Interview by Nicole M. Weingartner. Home page cover photo © Dana Hursey.
© Dana Hursey
As a teenager, Dana Hursey assumed he would either find a place in his family’s hobby shop business or pursue a career in accounting. It wasn’t until a family friend said that he could focus his studies solely in photography that the pieces of the puzzle came together. He soon realized that what he wanted in life was to become a professional photographer—and definitely not a boring one.
“I soon found ‘perfection’ to be boring. Idiosyncrasies… Individuality… QUIRKINESS… are WAY more interesting! I chose to celebrate quirky in all its varying degrees.”
Hursey’s work is undeniably quirky. It drives attention to detail, but also captures life’s most candid moments. In one of his photos, an apple and oatmeal dish sits delicately on a kitchen counter waiting to be eaten; in the next, a smiling boy shows off his muscles in a swim cap and towel cape. Hursey’s work spans many different genres, from the clean, corporate look to the eccentric and vastly different feel of his “Iconic” portfolio.
Featured in the Communication Arts Photography Annual for his winning piece "Let Your Voice Be Heard," and a Hasselblad Masters finalist three times running, Hursey is no stranger to the industry. In fact, through more than twenty years of experience, and a rather creative upbringing, he is still evolving his own personal style.
Hursey’s passion was spurred by his stepdad, who often had a camera in his hand and chided him not to “ruin the shot.” As a young boy, Hursey was inherently interested in shooting photography, even before he was given his own Minolta SRT101. But growing up with four older sisters was not an easy task, and Hursey talked a lot—so much so that his mother and sisters were constantly telling him to “shut up!” But his loudness and whims were soon met with a new, more constructive outlet—photography.
After studying at Art Center College of Design and studio managing for two photographers in Los Angeles, he was kicked out of the nest and landed safely on his own two feet.
© Dana Hursey
How did you become a photographer? What would you say has shaped you and your work?
There are three major chapters that I would say have shaped me as a photographer. The first being the education I received at Art Center—which for me, was all about craft and foundation. The second would be a documentary project I was brought in on called the 14 Days Project which totally took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to loosen up and come to my imagery from a different perspective. The third and most recent would be the development of the current style that I am shooting. The style is informing not only how I shoot but what I shoot. It lends itself to a retro storyline, and consequently those are the things that pop into my head.
How did you find your own personal technique?
I will constantly say my “current” technique because I see it always evolving in tiny increments and every image reacts a little differently. I tweak each shot a bit to refine the image based on how it interacts with my process.
Your work spans many different genres and styles. Where do your ideas come from?
Strangely enough, most of my ideas pop into my head. They really come to me as fairly finished images that I then need to translate into a finished photograph. Many details also evolve as we start to pull together things like casting, wardrobe, and props. Sometimes during the process, new elements or ideas are introduced based on collaboration that will then take the image in a slightly different and better direction. But the images for the most part come out like the initial concept that sprang into my twisted little head. I always thought that everyone, especially photographers, “sees” this way—finished images in their mind—which I have only recently found out is not the case. I can safely say I am a pretty visual person.
You say that your technique is constantly evolving. How would you describe your current style?
These days my personal work is concentrating on fun and quirky imagery. Visually, I am playing with trying to take images to a somewhat retro (Norman Rockwell-ish) look where I push it towards an illustration effect while still maintaining photographic detail. It is done in varying degrees depending on the image—and if it is for commissioned work, depending on client desires. My work has always been snappy and vibrant, crisp and clean, but every image is different and there is no “filter” that I apply universally. I have a few presets that create a starting point but then are refined for each specific scenario. Then those get added to my presets to create further launching points. My technique is always evolving.
The new, quirky imagery from your current portfolio is quite different from some of your other work. How did the initial concept come together?
The general look and feel came about during a brainstorming session with my retoucher (the amazing Lisa Carney). We were playing with an image that we had previously retouched in a more straightforward manner, but trying to push it even further to see where we could take it. When I saw a particular look and feel that I was drawn to, concepts that lent themselves to having “the look” started flowing. That, combined with a sense of nostalgia, has generated some of my recent work; but I am simultaneously seeing how we can push imagery with a more contemporary content as well.
As I started to shoot more and more specifically for this style I saw that it was not a one size fits all scenario and that each image needed its own massaging. Each time I apply and tweak it, I save the settings and they become another version option for future images. I then started to apply the look to food images and found that it translated pretty well and have been using some form of it rather consistently ever since. The beauty of it is that while it is not fast to implement, once done you can dial in the desired intensity rather easily, which is great for clients who feel the full effect is a bit “too much."
From someone who started out in the family business to now owning your own photography business, what would you say are the biggest lessons you’ve learned through your journey?
One of my biggest life lessons was that early on in my career most of my shooting revolved around trying to anticipate what the market was looking for rather than shooting what I was passionate about. When I started shooting what I loved, the work changed dramatically. I was much more fulfilled and business immediately increased.