DPP Home Profiles Michael Dweck: Forever Young

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Michael Dweck: Forever Young

Pulling together spontaneous shoots and making the most of the unique look of film, Michael Dweck captures fleeting glimpses of youth

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Washed Ashore, Montauk.
Though his process is controlled and the results are cinematic, Dweck doesn't utilize a movie-style set. He prefers technological minimalism, shunning digital for film and deferring to ambient light whenever possible.

"When I shoot on film," he says, "which is probably 99 percent of the time, I try to keep a lot of camera bodies, maybe four or five, around my neck. It's like working from a palette. So maybe I'll have color in one or two, and the others will be black-and-white, and then I can switch as needed. I tend to set these scenes in my mind before I go about photographing them, even if I haven't staged them outright. So once those impressions filter through, I reach for the camera that I think can best capture what's already imprinted in my head. It doesn't really make sense; that's as far as I understand it, too."

"I'll take natural light 99 times out of a hundred," Dweck continues, "especially when I'm working outdoors. It would have to be a very special scene for me to favor something fabricated when the sun is shining for free. Indoors or in low light, I might use an on-camera flash if it feels right, or I'll just play around until I get what I want. I've tried everything, but kind of settled on that as the basic approach. I try not to fake anything with light. It just takes too much time and feels cheap to me. I prefer the simple setups or, in the right scenarios, something improvised—a bedside lamp or a pair of headlights. I've used candles in the past, the light from a projector....
I don't care if things look beautiful, he continues. I want them to feel beautiful, feel reflective of ideas and the places in which they're set.

Umbrella, Habana Libre.
"It ended up being great that I work that way," he says, "because this was the way it had to be in Cuba. I had to travel with my equipment, so that ruled out any elaborate rigs. Plus, we were constantly moving, and it was often 100° F, so big laborious lighting setups weren't really an option. I don't think I had anything but natural or ambient light and/or on-camera flash for anything in Cuba. It was like a 'found-light' treasure hunt at times. 'Oh, there's a car broken next to the beach—let's hurry up and get this photograph before he fixes it.'"

A former advertising agency head, Dweck uses photography solely to serve his vision; that is, he doesn't get caught up in technicalities. Maybe it comes from his deep understanding of advertising's core appeal, in which authenticity—even when it's artificially constructed—trumps all.

"As an advertising alum," he says, "I guess I understand imagery in a certain sense, and that has helped me bury suggestion in my work. Not in a subliminal sense, but in a manner that respects subtlety and really respects its audience. In advertising, too, I never wanted my work to seem too obvious or cliché. A lot of my work dealt with irony and didn't even show or mention the product. And you can see that in my work now—not the irony so much, but the very careful exposure that isn't reductive and makes the audience work for the win."

See more of Michael Dweck's photography at michaeldweck.com. His newest book, Habana Libre, is available in hardcover or as a limited-edition box set with an 8x10 chromogenic print.


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