I managed to squeeze in a few online moments with Tyler Dolan, a guy who is doing Durban proud with his trusty DSLR. His main export nowadays is documentary photography, with a penchant for high quality detail and dramatic scenes. Check it out.
DIY: A while back you commented on a 10 to 5 graduate article that your future is a bit cloudy. Has that cloud cleared up at all or is it just getting darker?
Tyler: The skies are starting to clear up. When I finished BTECH this year I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be and all I wanted to do was carry on with documentary photography. Since I left home two years ago, I have dreaded the idea of having to go back to a design studio just so I can pay the bills. Luckily, since last year, I was able to pay them through my freelance photography. If I can survive while completing a degree and coming second in the year then I think I will manage to do the same if not better without the added stress of studies. This year has started off like a rocket and hopefully it will continue to do so.
Photography is merely a medium to create something that’s aesthetically pleasing or, like with my documentary work, tells a story.
DIY: How did the photography bug bite? Was it something you were always planning on pursuing?
Tyler: I always wanted to start photography I just couldn’t afford a decent camera and then when I got a “decent” camera, a Canon 350D, I was seriously unimpressed with the quality of images. I had a job working for a Pinetown design company at the time and I was then able to purchase a flash and 50mm lens, since then I have never looked back. I recently upgraded to a Canon 60D however most of the images seen here were taken with the 8 megapixel 350D. I’ve learnt that it’s not the camera but it’s how you use it.
DIY: Your Walking The Streets exhibition was one of the stand out pieces at the recent DUT students exhibition. Did you receive any jobs offers or potential work from it? Or was just another case of everyone shaking your hand and patting your back but no real financial/job related help.
Tyler: Money-wise, not much yet; exposure-wise, it’s been great. My documentary work is now what people most commonly know me for. It looks like there is a DUT based project in the pipeline from the work that I did, as well as a few odd clients here and there that are nibbling at the hooks. I recently had an exhibition at Corner Cafe displaying works from the Walking the Streets series and one image was sold to a nightclub owner from Berlin and it should be hanging there now.
DIY: Your photographs have a very photojournalistic feel about them. Do you ever worry about a Kevin Carter situation? Profiting off another persons predicament or situation? How fine is the line between being the viewer and capturing the moment but not exploiting it?
Tyler: Yeah, thanks for that question. Well in my view situations will happen if I am there or not. This series has definitely made me question the reasons as to why I am doing the project but at the end of the day I am there to document. My job is to observe and record – not to interfere. As for profiting off the struggles of others I haven’t yet so I don’t think I can answer the question fully at this stage. If I do profit from that it would only mean that I can put more money and time into documentary work and who knows what is out there for me to photograph, if I can find so many interesting people and situations to photograph in Durban then there must be a lot more that I can do in other places. The world sadly enough revolves around money, so if I make money off of these images, even documentary photographers need to earn a living to keep doing what they do.
DIY: Are you experimenting in any other formats or is it all DSLR for now?
Tyler: I’m all about the DSLRs for now and will most likely be staying that way. I feel that the medium is working so I will rather work on improving the set up, the content and creative ideas.
DIY: There’s a lot of post-production that goes into your photos. Is there a specific Tyler Dolan style you’ve crafted or are pursuing? Are there any cases when the subject matter doesn’t fit that style and would you be prepared to sacrifice your ‘style’ for the subject matter if need be?
Tyler: I like to think I have a specific style and it is definitely influenced by photographers such as David Hill and Blair Bunting. Everyone is influenced by someone and tries to adapt certain elements into their own work be it photographers, illustrators or any other occupation. My hopes are to create pieces of art rather than a photograph. Photography is merely a medium to create something that’s aesthetically pleasing or, like with my documentary work, tells a story. As for sacrificing my style, right now I am running a business and to make it work one has to please the clients. If the project doesn’t fit my preferred style or the client wants something different then that’s what the client will get. I am not at the stage yet to only do projects that I want to or would like to do. I still need food in my belly and rent paid at the end of the month.
DIY: Beyond photographers, what other artists do you consider an influence? Anyone local you look up too?
Tyler: I don’t think I am influenced by another medium but rather inspired by it. Local artists that inspire me are Bryce Louw aka Maxeroo, Thomas de Beer, Sarah Cummins, Jonathan Hurd and Greg Darrol aka Tokyo-Go-Go.
DIY: Regarding freelancing and clients, how difficult is it to convey to them that you don’t just snap pretty pictures with your expensive camera? How do you explain to them that the price you’ve quoted is justified? Any horror clients stores to tell?
Tyler: In my opinion, artists in general are lucky enough to have a portfolio of work that back up the pricing; you get what you pay for. At the beginning of 2011 I did some work at a lowered price for a client that gave me the usual bullshit story of “It will bring in more work. This is good exposure for you.” A 10 month long story cut short, she owed me R1200 and it took 10 months for her to pay me through small instalments once a month, but only after a ridiculous amount of emails and her having to sign a contract. Needless to say that job didn’t bring me in any other work. As much as these clients are annoying you learn from your mistakes.
DIY: We live in an age where it’s never been easier to be a ‘photographer’. Buy a decent SLR, read up on some tutorials, download Lightroom and some presets and you’re good to go. Do you think this is hampering the industry and its growth, or is it still a case of ‘the cream will always rise to the top?’
Tyler: I am an example of this. I got a job and saved up for the equipment I have and learnt how to use it, most people bite off more than they can chew and buy a whole studio but at the end of the day they are not going to do anything with it unless they are dedicated and work hard. Photography is more than easily accessible equipment and with cameras it’s the ideas, the content, the lighting that touches a subjects face and body that makes a photograph great. If you don’t know how to control or manipulate those elements then you will just have a grainy or blurred Blackberry image with your DSLR. One’s skills are determined by a body of work not a single image, anyone can take one amazing image every now and then; it’s doing it constantly that’s difficult. The only way to take good images constantly is with experience and dedication.
DIY: Finally, what’s happening in the Tyler Dolan world? Any exhibitions and works coming that we should be looking out for?
Tyler: This year is looking promising; I am currently trying to get my 130 page Walking the Streets book published and there is some good response to the book so far. I just wrapped up 2 exhibitions, one at Corner Cafe and another at the KZNSA Gallery. I will most likely be exhibiting at the Bergtheil Museum or KwaMuhle Museum sometime this year. I am also planning a personal project where I will be using my contacts in the townships to use the township as a backdrop for eccentric fashion photographs, any fashion designers reading this get into contact with me and let’s make it happen. Oh, I will be bringing out a website soon to do a little bit of shameless self-promotion. Other than that I am just marching on work work work.