Dan Grove: Photographic Perfection in the Reimagination of the Mundane

All images and text from Dan Grove. Used with permission.

Hi! I’m Dan – I’m 19 and from Gloucester in the UK. I’ve just finished my Photography A2 course and I’ll be setting up my exhibition for it at school soon! I shoot with a Canon 60D and 18-135mm STM or occasionally my iPhone for quick snaps.

My photography is all about reimagining the mundane – the bit of England I live in is reaaalllly dull so taking decent photos can be quite a challenge at times. I love to notice the things that other people might miss and I’m always looking to get the shot that makes people look twice or wonder how/where I’ve taken it. I tend to switch across a few different styles in my work – I either shoot bold and clean architectural stuff or gritty, documentary-style street work when I’m out and about. I’ve also spent some time in the studio at school as part of my A Level course.

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I’ve always had an interest of sorts in photography (mostly looking at all the shiny cameras in catalogues when I was younger) and my parents have always had cameras of some sort around that I’ve been able to borrow and experiment with. I’ve never had any training in photography – my mum and dad aren’t arty types so I learnt almost all the basics from the Internet and from my instincts of what looks good. I was properly switched on to the world of photography when I first got an Instagram account a few years ago and noticed @trashhand’s and @13thwitness’ work on the “featured” page – I loved the symmetry and the way that they reimagined comparatively boring scenes to make them eye-catching. This more understated style has definitely influenced the way I shoot now.

I used to be heavily influenced by Instagrammers; I tend to look at a broader spectrum of artists now. The photographers that inspire me most include Lázló Moholy-Nagy, Albert Renger-Patzsch, Platon, Paul Jung, Nick Turpin, Martin Parr and Henrik Spohler. I also really admire the illustration/design work of Christoph Niemann and Lino Russo.

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I’ve been taking photos since I was about 9 or so but I only started to take an interest about 3 years ago when I got my first DSLR – a beaten up Canon 20D. I’d been interested in photography for a few months beforehand (coinciding with me starting my Instagram account) and a friend had given me some old Canon lenses so it seemed the logical next move. It was all really naff stuff but I probably learnt about 70% of what I know now about photography with it! I’d say I started to properly take my photography seriously around a year ago when I bought my 60D – this also coincided with moving to the second year of my photography course at school.

I think there’s something special about photography in that the world is your canvas – it’s much more concrete that imagining a painting in your head (not to knock artists) and it leaves all sorts of opportunities to comment on the world around us. I also like how the environmental parameters for most styles (especially street photography) are so rigid; having to work around the restrictions placed on you by an environment is a lot more fun and rewarding than being able to do anything you like. Photography is an amazing chance to leave your mark on the world and to make people think about things as well. It’s also such a diverse discipline; if you’ve got a camera and an open mind you can try pretty much anything. There’s this amazing sense of being removed from the world around you as well, especially when shooting in the street. I love it all!

My stance on documenter vs creator depends on what I’m shooting – if I’m out shooting then I’m most likely documenting; if I’m in the studio I’ll be a creator. I like the different approaches required for each and the skillsets overlap to make me a better photographer overall as well.

When I’m shooting, I always like to keep my options open – I tend to wander around as much as possible, snapping away. I’m also a very passive street shooter; I think I’ve asked someone for a photo once! I’m not especially confident with people anyway but I also think it’s much easier to get realistic photos of people when they don’t notice you. My street work is mostly snapshots as a result; capturing the moment/ambience is key to me. I almost always have headphones in when I’m shooting and I think this can go a long way towards the kind of photos I’m getting – I’m more direct in style and shoot more unusual stuff as the music gets louder!

My processing relies heavily on the VSCO Lightroom presets. I know lots of people have reservations about the whole “presets in a workflow” thing but I use them so much because I really like the way they look – this is likely from taking so much of my early inspiration from Instagrammers. I have about 6 or 7 films I’ll use depending on what I’m editing – it’ll usually be Agfa Vista, Kodak Ultramax or Kodak Ektar for street stuff, Fuji Velvia for anything bold, Agfa Scala for anything black and white and either Fuji Astia or Kodak Portra for portraits. I’ve recently shot, developed and made prints from my own black and white film so I’m not entirely a poser! I avoid Photoshop like the plague as I find it cumbersome and needlessly complicated; I can do everything I need to in Lightroom 6.

This project is called Perfection and it’s a series of shoots I did for my personal investigation in my A2 course. It’s about how the world around us is actually a lot more aesthetically pleasing than you’d think; it’s a series of photos making some of the more mundane elements of the world look cool and sophisticated. There’s a few photos from car parks and some others from walkways etc. – it’s all a bit unusual.

I was drawn to this genre by the works of Constructivist/New Objectivity photographers like Renger-Patzsch, Moholy-Nagy or Alexander Rodchenko. There’s also several photographers who work in a similar style today like Andreas Gursky or Henrik Spohler. I love the bright and bold nature of their work and how it puts a completely different spin on the “boring” world around us.

I use my Canon 60D and 18-135mm STM for everything – I’d love more gear but I can’t afford it. My current setup is perfect for what I need – it’s good quality stuff, I know it inside out and it covers 95% of scenarios I’ll ever find myself in. Considering shot for a few years with a battered 20D and an ancient Sigma 28-200mm with a busted AF motor my threshold for “decent gear” is probably pretty low, though!

I’m motivated to shoot by wanting to make my own mark on the world and be different – I don’t like to put myself in one box with my work and I love trying different things whenever possible. Photography is a great way to let off steam and stretch my mind creatively – all the walking gives me lots of time to think about other stuff as well.