Dubai-based Daniel Turan talks passionately about falling in love with street photography after shooting with a Pentax K1000 and drawing inspiration from other photographers’ work.
My name is Daniel Turan and I was born and raised in Vienna, Austria, I spent most of my adolescence in Europe, before packing my things and moving to the Middle East for a job opportunity. I lived and worked in places like Iraq, Sudan, Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Lebanon and those place shaped me and my ‘Western’ mindset profoundly. Currently based in Dubai with a job in the digital industry, my day consists of meetings, workshops, and countless discussions. Photography for me now is a way to bring silence and deceleration into an otherwise hectic lifestyle.
Many years ago, I bought my wife a Canon DSLR for her birthday. I’ve always been a gear head and so playing with the camera after I bought it for her, I started to take an interest into the endless amount of cameras, lenses, adaptors, light sources, accessories, etc. And so I did what most people do when they start out in photography. I spent stupid money on dozens of lenses and cameras and noticed no improvement in my photography whatsoever. I tried to compensate for my lack of artistic and creative passion with technology. And failed miserably. A million trash shots in the camera’s auto mode later, I knew something had to change.
Having consumed what felt like weeks worth of YouTube ‘How to’ videos, I had good basic knowledge of things like exposure triangles, light metering, and the likes. But it was only when I purchased a manual film camera (Pentax K1000), that I truly understood how the technical side of photography works. I spent a lot of time learning the craft. I continue to learn to this day.
The thing that helped me get to where I am today is the consumption of other photographers’ work. Lots of it. Trying to recreate images that I like is something that has helped me a lot to improve my photography.
I am now doing street photography since about 4-5 years and I have absolutely fallen in love with it. I do the occasional studio or portrait shoot as well, but street is where my heart is.
My vision and style
I chose to share my New York series because it best represents my stylistic approach and vision.
If I was to label my style of photography, then it would be something like ‘street noir’. I seek to emphasize the dark soul of people, objects and places. I create images that have that edgy, raw, quirky or just plain dark look. I appreciate and chase beauty in the conventional, societal definition of the word, as well as in the controversial and provoking sense.
My stylistic passion is and always has been black and white photography. While certain images work better in color as it can accentuate important aspects that would otherwise go unnoticed, I prefer black and white for its elegance and timeless look. Nothing reduces an object more down in its core, its essence than a perfect symphony of lights and shadows. To me, black and white is not the absence of color, but a mere reduction to the two opposing ends of the color spectrum.
My biggest influencers (outside of the classics like HCB, Vivian Maier & Co) are people like Olaf Heine, Jason M. Peterson, Trent Parke, Alan Schaller, Platon and pretty much most Instagram photographers I discover on a daily basis.
Why photography and shooting are important to me
Because it deeply satisfies me and activates a side in me that is starkly contrasting my adult corporate self. It acts as a balance to the corporate, soul-crushing lifestyle and gives me genuine joy and pleasure. Running around the streets, taking stealth shots of people and then quickly moving somewhere else, all of what comes with that is so childlike and adventurous. It still makes me giggle every time I chase someone, the thrill of getting it done on time, in the right frame, the right light. I shout F…k and S….t when I miss it and I giggle like a kid in a candy store when I manage to pull it off.
I also have discovered and developed a completely new way of looking at the world. Without trying to sound corny, but to me it is almost like a blue pill/red pill kinda thing. I have never looked at long shadows during the golden hour the same way I do now. I have never seen the beauty in natural patterns the same way I have before. Architecture and infrastructure and their intersection with people. I actively observe and consume my environment. Today especially where everyone is glued to their phone screens, I feel like the only one seeing among the blind.
Printing is where I find a lot of joy in as well. Having gone from a scene that a million people would find boring, to admiring that same scene in a different light and looking at it in a frame on my wall; that process is something I find truly fascinating.
I also very much love the street aspect of street photography. The smells. The elements. The sounds. The raw and dirty side of it. The rush and the quiet. Nothing is more beautiful to me than a nicely composed street scene in perfect light.
Creator or documenter?
Both. Because even though as a street photographer you document scenes and moments, you also create them to begin with. The frame, the background, the light, all of this is chosen and ‘prepared’ for the shot. So you create and document at the same time.
What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically.
So much. So, so, so much. When I walk around, I constantly try to screen my environment. I look for shadows, light, the combination of both. I scan for interesting looking people. Whether they are conventionally beautiful or provokingly so. I constantly check camera status and settings (mostly aperture and shutter speed). I look for negative spaces and how they can be filled with objects. Sometimes I see someone way ahead of me approaching a billboard or a wall that I believe to be a nice backdrop for the subject. And then I run to be ahead of that person so that I can wait for him or her to walk through my frame. I look up and down, sideways and diagonally. I look for shapes and lines that I can place objects or subjects on. And then when everything is set up, I try to focus on correct technique and not mess up the shot. Steady hands, correct framing, and careful shutter press. I get upset at people running through my scene and silently curse them. My mind is at speed and at ease at the same time. It’s both zen-like state and adrenaline-fueled anxiety all at once.
Editing to me is the other part of photography that I really enjoy. I am still amazed at how many new narratives you can discover when you crop images. Something you had in mind when taking the shot, may completely change the composition and the story when you crop it and focus on a different element of the frame. It’s like getting ‘2 for 1’ or summer sometimes even ‘many for 1’.
I have two processing workflows. One is for the one the go when I am traveling. The other one is when I’m back home in front of the big screen.
On the go, I use a combo of SD card adaptor, iPad and Lightroom mobile. That’s good enough for me for mobile editing and Lightroom and other photo editing apps are getting increasingly powerful.
At home I save the raw files to 2 hard disks, edit them in Lightroom and Photoshop and export it to various places (low res for social media and web and high res TIFF for printing). I have everything backed up twice on physical drives and across 2 different cloud storage providers.
My settings used for editing are quite simple. Over the years I have shifted from 16 different plugins (e.g. Silver FX) to just the basic settings in LR. Cropping, shadows, highlights, blacks and white and dehaze is around 90% of my editing. The better the production quality, the less you need in post. When using settings, I believe in the same mantra French chefs use for their dressings. You hire the stingiest guy to be in charge of the salad dressings. Less is more. Something I had to learn over the years myself.
What made me go into this genre
My love for street photography. I love photography that bridges street documentary with fine art and while there is a lot of amazing black and white street photography, I believe there is still (more) space for noir-style fine art street photography.
Gear used and how it helps me achieve what I want to do/support my creative vision
Having started with DSLRs, I went from a Canon (can’t remember which one) to a Sony (A7ii) and now ended up with a Leica Q. The camera I use for 90% of my work is the Q. I sometimes also use an M6 for film photography (the preferred film is Ilford HP5), but the majority is digital and done with the Q. I occasionally even hook the Q up with Profoto strobes and use it for a studio shoots.
The reason why I love the Q is the same as why many people love Leicas (other than the show-off potential). It is simple. It does not give you a million buttons and features and settings. It is robust. Feels good. It is lightning quick on the autofocus and reliable. I am actually not such a big fan of its design. It looks a bit clunky, like a massive lens attached to a shoebox. The lens is way too big for the body and the material of the body itself to me looks cheap. I prefer the Leica M series for its timeless look and feel. I have used an M for some time and I still love my M6 for film stuff. But for me, the Q is the most practical and reliable camera for street work. The glass is Leica, the quality is Leica. The speed is great. It does everything I want it to do. On the weight part, I am a bit torn. I love its weight because it implies quality and feels good when you use it. At the same time, I hate it because my hands and fingers hurt after a long day out in the streets. Especially in winter. But I am yet to discover a better camera for my needs.
What motivates me to shoot
To explore the beauty in what others may find mundane or just outright boring. To escape my daily grind. Photography to me is part outcome-driven, part therapy. The nice thing about photography is that at the end of the shoot, there always is a reward waiting for you. When you come home, it’s like there’s a gift to be unpacked once you review and edit your pictures. This is especially true for film photography. I like the creative side of it. That there is a tangible result of your work (even if it is mostly digital). This is a very rewarding aspect behind the motivation of continuing to shoot. It is similar to the modern-day Ikea effect. Grown men find childlike joy in assembling shelves, because they have something finished they can touch and interact with once it is done. My day time job sees little to no tangible or immediate output of the work and thus photography gives me a lot of rewards in that respect. Especially when I print my work.