By Anshul Raj Khurana
Some words by Dan on himself
My name is Dan Baker; I would say that I'm a photographer, but I feel that the term is thrown around so much today that it has lost all meaning. We all have phones with cameras attached to them in our pockets, so I guess we are all photographers. Let's say I enjoy taking photographs and exploring the moments we can capture that better sums it all up.
I think things are sometimes better left unlabeled, as long as we can get a sense of what is going on without the need for headings. After all, that's what visual communication is all about. I have always been a visual communicator, struggling with dyslexia since I was a child, and still now today, I am drawn towards the creative and obviously shying away from the text. In fact, if you told me ten years ago I was going to be writing this piece and publishing books, I probably wouldn't have believed you. Most of these things are obstacles that I needed to overcome, and I think that limitations breed creativity. Trust me when I say that I feel limited at times but give me a camera and freedom to explore, and I can find peace in creating something that I could never put into words.
It wasn't until I attended a college that I discovered photography and even that was by accident, being drawn towards creative work, I undertook subjects like Art and Design but needed something that would compliment this. After all, I was never going to be taking English literature, so I naturally opted for a course in photography. I soon learned that this was the perfect fit for my creative passion. I devoted all of my time to this, and I have followed it along many avenues to this day.
I continued to study at degree level within the art wing, located in Blackpool, which was my first time being exposed to living by the coast in a seaside town. After graduating, I have pursued photography both commercially and from a fine-art perspective. Until recently, I have lacked focus and drifted onto many subjects and even genres of photography.
I have since become more focused following a move to the east coast, locating myself in another seaside town, Cleethorpes. It has allowed me to direct my attention to a single cohesive project, a few photos exploring my new home town then turned into more of an obsession. Eventually, it was later realized as my first serious body of work; By the Sea.
Now I am in my thirties, I have been able to realize where my interests lie and how I go about capturing them. Before this, I was unable to devote my attention to my true passions within photography, so with experience comes the ability to explore projects and dedicate the time to finding their edges.
I have faced the highs of creating new and exciting work and also the lows of hunting for images and being faced with the prospect of not finding anything, all of this is the joy of street photography.
However, I am now able to explore all of the positive and negative aspects now without being phased, as the creative doubts are often settled by more of an understanding of knowing that I am doing the right thing.
Sometimes we need someone to tell us we are on the right track, but that's not always possible, and having the drive even when facing your doubts leads to a more significant victory than needing the approval of others. I think this is a lesson I have learned through the last few years of my photographic career, and I am looking forward to seeing what other valuable lessons I will come to learn.
I would like to say that I'm a street photographer, but I think we all know that as lovely as street photography is to practice, it doesn't pay the bills. I have a full-time job here in the town of Grimsby, where I work for an offshore windfarm. As a positive, this enables me to afford some nice equipment, but the downside is the trade-off of my time. Time is essential when it comes to street photography and you need to be able to afford the time to wander the streets freely. I spend much of my free time photographing various projects, and during the week when I'm not at work, I'm often along the seafront with my camera.
Anshul- Street photography is going through a lot of definitional changes nowadays. How do you define street photography?
Dan- To be honest, when I'm out shooting, I tend not to think of the definition or any parameters for that matter, as I find that would inhibit my work. I believe photography is an art form, and trying to place it into neat little boxes often puts too much restraint on the creative process. I think I throw a very loose terminology around what street photography is for myself, images that are taken out in public that are of natural moments as they occur. I see so many artists and photographers today working in so many ways, and a lot of these are falling under the category of street photography but, at the same time, help redefine it into something new and dynamic.
I think sometimes it comes down to the honesty of the photograph that you are taking. I try to make images that are uninterrupted and as natural as possible. But not all of these images are what possibly a purist street photographer would classify as 'street photography.' I often venture into the realms of abstract and pull on many influences to produce the work that I do.
You have published a zine recently. Let's talk a bit about it.
Anshul- How did you get the idea of publishing a Zine? How did you approach it?
Dan- So at the beginning of this year, I released my first book. I learned a lot from this process, and it has led me to produce a zine. After releasing the book, I knew I would want to produce more publications, and a zine was a natural progression after working for so long on a long-term project. It was a nice change of pace to be able to shoot something over a shorter period and have the immediacy of producing and publishing those photographs. The zine contains the images that I shot from a trip this year to New York City; I never intended to use these photographs to produce a zine. Still, once I started posting my photos online, I was asked by a few people if I was thinking of creating another publication featuring them. I started looking through the pictures and selecting images they could work. It was a bit of an unknown, but once I began to gather the photos, I felt confident that I had enough to make something out of them.
Anshul- Is it essential for a photographer to publish one?
Dan- No not at all I don't think it's essential for anyone to do anything other than what makes them happy. I do, on the other hand, believe that it is beneficial for a photographer to produce a publication. I think it helps sharpen your mind to something more substantial than the single image and gets you working consistently. When I say consistent, I don't mean all the photos look the same. I suggest that you have a quality and authenticity to your work. Producing a series and a publication helps you to realize that process.
Anshul- What software did you use to publish it?
Dan- I publish my book through a website called Blurb, it's a fairly popular online publisher, and I'm sure many people will have heard of it. Blurb gives you free software to download called book smart. It's effortless and intuitive, which helps when you have to spend a lot of time editing the pairings of images to make sure that the photographs flow and work together. I used the Blurb software once again to produce my zine, but upon receiving the sample copy, I wasn't impressed with the lower end print production that the publisher offers. I ended up taking the sample copy to local printers and asking them to produce my zine based on the layout. It was such a smoother process and meant that I could simply give the images and a rough design idea to the graphic designer. They produced a few variations for me, and we went to print after I had made a few changes.
Let's talk about your book
Anshul- Tell us about your book- "By the Sea," and how did you get the idea of it?
Dan- I have been shooting street photography for over ten years now, and in that time, I haven't produced anything of any substance. What I mean by that is I have flitted from various ideas and photographic styles. I had no real focus when it came to producing any serious work and hadn't produced anything I was particularly proud of other than the odd image here and there. I wanted to be able to create something that I could explore various avenues and have the ability to produce a cohesive series of work.
I moved to the coast a few years ago and used this opportunity to undertake a project exploring the local environment. I didn't know what I was doing at the time, but I knew I wanted to produce something that was more than a few snapshots of a given location. I started working on the project soon after moving to the coast and the more I shot the more I was interested to see where the project could go. A few days of shooting turned into a few weeks and before long I had traction with my project. I didn't tie myself down to a project with parameters. I simply went out, shot, and enjoyed the process. Once I started gathering the images, I could see a pattern forming, it wasn't anything I could particularly describe, but I knew as soon as I saw it. After a while, I became acutely aware of the scenes I was drawn to and was able to feel my photographic voice growing.
Anshul- What would be your suggestions for photographers who are planning to publish a zine or a book?
Dan- I think the advice would vary depending on what it is you want to produce. I think a book takes a much longer time to build as it tends to be from a more extensive & cohesive series of work. If you are thinking of producing a book, you need the work to be able to create it. If like me, you didn't have the job, then you need to start working on something today and see where it takes you.
If you are planning on producing a zine, my advice would be to go ahead and do it! Zines are a great way to get your work out into the world and physically in the hands of your audience. There is something so much more powerful about being able to hold a photograph; it becomes so much more permanent. I think for producing a zine, you just need to go out, shoot, have fun and put something together that shows that journey you've been on... I don't think it has to be anything big or particularly flashy, as long as it's something you're excited about and want to get out there for people to see.
Anshul- I love your thought that you don't want to get labeled just as Street photographer. What other genres of photography do you like to explore?
Dan- I tend to stick to what most would recognize as street photography but I do explore my work outside of these setpoints. I am very interested in abstract art and photography and love how this can produce images that invoke feelings through different forms.
Over the last ten years, I have always come back to the genre that would be labeled street photography, but I have explored many other avenues of photography at that time. I think nearly all of us can say we have explored portraiture as photographers, in some way or other. Over the years, I have tried many different forms of photography, stretching from landscape to macro and everything in between. As fun as these other sides of photography have been for me to explore, I produced nothing more than a pretty picture at the end of the day. After so long most of these areas just didn't challenge me, and I soon lost interest. Street photography always had the exciting allure of the unknown and the ability to surprise me at most turns. I don't want to label myself as a street photographer as I find influences pull me in one way or another. I want to be free to explore these without feeling compelled to feel the need for categorization.
Anshul- You are an author yourself, & I am sure you derive inspiration from photo books & photographers. Tell us about the photobooks & photographers who have left an impact on you & your work.
Dan- This is very true; I do take a lot of inspiration from other photographers and their publications. Earlier in my photographic career, I was drawn towards the big-name photographers that had their work publicized through popular media. Names such as Annie Leibovitz with high-end photoshoots and budgets to match left me in awe of their work. These were easy to attach quality to and for me to pull inspiration in one manner or another. As the years went on, my taste and choice of photo books that I added to my collection became more refined. They defined my interest in the documentary photography genre and helped shape my aesthetic view.
One of my favorite books that I often revisit would have to be 'The Suffering of Light' by Alex Webb. Webb's use of color and layers has left a significant impact on me and my work. Webb also infuses a sense of poetry into the images that he takes and has a fantastic way of combining images allowing one to influence the other, giving a slight accent to the feelings he's trying to enhance. Some of the other books and inspiration are unsurprisingly from other members of the Magnum photography Association, Harry Gruyaert and his self-named book, which gave me insight into the photographically creative world. These are the type of images that make me want to explore street photography in all directions rather than defining a set genre.
You can see more of Dan's work here: