The last few weeks we have looked at the emotions of photographers when it comes to their relationship with film photography. This week, we take a look at the solace and reasoning why Bay Area native and film photographer, Daniel Valencia, found his way to film photography and what keeps him going on this long path.
Daniel is one of those people that makes you feel at ease the moment he walks into a room to introduce himself. With a easy grin that is amplified by the calmness in his eyes, you can't help but let your guard down and relax, which makes for the best portraits and street photographs. His demeanor is far from a quick drawn conclusion of the neighborhood he grew up, where as he describe, "The cool thing to do was slang dope and get twisted. Maybe it was the idea that no one was going to jump you for a piece of crap eccentric camera [that I turned to photography]."
No, it turns out Daniel's journey with film started early in his childhood when his father tossed him a camera at the ripe age of 7. That led to the feeling of captivation as he saw his fifth grade teacher, Lawrence Volpe, capture memories and moments from trips through the Sierra Club Inner City Outings. Even in high school Daniel found support from a teacher, Cera Renault, who lent him a Pulitzer Prize book that was filled with documentary photographs from 1918 to 2003. Daniel studied that book, for a year, researching every name in a self-assigned project that helped encourage him to shoot black & white film. A huge opportunity to work with Jai Tanju and help out at Seeing Things Gallery helped to refine his own flow and gather the building blocks for his own eye, which keeps him stead fast in film photography in ever-evolving Silicon Valley. "My work revolves around the ever changing landscape of my home and the people in it. Showing the subject matter in a true and honest way. But that is up for grabs; the photographer is the director in a play that never ends and the play doesn't care if you end."
If you spend enough time with Daniel, you start to get a sense that he isn't just in it for making photos or even to tell stories. Here is a man who genuinely cares about the photography community in the Bay Area. And for that matter the wider community, how we are all trying to keep pace in a world that seems to get faster all the time. That care is evident if you take the time to look through the photos he makes. Especially with his most recent series, Singular Palms, where part of the development process is to physically demolish a negative. But getting to this creative series was only after Daniel had been suffering through depression that began to seep into the rest of his life, leaving him isolated and turning to substances to help medicate the pain. "I remember being home one night, hating all of my photography and going through negatives." But that night when Daniel saw a friendly face of someone he hadn't spoken to in years, something clicked on a creative level that ended up providing some much needed relief, "I lit a match and that was the beginning of Singular Palms.”
From that night forward Daniel set out documenting the struggle people often face when trying to face adversity on their own, much like a palm tree can grow in extreme heat, without any help. The body of work, which started in 2015 and is still being worked on, is Daniel's effort to explore that hopelessness he felt stuck in that dark place, trying to survive alone like a palm tree. "We all have things that eat at us. This is kind of my way of not being eaten. It’s a therapeutic method that shines a light on sanity and the demons that haunt you day in and day out. That is why I keep doing it, selfish reasoning that turns into art."
Which is in line with a passing thought a professor, Bill Mattick, once imparted on Daniel, "being an artist is the most selfish thing you could ever do." Daniel explains that he now understands that bit of wisdom,
"The approval of others shouldn't be what carries you on through the day. What carries you on through the day should be the love and joy of even producing something and the interactions you have with your work. Being able to feel a feeling through something you have produced is a hard thing to explain, you have to just do it."
That line of thinking underlines a shooting principle of Daniel's "people take pictures all the time, but few make photographs", the act of producing a photo requires taking everything into consideration: from light to the subject. It is something previous photographers profiled have sited, because it is truly that important when creating any sort of photograph, whether it be fine art or a street photograph for a zine. And this takes time, but it can be worth it for the resulting photo made.
"But the way things are going, specifically in San Francisco and the Bay Area as whole with the tech boom and everything being catered to you, I see traditional photography disintegrating more in the next five years. Just take a look at traditional journalism. So it is the artist's job to make you feel like we need this practice in our world. That is why I feel there has never been a more crucial time to make prints in a darkroom than now: helping understand the art form, the complexity, and need for this. Being an artist is a selfish thing to do, but in that process you have the ability to have someone experience this ever fading tangible world we used to live in."
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