From that growth and the need for space and professional settings, the SLC Photo Collective was born. Setting up shop along 200 South in the former home of a skate shop, photographer Dave Brewer created a fully functional studio space for the professional community to utilize in meeting clientele, conducting proper shoots, conversing with others in the field and helping everyone as a whole grow in their skills. Today, we chat with Brewer about his career and the Collective, as well as his thoughts on the photography community and the art.
Gavin: Hey, Dave. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Dave: Let’s see. I am 26 years old. I was born here in Salt Lake, and although I love traveling and seeing other cities/countries, I feel that I will most likely always come back to SLC. It is my home. Pretty much all of my family is here, and I feel like I have made so many incredible friends//familiar faces around town through being involved with so many different areas of photography.
Gavin: What first got you interested in photography and what drew you toward the art early on?
Dave: I remember at a very young age, I came across an old Polaroid camera in my dad’s closet, and although it sounds like such a cliche story, I just remember using my dad’s camera to create my very first images. At that time, I didn’t set out to find a style or to shoot a specific subject matter. I just took pictures of everything. But I started to notice that even at an early age, I was fascinated by being able to capture subjects in motion. I have a bunch of early prints of my friends jumping on the trampoline, skateboarding and snowboarding.
Gavin: You received your BFA from the U of U in Photography and Digital Imaging. What made you choose the U and what was its program like for you?
Dave: I decided to go to the U for no other reason than its location. I love living downtown. While I was going to school, I knew that I wanted to be able to pursue my passion of photography outside of the classroom while going through the motions of getting a degree. In all honesty, I knew that even having a degree in photography from a fine arts-based university would not set me up for any specific success. I knew that if I wanted to be able to pursue a career in photography, the only way was to shoot as much as possible and begin to build up my own clients and networks outside of the classroom. I definitely learned some good qualities from going to school for photography, but the majority of my education came from spending years playing around with cheap equipment in my basement, watching YouTube videos on lighting tutorials and simply pushing myself to discover my own interests and create things on my own.
Gavin: What made you decide to start up your own freelance photo company, and what was it like for you building up your business?
Dave: There was never really a moment when I said to myself that I wanted to start up my own freelance business. I feel like it just sort of happened over time after years of shooting for the love of shooting. If you are constantly shooting, eventually someone might take notice and be interested in what you are producing. It could be a small client, or a potentially big client. At that point, it’s all about being able to relate to others and market yourself and your style to their specific interests or needs. I’m not saying that you don’t need to put yourself out there and go after specific clients/projects that you are interested in working with. For me, the studio Photo Booth was simply a side project that I created to have fun at events. From there, people started contacting me to set up photo booths at their events. And at each event, if guests liked the service, oftentimes I would meet people that were in need of other types of photography. So basically, the Photo Booth side project became a marketing tool to showcase a small part of what I do and how I am able to relate to people that has helped me meet other potential clients. Some of my best relationships with bigger clients started at a Photo Booth. It was something that I never anticipated, but have been able to fine tune and utilize more often now that I have seen what all can come from it.
Gavin: You've cultivated a pretty impressive portfolio in a short span of time. How do you pick and choose what you want to cover, and how difficult is it to get into the more high-profile gigs?
Dave: Looking back over the past 10 years that I have been shooting photos, the first five years were pretty much just me shooting photos for fun of whatever I wanted to photograph. There were no clients. No deadlines. No Photoshop. Not even a computer. I shot film and processed the roll and made prints on my own in the darkroom. As I mentioned before, a lot of my early work consisted of photos of my friends skateboarding and snowboarding -- which you almost can’t even really consider “work,” especially if you could see some of these early prints. Let’s just say, they were not good. But, that’s what it takes to find your style and continue to re-invent it each time you get too comfortable. The last five years have been a little bit different. I have been fortunate enough to be able to continue to shoot what I was originally drawn to: people in motion. After years of shooting my friends snowboarding, eventually I started making some connections within the industry. Friends started getting sponsors and started filming for videos, I eventually met other snowboard photographers and contacts at different magazines. I just started submitting my season’s best photos to a couple of different magazines, and before I knew it, I had photos published in over 15 different international snowboard magazines. Snowboard photography is still a fun industry to be involved in, and I plan to continue to shoot for years to come, but it doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. It got to a point where I started becoming interested in other avenues/industries. I have pursued action sports, team sports, studio lighting, on-location portraits, fashion, conceptual product photos, photojournalism, event coverage, etc. I feel like there are so many interesting things going on in the world to pigeonhole myself and call myself one specific type of photographer. Of course, there are areas that I enjoy over others, and there are certain areas that I am somewhat starting to stray away from. At this point, I try to pursue clients or accept jobs that interest me or push me to try things that I have never done before. There is always room to grow and learn. I just feel really grateful that I am given the opportunity to provide a service for others by doing what I love.
