In Conversation with Dan Commons
NEST Ben: Hi Dan, it’s a pleasure to be able to have this conversation with you, even if it’s not in the style that we would have liked. It would be great if you could introduce yourself?
DAN COMMONS: Hi my name is Dan Commons, I am a photographer/artist and a recent graduate of the BA (Hons) Photography course at LAU. I’m interested in various photographic processes and how photography can be utilised to survey contemporary experience.
NEST Louis: How has life been for you post-graduation?
DAN COMMONS: Well, I think for everyone, life is pretty surreal and even difficult at the moment.
NEST Louis: Most definitely. We’re in the same position now that you were in last year which is pretty wild to us. Who would have thought that we’d still be in this position a year later?
DAN COMMONS: Well exactly. I don’t think any of us did. I’ve found that maintaining a sense of perspective, recognising what the good things are and then concentrating on those things has been helpful. Graduating in 2020 was definitely an anti-climax made sadder by being unable to physically commemorate the occasion. On a positive note, I released a photobook, Absent Air, through local publisher Salt n Pepper Press over the summer.
NEST Ben: That’s sick that you’ve been able to get something out there amidst everything that’s happened over the past year. Always got to find those silver linings, especially nowadays.
DAN COMMONS: I’ve also been working part time, from home, for the NHS since March 2020 and I started an MA in Research in Art & Design at the University of Huddersfield in September. My research explores the relationship between hegemony, ideology and photography. I think it’s important to be aware of our relationship with images, appearances and how this interaction affects our lives and wider society. There are some exhibitions in the pipeline but obviously, it’s a process of gauging the current circumstances, one with Waterside Arts called First Light which will be a group show for 2020 photography graduates selected from across the northern art universities.
NEST Ben: It’s a shame that you weren’t able to have an end of year show, but here’s hoping that these shows are able to go ahead.
NEST Louis: Moving onto talking about your creative process, would you say that it naturally lends itself to topics which you say, make us aware of our relationship with images, and how it affects our lives, or do you think it’s purely coincidental?
DAN COMMONS: Ideas and concepts are usually generated through a mixture of research and reading, so initially just shooting my environment and whatever grabs me and then maybe something I read might connect and help formulate a concept. Sometimes the photographic process itself leads the way, for instance, I made some work in my first year at uni called Mirror Myths, by using a broken digital camera that produced glitched images in camera. I used the process to explore traditional depictions of physical masculinity and felt the corruption of the images acted as a metaphor for the debates surrounding masculinity, as well as the way our lives are so intermeshed with technology.
NEST Ben: That’s a really unique way of adding your voice to the conversation, as well as creating a physical representation of the conversation and concept; especially when you consider that our views of physical masculinity are largely dictated by what we see on our screens.
NEST Louis: It sounds like you really crafted your process whilst at LAU. Have you found that your practice has changed since leaving LAU?
DAN COMMONS: Well, my practice is basically on pause at the moment as I have shifted my concentration onto my research. I think taking this time to reinforce my knowledge of photographic theory and other peripheral philosophies will help contextualise my practise as it develops.
NEST Ben: I guess that’s the one thing that this pandemic has afforded us all, time. Like us, I’m sure that you’d love to be able to continue with your practice in the same way that you were pre-COVID, but it’s nice to have been able to explore some new stuff that in any other circumstance we may not have felt like we had the time to. Outside of your research, how have you been staying creatively active?
DAN COMMONS: Whilst COVID is still a factor I’ve been taking my time with things, but I am aiming to continue with producing self-published photobooks/zines.
NEST Ben: Can’t wait to see what you produce!
NEST Louis: Same here! As you know, this issue is about colour and our readers may find you to be an odd feature at one glance on your Instagram, or even your Absent Air project would imply that you primarily work in black and white. But as a photographer and creative, do you think it is important to consider how the use of colour, specific colours, or even a lack of colour can affect a piece?
DAN COMMONS: I tend to shoot and print film in black and white because it allows me to control the process from start to finish. It helps create a certain mood that I’m usually trying to convey, a sort of a dislocated psychosis, something I’ve appropriated from post war Japanese photography (the Provoke movement) and which I think is very representative of living in the UK. My recent book Absent Air is a good example of this approach. I guess that I use black and white in an expressive way whilst my colour work, such as These Sickly Flowers, maintains a sense of dislocation but is largely concerned with creating a space for the viewer to interact with. I am very suspicious of narrative and the agenda’s behind image creation, so I try to avoid playing to those tropes.
NEST Louis: It’s funny that you say that about black and white because our other interview feature in this issue said that she loves shooting in black and white, but for her featured work she wanted to shoot in colour as she found that to be somewhat more expressive.
NEST Ben: I guess it’s one of those things where you have to take it case by case. What might work for one subject might not work for another.
NEST Louis: Completely. Both of your works are expressive but in different ways which I think is the beauty of shooting in both black and white and colour. You could shoot the same subject in black and white or colour and both will create completely different feelings. Both are interactive but in different ways I guess. Back on track with the questions, who or what would you say influences your work? I know you mentioned that your work has appropriated the Provoke movement, but who or what else has shaped your practice?
DAN COMMONS: I’d say that the ‘are, bure, bokeh’ (rough, coarse and out of focus) aesthetic of the Provoke movement is a big one, and then within that, Japanese photographers like Daido Moriyama, Eikoh Hosoe, Daisuke Yokota, and Yoshinori Mizutani have had a massive influence. In terms of UK photographer’s, Chris Shaw, Stephen Gill, Sam Hutchinson (LAU alumni) and John Myers. Writers Victor Burgin, Allan Sekula and Susan Sontag as well. But then there’s also the artist Hito Streyerl, Modernist/ surrealist Filmmaker Maya Deren and Yoko Ono. If anyone wants to know more about any of those people I’ve mentioned, I’d recommend checking out Village bookstore in Leeds for great books on them.
NEST Ben: Yeah, we’ll definitely take a look at some of them. As we reach the end of this interview, we were wondering if you have any advice for the current students of LAU?
DAN COMMONS: I don’t really want to offer any sort of hackneyed platitudes, especially when a lot of you are having to study in conditions which are not ideal or what you had hoped. Ultimately, I think it’s important to try and see the creative opportunities in any circumstance and use the current situation to your advantage as best you can. Try and remain positive but realistic. Don’t lose a sense of yourself through what other people are doing. It’s easy to compare yourself to others, but realise you have a unique potential inside to tap into, don’t try and produce something you think other people are going to like. Sorry for rabbiting on. Good luck!
See more of Dan Commons’ work at:
Absent Air, at Salt N Pepper Press: www.saltnpepperpress.co.uk/saltnpepper
Salt N Pepper Instagram: @saltnpepperpress