Artist profile series: Dylan Graham

Courtesy Photo / Dylan Graham
Transmogrification No. 2

Courtesy Photo / Dylan Graham Transmogrification No. 2

Elijah Brumback

GVL: When did you begin experimenting with photography?

Dylan Graham: I started freshman year of college, when I met an eventual friend of mine, Mitch Poling, who at the time was a photo major. I was undecided and I thought I would try something new. I originally came to Grand Valley to be an engineering major, and it’s funny because now Mitch is studying natural resource management.

GVL: What interested you about photography as opposed to other forms of art?

DG: I guess it was the one I knew the least about when it came to process and development. I always wanted to take a class on it in high school but never could because there was a limit on the number of students and they eventually switched from film to digital and I didn’t want to do that.

GVL: What was your first camera?

DG: My first real film camera was Minolta that I bought off the Internet, but it turned out to be broken. My step-dad eventually gave me his Canon Rebel X. I’m still using it right now for color film.

GVL: Do you remember taking your first photograph with the intention of capturing some idea or aesthetic?

DG: For my first project in photo, I went downtown and took a photo standing on the blue bridge facing downtown. There was a shadow covering the far end of the bridge and the foreground was completely lit up. There was a man walking toward the city in the shadow and another man walking toward me, coming into the light. The contrast I thought was ironic and it just happened to be great timing.

GVL: Is there a style of photography that interests you the most? Why?

DG: Portraits, because I think it’s amazing that a photographer can capture a single picture of a person and through that image people can form an idea of what the subjects whole lives might be like.

GVL: Who are your current influences?

DG: Right now, Richard Avedon and David LaChapelle. Their both known for their portraits but both of them have completely different styles. Avedon uses 4×5 and 8×10 cameras with black and white film and he sets his subject in front of a white backdrop in typically areas of shade. He’s a sort of hyperrealist in that he focuses a lot on the resolution in his photos. LaChapelle in a way is sort of the opposite of that. He usually has his subjects performing outrageous or ridiculous actions and he shoots in color and its for the most part really saturated color.

GVL: You had your first show in the spring of ’09, what was that experience like, having people publicly evaluate your work?

DG: Its was intimidating, because I was just really nervous thinking about what people might think about my work and for the most part it was a pain in the ass. I was also nervous because the majority of my work was different from the others being exhibited.

GVL: How was your work different from the other photographers?

DG: I manipulated the film with marker and all the other photos were straight up photographs. It was also my first time doing that as well. In the end it turned out well though. I ended up getting a lot good criticism from upper-classmen and some professors.

GVL: Your second show was in December of the same year. Was the experience different the second time around? Was the feedback different?

DG: I didn’t have as many photographs and the show was much larger with more photographers, my work was also different from the others this time because I tried overlapping the negatives to create two images in one picture. I was trying to show contrast in a person’s life based on two different emotions in the same image. I didn’t get as much feedback at that show. I wasn’t disappointed because I knew people would have no intention of purchasing my work. It was mostly for my personal benefit.

GVL: Did that show disappoint you at all?

DG: It didn’t really bother me. I had a few people who were fairly knowledgeable about film ask me about my process, which was satisfying for me.

GVL: What are you working on now? Is there a particular subject you’re focusing on?

DG: Right now I’m focusing on my final project for Computer Photo I, because I know it’s going to take most of the semester to plan out and finish. The ideas I have are mostly for portraits in the vein of both Avedon and LaChappelle, I’m aiming for the impact of Avedon but with the appearance of a LaChapelle. I haven’t decided yet whether to use digital 35mm or a 120mm.

GVL: Are you working on a portfolio for a new show?

DG: The last batch of photos I took recently, I didn’t really like and I wasn’t very proud of them, so I haven’t spent much time working on a show, though I have been working on creating a concept I want to explore that could make for a project worth showing.

GVL: Who has helped you the most in developing your work as a photographer and an artist?

DG: Patrick Millard, he taught me through photo I and II. He always understood what I was trying to aim for in my work and we had sort of similar styles. He was the person that really helped me promote my work to others. He actually graduated from the photo program at Grand Valley in ’04. He recently left Grand Rapids because he had decided he wasn’t happy here and he now lives in Pennsylvania.

GVL: Do you think his absence has affected the direction of your work?

DG: I would say yes, in a way. When he was around I had a focus on identity in my work that was more abstract then they way I have been working. I don’t really have a close relationship with my other professors, which is important to me.

GVL: Could you describe your greatest experience with photography?

My final project for my 4×5 class in winter semester, I felt it was some of the best work I’ve done. We had to emulate a large format photographer and I choose Ansel Adams, whose shoes aren’t easily filled. With what I was given to work with landscape-wise in West Michigan, people were still able to tell whom I was trying to emulate easily, which I was really proud of considering he’s (Adams) generally noted as one of the best photographers of all time.

GVL: Moving forward what do you hope to do as a photographer and as an artist?

DG: Keep working.

[email protected]