DPP Home Profiles Jeff Dunas: A Man On A Mission

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Jeff Dunas: A Man On A Mission

With a multifaceted career as a photographer, magazine publisher and creator of the Palm Springs Photo Festival, Jeff Dunas constantly strives to advance the art of photography

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Les Amoureux, Pont Alexandre III, Paris, c. 1988
DPP: Another master photographer who like you and Irving Penn refused to be pigeonholed into one photographic genre was Jeanloup Sieff. He’s not as well known as he should be in North America. Were you inspired by him as well?

Dunas: He was one of my dearest friends. One of the reasons we had such an affinity is that I was a younger version of him in some ways. He was someone who was as fascinated with landscapes as he was with still lifes, portraits, fashion and nudes. Other than landscapes and still lifes, I was and still am fascinated with the same subject matter.

DPP: How did your portrait series of blues musicians lead to your book State of the Blues?

Dunas: One of the other things I’ve always loved is blues music. When Muddy Waters died, I realized that we were going to starting losing the seminal blues musicians. I really wanted to photograph them. I started contacting all the magazines I had ever worked for trying to get an assignment. Rolling Stone said about five years earlier, Albert Watson did a story for them on blues musicians, so, “No, thanks.” Every magazine had a reason to say no. I knew that time was of the essence, so I started the project on my own. I met with the director at the House of Blues, which was due to open in Los Angeles, and showed him my portfolio. He loved my work, so he said, “You’re on, man.” They couldn’t give me a dedicated space to set up a studio, so some days I would set up in the manager’s office, sometimes on the front stairway, sometimes next to the stage. At the end of the project, we had made 81 trips out of my studio with a full package of gear, going to places from Sacramento to Helena, Arkansas, from Memphis to Chicago.

The Pledge, Idaho Springs, Colorado, 2004
DPP: What equipment were you working with?

Dunas: I had Balcar strobes, umbrellas, C-stands, duvateens and my Mamiya RZ67 with four lenses.

DPP: What gear are you using now?

Dunas: I’m working with the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II for most of my work except my street pictures, which are made with a rangefinder Leica. When fiber paper for inkjet printers came out, I started seriously looking at digital capture. I’ve never thought my images looked right on watercolor paper. I like real deep blacks and I like glossy paper for my work. The two papers I print on now are Epson Exhibition Fiber and Ilford Fiber AI on my Epson 7800. My world has changed because of the new technology.

The aspect of exploring scale wasn’t really available to me either financially or physically in my own darkroom space. In my wet darkroom, I printed 16x20; that was my size. I did some 20x24s in there, but that was stretching it. I didn’t have the sink or the washer or the press to print larger than that. Now I can print 24x30s on the Epson, which is one of my favorite paper sizes. I’ve found that certain nudes at large sizes become something totally different. They become a little more abstracted and at the same time hyper-real. Same thing with some of the color work I’ve done for my American Pictures project. When you see them abstracted at a larger size, you have a completely different emotional response to them; you react to the graphics and the negative space differently. You don’t really perceive negative space when you’re looking at an 11x14 print. You know it’s there, but you really don’t get involved by it. Negative space in a 30x40 becomes extremely important in a design and graphical context.


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