Sunday Focus: Daniel Milnor
Two words that come to mind when I think of Daniel Milnor.
Whenever I’m on Twitter, and I see that SMOGRANCH has a new blog post up, that’s a link I’m immediately clicking. Why? Because I know that what I find will excite my senses visually as well as my brain.
Daniel Milnor, of Costa Mesa, California (and, possibly, Santa Fe, New Mexico), for my money, produces some of the best visual content around.
Award-winning and world renowned, his words and images excite my eyes and instigate my thinking.
And he’s a busy chap, between judging photo exhibits, promoting Blurb, working on personal projects. All the more reason why I was thrilled that he agreed to this interview. I asked him weeks ago, then life got in the way for me until I finally sent him over the questions. He responded in about 30 minutes. Good stuff indeed!
Daniel’s eye is unique, his composition fantastic, his judgment unparalleled. He says he struggles, like we all do, but it also seems like he makes even the most pedantic image exciting and new.
He just impresses the hell out of me and I’m glad I found him.
On to the interview….
JSP Q: Film or digital?
A: Both since about 1997.
JSP Q: Canon, Nikon or Other?
A: Leica, Hasselblad, Fuji, Yashica, Voigtlander, Pinhole.
JSP Q: Camera eye? (which eye to look through the viewfinder with)
A: Right handed but use left eye.
JSP Q: Do you come from a photographic background?
A: Nope. I come from a mixed background, geology, journalism, anthropology and Spanish.
JSP Q: How do feel you were able to develop your own brand of photographic storytelling?
A: Well, I studied photography full time for five years before I ventured into working full time as a professional. I’d done shooting jobs during school, but never really considered myself a pro until I had a general understanding of the fundamentals and history of photography.
Then, it was about practice under fire. My first REAL gig was an intern at a major daily, shooting color transparency, on deadline, every single day. It was high-pressure, sink or swim with 600,000 people watching. I realized very quickly how little I knew, even after a degree in Photojournalism. The photo-editor thought I was somewhat normal, so he gave me great assignments right off the bat. A typical day might be a portrait in the morning, feature art at noon, a pro basketball game and then a hostage situation at night. I worked the 2:30 to 11 PM shift, so if something hadn’t been shot by about 7pm, it was probably not going to make the paper. So, I got a police scanner and would head south into the bowels of they city to see what I could see. You had to think fast, move fast and be on top of your game or you would hear it from someone.
I left the paper, went to magazines, left magazines and ended up taking a job for Kodak in Los Angeles, which ironically was where I finally found myself as a photographer. It was the reality of NOT working as a photographer that finally allowed me to learn who I was. I worked for Kodak for almost five years, and during that time shot the best work I’d ever done…all for myself, on the side.
JSP Q: So….Is photojournalism dead?
A: Not at all. The industry and traditional model of photojournalism have been broken for many years, but if you realize this and find your own path, things are fine. Photographers, as always, hold the power. But, some realize this and some don’t.
JSP Q: You seem passionate about self-publishing and especially your association with Blurb. How did that come about?
A:The ability to make a book is the single most powerful aspect of the entire digital revolution, at least for me. I have a vehicle to present my work. It’s funny I just had this conversation this morning with Paul Gero, a long-time friend. I made my first book at his house, in 1996, on the floor of his living room. We joked about it today. When we saw that book we both realized what it meant. Control, power, freedom.
JSP Q: Personal projects seem important to you. Any you can talk about now?
A: Sure. Three ongoing, one in the mental planning stages. My New Mexico project, “Wildness or Una Pura Verdad(A Simple Truth) is about the American West, but using New Mexico as a representation of the entire region. Been working on it for about a year now, maybe a little more. “Homework” is a project shot on my property in California, random, abstract things. I’ve got one I can’t talk about. The project in the works is layered multimedia and unlike anything I’ve done. I’m not being secretive, I just don’t know how to describe it because I haven’t shot a single frame yet, and am not precisely sure how to even do it. That is what is so fun.
JPS Q: What’s next for Daniel Milnor?
A: Hong Kong for ten days. Contact Festival in Toronto, Arles Festival, Look3 Festival, much Blurb work, books, writing, random shooting, the wilds of New Mexico, teaching in Peru, Argentina and Uruguay, being an uncle, taking my mom fly fishing, planning a cycling trip across the US, darkroom printing, getting fluent in Spanish again, writing a screenplay and coming to grips with the fact I still have a lot to learn about photography.
Oh, and trying to relax.
Daniel Milnor has a strong visual history. Obviously, I’m showing just a very small fraction of what he has produced. I highly encourage you to check out his website, blog, books, YouTube and Vimeo channels.
You can’t help but be amazed, inspired…and wholly motivated.
More Daniel Milnor:
His interview on SilberStudios TV.
Must Read: The Odds of Being Aimless.
(PS: Yes, I did ask him what “Smogranch” means. You’ll have to ask him yourself.)