Gavin: In the process, you've slowly become one of the more sought-after photographers in the state. What's your take on having that kind of reputation in the community?
Dave: Haha! I’m not even sure if that is true or not, but I’ll take it. I am very flattered that you feel as though I have gained that sort of reputation. I guess I am just a people person. I enjoy meeting new people, and I try my best to produce good work. If in doing so, I have gained any sort of positive recognition, I am grateful. But I don’t shoot for recognition. I like to help people as well as other photographers. I feel as though I am able to learn a lot when I am in the position to help or teach others.
Gavin: For your own personal choice, do you prefer traditional film or digital, and why?
Dave: I support both mediums for different situations. The first half of my hobby that then led to a career was spent in the darkroom with different films, cameras, papers, and developing methods. More recently, most of my workflow has consisted of different-size memory cards, computer programs, large format inkjet printers, and Websites. Although I mostly shoot digital for my specific line of work that requires a fast turnaround, I still support shooting film. There is a certain element that only film can accurately produce, especially when dealing with skin tones and texture. Also, I still prefer black-and-white darkroom prints over any Photoshop-altered black-and-white digital print. The proof is in the print.
Gavin: What kind of equipment do you shoot with for your main body of work?
Dave: I shoot with Nikon cameras and Nikon lenses. I shoot with a Nikon D2x as well as a Nikon D7000; a variety of prime lenses: 10.5mm fisheye 2.8, 20mm 2.8, 35mm 1.8, 50mm 1.4, 85mm 1.8, 70-200mm 2.8. I also use Elinchrom Ranger power-pack strobes and a variation of older Nikon and Sunpack flashes on location. Essentially, these are just tools that play a role in the creative process, but it’s really not all about the gear that you own.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up the SLC Photo Collective?
Dave: I started to outgrow the studio space that I had constructed out of my studio apartment; I used to love letting other photographers and friends use my limited studio. I started to realize that there was a need of a place where photographers could meet with clients, shoot, print, and display their work. I just loved the idea of having a larger space to be able to further my own client work, but also knew that I wanted to provide opportunities for others.
Gavin: How did you come across the old Brick & Mortar space, and what drew you toward making it the location?
Dave: A few years ago, I started taking notice of a bunch of friends that were pursuing their dreams of opening up a local business such as Ian and Helen at FRESH, Laura Hadar at FICE, and Hondo at Brick & Mortar. After seeing so many people pursuing their dreams, I can admit that I was inspired to do the same. When I first stopped by Brick & Mortar in the summer of 2010 after its grand opening, I immediately became jealous of the space. Every time I went in there, I was making mental photographs of how perfect it would be as a photo studio, and what I would change or upgrade. I always joked with Hondo and told him that if he ever was wanting to get out his lease, that I would love to take it over. It was always a joke until one day he called me and told me that he was accepting a job at Transworld and was moving to California. I pretty much called the building owner that day and presented a business proposal to him that I had created months before. I’m not sure if it was my crazy dedication to that particular space or my proposal of particular improvements that I offered to make to the space, but the building owner approved the transition of Hondo's original lease and allowed me to start my own. I was bummed that Hondo was closing shop, but in the end, he ended up helping me get into the space and I helped him get his deposit back.
Gavin: What was it like for you setting up shop, and what installations and additions did you add to the place?
