Photo-Digital by Dale O’Dell


EWW: What do you see as the difference between photography and fine art Photography?


Dale:  Usage, mainly. The label ‘fine art photographer’ strikes me as silly and sounds like a person who does copywork photographing paintings and such. I’ve never heard of someone describing themselves as a ‘fine art author’ or ‘fine art sculptor.’ For a long time photographic artists were marginalized so they tried to define themselves as ‘fine artists’ but the term has little meaning in my view. So usage –how and where that image is used defines the difference. Look at Annie Leibovitz, she’s a commercial photographer known for her theatric portraits and those images are paid for and published by Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone. That’s a commercial use. Yet we see the very same photographs, minus the copy and placed in white matts, on gallery walls where they’re presented as fine art. So the very same images are ‘commercial’ in their original context, and then they’re ‘fine art’ at the gallery. The only difference is usage.

Some of Ansel Adams ‘fine art’ prints were reproduced in advertising and packaging. Same images, different uses. Matthew Brady’s documentary photos of the civil war are now displayed in museums as fine art; the imagery has transcended its original intent.

I don’t see a big difference between ‘photography’ and ‘fine art photography,’ it’s just a label and labels tend to limit ones’ perception.


EWW: As a follow-up from the last question, when does a photograph move from being purely documentation and move into being a work of fine art photography?

Dale:  Again, usage, which alters how the image is perceived. I see vast amounts of so-called contemporary fine art photography which is actually nothing but client-less documentary photography. I saw an exhibition of this kind of photography in a gallery. The gallery, in my view, was not the appropriate venue for the work. Those photos documented illegal border-crossers, the images weren’t creative, innovative or beautiful and I didn’t see any red dots indicating sold prints (because nobody buys this stuff). They were out-of-context. The proper venue for those images would be editorial, in a magazine. An art gallery really isn’t the place to go for education –unless it’s about art itself.

I guess the short and succinct answer to your question is a photograph moves from pure documentation to fine art when presented in a fine-art context, like a gallery. It’s less a matter of artistic intent but rather, perception.


EWW: Some would say that digital work is only graphic design and cannot be considered as fine art. How would you respond to that statement?

Dale:   Rubbish! Anyone who would declare ‘digital work’ unfit to be considered fine art is uninformed, narrow-minded and quite rigid in their thinking. Or maybe they’re jealous of what’s possible in the digital realm? ‘Digital’ is a new medium, accept it because it’s not going away and it’s not novelty any more. History shows us the same narrow-minded people declared photography a ‘craft’ and ‘not art’ sixty years ago and they were as wrong then as the digital-debunkers are now. Today photography has a rightful place in the Art Museums and in the near future ‘digital’ will also be legitimized similarly –just don’t call it ‘photography!’


Click on an image to enlarge it


EWW: If I were to walk into an exhibition that included many works from many photographers, could I immediately know which ones were yours? If so, why?

Dale:  Probably. My work is stylistically consistent and I’ve moved pretty far away from what’s considered ‘photography.’ My imagery is clearly beyond mere digital manipulation and is more painterly. As I’ve travelled further down the path of ‘post-surrealism’ my imagery is most often described as ‘Dalinian’ because it’s conceptually similar to works by Salvador Dali. One can generally tell what’s mine in the gallery.


EWW: Do you have any style in your photography that seems to repeat itself from one work to another? (I.e. color. perspective, types of shots, movement, etc.)

 Dale:  Oh yes, absolutely. My composition is mainly formalist and figure-ground; I like deep depth-of-field, I believe color-composition is equal to graphic composition. My imagery balances impact and information. I’ve been at this for over thirty years so I’ve got a creative toolbox filled with all my favorite and most needed tools. Although I test and experiment and play with the new software and gadgets available my style is set as my own and I’m no longer searching. I think everyone’s imagery is a result of their own personal perception and mine is no exception.


EWW: How do you decide what images to shoot? What inspires you?

Dale:  Curiosity, discovery and novelty inspire me. I’m always challenging myself not to be like everyone else, for better or worse. I decide what to shoot based on my immediate needs but I always leave myself open to in-process discovery.

Because my work with the composite image pre-dates the digital revolution I got into an ‘image-mining’ habit a long time ago. By ‘image-mining’ I mean photographing whatever it was I meant to photograph but also shooting variations on the theme and individual ‘components’ for as yet unknown, future compositions.

As a photographer and digital artist who makes photographs and collects bits and pieces for future digital combinations I frequently have to ask myself when I’m shooting, ‘is this a full-blown, complete photograph? Or is it an element for some future composite?’ and shoot accordingly.

I also want to mention that, for me anyway, digital image capture allows me to shoot a lot more images than I ever did with film. Without the cost of film and processing and without using any resources the digital camera provides the means to do less editing while shooting thereby increasing the chances of success.


