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

N, Nude, 1992
DPP: Photographers need to think about how their own work looks on a particular paper and at a particular size rather than looking at examples of other people’s work and, saying, “This is a beautiful paper,” and committing to that. You have to experiment. Have you seen trends in that sort of experimentation in how photographers present their work at portfolio reviews such as those taking place at the Palm Springs Photo Festival and the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, France? Do these venues foster a discussion about this sort of experimentation among the big-name pros and the other attendees?

Dunas: Definitely. Arles was the first photo festival I went to in the mid-’80s, and I’ve been to every one ever since. It’s about going to a place where you could see numerous exhibitions, hang out and share work with a lot of like-minded people in a socially informal environment. Lucien Clergue and three other guys started it, but early on they were going to lose the festival for lack of economic support. In a last-ditch effort to make it work, they invited Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Ansel Adams and a few other big international names. Lucien says that when Ansel agreed to come, it made the festival viable. It’s now a huge event.

DPP: And your Palm Springs Photo Festival is now in its fifth year, and it’s growing exponentially. Where did the idea for the festival come from?

Dunas: My experiences in Arles. What I like about the Arles festival is the evening presentations and the social connections that occur in a very low-key way. I find this approach valuable because it’s inclusive rather than exclusive. The Palm Springs Photo Festival isn’t an American version of Arles—it has a much greater emphasis on education. I wanted to create a festival where people could go for a week in a place with great weather, enjoy the company of a lot of like-minded people, learn a lot, meet your heroes and leave with your passion for photography completely rejuvenated.

St. Patrick’s House, Grand Junction, Colorado, 2004
This year we have 20 workshops, 20 seminars, four evening presentations and four symposiums, along with two networking parties and over 700 portfolio reviews. Each year we have a master class as well. We’ve had Eikoh Hosoe, Bruce Davidson, Duane Michals and Steve McCurry, and this year we’ve invited Joel Meyerowitz. We also have Antonin Kratochvil, Lynn Johnson from National Geographic, Jack Dykinga, Ed Kashi, Frank Ockenfels, Kenro Izu, Keith Carter, Doug Kirkland, Jock Sturges and many others.

DPP: Besides being exposed to new ideas, techniques and industry people, what does time spent at a festival do for photographers?

Dunas: It serves to crank up the passion for the art and the work that we do. As photographers, most of us toil in some sort of isolation. We’re on our own paths. At any given time, you’re in North Korea, I’m here, someone’s there—we’re working on jobs or personal projects or trying to get work. There’s no great big office building we go to everyday where there are hundreds of other people doing the same things, helping each other out. You can lose your direction in isolation. Maybe you’re doing the same thing over and over because you’re not exposing yourself to enough new stimuli. Maybe you’re not changing your venue enough to get an outside perspective. Maybe you’re not exploring new paths as a photographer. I think what’s unique about our festival is that it’s about 50/50 art and commerce. My life has always been that way. I’ve never made a distinction, and I don’t think there should be one. Trying to get your work in front of people and trying to figure out a way to work with them is similar, whether it’s with an ad agency, a gallery or a museum. I think photographers these days are interested in exploring both—how they can make a living and express themselves in both arenas.

See more of Jeff Dunas’ work at his website, www.dunas.com. Learn more about the Palm Springs Photo Festival at www.palmspringsphotofestival.com.


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