Interview with David duChemin | GBPW Episode 109

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Nkideson Sahado, draws water from a well in Korr. Not a BOMA Project participant.
David duChemin.

If anyone’s listening and they’re curious about getting off social, I can assure you there’s a wonderful and vibrant world out here without it, and I haven’t missed it at all.

David duChemin

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Humanitarian photographer, author, and educator David duChemin is the star of this week’s episode! David has an impressive collection of photography books and an equally impressive portfolio. Two years ago, he decided to quit social media and embrace a different lifestyle. He started focusing on his website and blog, both of which are filled with educational content and inspiring stories.

We talk about:

  • Why David duChemin quit social media and how that decision affected his work
  • How to find your voice as a photographer
  • His comedy background and the effect it has had on his current work

& much more!

David has a clear vision and a great set of skills to help bring that vision to life. He gives very thoughtful and interesting answers in this conversation, so make sure to give it a listen. No matter what genre of photography you specialise in, I’m sure you’ll enjoy listening to this discussion.

Here is a preview of our conversation with David duChemin.

Q: You stopped using social media two years ago. How did that affect your business and your photography?

David duChemin: Only in positive ways. First of all, it was not an easy decision. I wrestled with it for another two years leading up to my decision when I finally pulled the pin. I don’t compare myself anymore. I’m not discouraged by going on to other people’s feeds and looking at their amazing work – and they’re bragging about awards – and then looking at mine and going, “Well, gosh, why isn’t mine like that?” Well, mine is fine like that, because I’m not them.

What you see in social is only a visible metric that hides an incredible variety of invisible struggles and challenges. There’s so much we don’t see, but we still compare all of what we feel with only this thin, visible layer on someone else’s feed. I think social can be very discouraging. It can set you running in a million different directions.

There’s a positive side of that because it encourages you to learn, and that’s good. It was unhealthy for me. I was tracking my time and realising I could gain, in little bits and pieces over a day, two hours by not being on social. So I thought, “I’ll commit to being off social for a year.” I didn’t say that to anyone. I just said I’m done, but I thought that if I needed to, I’d come back.

Everything that I gained vastly offsets any losses. It hasn’t affected my business in a negative way. Here’s the beautiful thing about social: people can still talk about you on social, even if you’re not there yourself. They can still talk about your work, they can read, they can tweet your quotes, they can engage. You are still being talked about on social even if you’re not there.

I’m giving more attention to my email and more personal connections. People can still reach out. People can still comment on my blog, which has good engagement. I hate to use the word ‘fans’ and ‘followers’, but I talk to people that want to engage with me. Every day. I just do it in a different medium. When you’re in social, you feel like this is the world, like if you left social, you would leave the world. It turns out the world’s still there. We’re all still going on without social, just perfectly happily.

I think everyone needs to weigh the pros and cons. Do you have the time? Is it affecting your creativity? What’s it doing to your sense of individuality?

Q: How has your background in comedy affected your career as a photographer?

David duChemin: I talked earlier about my interest in the human side of photography and the experience. When I started comedy, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I was very accidental, I stumbled upon routines and thoughts and ideas that people found funny. But it was really only when I sat down and went, “Okay, what makes people laugh? What am I really about here as a comedian?” I unpacked it, I got very intentional about it.

That same thing has happened to my photography. I’ve been a photographer since I was 14 years old. It was only when I sat down and went, “Okay, so what makes people interested in a photograph? What are people actually responding to? What is the human experience here and how can I make that stronger?” It’s not the the lens you use, that’s not what they’re responding to. They might be responding to the effect of the lens you use and how you use it, or to colour or any number of things to which human beings respond in a photograph. But it’s only if you understand what those are that you can start hitting those notes more intentionally and creating photographs to which people will respond.

It’s not paint by numbers by any means, but it’s just a recognition of what actually works, like being able to put words to it. If you can put words to it, you can think about it in clearer ways.

Comedy is about people. I didn’t do pure stand-up. I did a mix of stand-up, juggling, and magic. It’s very easy for variety artists to rely on the gimmick of the magic trick. People don’t respond to magic tricks. It’s the surprise, the wonder, and the mystery that they’re responding to. When they laugh, is it because you strung your words together in a certain order, or is it because there’s something else going on there?

This would be my big advice to younger photographers: the sooner you can stop studying your cameras and start studying actual photographs and what makes them do what they do in terms of our experience of them, the sooner you’ll become a stronger and more intentional photographer. To create an analogy, it’s like people that collect guitars. There are some people that collect guitars and there are people that make music with them. You can study guitars an entire lifetime and never really understand what it means to be on a stage in front of 1000 people and make them feel something. Those are two very different things. And so it is with photographers.

The sooner we can get beyond the camera and start thinking about the actual thing that we’re making, which is photographs and the experience of them, the stronger that work can be.

Q: What’s something that you’ve been enjoying outside of photography lately?

David duChemin: I wear a number of different hats. Creatively, I love writing. I write non-fiction stuff. I write about the art and craft of photography. On a bigger scale, I think I write about life. I love writing. For me, there’s something so pure about it. I don’t need anything except my laptop. If I didn’t have that, a pen and a piece of paper. I can do it anywhere.

It’s so different than photography, for which I need to be out in the world. It’s a very different creative experience. I was a juggler, comedian, and magician for 12 years. I loved doing that. My identity was wrapped up in that. When I left it, it was very hard to recalibrate myself because I was like, “I am a comedian. That’s my identity.” Suddenly, I was not. My stage name was The Rubber Chicken Guy, and suddenly I was not The Rubber Chicken Guy. It was almost paralysing. I’m very careful not to make that mistake.

My identity is not wrapped up in the fact that I am a photographer. I’m a creative person who uses photography right now, but I also write and occasionally, I pick up my guitar. My wife and I spend a lot of creative effort on renovating our home and making it the kind of home we want it to be. Interior design is as creative as photography. It’s very connected; we still use contrast alignment and relationships of elements, it just happens to happen in three dimensions. It’s a creative thing.

I’m as attracted to creativity just as an end as I am to the means to that end: the photography, the writing, and that sort of thing. It has seasons. I don’t photograph when I’m at home, I’m interested in other things. I photograph hardcore when I’m in Venice or India or really anywhere else. But home, I’m creative differently here.

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Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.
Taya Iv is a portrait photographer, 500px ambassador, and host of Great Big Photography World podcast.

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