It gives me great pleasure to announce that our photography blog will be featuring interviews and the photography of some of the extremely talented photographers from Adore Noir Magazine. Adore Noir magazine is published online from Vancouver, B.C. Canada and is dedicated to fine art black and white photography. This interview features Mitch Dobrowner, an American fine art photographer who specializes in storm photography.
AN: Please tell us about your photographic background. What led you to your path of creativity?
MD: I’m pretty much self taught. I worked in New York City for a short time as an assistant for two commercial photographers. After getting in a bunch of trouble and feeling lost in my teens my father slung me an old Argus rangefinder, with his fingers crossed! The first time I shot a roll of film and processed it I fell in love with the art. Then after seeing the images of Ansel Adams and Minor White at the age of twenty, I decided to see the American Southwest for myself. To make a long story short, I left home, quit my jobs, and left my friends and family to see the American Southwest for myself. Over the next four years I traveled cross country seven times, living out of my car, camping in the deserts and showering once in a while in a cheap motel. I was shooting pictures the entire time.
I eventually landed in Los Angeles. I managed to get a solo exhibit for Canon at their gallery on Wilshire Blvd. That exhibit was reviewed in Modern Photography, which was one of two major photography magazines at the time. My mom sent me that magazine recently. It was fun to read.
About a year later I met my wife Wendy, she is an amazing designer. Together we have three children. We also created our own design studio. During that time the tasks of running a business and raising a family took a priority to photography and I stopped taking pictures. Then in early 2005, inspired by my wife, children and friends, I picked up my cameras again.
Today photography is my way to communicate how I feel without words. When I’m out photographing things seem simple again, time slows down and the world around me gets quiet. It’s then that I’m able to focus in a manner that allows me to connect with my imagination. Those moments are how I’ve learned to still my soul; it’s my happy place. It’s about the only times where I’m alone and can hear my heart beating again. So today I see myself on a passionate mission to make up for years of lost time by creating images that help evoke how I see our world.
AN: What do you enjoy most about photographing landscapes?
MD: I’m in love with the Southwest. It’s a truly mystical and spiritual place. I find it easy to photograph. I see my work as being portraits of the rocks and their environment. I think you have to love what you decide to shoot. The images need to come from deep inside your heart. For me, I love spending time in that environment, learning about it, seeing in in different lighting and weather conditions. It may sounds strange to some, but I need to talk to the subject when I’m shooting, in my own way and with my own voice. When I get to that place I know things will happen. It’s kind of like walking into a dark room and not being able to see but the more time you spend there the more you can see. It’s then that I just enjoy sitting back and waiting for nature to show me what she’s got. I live for that.
AN: What are your influences?
MD: I love the images of Ansel Adams and Minor White. Besides my family, they provide my photographic inspiration. The first time I saw either of those photographers works I was floored. Their images left a major impact on my life and the direction it would go. Creatively I also have to include the artistic vision of Jimi Hendrix. He was an amazing artist.
AN: How did you become interested in storms?
MD: Prior to the storm series my primary focus was on landscapes, both in the Southwest and urban environments. When shooting them I always found myself seeking out nasty, unstable weather. So I always wondered what it would be like to experience the storm systems in the mid-west. So in the summer of 2009 I said — fuck it, and decided to take a trip out there. I thought that if I could find what I was visualizing in my mind it could lead to the next step in the progression of my work. I also wanted to challenge myself because I wanted to continue to grow in my art and not be seen as the next “color of the month” or “one trick pony.” I wanted to keep pushing, I directed my focus away from the Southwest for a period of time and started working on understanding the science of weather and find an experienced chaser to help me. And I did! His name is Roger Hill.
AN: Knowing the risks involved, what made you want to photograph storms?
MD: My imagination. I kept seeing images in my mind of what photographing a major storm would look like. As I started researching the subject I came to appreciate the science behind finding these large structured super cells. As a landscape photographer it always took skill, and a bit of luck, to be in the right place at the right time. To actively pursue these weather events just seemed like it would be a fun experiment and challenge.
AN: What is your most memorable experience while on a shoot?
MD: Probably my time at Shiprock, New Mexico, though there were others that came in at a close second, like the Valentine Nebraska storm. But Shiprock was very special to me.
I had seen images of Shiprock before, but never the image I had in my mind. Though I hadn’t seen the formation in person, Shiprock touched something deep inside me. I think it was because I knew that it is the spiritual center of the Navajo Nation, or maybe it was because it is the remnant of an ancient volcano. But this combination of history and geology ignited something inside me. So I traveled to the Four Corners area of New Mexico with my family to photograph it.
When I arrived in Farmington, New Mexico, I was totally overwhelmed by my first distant sighting of this otherworldly formation. Over the next ten days I woke up at ungodly hours to drive long distances in order to arrive at first light, and then left after sundown each day in order to catch the last light. I had to drive in the rain, over rocks, mud, snow, and sand. As we arrived in late December, the weather conditions made for moody, atmospheric photographs, it also gave me frozen fingers and toes! I spent the first eight days driving, scouting, and sitting quietly in the area that surrounds Shiprock. It also seemed like the more time I spent in the area, the more I knew that I would need to be patient despite the cold.
On the morning of the eighth day I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and got into my truck in the freezing rain and snow — with a warm cup of coffee. From Farmington, the drive to Shiprock was 50 miles one way. It was snowing, raining, dark, and freezing. The thermometer on my truck read between two and twelve degrees Fahrenheit above zero. For a few minutes I remember thinking I was nuts. As this was the fifth time in eight days that I was making this trip. My mind kept saying, “Why are you going out again when you could have stayed with your family in a warm bed? You’re an idiot. You’re not going to get anything.” But I felt driven, as I wanted to capture the image I had driven eight-hundred miles from California to get.
When I finally arrived at Shiprock that morning it was about 5:45 a.m. The sun was just coming up and the Shiprock was behind a wall of clouds. When I finally stopped and stepped out with my camera and tripod, I sank ankle deep into cold mud. But when I looked up I knew that what was about to happen in front of me was the thing I had come all this way for. For the next three hours I sat in front of Shiprock, not a soul around, it felt like we had a conversation.
My hope is that this image helps communicate what I saw and the humility I felt while
photographing this amazing structure.
AN: Please tell us about your post processing.
MD: I’d say that most of my time is spent in the pre-process stage, not post-processing. That focus makes my post process work flow pretty simple. But one thing that is important is that I stay focused on the total process because it all leads up to the quality of the final print. The way a JPG looks on my website is important but the final print represents my final vision.
I come from a film/wet darkroom background, however, I currently use a digital work flow for specific reasons, the quality of the final product being number one.
My cameras have always felt like an extension of my brain and hands when I’m out shooting. That’s because I spend time learning the tool (ie: camera) inside and out, just as I would if I was a musician playing an instrument. If you wanted to be a great guitar player you’d have to practice and learn every aspect of the guitar, right? I feel the same way about a camera. I’m also not one to buy an expensive camera and put in in auto mode and just shoot away. I trash my cameras, I treat them like paint brushes, it’s just a tool. It’s just something I use to capture a vision.
All my images are captured latent, meaning in camera. Live-view really allows me to use my camera in the same manner I use the ground glass on a view-camera. With live-view I can now see the image in the exact way I am capturing it, in black-and-white, with the camera in black-and-white mode. In the past when shooting film and using a view-camera, I always had to view the image upside down, backwards and red, green or blue (if I used filters).
During printing I perform a normal amount of dodging, burning, brightness and contrast controls on the images in Photoshop. Similar to what I would do in the wet darkroom. I print on Epson 3800 and 9800 printers with cotton rag papers.
AN: Can you give us a bit of a timeline regarding your rise in popularity. How did you go about getting noticed?
MD: It all started by submitting work to LensWork magazine. The first time I saw LensWork I had low expectations for getting published in it. I had only been shooting again for about a year, but I submitted anyway. I never expected to even hear back.
About a month later, I received and email saying I would be published in the next edition and that one of my images Church Rock would be used on the cover. To say the least I was shocked, and I jumped up and down! Since that fist portfolio was published in March of 2007 I’ve been published in LensWork two more times. A total of three times to date.
After that first LensWork edition I was contacted by the John Cleary Gallery in Houston, Texas, asking if I would like to do a solo exhibit. So my first solo show was July 2007. I still remember the email I received from Catherine Couturier, the gallery’s director. It read “we love your work and would like to put on a solo show”. What can ya say — no? That show was really well received, much better then I could have ever imagined! At the time I also had the opportunity to meet the late John Cleary. My wife and I had a wonderful time with him for the four days we spent together. What an honour. Since then I have had a total of three solo exhibits at the gallery.
After the first John Cleary exhibit I was approached by Alex Novak at Vintage/Contemporary Works — and from there things continued to happen. I count myself very lucky.
AN: You have had a lot of success in your photographic career, to what do you attribute this?
MD: I’m not so sure I’ve reached anything yet. The last five years have been really fluid, and I’d like it to stay that way. I’m thrilled that people have reacted to my work, but what is most important to me is to continue concentrating on creating new imagery. I do count myself very lucky to be in the position I’m in today, I believe that my best work is still to come.
AN: How did you get involved with 21st Editions for your book?
MD: I was never in a rush to do a book, I always thought that things would happen when the time was right. So I never pushed it thinking that eventually the right opportunity would arise.
Then in mid-2010 I received a call from the publisher of 21st Editions — Steve Albahari. He asked a few questions and before I knew it I found the perfect publishing company to work with. For anyone not familiar with 21st Editions, the books are of the highest calibre, they’re amazing!
Working with 21st Editions has been a dream come true. They are an amazing dedicated, passionate group of craftsman. The books are all hand made and are in perfect tune with me. They are totally sensitive to each detail pertaining to the production of the books and the presentation my work. I’m a very lucky man. The first of the two books comes out in September 2011. The second book is out sometime before the end of 2011. I’m thrilled with they way they’re turning out.
AN: What advice would you give to a young fine art photographer who is dreaming of grandeur?
MD: I’d recommend reading Ansel Adams’ Print, Negative, Camera series of books. For me, it’s my bible. All the methodologies still apply, it was revolutionary thinking.
Today there are so many avenues that photographers can take to get their work shown. Just think of what avenues the master photographers of old had. They had no internet, no e-mail, very few publications, and photography only had a few people that were considered true “artists”. How did they get their imagery out there? It was quite a challenge as compared to what tools we have today. I also remember what Michael Kenna once told me when I first started: “show to everyone and anyone who is interested in your work and if the gods shine down on you, things could happen.”
My only other piece of advice is: no matter what anyone says you should always follow your gut instincts. Don’t care what people think or how they feel about your work. Do what you want to do as it’s Your art. Even if it means breaking away from what everyone else is doing. Don’t follow advice, just do it! That’s all I ever do. Breaking from the pack is a good thing.
AN: Can you tell us about any future projects?
MD: I intend to spend more time photographing storm systems and landscapes, I would eventually like to publish a few more books. I see books as being timeless, something we can leave behind for our kids, grand kids and future generations. I’m really looking forward to getting back to my landscapes project. I miss the Southwest tremendously. Utah, New Mexico and Arizona is where my heart truly is. I can feel my anticipation building as I get set to go back out. It’s a hard feeling to describe so I try to just describe it in my images.
AN: What’s your final say?
MD: The final image is all that is important.
This interview and accompanying images was reprinted with permission from Adore Noir.
Adore Noir is a subscription based online photography magazine specializing in awesome fine art black and white photography.