Photos to Inspire: Jeff Dunas
By Connor Leighton
Jan 25, 2011, 21:11
|© Jeff Dunas|
Jeff Dunas says he was born to make photographs. Picking up his first camera when he was 10, that may be true. Whether it's in fact an innate talent or an insatiable passion to create unforgettable images of unforgettable people, he has managed to bring the celebrity's world into the world of photography. Too often, famous people overwhelm the camera, and we're unable to 'see' the photographer.
The result: unaesthetic portraits with no personality - actors with no roles, musicians with no beats or rhythms. Dunas, on the other hand, captures the person behind the mask of celebrity. With 10 published books and 20 years of professional experience under his wing, his subjects include some names you might recognize like Anthony Hopkins, Cameron Diaz, Billy Bob Thornton, Buddy Guy, Oliver Stone, Gena Rowlands, James Coburn, Jeff Bridges, Kate Winslet, Robert Duvall, Greg Allman, Fiona Apple, Salma Hayek - too many to name, of course.
Over ten years ago, realizing that he could pursue his own creative and artistic visions while still putting food on the table, he began putting his energy into his personal endeavors. Rather than view it as a profession, he started taking the pictures he wanted to take. He describes his new book Up Close & Personal as a "photographic exploration of the ephemeral and intangible qualities that have led to the fame possessed by my subjects." This seems to lead to the photographs themselves becoming ephemeral, and yet paradoxically memorable at the same time.
|© Jeff Dunas|
Often times when members of the public confront these famous individuals in real life, they react as though they've stepped across the dimensions into a realm where our mirror image separates itself from us - quite an unnerving experience. I'd like my photography to have the same affect."
And it does. It's his photographs, and not the famous people in them, that have taken on a larger-than-life, other-worldly quality. It might have something to do with the fact that Jeff Dunas doesn't often visit the Cineplexes. Photography, not the silver screen, is his obsession. "Instead of photographing stars, I see my work as documentary in nature and work to create a lasting image of the person before my camera. I never ask them to play a role in my photography.
"I'm interested in the idea that there is something intangible that draws us to a famous person. Who are the actual human beings in these pictures and what qualities did they already possess before becoming known that enabled them to succeed? I don't want to photograph the fame. Instead, I try to find their unique edge, the magnetism."
|© Jeff Dunas|
So what is it that has enabled Jeff Dunas to succeed? For one thing, he's involved himself in every aspect of publication of his last three books (including State of the Blues and American Pictures). In fact, in 1981, he founded Melrose Publishing Company. The knowledge he gained printing and publishing fine art books allows him to add his own personal touch at every step in the process of production.
"Traditionally, a publisher sends artwork to the lithography company who makes the separations (scans) for publication. This is a step in the production of a book that makes the difference between mediocre and first rate - and the photographer is never present when this work is made 'this crucial work' Like the fact that half of the photographer's input takes place in the darkroom, the same is true at the separation and printing stages of book production."
So what kind of advice does Jeff Dunas have for other photographers who haven't had the chance to even meet Nick Nolte, let alone take pictures of him? The most important thing, he says, is to completely forget about trying to find a style. "There's no such thing as style. A million people can take good pictures - a million. You have to take the pictures you want to take and not the photo you think your client wants. When you start doing that, a 'style' will emerge on its own." Simple advice, yet very easy to forget.
|© Jeff Dunas|
Jeff Dunas has been working commercially as an editorial, fashion, and advertising photographer since 1971. Over those 30+ years, he has assembled an impressive list of accolades, awards, and accomplishments too long to present here in its entirety. He has contributed photographic essays to publications worldwide. His photographs have appeared in more than 60 one-person exhibitions around the globe and in nearly every mainstream magazine including GQ, Life, Vibe, Entertainment Weekly, and Esquire.
Living in Paris in the 80s, Dunas founded Melrose Publishing Company and Collector's Editions Ltd., a mail order distributor of fine-art photography publications. As the former editor and publisher of both Collectors Photography Magazine and Darkroom Photography (which later became Camera & Darkroom), he wrote and published over 100 interviews with many leading photographers including Helmut Newton, David Bailey, Ralph Gibson, and Robert Mapplethorpe.
What Dunas is perhaps best known for, however, are his celebrity portraits, photo-essays and nude photography, for which he has garnered international acclaim and attention with his fine art approach. Realizing he could pursue his own creative and artistic visions while still putting food on the table, he began putting his energy on his personal endeavors after he arrived back in the States in 1989.
|© Jeff Dunas|
"You have to take the pictures you want to take, and not the photo you think your client wants," advises Dunas. "When you start doing that, a 'style' will emerge on its own." From that philosophy came some of Dunas' most stunning series of photos and monographs, including his last three:
State of the Blues (1998) - A powerful and expressive tribute to the American musical tradition, State of the Blues features Dunas' interviews and portraits of the greatest blues musicians ever to perform (B.B. King, Koko Taylor, Jimmy Dawkins, John Lee Hooker, and Bonnie Raitt among them), and includes photos of legendary landmarks and birthplaces of the blues along the Blues Highway stretching from New Orleans to Chicago.
American Pictures (2002) - After moving back from Paris to Los Angeles, Dunas revisited the country of his youth, documenting the architecture, landscape, and people representative of 1950s small-town America. "Visually speaking," Dunas observes, "the texture of this country has evolved from wood-and-brick buildings to glass structures that don't open. Air-conditioning runs in place of fresh air, which in itself is sometimes difficult to find. I wanted to take an archive of work from the last century into this century while I still could."
|© Jeff Dunas|
Up Close & Personal (2003) - Dunas describes Up Close & Personal, which showcases portraits of top-name celebrities including Nick Nolte, Billy Bob Thorton, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Kate Winslet, as "a photographic exploration of the ephemeral and intangible qualities that have led to the fame possessed by my subjects. I'm interested in the idea that there is something intangible that draws us to a famous person. I don't want to photograph the fame. Instead, I try to find their unique edge, the magnetism..."
"I'm happy when I'm shooting and even happier when I'm printing," Dunas says. "I print all my personal myself and supervise assistants or lab technicians when the work is a commercial assignment.... When I seek diversion, I seek it with a camera. I have been shooting street pictures in Paris, New York and elsewhere for fifteen years at every opportunity."
You can find more of Jeff's images, books and exhibitions, and bio information at his web site.
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