Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Travis Dove interview - Part A

Photo © Travis Dove

Marki Carter loads a funnel as Dan Fluharty passes out in the chair next to her.
Please read Travis Dove's biography and see the images on his Web site.

What advice do you have for new PJ students?
I can share the advice that was helpful for me. My instructor here at OU - Julie Elman - she said in her class that we should, "Dare to suck." I think those are words to live by. Just throw it all out there. Don't worry about failure.

Also, it's important to always be working on something. It doesn't really matter what that is. It could be for somebody else, or it could be for yourself. Always be working on something. Don't be stagnant.
Benjamin Rasmussen, a freelance PJ in the Faroe Islands (Atlantic Ocean between Iceland and Norway) who won an CPOY Award of Excellence in portraiture this year, said, Congratulations on the win. Your portfolio has definitely raised the bar for student work.

How much influence do you feel that your masters program at Ohio has had on your photographic style and vision?"
I think I've grown tremendously in the past year and a half because of my experience here at OU. Probably the biggest influence for me has been the other students here at OU - particularly the 10 grad students that are in most of my classes with me. I think we've fed off of each other's energy throughout all these classes.

I'm just not the same photographer I was when I came here.

One of the things that we talk about here a lot at OU is trying to photograph a feeling rather than photographing a process. That's something I didn't really recognize before I came here. That's one of the things that helped me grow is recognizing that.

When I first started out, I was getting tied up in photographing exactly what's in front of me. I've got all these elements in front of me, and I felt like I needed to include this, this and this to tell the story properly. But, I feel like you can get so much more out of a photograph by searching for a deeper meaning.

One of the professors that we had last year - Bruce Strong - he used to say this quote all the time, "You remember one-third of what you read, one-half of what people tell you, but 100 percent of what you feel."

It certainly takes some work to get to the point where you can shoot for feeling because it's awkward at first. But, it's worth it. It's worth it.
What you feel or the subject feels?
I'm trying to connect with the subject, and hopefully it's a feeling that we can both share. You want to relate to the people that you're photographing. I don't want to go out there and feel like a vulture when I'm photographing people. I try to draw on whatever I can to relate to the subject.

There's a way to photograph their feelings and put it in the frame.

There's also a way to take the reader deeper. You're not just putting their face in the frame. You do that by using creative devices, but also by making a connection with the subject so you can get closer to them - understand their situation a little better.

There are certain situations like Skatopia, for instance, the owner of Skatopia - Brewce Martin - has done lots of things that are pretty crazy, and we don't have a lot in common as people. But, he has a lot of passion for skateboarding. He eats and sleeps this place that he's built. On some levels I do feel I can relate to his energy and his passion for skateboarding. That's what I try to feed off of when I was out there shooting.
Rasmussen continues, Your story on Skatopia gives the feeling that you had really become a part of the community. How much time did you spend there working on this project how long did it take before they really let their guard down around you?
I did that project for a class that we have here at OU called Documentary Photography. We were required to do between 12 and 18 visits for that project. I think I did 18 to 20 visits. Actually, I wasn't finished with it at the end of the quarter. I felt like it was missing something.

During my summer internship, I asked for some time off and went back up there again for three days. That was for the Bowl Bash Party. I think there are like three or four pictures from that one three-day period out there.

So, I spent quite a bit of time there.

It was actually difficult when I was first showing up out there. They've had a lot of photographers come out there, but most of them are like skate photographers, and they're really interested in shooting the action. I was a lot more interested in capturing lifestyle.

So, this was a different kind of experience for them.

I can't say that there was like a specific moment when I realized they were letting their guard down. I think it was probably more like me letting my guard down because that's not the typical crowd that I hang out with.

I was nervous going out there in the beginning because I didn't know how they were going to accept me. They were actually surprisingly open with me.
Daniel Berman a PJ student in Seattle, Wash. said, Congratulations on your win. Your work shows a lot of intimacy and access; how do you work to gain this access?
Thank you. Thanks for the congratulations Daniel.