Dave: We worked out a deal for Hondo to move his entire skate/apparel inventory up into the small front space for the last two months of his lease so that I could begin renovating the majority of the space. It had been years since the building had been upgraded, so I knew that I wanted to start it off right. I began filling in holes that were caused when Hondo thought it was a good idea to build ramps and allow friends to skate in the back of the shop. I filled in a ton of holes from Sean Hadley’s wall rides. I was happy to do so. I then masked off all of the hardwood, and we proceeded to re-paint the entire 3,500 square foot space. I painted the floor in the back studio, pulled up carpet, laid down some tile, and installed some custom-welded ladders to reach the lofts that were also prepped with new maple hardwood floors. I then cut out a giant window in the entry as soon as you walk in that allowed for more natural light to shine in as well as a sneak peak into the studio upon walking in off the street. All the while, I was shopping on Craigslist and KSL for the perfect furniture to complement the modern, industrial loft feel with exposed brick. Every piece of furniture that you now see in the Photo Collective was found on Craigslist/KSL with the exception of a brand-new 60” TV and two desks from Ikea. I take pride in the fact that I was able to find matching furniture that fit the interior design elements that I was going for. I am pretty proud of it, come check it out.
Gavin: You opened up the place back in July. What was the reception like from both the community and fellow photographers?
Dave: I was blown away with the amount of support that we received. The night of the Grand Opening Event, close to 500 people came out to support. I had asked 30 or so photographers to showcase one print each. I was able to use my Epson 9600 to create large mural prints that were 44” on the shortest side. Imagine over 30 large mural prints throughout the space that was filled with hundreds of friends, drinks, and food provided by Calis Natural Foods. It was a great success.
Gavin: You recently held the Help-Portrait charity event at the Collective, something which you've done for a couple years now. Tell us about the event and how did it go this year?
Dave: Yes, this was the third year for Help-Portrait. It is an international movement: a shift in thinking about photography. It is a collaboration of photographers, hair/makeup artists, and general volunteers that come together to provide the unique experience of a professional photo shoot for the needy members of our community. We invite people that otherwise would not be able to afford a professional portrait. This year, we worked directly with the Road Home Shelter and on Dec. 10, 178 people came to the SLC Photo Collective where they were greeted with free food provided by Chartwells (from the University of Utah), free hair and makeup provided by Lunatic Fringe Salon, and free portraits and prints provided by photographers involved with the SLC Photo Collective. Hundreds of frames were donated by IKEA, and close to 1,500 same-day prints were made possible by a generous contribution from ZAGG. It was awesome to collaborate with so many local organizations and people who were all eager to give back this holiday season.
Gavin: Are you looking to expand the Collective in any way, or are you keeping things they way they are now for a while?
Dave: The Photo Collective is in a good spot for only being open for less than six months. It seems to fill a greatly needed resource in our community. We do plan on pushing things a little further by introducing monthly classes and workshops that will add to our monthly gallery shows. We currently have full- and part-time leases available for those photographers/videographers that need a place to call home. We also have very affordable hourly rates including access to our in-house studio-lighting equipment, large-format printers, scanners, etc. For more info, feel free to visit our Website or hit us up on Facebook.
Gavin: Going local for a bit, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Dave: I think that SLC has a uniquely integrated art community. This is partly due to the Salt Lake Gallery Stroll. A lot of other major cities do not have such an incredible concept that brings people out the third Friday of each and every month to check out what everyone is creating. It stimulates a desire to continue to work on new projects, and allows artist to reach a broader audience. Within our community, we have a large number of photographers that are constantly collaborating with other artists such as makeup artists, hairstylists and wardrobe designers to work together to create one final result. I think that is great! That sort of community involvement can be both positive and negative. Touching on the negative side effects, I have noticed that there are a lot of artists that seem to simply imitate each other’s work or struggle to push their own creative limits to the point of allowing their style to find them. Over the last few years, I have noticed a larger number of photographers gain a sudden interest in “fashion photography,” myself included. Where a lot of photographers (including myself) believe they are pursuing fashion photography, in reality they are limiting themselves to what others in the community have led them to believe is “fashion.” I am completely supportive of artists obtaining inspiration from other photographers, but I can’t help but think that a lot of photographers in our community are shooting for Facebook, where a lot of the images appear to be very similar to other photographers within the community. Again, I include myself in this slippery slope. We are all friends, and we are mutually interested in each other’s work, but I would like to see more artists be able to find their own style, and push themselves to print and show their work, as opposed to simply uploading 25 images from the same shoot in one of their hundreds of Facebook Albums. Quality over quantity. Shoot for love, not for Likes.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Dave: We should continue to collaborate or work individually; whichever works best for the artist. I am supportive of classes and workshops put on by local artists because education and hands-on experience is important. But I believe we should focus more on the value of finding your own style as well as discussing the business of photography so that each artist individually can pursue their own avenues, as opposed to producing more similar work that we have already seen by most of the predominant names within our art community. Teaching and giving back to the community is one of our main goals at the SLC Photo Collective, but I personally aim to help other photographers realize THEIR vision, not simply mimic or blatantly copy someone else’s.
