The Mean Streets of New York City
with Dan Elliott
SPW: Thank you for taking the time to share your photos with us Dan, they are very telling and really reveal your thought process as you shoot.
DE: Thanks so much for asking me to be a part of this. Not sure I’ve been interviewed about my photography before, so it’s quite nice.
SPW: I love how you see color and movement, and I can sense your curiosity as a photographer while looking through all of your images. Can you share some of your thought process as you are out shooting? How you move, what you look for, or what catches your eye?
DE: It seems that my thought process is much different when I’m out shooting than when I’m just out without a camera, doing day to day things. You know, life! That said, I do often see in a photographic way when just out and about, but may not have a camera at that moment or what I saw came and went too fast. When I go out specifically to shoot, I’m quickly looking to see what it is I’m after. Sometimes if I know the situation I’m going into ahead of time, I may pre-visualize what the images are that I’m hoping to make, for example, if I’m going somewhere I’ve been before. I’m not one to rush into what I’m shooting. I prefer to wait and see what may happen and to watch things develop around me. At the point when everything just seems to click and the elements come together to make a worthwhile photograph, I often feel that I’m in the zone, if you will, which is such a great feeling.
“…film is nice, but eating is better.”
SPW: Have you always lived in New York City? Where else have you lived?
DE: No, I’ve not always lived in New York City. I’ve lived here nine years. Previously I’ve lived in Kansas, Missouri, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, and Colorado for a hot second. Most of these places I’ve lived in more than once, oddly enough.
SPW: Do you have formal photo training, or did you just learn on your own?
DE: I did some dabbling with photography when I was in high school, but was fortunate enough to get proper training at what is now called Daytona State College at the Southeast Center for Photographic Studies in Daytona, FL. It was Daytona Beach Community College when I was there twenty years ago. It’s possible that I was the worst student they had to that point, but I’m still forever grateful to Gary Monroe and Eric Breitenbach, who were truly amazing teachers and most certainly helped to guide me on the path I’ve taken since, which has always involved photography in one way or another. Honestly, it changed my life.
”We renamed it (the camera) ‘the oddball.’”
SPW: What type of camera was this series of photos taken with?
DE: These images were all made with a funny little digital camera called a Harinezumi.
SPW: I’ve personally never heard of a Harinezumi until you introduced me to it. How did you stumble across this unique little camera? Where do you get them?
DE: My wife Stephanie saw it at the Brooklyn Flea Market and gave me it for my birthday a couple years ago. I’d never heard of it before and was totally thrilled with it. It’s Japanese designed but made in China I think. It has still and video capability and takes micro SD memory cards. We renamed it the “Oddball.” It seems to be readily available on the internet.
”Most people don’t know what it is, so I’m guessing no one takes you seriously with this thing.”
SPW: What other types of gear do you shoot with?
DE: Mostly my old trusty Leica M4-P that I’ve had for ages now. Yes, it’s a film camera that I’ll never get rid of. It will be passed down to my daughter. I’ve also shot with a Canon DSLR quite a bit, especially when I was shooting live music here in the city.
SPW: Have you always experimented with cameras that aren’t mainstream (for lack of a better term)? Do you still shoot film also?
DE: I’ve always tried out different cameras. A good friend of mine has a few more cameras than he knows what to do with and he is kind enough to loan them to me here and there. They are all film cameras, since he… well, doesn’t care for digital. Let’s just say that. He has a nice Widelux that I’ve used a few times. That is quite fun to mess with. Yes, I do use film, when I use the Leica and that is usually Fujichrome Provia 100.
“It was unpaid, but I didn’t care since I was looking at amazing photos everyday and in the hall of my heroes.”
SPW: What advantages have you noticed shooting with the Harinezumi, as apposed to your Leica or DSLR on the streets and subways in NYC or anywhere for that matter? Any disadvantages?
DE: For starters it’s so small. It’s about the size of a roll of 110 film, if you are old enough to remember that. Fits in the palm of your hand. Most people don’t know what it is, so I’m guessing no one takes you seriously with this thing. The image quality of a cell phone is better now I suspect. Wow, I’m really selling this thing aren’t I? It really is fun though. It’s like a digital version of a Holga, which I always liked in theory, but those were just never precise enough for my taste. Leaked too much light and the six rolls of black photo tape you needed to tape it up got too pricey. My favorite was when the back of the Holga would be yanked off the strap! That was always a blast.
“This became a major turning point in my life, since prior to that, I had no aspirations at all.”
SPW: Of the Harinezumi series, do you have any favorite images? Can you tell us about how one of your favorite photos was taken?
DE: Rather fond of PICT1538 (Sunday AM), which is the older gentleman holding his coat and waiting for the train at 34th St. The image just came out as I had hoped it would, with the lights above him and the lines leading to him. Occasionally this camera baffles me with the spot on exposures it makes. Not always, but sometimes and this was one of those times I guess, which is great because I never do any further manipulating or photoshop work on the images from this camera. Also, most of the time I’m holding this camera at waist level, so as to be less obtrusive.
SPW: How long have you been taking pictures? What got you started or who influenced your decision to become a photographer?
