Photographer of the Month – Mitch Dobrowner
Darwin: Mitch, the first time I became aware of your work was from the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of LensWork Magazine. You had a feature, Unworldly Landscapes and frankly I was blown away by the work.What struck me was that you captured a much photographed subject (the American Southwest) in a fresh and emotional way. I could see in your photos how you felt to be in these places. This is an extraordinary task. How do you think you were so successful at showing visually your emotional response the southwest?
Mitch: Thanks for the compliment; I truly appreciate that. The simple answer is maybe I’m just lucky that I’m able to produce images that emulate the way I see things. I’ve developed a work flow that is natural and allows me not to think a lot about all the technical aspects of photography. This gives me the freedom to concentrate on ‘seeing’ and producing imagery that is close to what I’m feeling in my heart at the time I click the shutter.
Also, before I head out I also spend a good amount of time doing research and visualizing, or pre-visualizing, what I’m after. I try hard to at least place myself in the right place, in the right lighting and weather conditions, at the right time- and just sit back and let nature do her thing. I approach my landscape photography just as I would if I was a portrait photographer. I spend time in the environment learning about it, seeing in in different light and weather conditions. I talk to it in my own way. They are ancient structures that have been here way before we were and will exist well beyond the time we are here. They have seen and witness much. I feel honored to be able to capture there images in a manner that I experience them. Once I feel “in touch” I just wait. Of course there a lot of pleasant surprises, but then there are those times when you’re rewarded and all the hard work pays off. Those are the times I’m blown away with how beautiful things… those times are what I live for. It’s also what makes this art so much fun and when you’re having fun doing something it usually shows.
Darwin: Why in a world so full of color do you choose to work in B+W?
Mitch: Color seems too realistic to me. Its just not for me. I’m too used to seeing it. Besides, I “see” in black and white. B&W allows me the freedom to expand/push my imagination. It may also be partially because of how I was initially trained when I was shooting with 4×5 view cameras with b&w film. In those days (and still today) I use a Zone System to visualize what I was shooting and how it would produce as a final print. The Ansel Adams Zone system is just a bit different then the digital zone system I use today, but has similar aspects.
Regarding color: I have experimented in color, but it was a long time ago. It wasn’t as natural to me – not jarring enough to get my attention. Besides, my wife things I’m color blind – but I’m not – I just don’t know the names of every color. There are just too many. Besides, what is terra-cotta anyway?
But there are certain color photographers in the past who have had a great influence on me: Pete Turner, Mitchell Funk, Ernst Haas are 3. But for me color what I see every day so instead I just sit back and enjoy the photographers who do shoot in color and who are great at it.
Darwin: Your latest project Storms is an ambitious undertaking where you partnered with a professional storm chaser and photographed amazing, dramatic and frankly some scary cloud formations across the US. What was the genesis of this project and how much time did you spend on the road to capture your portfolio that appeared in LensWork in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue? Are you still shooting new work for Storms, or have you moved onto a new project?
Mitch: I’ll still be shooting Storms. I don’t see myself getting bored with them anytime soon. And when I do I’ll stop or take a break. In 2011 I have 3x 10 day trips planned so far. The storms take on so many different aspects and faces that they are something I plan to keep shooting until the day I die. But I do plan on getting back to my Landscapes again in 2011. I miss the Southwest a lot, it’s a very spiritual place to me. I’m also looking to expand to other projects next years, including photographing volcanoes, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do…. so why not give it a try. But someday I hope I can make the Storm work bridge the Landscape work, but that will take a bit more time to develop in the work.
For the folio seen in LensWork #91, those trips were truly an adventure unto itself. I took 4 trips each traveling 5600, 4800, 6100 and 2500 miles (over 18,500+ miles in total) – seeing over 16 states. But one of the aspects that is so interesting to me is what it takes to actually acquire an image.. the planning, the capture, the processing, printing, showing it…. each image is a pretty amazing adventure to itself.
Darwin: Many photographers have a difficult time balancing their passion for photography with family life and work (assuming they still have a ‘real’ job). How do you balance between creativity and the practical aspects of life especially now that your photoraphy career has taken so much in the last few years?
Mitch: My life is not boring. And yes, I do have a ‘real job’. But its balanced because I have a wonderful, caring wife, 3 kids, a grand kid, a crazy cat and a very sensitive dog. Our home is full of creativity, love, activity and adventure all by itself. My day job (at Sony in Technology) requires a 10 to 12 hour workday; and with my photography being such an important part of my life (and existence) I get very little sleep…. which is all fine by me. For me a day starts with waking up at 4:30-5am, working the day job and getting back home around 7:30pm. Then dinner and photography until around midnight; 4/5 hours or sleep and back to it…. but I love it. Omega3, CQ10, CLA, ALA, Carnitine and blueberries help too.
My wife (Wendy) is an artist (painter, graphic and industrial designer), our youngest son Joshua is in Independent Studies (9th grade) with a focus on music (he’s a drummer), our older son Jason is a music composer; he’s also always around as his sound/recording studio is at the house and our oldest daughter – besides being a wonderful mother – is a wonderful print/image designer. So when it’s all said and done, I’m happy and feel very fortunate.
Darwin: And finally, because photographers are such a techy bunch, I am sure many of us want to know your basic workflow from which cameras you use in the field to which software you use to finish your photos. And if you print all your own work for galleries or do you have it printed by a lab?
Mitch: Technically, I come from a film/wet darkroom background – but use a digital work flow today. My cameras (Canon 5D Mark II and Sony R1s) feel like an extension of my brain and hands when I’m out shooting. For me they both make for the perfect landscape cameras. I don’t want to be thinking about camera gear when I’m out, and just want to be tuning into the creative aspect of ‘seeing’ the world around me; and as I shoot in B&W, these cameras allow me to see in b&w by shooting in a monochrome mode… which is something I could never do with a film camera and ground glass. I treat the sensor just as I would film and filter for B&W just as I did for film. The Live View, histogram and feedback loop all cat as a digital zone system to me.. allowing me to acquire my images latent as RAW captures – just meaning I do no compositing or major manipulation to them during the printing process. It’s similar to the same grading I did in the wet darkroom (ie: contrast, brightness and selective dodging/burning). I want to keep it all as simple as possible, as I get sick of all the complexity in life and as photography is my art it’s just the way I want to do it. I also print my own images (Epson 3800 and 9800 printers) because I want to see the process through… from beginning to end.
To see more of Mitch Dobrowner’s work, please visit his website.