Our photographer, Mike Killion, had the opportunity to work with Daniel awhile back and since then we’ve been getting inspired by his Instagram. We are consistently drawn to his beautiful photographs and wishing we could hide in his carry-on luggage as he travels the world for his latest project–visiting a new country every month. Daniel has the innate ability to transport anyone viewing his work to another place and time. We were thrilled to catch the jet-setter for a quick hangout in his equally amazing studio. Besides drooling over his stories and space we had the opportunity to learn more about him, his passions, and inspiration.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
I’m first and foremost a photographer in Chicago. I’ve been shooting since high school. I got started shooting action sports, so I focused a lot on BMX bikes back when I was riding. I studied business at DePaul and after two years decided I didn’t want to do that, so then I transferred to Columbia. My first semester at Columbia was the semester I stopped riding because I tore my ACL and my meniscus. So then, just because I had to, I started shooting different stuff. I began photographing people, more portraits. I tried shooting some fashion which was fun but not exactly my thing at the time. I was just trying stuff out. I graduated Columbia in 2011 and went straight into freelance for awhile. I randomly got a job through a friend at Groupon so I worked there for 6 months. They had an unlimited vacation policy, but I found out later that it wasn’t really unlimited. I took off so much time off that they were like, “You can’t do that.” I quit and have been freelance ever since.
Now I am trying to travel as much as I can. I feel like it makes me grow the most, out of anything, more than shooting actually. The best way for me to digest my travels is through shooting. It forces me to get out and explore which I love doing. It’s the number one thing I like to do in a new city–put a camera on my shoulder and just go, get lost.
In the end I am a photographer that shoots a lot of different things for different brands. I work with a handful of liquor companies, shoot some products, portraits, I work with clothing brands, Tumblr, Apple–I really have all sorts of clients and work.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Daniel.
There really is no typical day. A day in my studio would be like, wake up at 8am make tea or coffee, then eat some breakfast. I just hired an assistant so he comes over between 10-11am and we will work till maybe 5-10pm. Then after that I’ll throw in a workout or go to some meetings around the city. My schedule is different everyday. Lately I haven’t had as many meetings because I have been traveling a lot and focusing on getting my work done instead of networking. Networking is something I focused on a lot in the beginning. I would have a bunch of meetings everyday just to build my network and get my name out there, but now I have pushed myself enough that I don’t need to do that as often. It is invigorating, but it is nice to have some ebb and flow. A lot of times at night I do go out to events and meet new people, but I pick them more strategically then saying yes to every single one.
Where do you find inspiration?
Definitely traveling. I really love to just see cultures that are totally unlike ours and it’s completely different than just reading about it in a book. For example, I was just in Dubai and the customs there are so dissimilar it makes you see things differently. Just the fact that we don’t have laws that arrest gay people or people who show public affection makes you think differently about things that you may take for granted. I think that when I travel it offers a lot of perspective in my own life and what I have grown up learning. I do my absolute best to meet someone that lives in the specific place I’m traveling to so I can hear their thoughts on where they live. It is also interesting to learn their perspective on America. I find that more often then not people in other countries follow our news more closely then we do. Just hearing other people’s perspectives helps me constantly question my own. So yes, traveling is definitely the biggest source of inspiration in my life. A new country every month is a personal project that I am currently focusing on. It is not so much of a photography assignment, not something I’m going to hang up in a gallery, it’s a way to explore myself.
How do you make time for creativity and collaboration?
It’s definitely something I think most artists struggle with. A lot of times I just try to find ways to be as creative as I can with paid projects that are more flexible. When there is an Art Director on set creativity isn’t really in your hands. Sometimes people send me a product and I’ll shoot it which ever way I feel like. I can really get my creative juices following then instead of just being forced to shoot in a specific way.
I would say my collaboration is in a much different way then other artists. For example, fashion photographers might work with hair and make up or an art director might team up with a photographer to translate their beautiful vision. For me, I just talk to a bunch of different people that have totally different perspectives. It influences my work and then a lot of times I will go back to them and tell them what I have been working on–we share conversations and opinions. It’s collaboration in that way.
What tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started?
Definitely don't rely on school at all. I would almost argue don’t go to school for photography, go to school for marketing. Or just not for arts unless you are a diehard, fine art, fanatic and that is all you want to do for the rest of your life. Then just make sure you go to a school that has amazing critiques. If you want to make it as a photographer the biggest thing you can do is just shoot as often as you can. I think that goes for any art form just practice. Then also just meet as many people as you can. Absolutely meet as many people as you can. You never know who knows someone that can help you.
Find a mentor, I had a really good one who is really more of a friend but definitely acted as a mentor as well. He taught me the importance of knowing people and connecting and how to follow up correctly. Stuff that is basic knowledge for most, but a lot of people overlook it and miss opportunities.
If you could live the life of another creative, for a day, who would it be and why?
Maybe a musician. I’m really fascinated with music so I’d probably pick Nicolas Jaar. He is a really interesting producer. He makes his own music and also collaborates with others. His music is really unique and I would love to get into his brain and see how he thinks. Shadowing him would be one degree closer to that.
What keeps you motivated and making?
I think it is being scared of failure. I’ve always been really driven in most things that I do. Back when I was a first starting out if had lulls in my work where I was not getting jobs for a week or couple days I would get really down. So my motivation is to fight that depression. I definitely get most depressed when I’m not working. As long as I stay busy, even if that is with a personal project, I’m satisfied.
What have you learned from your career that you wish you would have figured out earlier?
You have to know people. Period.
Doesn’t matter how good your work is, if you don’t know people you’re going to starve.
If you weren’t doing this what else would you do?
Probably DJ or produce music. A friend of mine has been teaching me the ropes–slowly but surely. We recently DJ’d our first event at East Room. It was more beats oriented so hip-hop but not always with lyrics. I guess I just want to play music for other people and have more live instruments where we can play along or collaborate with others.
You wear many creative hats–do you have a favorite?
It varies, I get bored pretty easily. I’m happiest doing a variety of things. Even shooting my favorite thing all the time would get boring for me. I guess I would say travel stuff, but I also love shooting spaces and architecture. Being able to meet someone and have them tell me about their space is super fun. Then depending on the situation being able to photograph it before and after. For example, shoot it myself the way I see it then after being influenced by them shooting it again. That way we can see how our visions and/or interpretations change person to person. In general, interior design and architecture are very interesting to me. I love hearing about why people do the things they do, then photograph it.