Street Photography Interview: @Dtanist
Updated: Apr 9, 2019
First becoming interested in street photography I took to instagram to seek inspiration. I came across @dtanist early on, loved his work but couldn't figure out what was leaving such an impression on me. The normal, the everyday life, even the smallest gestures, @dtanist is capable of making interesting. That's what caught my eye. Capturing instances only seen by the candid eye. I've since kept in touch with @dtanist and figured he'd be an easy target to ask some questions whilst allow me to fanboy a little bit.
Without further ado, here goes:
1. Let's begin getting the who, what, where and why out of the way. What's your name, where are you from, and what got you in to street photography?
Hi, I’m David Tan(@Dtanist) and I’m a street photographer from New York City. I got into photography about a decade ago when I was heading to college in Boston. When I first started, I tried a hand at many types of photography: landscape, nature, portrait and etc. Working at the library at the time, I wound up browsing through books for each of these topics. I eventually came upon the subject of street photography.
Street photography fascinated me. It seemed like a type of photography vastly different from the rest; it didn’t have any rigid rules; it wasn’t defined by a few easily replicable styles; and it felt like a type of photography without boundaries. However, what eventually sold me on street photography was how fun it ended up being. I had a great time roaming around Boston and searching for scenes to shoot. Sometimes, a perfect moment would serendipitously pop up in front of me on its own. It’s that element of luck and suspense that made the craft highly addictive. I’m still having a lot of fun with it today.
2. As a self proclaimed 'beach bum' I know you like hanging around the coast. On a good day, where is your time spent shooting and what are you looking for?
The beach that I’ve been “bumming” around would be Coney Island. I’ve been going there since I was a child, and I have always been attracted to the activity and excitement of the place, and I loved watching the interesting people that live or visit there. When I came home to NYC after college, I knew Coney Island would be one of the first places I’d try to shoot.
A day in Coney Island depends on the time of year. Coney Island in the summer is markedly different from Coney Island in the winter. Summertime Coney Island has the usual scenes of busy amusement parks, bustling beaches and crowded boardwalks. Coney Island in the winter, however, is a neighbourhood “reclaimed” by the locals, who visit the beach and boardwalks for walks, head to the pier to fish (early winter is the season for herring), and lounge on the benches to soak in the sun. I like how Coney Island has these two distinct flavors throughout the year. Of course, what I’m looking for when I visit Coney Island aren’t these usual scenes I described. I look for moments that catch the eye, whether for their strangeness, their liveliness, or their potency. I don’t necessarily seek people doing weird things, but I do look for scenes that make me stop and stare, even if I don’t know the reason why.
Coney Island isn’t my only hunting ground. Other favourite spots in NYC include: Brighton Beach, Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, and Sunset Park. These are all neighbourhoods I’ve known all my life, but I still discover new little details every time I visit with my camera.
3. In my opinion you have a sharp eye for capturing the even smallest of gestures. There's definitely a comforting feeling to your photos. How do you get such shots? How often are you interacting with people, or are they mostly candid? What are you looking for when you frame a composition?
I think I experience “tunnel vision” when I go on my photowalks. I get into a mode in which I’m on the constant lookout for the tiniest features and idiosyncrasies. Someone making a strange face? A pair or group having a intimate moment? People having fun? All of these are things I look for. The drawback is that I’m terrible at noticing the larger-scale scenes, or shots that make effective use of backgrounds and layers.
All my images are candid; it’s less a matter of integrity and more the fact that I’m generally shy with strangers, despite having chosen street photography as my pursuit. I typically photograph my subjects as I walk by. Sometimes they notice, but oftentimes they don’t. In situations with many people around (like Coney Island in the summer), I make myself seem like a tourist, standing around and pointing my camera everywhere. It’s a good way to get close shots of people without them being aware.
I try to frame my shots “pleasantly”—pleasantly in the sense that I try avoid things like Dutch angles and cut-off subjects. I’m not a strict adherent to the “rule of thirds”, but I do find that most of my pictures end up following this composition. If the scene doesn’t look nice in frame, I generally won’t keep the shot, even if it has something noteworthy going on. I know some photographers might “direct” a scene in a way that helps their composition, but I prefer to let moments play out by themselves. If it doesn’t end up looking nice on camera, I have no problem giving up on it.
4. How would you describe your personal style? Do you have any influences?
If it were up to me, I’d say that I don’t have a particular style to my work. Sometimes I like shooting my subjects up-close; other times I like to take in a scene from afar. Some of my pictures feature a dynamic moment; other times I go for a pensive mood. If there’s a overall feature of my pictures, it’s that I strongly favour colour and vibrancy—perhaps that’s why I love Coney Island.
Some of my photographers are Alex Webb, Martin Parr and Gueorgui Pinkhassov, but I can’t say that my work is anything like theirs. I don’t have the cleverness on my feet to take the shots they do. I am still trying to improve though. In particular, I want to take the sort of busy “layered” shots that Alex Webb is known for.
5. I know you often shared what equipment you had shot with but please tell us again?
I first started with a point-and-shoot, but quickly wanted to move on to more substantial equipment as my interest in photography grew. As a result, I picked up shooting 35mm film, and ended up collecting quite a few cameras to play with. My favorites were the Canon A-1, the Konica T3, the Olympus 35 SP, and the Contax G1. I shot mostly with normal length lenses (40mm-50mm), and my favorite film was Kodak Ektar 100. Three years ago I finally decided to move on to digital and bought myself a Sony A-7. I’ve kept all my old lenses from my film days, and I now adapt them onto the A-7 for use. The lens I end up using the most is the Konica Hexanon AR 40mm, which has my favorite focal length.
6. What keeps you shooting? Are you working on any projects?
As I said before, I find street photography to be fun, so I’m much more into the process than the results. As such, I don’t really have any long-term plans or projects to work on—I just want to keep shooting until I get bored. I have, however, been looking through my old shots and arranging them into sets based on shared themes. I’ve found myself enjoying this process, so the idea of shooting theme-based projects is growing on me.
7. Where can we see your work and keep up to date with you?
I prefer for my Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/dtanist/) to be my public face, but I actually post everything on my Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/dtanist/), which I treat as my unfiltered visual diary. Feel free to visit both.
Well, that's a wrap! I hope you've all enjoyed the content as much as I enjoyed interrogating David @Dtanist. Did you like it? Is there anything I could add? Have I missed anything? Let me know via my Contact Me page or Instagram direct Message! Your opinions are important as I want to create content worthy of your time. Give me an idea of what you think!
See similar interviews: https://www.jordanmurrayphoto.com/street-photography-blog/
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