The Creative Unconscious: What's your name, age, and professional title? Where are you currently employed?
Chris Daniels: Chris Daniels, 30, Freelance Portrait Photographer
TCU: What hobbies do you have outside of your professional field that keep you inspired and motivated to generate personal work? How do they inspire you?
CD: I feel like inspiration happens pretty naturally for me. What I mean by that is that my brain is always analyzing and turning over everything I see and how it relates to other things and people. You might call it “poetic vision”, which I say in a kind of tongue and cheek way. haha!
There is a catch there though, and it’s something that’s taken me a while to learn. I’m at my best and most creative when I take intentional time for my mind, body and (for lack of a better term) spirit, or being. I’ve learned where the line of art and artistic thinking is for me and I hold a great regard and respect for it and am careful when I blur that line.
For instance, you ask about my hobbies; I’m a bit of an outdoorsman. Having access to nature is centering for me as an individual and as an artist. I trail run regularly, backpack as often as I can and rock climb. I try to do things that give me the opportunity to really feel the ground that I walk on, so to speak.
As for blurring that line, that’s why you don’t see me doing any adventure photography really. Yes. They are all things that I love and it would be easy to mesh them with my art, but having this kind of sanctuary and physical and mental place of refuge gives me the opportunity to come back out of the rabbit hole and get to know myself again before I dive back in.
TCU: Do you have a hard time balancing being a creative professional and generating personal work that you're proud of?
CD: I won’t say that it’s always easy, but it gets easier. I put a great value on personal work. I believe that it is 100% vital to who I am as an artist and businessman. That line is one that I blur as often as I can and the more you create for yourself and take opportunities to blur those lines of creativity with paying clients the more you will get work for the things that you would want to shoot anyway.
As far as doing creative freelance photography, personal work plays a vital role in both the art and the business:
In the art, it gives you the chance to explore, play, find new things, say something, problem solve and find your voice over and over again.
It contributes to the business by showing others and potential clients how your mind works and what it really is that you do.
Sure. When you’re doing personal work you probably won’t have all the resources that you deem necessary to make the project all that you dream, but, to put it bluntly, at some point you have to just get the fuck over that and do it anyway.
Lack of resources is simply a constant among others in your project. Evaluate what variables you have and make something. If you struck out to be a professional creative you most likely did so because you personally love and find fulfillment in some part of it. It has to be a key focus!
TCU: What time of day do you feel the most creative? What about the most productive?
CD: My days are all over the place and I have to make a real effort to be organized so that I am productive. I’d like to think that I can just turn the creativity switch on, and I suppose I can in a way, but if I’ve not been kind to my body or lost sleep it does not easily lend to a creative and productive day.
I implement small disciplines for myself. This is something I’ve been doing more of lately. Such as every morning when I get out of bed, before I even head to the bathroom, I make my bed and do 25 push-ups. Do I always want to do this? Hell no, but it immediately sets a mental and physical tone for a good day.
TCU: What are your creative goals for the future?
CD: Oh man… Well, my wife and I are about to move to LA in October. There, I will be doing more of the same but shifting my focus slightly. Being in LA, it is my intention to get very heavy into celebrity portraiture, among other things, and I have a scheme working for the creative part of that.
My hope is to find some opportunity, while photographing these known figures, of finding and displaying something raw and honest from them that would speak to another human. The reasons for this are wrapped up in my very ethos of why I’m a portrait photographer and how I approach portraiture.
If you wish it to be, a portrait session can be a bewildering and beautiful human connection. If you capture that connection and give just a little context others can look at a face and suddenly feel understood as a person. I’ve done it and seen it happen from both sides of the camera. I’ve seen the results of people connecting with an image because something about it made them suddenly feel not alone.
If I could tweak the social impact of a celebrity figure to say to others “you are not alone” and “You are understood” I feel like it would be a megaphone.
TCU: Are you working on any personal projects right now? If so, can you share a little bit about your inspiration and your creative process?
CD: I’m always working on something. I have a few running projects, some more complex than others, and I always have something I’m hoping to start soon.
My largest ongoing project is Project 104, which is very much what I just described above put into a series. It’s 104 portraits of all different types of people. Some I know. Some I met in a coffee shop. Some were referred. Some requested to participate.
Every subject in that project is asked the same three questions:
-What gets you out of bed every day?
-To date, what is the greatest lesson you’ve learned?
-What is love?
I chose these questions carefully. They speak to the roots of conscious human existence. They can be asked and answered by anyone and we all relate to these answers in some way or another. Some more than others.
I set out on this project asking these three questions. What the overall answer has been if you bring them all together: “You are not alone.”
A project like this takes time. Not just the whole thing, but I mean with each individual. I often spend hours with these subjects and very little of it is shooting. Most of it is honest and vulnerable conversation. I’m giving them an ear and an emotional place of safety to say something.
Vulnerability is a funny thing. We’re more or less taught that it’s bad. That is can harm and hurt us. We put up our guards and pretend that we’re not hurting. We pretend that we’re not alone.
I find it fascinating that almost every time you give true vulnerability away it is returned instantly.
We want to be known. More than that we want to feel understood and accepted. Instead, we feel alone and the real tragedy is that we don’t have to.
That’s what projects like Project 104 are about. It’s complex, heavy, time-consuming, financially consuming and absolutely worth all of it!
I also do project for shits and giggles such as “Body Spaces”.
The rules of those images are simple.
-Photograph a space.
-Display only part of a person.
-Never show a face.
It’s fun because it’s not heavy. I can do it when I feel like it and I’m not trying to say something specific as much as I am trying to evoke emotion of reaction from the viewer.
TCU: What scares you?
CD: Hmmm… Well, I scream like a little girl if an unsuspected spider finds it way on me. Apart from that, the fear of entrapment. Physical or mental.
TCU: What does success mean to you?
CD: I think success is giving yourself every opportunity to realize the potential of the best person that you yourself know yourself to be. I would also say that this is how I would define self-love.
TCU: Anything else you want to add?
CD: Idk… I’ve thought a lot about Jim Carey’s story lately. He spoke of his father in an interview and how he played it safe and right his whole life and then still ended up living in a van at one point.
Life is a risk no matter what. If you can fail at playing it safe why not fucking go for it? Don’t let the simple comforts you hold onto dictate the pathway of your life.
We’re making choices all the time. Choosing not to choose is letting someone or something else choose for you. Choose the life you want.
If you'd like to learn more about Chris and his work, head over to www.chrisdanielsphoto.com.