Gavin: Aside yourself, who are some photographers you believe people should be checking out?
Dave: Locally, there are a lot of incredible talented photographers all in their respected industries. Some of the names that stand out are Justin Grant (commercial photography), Zuzanna Audette (fine art/commercial portraiture), Mitch Meyer (commercial portraiture), Chad Kirkland (commercial portraiture/photojournalism), Dave Newkirk (commercial portraiture), Jake Garn (whimsical fashion), Ryan Muirhead (film-based beauty portraits of cute girls shot with an assortment of vintage/ old makeshift cameras), Teresa Flowers (conceptual fine-art nudes), Andy Wright (snowboard photos), Ian Matteson, Jonathan Canlas (Film Is Not Dead -- Wedding Photographer), Steven Stone (commercial) and Duston Todd. But there are also a lot of photographers in our community that you may not have seen as much from. Maybe they don’t have as many Facebook Likes for you to notice their work, but they are all super-hard-working and making a name for their work. People such as Arthur Healey (product photographer), Nathan Sweet (photojournalism), Dan Amezcua (beauty/commercial portraiture), Greg Hebbard (fine art), Bryce Packham (extreme sports), and Gage Thompson, just to name a few. I am sure that I have forgotten plenty of people. So I apologize. Also, aside from local photographers, every artist should study the work of some of the greatest artists before us: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Capa, just to name a few.Other great inspirations include Zack Arias, Chase Jarvis, and Vincent LaForet. I also believe photographers should look for inspiration in other mediums aside from still images -- music, cinema, poetry, lyrics, paintings.
Gavin: What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into photography?
Dave: Shoot a lot. Shoot for love. Shoot to the point where your style finds you, push that as far as your can, and then completely start over with the creative process. Continue to push yourself ,because as soon as you get comfortable shooting in the same style, with the same subject matter, you begin to digress. Also, learn how to talk to people. Even if you are a landscape photographer, learn how to communicate with others. Force yourself to get out of your comfort zone and shoot subject matter that you find difficult. Continue to study and find your own inspiration. Find something that only YOU are good at. Whatever it may be, no matter how small it might seem, push it further. Others will see the value in what you choose to do. Be patient. Slow down. Breathe. Remember that everyone was a crappy photographer at one point. Give back. Effect change, take risks, seek out other good people and surround yourself with them. Continue to help others. With that will bring humility, understanding and a strong network. Keep shooting.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Dave: We plan to build the photo collective up further than it is now by hosting events such as workshops, as well as a few upcoming international photo exhibits. Also, I have now taken DaveBrewerPhotobooth.com and we're making the transition to the SLC Photo Collective Website. Meaning, we will now post Web galleries from all future events on the SLC Photo Collective site in the "Photo Booth" section, enabling us to outsource more photo booths from other photographers at the SLC Photo Collective. We want to get more people involved and provide more opportunities for people. Personally, I have been talking for a few years about producing a book from my Mexico Photo Journalism Project. I hope to actually make that happen in 2012 before the Mayans say “I told you so.”
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Dave: I am working on an exciting new project as the director of photography and main camera operator for a feature-length film called Speak Low directed by Travis Dunaway. The film takes place partially in Mexico City, my home away from home. We are currently raising funds to realize the Mexican portion of the film. We have had a lot of support, but we are still in need of small monetary donations to make it possible. There are some awesome incentives for donations including signed prints from my Mexico Photo Journalism project, Zuirck Shoes, or even a ski/snowboard trip with myself, the director, and cast members of the film. We have created a Kickstarter video, and if everyone who reads this could donate the minimum of $5, we would easily reach our goal. Do the right thing. Here is the link to our video, check it out! Thanks! There have been a lot of plugs about the SLC Photo Collective, but we would really love for you to check it out on our Website or connect with us on Facebook.
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