Dan Milnor is a documentary fine-art photographer who spends his time making portraits and working on self-assigned documentary projects.
He is also a compulsive book and print maker.
He divides his time between California and New Mexico. Macworld caught up with Dan on a trip to London where he will be offering advice at a book-making workshop. The event is being held by Blurb, a creative publishing and marketing platform for user-created books.
Q. How would you best describe your work?
I love photography and ever since I can remember I’ve had a need to record things – whether it’s my journal when I was younger, or my blog today. I’ve taken pictures all my life and despite being on a different career path, I decided to pursue my passion and dedicate my time to photography.
I do a mix of commercial and personal documentary work. With documentary work, about 99 per cent of that is self-assigned, self-produced. I have a theme in mind and I shoot, over and over, on that one theme until I've made a body of work. Most of what I do is people based, as opposed to abstract or landscape.
North Shore Oahu.
El Mirage Dry Lake.
I also love wandering around a location and shooting photographs, with no particular theme in mind. I'm trying to do more of this.
My style came from trial and error and listening to the voices in my head. It is extremely difficult not to conform to what is modern photography. I think we all have photo voices in our heads, letting us know what we should really be doing, but it is easy to tune them out, at least for a while. Then, suddenly, you realise you should follow these words. I experiment a lot.
North Shore Journal.
Q. Can you briefly explain your working progress?
I typically have multiple projects on the go at the same time, mainly out of necessity. I think the critical thing for any photographer is to produce work. Period. It sounds easy, but it isn't. The business aspects of photography can take up 90 per cent of my time, so having projects going that are easy to access is critical for me.
In terms of the equipment I use - for portraits, I tend to use the Hasselblad 501 and for commercial work, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. One of my favourite cameras is the Leica M6.
I spend a lot of time archiving my work but don’t spend a lot of time sharpening my digitised files. Most of my work is resized, dodged, burned and saved. I've even pulled back on the amount of dodging and burning I do. I'm really bad at Photoshop. Much of this technology is incredible, but I just don't have that much knowledge of it.
El Mirage Dry Lake.
Q. Is it difficult to work for clients while keeping a personal portfolio up to date?
With my commercial, or portrait work, the work typically comes to me. People commission me to photograph their kids, but there are also times when I find kids I really like working with that I will call the parents and ask if I can do a shoot just for me, or for stock.
With my personal documentary work, about 99 per cent of that is self-assigned, self-produced. I would love to have more of this work come to me, but the demand is not great, especially for a guy who likes to shoot grainy, black and white pictures.
Q. And how did you get involved with Blurb?
I first came across Blurb about a year and a half ago, and I’ve now made about 80 books. Having the ability to make a book, for me, has been the most interesting development of the entire digital revolution. Blurb contacted me after I made my first few books. I was surprised, as most of the other companies I had been working with were not interested in what I wanted, or where I thought these books could go.
Blurb asked, "What do you want?" I told them what I wanted, expecting them to say, "Okay," and then never hear from them again, but the response was, "Great, let's figure this out." I've been on their advisory board ever since. I can throw anything at them and they are always interested in what is possible. They have a love of imagery and of image makers. The CEO is a photographer as well, as are many of the people behind the scenes.
A spread from Dan Milnor's Blurb book.
Q. And what do you hope be able to achieve with the workshops?
The Blurb workshops are a great opportunity for anyone interested in photography to learn about the principles of book design and how to use Blurb to promote your work. There will also be some helpful advice from the panel on how to prepare your entry to the Photography.Book.Now competition, which closes in July.
(Dan Milnor's Web Site can be found here, the Blurb London photography book workshop runs on the evening of Monday 22 June and features advice from Dan Milnor, graphic designer Bob Aufuldish, and Adobe Lightroom guru Jerry Courvoisier. Hosted at the Cayley Theatre, University of Westminster, the workshop costs £30, the workshop and photography book review is £50. Booking details can be found here.)