Most of it is keeping in contact with people. For instance, there's one single in my portfolio that's a kid sleeping in a coffin. That coffin was sitting outside of their house probably a month before I took that photograph. They had put it outside their house as like a Halloween decoration.

I had stopped by and talked to one of the kids' mothers about taking pictures around the town. I was just trying to make contact. I had been back to the town several times, and I remember seeing the coffin sitting out there for a while and then it disappeared.

I ran into the mom again and started talking to her about what was going on. She told me that they brought the coffin into their kid's room and used it as sort of a guest bed on the weekends. I thought, "That's a picture." (laughs)

She had told me that I was welcome to photograph her kids anytime I wanted. So I stayed in contact. I kept it in the back of my mind and waited for a good time to go over there. I called, and I hung out with those kids three nights before somebody actually went to sleep in that coffin.

I took the picture probably around midnight or 1 a.m.
Part of a bigger story?
At the time we were working on an essay on life in America's coal region. It was for a class here called Photo Essay. That was a picture I was taking for that project. I had other shots for that essay, but this was the only picture from these kids.

I was shooting all kinds of different things during that time period for the essay. But, I knew I wanted this photograph out of this group of people, so I was continually going back for that one photo. But, I had lots of other stuff working at the same time.
Berman continues, Also, what advice would you give to a sophomore in college, seeking out their first internship?
Be persistent. One of the things that has helped me get internships in the past is being persistent. Most of the people that have given me work in the past, I've had to bug them for it. (laughs)

I would encourage you to show them that you want it. Keep in contact and don't give up.

I would also look for a newspaper where you think you're going to grow. It's always been important for me to surround myself with good people and good photographers. That's the best advice I can give really.
Berman continues, What can a 20 year old do to set their portfolio apart?
Find emotion. A lot of the younger photographers start to grasp composition and light a lot faster than they grasp emotion. That's something that was always lacking in my portfolio too. It just takes time.
Tim Gruber, a CPOY multi-award-winning PJ student at Ohio University said, During your first PJ assignment, you took your dog, Pepsi, to a portrait assignment of this couple and their memorabilia of Coke products. How did you react when the subject noticed your pet in the car and asked her name?
(Laughs) Well, I said her name is Pepsi. I was hoping that they would find humor in the irony of this situation, but I think it was lost on them. It was incredibly awkward actually. There was kind of a silence in the air, and eventually they invited me in, and it was forgotten about - thankfully.

That was funny. It was also the only assignment where I've ever had a memory card corrupted. I came back to the office, and I was missing most of my pictures. Luckily, I was so nervous about it that I shot two full cards worth of photographs. So I had something to fall back on. (laughs)
Gruber continues, Please talk about your struggle in finding a summer internship last year to going on to win CPOY. Please specifically address the level of commitment and passion one needs in this profession.
Wow. Last year - it was tough for me. I sent out a lot of applications for internships and ended up with nothing.

Luckily, we had a really great professor here named Bruce Strong, who required all his students to keep a journal - which he read at the end of the year. He read in my journal that I was feeling very discouraged by the fact that I hadn't gotten any internships at all.

When he read that, he called me and asked me if I was interested in an internship with The Charlotte Observer because he knew the photo director there. At that point, I had all but given up on it. I was feeling very discouraged. I'm just really thankful that he was there to help me out at that point. I'm glad things worked out the way that they did.

I can remember when I was first starting out as a photographer and not having any idea what to expect from my first freelance assignments, and going into The Chapel Hill News and talking to my editor Shawn Rocco how all this whole process worked.

He told me that they would have maybe one or two assignments for me a week, and they would pay $30 an assignment. So, that came as a complete and total shock to me. At that point in my life, I thought that you could actually make a livable wage taking pictures. (laughs)

Obviously, I was mistaken. I just wanted to do it so   bad that it was worth it for me to struggle - a lot.

I feel like I've come a long way since then. I also feel like I have a long way to go. In order to stay motivated through this process you just have to love it. You have to want it.

Please read Parts B and C of this interview.

Enough for now,

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