One of our goals with the 5 Questions For… interview series was to highlight talented individuals in the music industry, and not just the ones with a microphone in their hand. Today we get the chance to share with you our interview with photographer Danny Manhattan in which we pick his brain about his recent move west, his work with A$AP Rocky as well as what he’s got planned for 2013. If you’re not yet familiar with Danny, you may want take a quick look at his work before diving into this one.
Let’s start with the basics – when did you first get into photography and when was it you realize it was something to pursue professionally?
I’ve been photographing for a year now. I picked up a camera, tired of writing. My prose was shit, haha. I don’t know if photography is something I want to pursue professionally, but it’s something that I’m pursuing at this moment to pay bills and live as freely as possible; that is, without daily distractions like worrying about paying rent, water/garbage bill, eating. I mean, I don’t think the medium we use to interpret the world around us matters, so if I ever live 30, I hope I don’t look back and regret being a pussy, that I learned, lived aware, invaded countless lives and experiences.
You recently relocated from Chicago out to Los Angeles, what sparked that move?
Chicago has been my baby, especially over the last year or so as I’ve been photographing. I mean, it’s a shitty city for photography…it’s dark, overcast, but the people…I love the people there. I moved to Los Angeles about 3 weeks ago. It’s a completely different world, but I’ve embraced it, for the most part. It’s less brutish and savage than Chicago. It’s easier to make decent money and live comfortably here, at least in my short experience, so I’m with that. Still, I’ll be going back and trying to capture as much as Chicago as possible. It’s an integral part of me, and a part that I don’t think a lot of people experience, so I’m happy to share.
The photo you took of Rockie Fresh in front of the DeLorean during the “How We Do” music video shoot was one of the first photos that made me, as a blogger, think “Whoa, I need to shout out whoever took this in the post”. It’s definitely a rarity to see credit given to photographers even when so many sites use their work for posts – as a photographer, what’s your stance on that?
I was a pretty shitty photographer back when I took that photo, but that’s really cool someone noticed that photo even back then. Though, my good friend and mentor Jeremy McLarty is responsible for the majority of that photo’s prestige. He lit the entire scene, which we had about a 5 minute window to shoot and capture. It was a really cool idea to throw a strobe in the backseat with a purple gel…made the car come to life, so to speak, I think. Anyways, shot a few frames in the 5 or so minutes, and that was the outcome. I think I’ve come a far way from that photograph, but looking back, it definitely made encouraging myself become easier made me realize there was potential for future success.
What can you tell us about your shoot with A$AP Rocky? You really got the best of both worlds – first with those beautiful shots in the whip with that vibrant green paint job and then with those super-clean black and white shots. By the way… that Sprite bottle… best prop ever.
Working with Rocky was really cool. I had just worked with Killa Kyleon down south, and he set up the whole ordeal. The photos are actually part of a music video, which should be a part of Killa’s upcoming mixtape, though I’m not sure how much I can really speak on it, or if it’s in limbo, a canceled project, whatever–haha. Rocky introduced himself really amiably and we started snapping photos over the course of the day. I really liked the feel of the photos, and the timing couldn’t of been better. I don’t think anyone really had quality journalistic photographs of him at that point in time. They felt personal, and I liked that. None of those photos are posed, just captured, which really matters to me. I don’t really follow tumblr, or know its mechanics intimately, but after I published the photos friends sent me a bunch of screenshots with tens of thousands of notes and reblogs, so that validated me for a bit, I guess? Made me feel decent.
I think this is where I’ll answer the other half of your third question: photographer credit, usage and distribution. It fits better here…
I knew from the beginning I never wanted my photographs to have watermarks or labeling. I think it’s pretentious and distracting, when used as a method of branding. You can only gain so much notoriety or buzz or money from cheap branding or shock/trend hypebeasting. I’m not interested in hitting licks for the rest of my life, but to eventually make something really, really everlasting and enriching. If you look @ Magnum or VII, its just such another level. Even if I had the rest of my life, I couldn’t replicate those photographs. I think I can eventually make my own that might be just as impactful and masterful…but those photos really matter. I think it’s still possible for photographs to matter, if we spend enough time. I think the biggest problem with current art is that artists don’t stay long enough with their subjects or goals. This leads to trends, styles, and a slew of copying and technique repetition. Validation doesn’t need to be instantaneous. It’s important to live within the world you’re photographing, and to get the frames no one else does, because you cared. It’s important to care in life, even if it’s seemingly cool not to. I think it’s more ultimately rewarding. I’m rambling, though. Oh–but people do steal my work all the time, so hopefully I’m not hurting myself too much not watermarking photographs. In the end, I think quality is the best watermark.
With this year just about in the books, what’re some of your goals for 2013?
I just shot Riff Raff, actually, haha. I figured if Harmony Korine was interested in him as a character, I should be to. But…for 2013, I definitely want to shoot a ton more personal work, having photos updated to my blog every day. I want to shoot more. I have a whole new city to explore. I want to take things beyond music, and further the reality of becoming a conflict photographer, shoot fashion work I’m actually interested in, work with bigger budgets that can match my imagination, and maybe shoot a few videos. I defintely want to get into film… I’m just holding out for the right project. But… I may have something in the works already, so… we’ll see. Thanks for your attention and observance towards my work.
See more of Danny's work at www.dannymanhattan.com Interview by Eric Montanez