DE: Mainly, I got the itch when I became the church youth group photographer as a freshman in high school, but never thought of it as anything more than that. Just taking goofy photos of friends that have now become rather timeless to us. I didn’t seriously become interested in photography until I discovered completely by accident that photography was a college major, at which point my mom dragged me back to Florida to become a student at D.B.C.C. in the photography program there. This became a major turning point in my life, since prior to that, I had no aspirations at all. No idea what I was going to do with myself once I got out of high school, other than leave Florida. When I was young, say about 8 or so, my Dad and Uncle were both hobbyists and had Canon AE-1 cameras that were all the rage at the time, so I saw them use those and that was probably where I got my first real exposure to the medium. Mind you, I don’t think I took any photos with either of their cameras at that time.
SPW: Do you have any favorite photographers?
DE: Hands down it’s Garry Winogrand. One person who I just wish I could shake his hand. He just seemed so intuitive when he was out shooting, from everything I’ve seen and read. Elliott Erwitt is another that I really admire. He has such great wit. He also doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously either. Alex Webb is simply amazing in the way that he uses light and color to his advantage. His images always have several layers going on as well. Definitely what influenced me to start using color chrome film. I never get tired of looking at his work. Super nice guy too.
“One day I got to go to Bruce Davidson’s house; he lives at the Dakota building uptown, where John Lennon lived. I used his bathroom.”
SPW: You told me that you were once an intern for Magnum Photos, what was that like? Can you share any interesting Magnum stories from your time with the agency? What other photo agencies have you worked for?
DE: Yes, a year or so after I moved to New York, I met someone at the International Center for Photography (ICP) who was a secretary at Magnum Photos and she helped me to get a summer internship there, which I had never thought possible. It was unpaid, but I didn’t care since I was looking at amazing photos everyday and in the hall of my heroes, if you will. I probably was the oldest intern they ever had. As part of the internship, we had to run errands to the photographers’ houses. I was always HOT to do that. One day I got to go to Bruce Davidson’s house; he lives at the Dakota building uptown, where John Lennon lived. I used his bathroom. Yep, that’s right. Bruce was kind enough to sign my original copy his of book “Subway” I had with me. His wife was there also, and they both were so nice to me. Talking to him is like chatting with your grandfather. He’s totally humble and a real gentleman, and always notices if you have a Leica around your neck. I worked at few other photo agencies in the city; the last one folded right out from under the few of us that worked there. It did turn out to be a good thing in the end for me though. I was blessed to find a much better job as a result.
SPW: In this age of digital photography, do you still make prints? If you do still print, do you make traditional black & white prints or digital prints?
DE: Honestly I’ve not printed much of anything in some time. Getting back into the darkroom to print would be nice, but I just haven’t had the time currently; too busy being a dad to my young daughter.
“Yes, I know there is a digital Leica M-9, but my name is not Rockefeller.”
SPW: Do you prefer shooting film or digital? Why?
DE: Forever a tough question. The immediacy of digital is a wonderful thing, no doubt, but there’s something about looking at a properly exposed chrome that is very hard to get past. Having shot a ton of each, if I had to pick, I might pick film, but digital also gives me a day job that I’d not have if it were still a film only world. The Leica is another reason I can’t give up film. Yes, I know there is a digital Leica M-9, but my name is not Rockefeller.
SPW: After all these years of shooting, what still motivates you to photograph?
DE: Just to be seeing and experiencing new things. Too many people walk around with blinders on and don’t seem to take time to see what’s around them. They’re just in a bubble while life goes by. Just stop to look at the small things and you may see something you’ve not seen and possibly learn something along the way.
SPW: What kinds of other photo projects or photo series are you currently working on whether short term or long term?
DE: Photo projects have never been my friend. I’ve tried, but with limited success I guess. Plus, when do you end the project, once you’ve started it? I’ve always seen myself as more of a single image shooter.
SPW: Where is your favorite place to shoot, or what is your favorite subject to shoot?
DE: My favorite place to shoot is more than likely somewhere I’ve not been before. I’ll go anywhere. I’d like to go to places most people don’t care to go, like North Korea for example. No really, the hermit country is fascinating. Not easy to get into as an American though. Cuba, Vietnam, Iceland and Newfoundland, Canada round out the list. Just people doing what people do is my favorite subject matter I guess.
SPW: What advice would you like to share with young photographers who would rather buy a roll of film, than eat—in other words, ones who share your same passion?
DE: Try to eat on the cheap if you are still needing to buy film. Rice and beans work for that. However, film is nice, but eating is better. Also to just keep shooting and not get so hung up on the technical aspects. Learn what you need to get you through, but just keep shooting and using that as your primary learning tool.
SPW: Thank you Dan, we’d love for you to come back and share some of your favorite Leica images next year, would you please consider this?
DE: Of course I would. Thanks so much for having me. This has been great.
“Just people doing what people do is my favorite subject matter I guess.”
SPW: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
DE: If you happen to be struggling as a photographer, do your best to stick with it, even if it’s not actually taking photos. There are many other facets of the photo industry that can keep you in the loop and close to the medium. I’ve had my share of ups and downs with photography, but it also has allowed me to see and experience so much more than I could even imagine, had I not choosen photography as my life’s passion.
To see more of Dan Elliott’s Harinezumi photos CLICK HERE.
*All photos ©2012 Dan Elliott – All Rights Reserved. Any publication whether in print or electronically is strictly prohibited without written consent from the artist.