Portraits by Diana Deaver
What’s your birthdate? September 21, 1987.
When did you first pick up a camera? Tell me about that. When did you know you had a talent for photography? Natural talent or learned process?
I took my first darkroom class in high school here in Charleston. I had a wonderful teacher, the late JD Cummings, and the classroom was on the top floor of a building once owned by the Gibbes Museum. That building is now Husk Restaurant, and I’m pretty sure what was the darkroom is now the toilets, but it will always be sacred ground to me. In college, I became involved with the Documentary Studies program and lugged my mom’s Canon from the 1970s around campus. I have been a shutterbug pretty much ever since. My initial attraction to the practice of photography felt very natural, but I would say the work that followed was the fruit of labor, love, trial, and error rather than any natural talent. I think anyone with self-discipline and the right temperament–a willingness to look for beauty everywhere you go plus the optimism to assume you will find it–can be a great photographer! I’m still striving myself.
What do you love to photograph?
I’ll admit that in much of my commercial and wedding work, I find myself, as Slim Aarons put it, photographing “attractive people in attractive places doing attractive things,” but I also think that some of my better images emerge from humbler origins–earnest or ailing people people doing hard work and living real lives in places of character or nostalgic value. I value them equally as subjects.
Who are some of your photographer icons and/or mentors?
This is going to take a while…we all stand on the shoulders of giants, after all.
Aesthetically speaking, I have great respect for all the film-shooting gangsters out there like Jonathan Canlas, Jose Villa, and Erich McVey, the “film is not dead” folks reviving or rather sustaining the art of film (as opposed to digital) photography. Their work is exquisite and transformed my practice.
Another analog photographer, Sally Mann, hooked me on photography from an early age with her haunting, moody, evocative large-format photographs of her family at their farm on Virginia. Reading her memoir Hold Still added a whole new dimension to her work for me. She seems to be a poet on many levels.
I also love camera-wielding crusaders, like the documentarian Dorothea Lange and my former teacher Wendy Ewald, two women who use photography to instigate change. Discovering their work changed my idea of what types of jobs could prove meaningful to society and to the universe.
And then there is Vivian Maier, the anomaly. She was a nanny by occupation, but by passion she was an insanely observant street photographer in Chicago. She never showed her work to anyone while she was alive. The world only knows her name because someone at an auction discovered a discarded box that held thousands of her negatives. Many rolls of her film had never even been developed. She is just as good as the famous street photographers like Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson, but she never had any recognition in her lifetime. In the era of social media when everyone (myself included) goes posting for likes, this is mind-boggling. While she was producing her work, no one ever liked it, not in reality, and definitely not on Instagram. For pity’s sake, she didn’t even know if she liked some of her work–she hadn’t seen most of it developed! Her story serves as a constant reminder to me that the making of images can be a reward in itself.
You get to have dinner with 3 other people, alive or deceased. With whom would you dine? What would you ask them?
Ryan Gosling and no one else is invited. Sorry.
Do you know when you have a spectacular shot, or does that come about in the editing process?
I frequently have to suppress that little voice of hubris that whispers ‘NAILED IT!” as I release the shutter. You never know until you see the image in full.
What makes you feel connected to your subject?
Seeing them experience joy in front of the camera!
What are your thoughts on editing?
My photography teacher and friend Matthew Ree told me recently that “Making the photo is like composing the music. Editing is like playing it.” It may take forever and a day, but it breathes life into the images.
Is there any genre of photography that you’d like to explore further?
Photojournalism for news outlets.
What’s on your photographic bucket list?
Before today I would have said CUBA, but I’m in the airport now about to board for Havana, so I think now I can go ahead and kick the bucket! If I ever come back, I’d like to do a kitschy shoot at a laundromat.
What inspires you?
Marsh views in the Lowcountry on any given day.
How would you handle a difference of opinion with a client? These days, I hope I would approach the disagreement with a smile and a very calm demeanor. When I first started out as a paid photographer, I was easily flustered and considered any criticism of my work to be an indication of utter failure. Now I understand that my clients are equal partners in my quest to create a beautiful, flattering final product.
What advice would you give an up and coming photographer?
Make oodles of friends, take nano-oodles of photos, and shoot things for free or trade if you want to, but not because you feel like you have to.
Are you involved in any kind of continuing education or professional groups?
What makes you feel loved?
Getting snail mail from loved ones. Or from anyone really. Maybe I need a pen pal?
What are your favorite conditions/lighting/circumstances to shoot?
Pretty, soft light right before sunset is always a blessing. New locations also always rev my creative engines.
What are your social media handles?
What makes you feel pretty?
Red lipstick, regular trips to Charleston Power Yoga, eyeliner on the top lid, haircuts from my man Ralph at Urban Nirvana, and when people tell me I am “starting to look just like my mom.” She’s the prettiest!
Do you have any other thoughts or things to say about profession?
I feel incredibly lucky that I am able to do something that I love. The world will have to pry my camera from my cold, dead hands.
Candids by Jen Montgomery Photography in Joshua Tree National Park