Interview with David Johndrow
#1 Please introduce yourself
My name is David Johndrow and I’m a fine art photographer living in Austin, Texas.
#2 How did you get interested in photography?
I was studying film at the University of Texas and I took a darkroom class. The first roll I ever shot, I developed and printed myself and I’ve been hooked ever since. I also worked for many years printing other people’s work. The sheer volume of work I did gave me a lot of experience honing my skills as a printer and also helped to train my eye to see what makes strong images. I’ve been a photographer now for almost 30 years.
#3 Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
I’ve always made art and I still love to paint. I used to do a lot of drawing, but photography seemed so immediate and efficient that the camera replaced my sketchpad.
#4 Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
I’m inspired by all forms of art but one of my greatest influences from early in my career is Irving Penn. I love how elegant and graphically strong his images are and I love his high-contrast printing style. Whether he is shooting fashion or found objects, color or black and white, he makes everything look transcendently graceful.
#5 How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph?
I don’t need much preparation as my equipment is very simple. I prefer simple cameras without a lot of bells and whistles. Too many controls can get in the way of visualization. Once I find a film/ developer combination I like, I tend to stick to it. I usually shoot in natural light and although I sometimes use a tripod, most of my shots are hand-held. I like the immediacy of working out in nature capturing subjects in their element.
#6 What fascinates you in objects that you shoot?
I like to shoot ordinary things and make them look beautiful. Whatever I’m shooting, I try to simplify the visual information so that I can reveal something essential about the subject. When I shoot macro photographs I feel like I’m entering another world where I can explore subtle details that are normally missed by the naked eye. I become totally engrossed in what I’m seeing through the viewfinder.
#7 We can see your photographs only in black and white, why have you chosen to present them in this form?
I’ve always preferred to shoot in black and white. I like how it makes things look more dramatic and meaningful. It gives the world a dream-like, metaphorical quality. Also, because I approach photography as a printer, I feel it gives me a lot of room to manipulate and interpret an image. There is incredible latitude in what looks realistic in a black and white photograph. It also allows me to explore alternative processes that challenge me as a printer.
#8 Could you please tell us something about your technique and creating process?
I shoot all of my images using film that I process myself. I print mostly on silver gelatin, platinum/ palladium and sometimes gumoil and gum bichromate. For contact printing I mostly use enlarged digital negatives.
#9 Could you tell our readers how to reach such excellent results in photography?
I tell people who are learning photography to learn to see what the camera sees and not what you think you see. It takes practice to see what is really in front of you without preconceptions. This is why people often think they have taken a great shot only to be disappointed when they get their prints back. The brain edits incoming information based on what it thinks is important but the camera gives everything in the frame equal weight, which makes it necessary to try to crop anything from the frame that is not absolutely essential to the composition of the photo. Also, pay attention to the contrast of your subject. A simple example would be to place a light object against a dark background or visa versa. Again, your eye imagines that it sees the clear separation of objects where the camera might not. Lastly, look for the good light. I prefer bright cloudy days or open shade. Unlike most people, I see gray and rainy weather and think, “it looks like a great day to take photos!”
#10 What do you do in your life besides photography?
I have a lot of hobbies but my biggest obsession besides photography is gardening. Nature is endlessly fascinating to me and I shoot a lot of my photographs in my own garden.
#11 What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
I’m finishing up a new portfolio that I’ve been working on since last year, which is totally different than what I’ve done before. I shot studies of glass objects which I’ve been collecting. I always have several overlapping photo projects that I’m working on simultaneously. I’m constantly trying different approaches, waiting for those happy accidents that show me which way to explore next.
David Johndrow Official Website: