California street photographer, Dmitry Demchenko, came to photography by way of filmmaking. Currently a student at Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Demchenko’s work has been exhibited in Santa Monica and Los Angeles at venues such as the Lark Gallery, and Los Angeles Center for Digital Art. His range is exceptional, his passion undeniable, his street portraits unyielding. And, it is no secret. Dmitry Demchenko is making his mark in the world of photography.
Photography is a unique way to feel the elusive."Dmitry Demchenko
Kujaja: How did you get involved with the type of photography you’re doing now?
DD: I was a film student at Santa Monica College in California when I decided to take Photography to learn more about cameras. I quickly learned that just like filmmaking, photography is a great way to tell stories and express my artistic vision. I started doing photography for my class assignments and one of my photographs got selected for the 34th SMC Annual Photography Exhibition the same semester, which was a huge boost of motivation for me. I got involved with photography so much that I was spending all of my leisure time with the camera and continued taking photography classes. Photography also helped me to get into Chapman University Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. I submitted a video about my photography when applying for the university. It is very rewarding and encouraging to realize that my effort and passion for photography have resulted in me becoming a represented artist at the Los Angeles Center for Digital Art (LACDA) in Downtown Los Angeles and the Lark Gallery in West Hollywood this year.
Kujaja: Can you identify a unifying theme or recurring thread running throughout your photographs?
DD: I think photography reflects your inner world. And just like your feelings and mood, the unifying theme and recurring thread can also change all the time. Moreover, I think it’s always interesting to experiment with different themes and ideas, and see how they are going to come out.
Kujaja: Who are the photographers who have influenced your thinking, photography, and career path?
DD: I like many photographers such as Sebastião Salgado, Michael Kenna and Richard Avedon, but I wouldn’t say that they’ve influenced my thinking, photography or career path. I think it’s very exciting to find your own path and stay true to your own artistic vision and things that interest you. I think it’s acceptable to draw aspirations from other people’s work, because they reinforce your own vision and help you to perfect your personal characteristics, but you should never try to repeat someone’s vision or choose the same career path.
Kujaja: What is the most challenging part about being a photographer?
DD: You have to be very dedicated, passionate and committed to what you do. There is a lot of competition going on in this business. If you win a photography competition, let it motivate you to move forward, but if you lose, don’t let it discourage you. On the contrary, make it motivate you even more. Be passionate about what you do and never let anything stop you from accomplishing your dream.
Kujaja: How do you choose the places you go to photograph?
DD: The idea that I can go anywhere to take photos excites me and is a great source of creativity and inspiration for me. Make your every photo session a journey of exploration and discovery. You never know where you’ll find interesting stories to tell. As for me, one day I could be going to Downtown Los Angeles to take portrait photographs of homeless people, and the next, I could be going to the burned forest of the Point Mugu State Park to take landscape photos. Very often, I don’t know what exactly I am going to take photographs of and, therefore, every photo session is fresh and unique experience for me. Let your subjects discover you and apply your visual style and creativity toward them.
Kujaja: What are your photography weaknesses?
DD: Everything is digital nowadays. I haven’t had much experience with analog or working in a darkroom. It’s something that I am very interested in, as I believe that shooting on film will fit really well into my visual style and will open new artistic horizons for me to explore.
Kujaja: Do you think gear really matters?
DD: Not in terms of communicating your vision or composing the shot. People take fascinating images with their phones. But, if you take photography seriously and want to go professional, then having a good camera is an absolute must. Fortunately, there are so many types of professional cameras nowadays that everybody can find a camera that fits into his or her price range. A professional camera allows you to shoot in RAW format and gives you the manual control over all of the technical aspects. Moreover, if you participate in juried contests and exhibitions, taking photographs in high resolution is generally a requirement.
Kujaja: What was your most frightening moment as a photographer?
DD: My classmates and I were shooting a film project for one of our classes at Santa Monica College in Venice, California. I had my DSLR camera with me and one of my friends and I decided to get the shots of the pier. I saw a couple of guys sitting on the benches, next to the ocean. For reasons unknown, a huge amount of bees built a hive on one of the pier benches. I immediately took out my camera, completely forgetting about my class assignment, and prepared to take photos of this rare marvel. All of the people on the pier, including my friend, moved back. Then something happened and the whole hive went up in the air. I asked the guy sitting on the bench to stand up and spread his arms as if he were controlling the bees with some magical force. He and I were in the middle of the bee storm as I was capturing this unique and memorable moment. To my surprise, none of us got stung.
Kujaja: What is your best photography tip?
DD: If you want to become a good photographer you must take a lot of photos. It will definitely help you to train your eye and develop your own visual style. First, learn the basics and then move on to the more complicated techniques. I would also recommend reading as many books on the subject as possible and taking photography classes, which will definitely help you to learn about the theory and technical aspects of photography in a systematic manner.
Kujaja: What is your opinion regarding darkroom vs. lightroom?
DD: Lightroom gives you an infinite amount of artistic possibilities to experiment with photographs without losing any money or resources. Darkroom teaches you to be more professional and efficient in terms of your theoretic and technical knowledge, because you can’t just tweak a brightness or contrast bar back and forth to see what the outcome will be. Back in the day, when photographers and filmmakers didn’t have monitors to see what they were shooting and the only way to check what they’ve shot was to see the final photograph or exposed celluloid, you really had to acquire a precise knowledge of focus settings, aperture and focal length in order for the outcome to be as close as possible to your artistic vision and intended idea.
Kujaja: RAW or JPG and why?
DD: My camera is always set up to capturing both formats. I use the RAW files to process the images in Lightroom and keep the JPEG files as a backup. The RAW format gives you the complete lossless data from the camera’s sensor, which has a higher dynamic range than JPEG files. You can process photographs captured in the RAW format without losing data. Photographs captured in the RAW format are heavier and aren’t suitable for printing directly from the camera or without post processing. They also require special software, like Lightroom, and extra time for editing them, because RAW images tend to be lower in sharpness and contrast before you post process them. However, the effort and time that you put into post processing a RAW image will definitely pay off because the result will be a better quality image with a greater dynamic range.
Kujaja: What is your best post processing tip?
DD: Try to make your photographs as great as possible before you get to your computer to work on them in post. One of my film professors says: “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” Such attitude will make you more competent and skillful on your way toward becoming an accomplished photographer or professional, especially if you shoot film and do not rely on software to fix your mistakes.
Kujaja: Has social media played a role in your photography?
DD: The technology is advancing so fast. I think the social media plays a very important role in everyone’s photography and filmmaking nowadays. Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, YouTube and Vimeo give you a very unique opportunity to share your photography and films with people. I am sure that Vivian Maier’s wonderful street photographs would get discovered and have a great success while she was still alive if we had the Internet and social media in the 50s and 60s. Most of the photographers and filmmakers nowadays get discovered, because they post their work on the social media networks.
Kujaja: How has photography changed you as a person?
DD: Photography plays a very important role in my life and changes me every time I take photos. It significantly helps me realize my artistic vision and style and share the stories that I capture. Very often, I take portraits of homeless people because they have very expressive faces with an enormous amount of life experience behind them. I hope these faces evoke a storm of different emotions among the viewers. Each one of these people have many stories to tell. I’ve met and taken photographs of so many homeless people, including a former lawyer from Chicago who ended up being homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. Also an actor, a musician, a street rapper, a bodybuilder, a marine, a painter and so many others.
Kujaja: What do you want your viewers to take away from your work?
DD: It is a great reward when the viewers engage emotionally with my work. I believe that if your work evokes emotion in the viewers, then you’ve succeeded. But, if it evokes the emotion you intended them to have than you’ve succeeded even more. Having a strong message in your work, whether it is social, political, or cultural, is one of the best ways to draw a viewer’s attention and make sure they’ll be discussing your work even after they’ve seen it.
Kujaja: Thank you for this interview Dmitry.