Aug 13, 2013

Phlearn Interviews David Talley

My name is David Talley, and I’m a self-taught, 20 year old fine art, portrait, and event photographer, living in Southern California. I first picked up a camera the summer before I started high school, stealing it from my parent’s room to take photos of the sunset and trees. I was the self-proclaimed camera-carrier on family trips, and was always looking for an opportunity to take another awesome picture.

Since then, I’ve fostered a deep passion for the art of photography, which began my during my senior year of high school when I embarked on a 365-day creative self portrait challenge. My images today consist of taking the emotions of romance, heartbreak, mystery and adventure, and mashing them into surreal, storyline driven imagery.
I recently had the honour of being named one of the top 10 young and talented photographers by My Modern Metropolis, and could not be happier. I’m also currently learning the ins and outs of film production.

Aside from trying my best to provide beautiful imagery for my clients, I hope that with my work, I am able to reach generations of all ages, and inspire them in any way I can – be it to pursue the passion they love, or overcome the negativity in their life.

Join us as David shares his passion for photography with us, shows us how much editing really goes into a piece of work with his incredible before and after(s), and see how a sketch can be transformed to an amazing photograph. His work speaks for itself with it’s dramatic themes, and his unique editing style, but wait til you read all of the crazy things this man has done to get “the shot”. As David says “Photography has offered me the best adventure of my entire life.”

How did you become interested in photography?

It originally started as an infatuation with the absolutely amazing longboarding images produced by Adam Colton of Loaded Boards. He shot with a Pentax camera, and created amazing images of his longboarding team riding in the hills of Southern California. I wanted to be just like him, until conceptual photography caught my eye.

Do you have any formal training in photography or are you self-taught?

I don’t really consider my one year of college as an academic or photographic learning experience, because I took general education classes and one film photography class, none of which benefited me very greatly. During that time, however, I was shooting the latter 8 months of my 365 project, which I consider to be the craziest self-teaching experience I’ve ever embarked on. I’m still learning new things every day, and I hope that never ends!

What’s on your gear list?

I’m so grateful to shoot with a 5D Mark II from Canon, a camera body I dreamed about shooting with from my initial interest in photography. I use a 50mm 1.4 lens, and although I love it, I’m hoping to add 85mm and 135mm variations to my lineup. I process my images with CS5.

What inspires you?

Ahh, I like this question. I’m undoubtedly inspired by mystery, romance, heartbreak, and adventure. Dark secrets, a forbidden love, the agony of time, and the promise of new and exciting quests all fill my mind and manifest entire worlds within my skull, rattling off the sides until I finally let the stories escape.

What is your proudest moment as a photographer?

I had the honour of being named one of My Modern Metropolis’ “Top 10 Young and Talented Photographers,” and shortly afterwards, one of the “Top 5 Young and Talented Photographers” by the United Blogs of Benetton. I’m also geeking out over this interview itself – I respect Phlearn so highly, and have secretly always wanted to be interviewed by you guys 😉

How would you describe your style?

Without sounding too pretentious, I’d describe it as dark, loamy, and mysterious, as well as adventurous, romantic, and a strange combination of comforting and disturbing. At the very least, this is the way my mind has manifested itself through art, and I like what it has become.

Within your work you use yourself as a model quite often. How has self-portraits helped with the development of your photography? Do you believe it’s important for artist’s to experiment with self-portraiture?

Definitely true. I think my initial attraction to self-portraiture was that I was able to have complete control over the work itself, and I was able to photograph everything about the emotion I felt, tweaking for as long as I needed. Essentially, it was a much needed bonding time with my camera and the art of photography itself. It helped me get to know myself, in a way. It helped me become my art, and it allowed me to be enveloped by every aspect of it. I’m no longer very interested in self portraiture, due to the fact that it’s much easier to work with a model to achieve what I have in mind, but I do think it’s very important to the growth of a photographer who is only just becoming acquainted with the art.

What were the key elements to the development of your photography?

I embarked on a 365 day self-portrait project during the initial stages of learning photography. It allowed me to explore a wide range of photographic possibilities and styles, without fear of being harshly criticized. If you look early on in my Flickr photostream, you’ll see a gratuitous amount of questionable images, haha. As I was forced to create images daily, I began to see the things that inspire me come to life through my images. With that, as well as a variety of life experiences, and the realization that I always want to grow as a person and artist, my passion for adventure, the ~mystery~ of mystery, and an observance of romance and heartbreak began to inspire me and shape my work.

What’s your favourite photo that you’ve ever taken?

I’m terrible with favourites, haha. Whether aesthetically, technically, or emotionally, there are a variety of images in my portfolio which I love and am proud of. Each one of them represents an amazing growth and push forward, but I cannot choose just one.

On average, how long does it take you to create an image? (conceptualizing, shooting, editing)

I’d say about 10-15 hours. That’d equate to anywhere from one to three hours of conceptualizing over the period of a few weeks, then another one-two hours styling the shoot and location scouting, about an hour shooting, and anywhere from 3-7 hours processing the image over the course of a few days.

How important is Photoshop to your work?

Photoshop allows me to create the mood and style of the final image I see in my head, and sometimes, it allows me to take the image a step further than I initially imagined. It’s very important – I wouldn’t be able to pull off half of the things I have without it! From color to manipulation, I’m so grateful to have it. I once released a speed-edit video of an image I made, and was harangued for my use of photoshop by a classmate during college. I feel she didn’t truly realize the importance of photoshop to completing the impossible.

Would we be able to see a before/after of one (or some) of your most edited images?

“The Keeper’s Kin,” “On,” ” Of Mass and Matter” (attached)

What 3 websites do you spend the most time on?

Tumblr, Tumblr, and Tumblr. It’s bad. I need to stop.

How do you spend your time when you’re not editing or behind the camera?

I love so many things – running, hiking, cooking, camping, traveling, being with friends, making music, long-boarding, watching Dexter and various short films, plotting my escape to Portland, and/or building various weapons and camouflages to be used during the Zombie Apocalypse…

Do you generally sketch your ideas before you shoot? If so, would we be able to see the sketch to compare with the final photo?

Yep! Here’s a before sketch of my most recent piece, “The Programs of 1984.”

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to “get the shot”?

A few Winters back, during my 365, I decided that I’d like to shoot with snow. Planning carefully, watching the weather reports and the clouds forming over the mountains, I decided I’d drive up the next morning in my putt-putt Suzuki Samurai, (on it’s last limb), to try and take some photos in the snow. On the way up, my engine died, I hit black ice on the road, and began to swerve backwards towards the edge of the mountain. I grabbed my camera and jumped out of the car, fearful of it going over. It stopped on a guardrail, I said a prayer, and was able to maneuver the vehicle back down the mountain safely. I’ve also snuck on to and been chased off of abandoned house properties, been caught naked in the woods by hikers, walked barefoot through a snowy forest for hours, lugged a 100 lb door to the beach, almost caught an abandoned house on fire, rearranged my entire living room multiple times, put my face in my food, started a campfire illegally in the middle of the forest, had 25 of my friends strip naked in the cold wind for me, and swam in ice-cold winter rivers. Photography has offered me the best adventure of my entire life.

What photo of yours was the most challenging to create? Why? (due to lighting, models not showing up, editing, etc)

Hmm, that’s a tough one, because whenever the image is extremely difficult to create, it either completely pays off, or doesn’t work out at all. One of the most challenging images I have created would have to be “Protector,” from my Twins series back in 2012. I spent almost 6 months figuring out a way to hold myself in an image, constantly drawing out new ideas and subsequently scrapping them. When it finally came time to shoot, the process of getting the images I needed proved challenging. Just as well, the editing on the image to make it work was significantly more daunting than I had anticipated, but I believe the final image was worth it.

Recently you’ve began to venture into the world of motion picture. What sparked your interest in video? And how are you enjoying creating films so far?

