Way Back When

Way back in 2001 I created a little interview for a webpage called 35millimeter.net that was designed by James and won an e-commerce award here in St. Louis. Here is the interview.

Getting To Know The Photographer

35mm: What was your first memory of taking photographs?

Dennis – The first camera I remember using was one of those plastic Diana roll film cameras with the three-zone focus system (mountain, people, flower). I think it may have had aperture settings with a sun and cloud as well. We lived in a subdivision and most of my photos where taken in our back yard because I did not have a flash to work indoors. My mother would always let me take the birthday and holiday photos because I was the only person in the family who was able to get pictures of people without cropping off the top of their heads. One year for my birthday I got a Kodak instamatic camera that used drop in film cartridges and flash-cubes. It took square format photos on 35mm film. It was basically a box camera.

35mm: When did you become serious about photography?

Dennis – I always wanted to record the big family events. I guess those Kodak commercials really worked. I bought my first decent camera because of my interest in backpacking. Back then a lot of backpackers bought Minox rangefinders because they were the smallest lightest 35mm cameras you could buy at that time. I ended up with a little Minolta camera that I took around with me everywhere I went. When I became more interested in the technical aspect of photography, one of my friends loaned me a 35mm SLR and I was hooked for life.

35mm: Do you have any photographic heroes?

Dennis – I guess Galen Rowell is one of my heroes because of his photographic style and the things he has written about photography. He helped me to understand the difference in the way film sees things and the way the human eye perceives the same subject. I also think his ideas helped me to be a little less haphazard in the way I went about taking photographs.

35mm: Who do you think has influenced you the most?

Dennis – It’s hard to say because I have had many influences that I was not consciously aware of for a long time. I would see photos in magazines and books without giving much thought to the person or process that had made them. It took a long time for me to realize there were some people consistently putting out good photographs. I was reading a book about Walker Evans one day and realized that we had some of the same interests, and that he had lived in St. Louis, like me. I think we are constantly being influenced in good and bad ways.

35mm: How would you describe your photographic style?

Dennis – In my mind style revolves around composition. I tend to look at the balance and interaction of objects within the frame. I am very fond of vertical framing with 35mm film. I love natural light and yet I seem to be drawn to neon signs. I am usually forced to work much faster than I would like to, because I am on the way to somewhere else.

35mm: How do you approach photographs of man-made objects as opposed to the natural landscape?

Dennis – I think that man made objects have a story to tell and they are usually easier to work with than actual people. Landscapes tend to aspire towards inspiration, while man-made objects usually speak of past accomplishments or vain ambitions. I prefer to shoot man made objects in the same manner as I would shoot a landscape, but it’s a much different environment and often harder to concentrate on the photography.

35mm: How do you choose your subject matter?

Dennis – I guess the short answer would be that the subject chooses me. I usually have a loose idea of what I want to do, but I always try to allow for the unexpected. Sometimes you have to follow the light where it leads you. I seem to return to the same subjects over time, hoping to learn something new.

35mm: What are your thoughts on digital photography and printing?

Dennis – I am excited about the projects we have done so far using digital printing. No one medium can ever hope to convey all the thoughts and subjects that are available to photographers. What makes a photograph good or bad? Not the cameras film or prints. Some people look at a photo and wonder what kind of camera was used to take it. I look at a photo and wonder what the photographer is trying to say to me.

35mm: Is there any subject that does not interest you as a photographer?

Dennis – Cats.

35mm: What is more important to you, showing reality or conveying an idea or abstract concept?

Dennis – I suppose that depends on whether you believe there is anything “real” about photography. One of my favorite quotes says, “The real skill of photography is organized visual lying.”
Terence Donovan (b. 1936), British photographer. Guardian (London, 19 Nov. 1983).

35mm: Do you have any future plans or unrealized ambitions?

Dennis – I love to photograph and travel because both activities inspire me. I gave up a lot of my ambitions in life for the freedom to move around and observe things with a camera in hand. I like to take quick trips on the spur of the moment and make up plans as I go. In photography a lot of things have been done and overdone. Some are just poorly done. Most of what I do is for my own enjoyment and I hope it stays that way in the future.