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Friday, June 8, 2007

Jody Dole - Everything Old Is New Again

Jody Dole strikes a creative balance between using any tool and technique—old and new—to help him get the shot

Although obviously enamored with the new, Dole didn't abandon the old. To this day, he uses film frequently, resisting the idea that incorporating new technology into a workflow means abandoning the tried and true. Film is still the best choice for some jobs based upon client needs or image size issues. He makes technical decisions in the same way today as he did 15 years ago—solely for the purpose of benefiting the photograph. It's a choice that the photographer eagerly makes, refusing to allow the technology to be imposed upon him.

“Digital technology isn't something that changed the way I do things,” Dole explains. “I changed the way I do things. I don't let technology manipulate what I do; I manipulate the technology. You have to have the background and you have to have the history, and you have to be a visual communicator in order to use the technology or any other means—whether it's a pinhole in a shoebox or the latest piece of technology.”

In 1990, it was about curiosity; now it's about control. Like most successful photographers, Dole places the utmost emphasis on the final image—everything else is just a means to an end. With digital tools, Dole has been able to bring into his studio processes that he once outsourced. But digital tools have allowed him something even more valuable than photographic control. They've freed him from his New York studio and prompted a significant change in his lifestyle. Digital technology helped make the move possible because Dole didn't have to be close to New York's film labs.

“If there's one thing digital did for me, it's that it got me out of the studio after 15 years of still life and it got me outside,” say Dole. “I lived and worked in New York City for 18 years. My family and I used to come up to the Connecticut River Valley for vacations in the summer. After seven years, we were there a few days and then a week and then two weeks, and then pretty soon we bought a house and never went home. I love what I do 100 hours a day. And I love the fact that we were able to move out of Manhattan into a studio up in Connecticut. That's absolutely something I dreamt about.”

Along with a new lifestyle, Dole is cultivating a new type of client. But just as digital “can't change the laws of physics,” it also can't change some clients.

“What I've never dealt with well is when clients want to see exactly their shot in your portfolio before they'll hire you,” he says. “I have this great shot of a pretzel, and I was up for a potato chip job. ‘We know you can photograph a pretzel,' they said, ‘but can you do a potato chip?' The client hired the guy with 15 mediocre potato chip pictures rather than making the leap of faith with the one guy who had the great pretzel shot.”

Even worse, the prevalence of digital cameras today means that some clients simply think they're professionals. “We had given an estimate on a project,” Dole says, “and the client came back to me with, ‘Well, I think we're going to do this in our in-house studio because we have a digital photo studio now.'

“I asked them, ‘Why are you doing this in-house suddenly with digital technology? When the times were different, when you needed to expose film, when you needed to develop film, and you needed to look at Polaroids, when you needed to have some technical ability beyond instantaneous capture from a digital camera, why weren't you doing it back then?'

“Because there was a level of uncertainty back then—they would have needed to know how to expose film, push-process film, the technical stuff that could potentially screw them up. Now you can see whether you got it right away.”


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