Thursday, June 14, 2007
Dan Couto - Let's Party
This is what happens when you combine an eye for comic-book looks with boundless energy and intensity
I should have known Dan Couto would be an interesting interview the first time I saw his work. Like great art or rock 'n' roll, something so crazy beautiful couldn't possibly be made by a bore. He refers to his style as “comic-book sexy,” and the name fits the aesthetic as well as the man himself.
It wasn't until Couto asked me to call “anytime after 11 p.m.” that I began to wonder just who I was dealing with. When I rang at 11:01 one Wednesday night, it sounded like I had interrupted him in the middle of a party. As he moved away from the fray, I think I heard the clinking of ice in a highball glass as he began regaling me with blue-tongued stories of odd jobs and creative assignments.
Maybe it was the party atmosphere or just his love for his work, but Couto was immediately off and running. His speech quickened—particularly when the topic turned to the creative aspects of his job—and ideas poured freely. Like a punk-rock philosopher, Couto quickly intrigued me with his passion for photography and personal expression.
“Henri Cartier-Bresson said that when you look through a camera, one eye is open, looking out at the world and your subject,” explains Couto. “The other eye is closed looking inward, and that's how you take a picture.”
Couto's inward-looking eye must have quickly seen that his lifelong passion for comic books should influence his visual style. He grew up fascinated by them, and through on-the-job training he picked up the technical skills that allowed him to create photographic versions of the comic-book images he loved since childhood.
“It was a natural evolution,” says Couto. “As a child, I just never stopped buying them. That's where I learned to compose. I still go in there and look at what's going on because, boy, those people can draw. They have this amazing design sense, like cities, costumes, hair, makeup. They study all this stuff much more in depth than even most photographers do. Comics are an amazingly visual medium; there's nothing quite like it in how it tells a story. That's essentially what we want to do in a photograph. If you sort of do this photographic illustrative thing, and you take something that's already stunning and make it even more stunning, it just sucks people in and they can't look away.”
Couto certainly utilizes digital capture and manipulation to keep viewers engaged, but he doesn't allow a “fix it in post” mentality to deter from his craftsmanship. He says that fully half of his portfolio contains no digital enhancement, and it's because he has the skills to shape light while he's shooting.