EWW: Tell us about your training in photography?

Dale:  I was 13 years old when I got interested in photography, so I got an early start. Photography for me was a wonderful blend of art and science that really captured my interest. Behind the camera I learned the art of composition and learned to perceive light. In the darkroom I could indulge all my mad scientist chemistry urges. Photography was the only hobby that required a ‘laboratory’ and I thought that was really cool. I read lots and lots of photography books early on. In high school I worked for the yearbook and school newspaper so the camera became my ‘pass’ that allowed me to go places and do things the other kids couldn’t. Access! I also was a stringer for the neighborhood newspaper and did little freelance photo jobs. I photographed and worked in the darkroom everyday and honed my craft. By the time I enrolled in the Photography Degree Program at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas in 1977 I already had more experience than my classmates (and some of the professors as well). Halfway through college I ran out of money and had to drop out. I worked in a photo lab and then later doing audio-visual production, gained a lot more experience and earned enough money to go back to school and finish the degree. I graduated with a B.S. in 1982.

After graduating college I worked as an in-house industrial photographer, a computer artist (in 1983!), and I taught photography at an Art School. My last ‘real’ job was as a photographer’s assistant (a job I recommend every young photographer work for a while). I opened my own studio in 1986 and worked as a freelance advertising and editorial photographer in Houston, Texas until 1994.

In 1994 I moved to where I live now, in Prescott, Arizona to pursue fine-art. At the time I was earning a living solely through stock photography. But by about 2000 the stock photography business had gone to hell, so I’m strictly a fine-artist now (although I still do some select commercial work).

I’m always learning.


Click on an image to enlarge it


EWW: What do you see as major challenges for photographers today in terms of skill level, etc.?

Dale:  I see nothing but challenges for photographers for the foreseeable future. Since the digital revolution professional photography has changed profoundly and many of the challenges we face today were unforeseen just a few years ago.

One of the major challenges today is a diminishing number of clients. Many of the assignments once done by professionals are now done by an employee with a digital camera. Convincing a client to justify the expense of an actual professional is difficult at times. ‘Skill’ doesn’t have the value it once did.

The stock photography business has been destroyed by corporatists who have devalued photography and unskilled amateurs who’ll work for pennies or for free. Stock photography isn’t really viable for professionals anymore and isn’t worth the time.

It’s tough! Everybody’s got a digital camera, or worse, a cel-phone camera, so they think they’re photographers.

Lighting is one thing no one can write software for. That’s an actual skill one must learn so I think the studio product, catalog and portrait photographers face fewer challenges.


EWW: What do you see as major challenges for photographers today, in terms of promoting and marketing their work?

Dale:  The most difficult thing I see is how to distinguish oneself from the masses; to rise above the ‘noise’ and be seen as something more valuable than ‘just another photographer.’ Direct mail and the sourcebooks don’t have the impact they once did and a lot of marketing has moved to the web. Good businesspeople establish relationships with their clients and the best way to do that is the good, old fashioned, face-to-face meeting –but just try to get one! Everybody’s oh-so busy (they say) and everybody’s multi-tasking, staring down at their smart-phones and not paying attention to the here and now so it’s very, very difficult to get anyone’s attention. I don’t have the answer in this short-attention-span world we’ve created.


EWW: How are you managing these challenges?

Dale:  To tell the truth, not very well. That’s an honest answer and I don’t think many photographers tell the truth when asked about marketing, so I’m going to break with tradition and simply be honest. I’m not very good at marketing and I don’t like doing it.

Over the past thirty plus years I’ve done everything the books say to do, direct mail, sourcebooks, etc. etc. and none have really worked for me. I’ve hired reps and agents and they all turned out to be losers, liars and wankers and did nothing for me. No one has an investment in your success like you.

In the arts, one really has to do their own self-promotion. My problem is I’m terribly introverted and shameless self promotion is just so darn shameless. So I have no advice to impart about marketing and self-promotion, I’m just not very good at it. The only reason I’ve had any success whatsoever is because people genuinely responded to my work —which is what we all really want anyway.


EWW: Do you use social media to market your work? If you do, which one(s) seem to work best for you?

DaleFacebook. Facebook is a passive, low-impact way of getting the word out about exhibitions, lectures, workshops, etc. But I need others to share because I don’t have enough friends. I don’t do bulk email because that’s just spam, although on occasion, when bulk emails are sent by galleries, it works for them. I just don’t get twitter and it just seems like a waste of time.


EWW: Is there anything else Dale that you think would be important to know about you as an digital artist or photographer?

Dale:  If money is your goal, embrace the cliché and be like everyone else;  If your goal is art, avoid the cliché and be yourself.



or click the ‘blog’ link from my website


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