Initially, it began with my desire to further the ideas in my head beyond a snapshot of what was happening in any image I wanted to create. Not long after, my best friend, a musician by the pseudonym “Calvin,” enlisted me to help him create music videos for his songs. We began creating storyline driven videos together, and still are. Along with that, I’ve begun to create other types of short films as well, the most recent of which (to be released this week!) was created on my trip to Oregon, at a complex of 3 or 4 abandoned houses deep in the woods. I love it, and plan to take it a long way. It has helped me cultivate my storytelling, a skill I believe is necessary for any artist.

Under the “Fashion” section on your website there are only 2 sets of photos (which are wonderful by the way!!). Do you plan to expand your fashion portfolio or is this type of photography dull for you? Also, what do you consider to be a “fashion” photo?

Thanks! It’s actually become a style of imagery I’ve come to enjoy quite a bit. While there are only two sets up now, I plan on expanding my work with fashion, with my end goal being the creation of images for various clothing designers. I feel most photographers have a hard time defining fashion photography, but I believe it has a lot to do with the aesthetic of the surroundings in the image, as well as the clothing itself and the way it looks. Sometimes, a pretty picture is just that – a pretty picture.

How has social media helped with the success of your photography?

I wouldn’t be anywhere without Flickr, first and foremost. The outlet and community it gave me not only pushed me to become a better artist, but also allowed me to find a group of people who I regularly travel the country with. The game of photography has changed, and social media has allowed many promising young creatives a place to publish, share, and receive critique on their work. I’m so thankful to live in the age of the internet, even if it does mean a certain amount of over-saturation and over-stimulation.

Who are some of your favourite photographers and/or artists?

Gregory Crewdson, Tim Walker, Ron Howard, JJ Abrams, and Sam Spratt are all at the top of the list for me – their dedication to their art, as well as the way they conduct their lives are so incredibly inspiring. Not to mention, everything they create is always, always mindblowing and causes me to simultaneously push myself to be like them, and die in a hole.

How has completing a 365 days project helped you, your photography, and the way you work?

Starting and completing a 365 taught me to be efficient, to work hard, and to never, ever give up. It pushed me to always seek new processes and concepts as I wanted to keep each day fresh, and also helped me learn how to create series and a style within my portfolio. It pushed the boundaries of my work ethic, and whenever I feel lazy, I think back to how I worked during the project to get my mind on track again.

What is something you wish you were better at?

Shooting more often, and really pushing myself to get the image I want, rather than settling for something else. I’m hoping to improve my storytelling aspect of my work, by creating multiple images on shoots, and I need to learn how to market myself better. I’m so young, so I’m not scared that these things won’t come, but I do know that I need to always seek growth as a person and artist if I want to eventually become who I plan to be.

Based on the completion of your 365 days project, and the work you’ve completed since then, what have you learned along the way?

To not be afraid, and not be lazy. Too often do I see 365’s fail due to laziness, and too often do I see young(er) photographers not pushing themselves because they’re afraid of failure. I’ve taught myself so many different aspects of storytelling and camera-handling, lighting, etc. The list is nearly “unlistable”, with the sheer amount of things I’ve learned along the way.

To follow up the last question, what advice do you have to offer us fellow photographers?

Fight the urge to withdraw yourself and stay comfortable. My 365 pushed me not to be lazy, and if you decide to embark on one, do not give up on it. If you decide to embark upon anything, do not give up on it. Fail, continually. Grow, continually. Have confidence in your work, but don’t become a pretentious a-hole. Accept critique with a grain of salt –  in the age of the internet, not all of it is good, but the good critique is always worth listening to and trying out. Always ask yourself the best way to progress – and I’m not just talking about photography. You’ll only ever be the best photographer you can be, if you first learn how to be the best PERSON you can be. Don’t lose hope when things get hard, but use them to push through. Don’t believe that you’re stuck as a photographer forever. Don’t be scared, but be cautious. Don’t forget the past, but always look forward. Have fun. Seriously, don’t forget that you do this because you LOVE IT!

To keep up with David and his work you can do so on his Website, Flickr, Facebook, and Tumblr.
Interviewed By: Angela Butler


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    Rachel Hottel

    Such a great interview David, congrats on all you’ve accomplished! You are definitely one of my favorite photographers because of not only your talent but your ambition to always better yourself and others.