10 minutes with Danny Ghitis

Interviews with Photographers June 4, 2012 10:51 am
When did you first start taking photos and when did you know that you wanted to be a photographer?

 

I remember being handed my dad’s camera when I was a young boy for family snapshots. Not understanding how clicking a button on a metal box turned into a printed image, I was enthralled by the magic of the process. My dad told me I was good at it. It made me feel something. I still can’t describe it well. In college I studied architecture first (photographing the way light creates space was my favorite aspect), then pre-med (the magic of chemistry), then digital arts engineering (photo/video montage was my favorite, and I spent more time filmmaking than studying calculus), and finally arrived at journalism by chance. I’d heard about an international travel program through the PJ department and got in as the web/multimedia designer. Guess what aspect of that caught my attention most?! I’m not sure why it took me so long to embrace photography as a career choice. Might have something to do with my upbringing and the notion that I needed a “real” job. I think when I grow up I’d like to be a photographer. In the meantime I’ll just try and make money by taking pictures. 

 

Danny Ghitis

Danny Ghitis

Danny Ghitis

Danny Ghitis

If not photography, what do you think you might be doing?

 

I think a psychology practice of some sort would make sense. Personal and group identity plays an important role in the kind of documentary work I’m interested in. The way memory and cultural influence affects human interaction is fascinating. In pictures I’m not really following the literal actions people take or their immediate emotional responses (photojournalist), nor am I trying to conceptualize life so the images are about me (artist), nor am I cataloging people for posterity (scientist). It’s more about trying to understand why people are who they are and how they see themselves. It’s also about poking holes in stereotypes through irony. I’d be happy working for organizations like the ACLU or the ADL. 

 

Danny Ghitis

Danny Ghitis

Danny Ghitis

Danny Ghitis

 

Last year, I featured your work from Land of Os on the town OÅ›wiÄ™cim – also the home of Auschwitz. How long did you spend working on that project and are you working on any personal projects now?

I lived in OÅ›wiÄ™cim for about four months trying to wrap my head around very complex ideas. It took a while to get past “how can anyone live here?” before I realized “of course people live here, life goes on.” People in the town were quite reserved and understandably careful about their image so getting to know the town required lots of patience. That project made me a better person, and hopefully helped others see a bit beyond their own expectations. I look forward to going back. I recently finished a short artist residency at the Wassaic Project, which I’ll be sharing on my website soon. I roamed around the Harlem Valley for two weeks trying to make sense of  this post-industrial region dotted with small towns and farms, flanked by wealthy cities along the Hudson river. 

There’s also a portrait series in the works about fetishists in NYC. Instead of fetishizing the fetishists I’m approaching them respectfully and showing them as complex human beings. I’ve learned a lot about the intricacies of sexual identity by visiting the homes of people who are often seen as “fringe.” The idea came to me as the fight for marriage equality in New York was in the air. Our society sees sexuality in such simplistic terms when we should be celebrating a wonderfully complicated manifestation of our humanity. 

 

 

From the project Harlem Valley - Danny Ghitis

From the project Harlem Valley - Danny Ghitis

From the project Harlem Valley - Danny Ghitis

From the project Harlem Valley - Danny Ghitis

From the project Harlem Valley - Danny Ghitis

If you could go back ten years, what advice would you give yourself?

If I changed anything ten years ago I might not be who I am today. Reminds me of the Simpsons episode when Homer goes back in time, kills a fly, and comes back to find doughnuts raining from the sky. But I suppose I could tell myself find a less circuitous route to expressive documentary photography, rather than getting stuck in the community newspaper mentality for years. On the other hand having shot lots of daily assignments helped me become a better technical photographer, a better storyteller, better at connecting with people, etc. 


From the collection Best Day Ever! - Danny Ghitis

From the collection Best Day Ever! - Danny Ghitis

From the collection Best Day Ever! - Danny Ghitis

From the collection Kushti Wrestlng - Danny Ghitis

From the collection Best Day Ever! - Danny Ghitis

From the collection Kushti Wrestlng - Danny Ghitis


Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?

 

I still consider myself an up-and-comer so its hard to say….Brutal honesty with yourself is important. Don’t try and be someone you’re not. Even if you try and copy someone your personality will come through, so why not embrace it? Also, being a photographer isn’t enough to be a good photographer. Travel, talk to strangers, take risks, make stupid mistakes, get away from your comfort zone, and stop thinking about photography so much.

 

(Danny is based in New York. See more of his work, here)

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