible product. So if people are starting to get sick of the ubiquity of sharing digital photos online and are looking for more of a real-world connection, it makes sense that the first of those people would be film shooters, because they already have a foot in the door.
Even if you're starting to think about printing, odds are you're probably thinking about traditional single-image printing practices: you take your film or a bunch of images on an SD card to get printed individually by a photo lab, or if you're really old-school, you print with an enlarger in the darkroom. That leads to a range of final products based around single images. I'm a fan of singular images, because I feel that they can be very powerful. But what I think people really want is a curated set of photos, and I think you're going to see a rise in photo books as a result. Also, nobody has any money anymore, so the luxury of a fine art print is a much tougher sell.
Even photo books are ridiculous because of the volumes involved. If I wanted to offer a $50 hardcover book for sale, I wouldn't make any profit. Because that's about what the production costs would be for me in the first place. I'm sure I'd have to have a run of at least a thousand books in order to turn a profit, and I'm not sure a hundred people even know my name, much less a thousand. But with a zine, I'm able to make something very inexpensively, and there's a lot of willingness for strangers to take a chance on my photography then.
5. I recently got a copy of Burrito Massacre, really like it a lot. I know this wasn't your first zine. Can you talk a little about self publishing and what made you decide to start printing zines?
Well, the whole zine idea seemed to come up pretty suddenly. One of my best friends teaches high school English, and he's always doing tons of things that are designed to keep his students engaged. He's also got a bit of a punk/activist character about him, so it was sort of natural that he'd think of putting together a zine full of his students' poems and illustrations.
At the time, I was getting pretty frustrated at the whole online sharing thing. I had already sworn fealty to film by this point, so what was I doing with my results? I was picking a couple of frames from every roll and just uploading them to Flickr, hoping to accumulate some favorites. I'm glad that people bothered to look at them and click a pink star, but it's a pretty insubstantial process of appreciation. It's nowhere near the experience of standing in a gallery and staring at a photograph. You know, really getting lost in it, the same way Cameron stares at that painting in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
So I eventually came to the conclusion to try getting my work in people's hands in print form. I had been darkroom printing for a while, and I knew it was an expensive proposition. But once I saw these zines from my friend, I started noticing that there were a lot of photographers putting out zines. Although I would probably call them cheap photo books, based on their prices. Anyway, I decided to print a layout of my photos on legal paper, and I just ran these "master" prints through a photocopier. I really stuck to the punk ideal early on. Copy paper, toner... all dirt cheap. And I sold them at cost for $2 each. After two issues, I started exploring a more professional approach, and I found this fantastic local print company that could really step up the quality of the printing. What's great is that I only had to bump up the cost to $5.
In the end, these zines have usurped the role that my Flickr account used to fill. I've stopped uploading stuff online, because it's such a vapid endeavor. Now if someone would like to see my latest work, I ask for a tiny bit of money in return for what many people are saying is something that's a lot more special. Something you can hold in your hand and flip through rather than scroll through, and something unique. Each edition is a limited run, and I've even started hand-numbering them. Responses have been pretty positive.
6. I know that a lot of your work is exclusively black and white. Is this due to the ability to print and process yourself by in large, or has black and white always been a preference for you?
Well, it's certainly not an issue of processing, because I actually started off processing my color film at home. I had seen cross-processed fashion portraits, and I wanted to try it myself. I'm a hands-on experimentalist, so I got a C-41 kit and processed everything at home. The process was a piece of cake, and I learned that I was much better at scanning than my local lab was. I tried black and white because everything was a lot cheaper in terms of materials, and I was shooting like there was no tomorrow. Once I started looking at results, I just started gravitating towards black and white.
I once read a good dissection of it by Ansel Adams, I think it was. The long and short of it is that black and white takes us one step further from reality, and into the world of artistic interpretation. That makes sense to me, because black and white photos are more about the subjects and the compositions. Too often, the color I see in photographs is a distraction and doesn't add anything useful. Of course, from a self-publishing standpoint, it's convenient, because printers often don't charge you as much if you're printing in black and white.
7. I don’t like asking gear questions, but no matter what people say, photographers always love to obsess and drool over cameras and gear. To an extent it doesn’t matter what camera you have, they will all make good photos in the right hands. Are you a one camera one lens kind of guy?
Well, I like to claim to be, but I'll let you be the judge. First off, I do have an option in every major format. I've got a 4x5 camera, a medium format camera, and a 35mm rangefinder. That's the core of my gear, and about 90% of my work is done on the rangefinder. However, as much as gear doesn't matter, I have found that having a different camera in my hands will lead to a different style of photograph. So I do have cameras that I keep around to spice things up, like the Holga 120 and the Vivitar UWS clone I have. I also have a Konica rangefinder I re-skinned myself and had professionally serviced, which I keep mostly for sentimental reasons.
Now, all that being said, it wouldn't take me too long to come up with an answer to what camera I'd keep if I had to get rid of all the others: that would be the Leica. I use it the most and I like it a lot. I like the fact that I can keep my gear collection small. However, I could see myself eventually having three lenses or so for it. One wide-angle works for now, though.
8. This has been really great Dan. Lastly, are there any parting words that you would like to leave that you haven’t been able to cover off in any of the above questions?
I suppose that I shouldn't forget to mention where you can find my work. The website is www.dommephoto.com, and the store is at www.dommephoto.com/store/. There you can find a listing for my latest zine, and I planning to offer individual fine art prints for sale very soon. Regarding the zines, there are currently just about 14 copies of Burrito Massacre left, and once they're gone, that's it. But once a zine sells out, I usually start work on another. Oh, and I'm also @yeknom on Twitter.
Now that the promotional stuff is out of the way, I would encourage everyone to print their work in some way or another. Even if you don't show it to anyone else, your photographs suddenly have some real meaning once they exist on paper. Print one and hang it on a wall, or put a whole book together. They're somewhat different approaches, but they're both particularly special in this era of the ubiquitous digital ghost