VICTORIA, BC, CANADA
We are truly honoured to have world & humanitarian photographer, nomad, educator and author David duChemin as part of our interview series at ARC. David met us over Skype to talk to us about how he lives his life with intent, a life of zero regrets and how pursuing his curiosity is at the very foundation of his life.
Interview by Sachin Khona // February 2016
What are the three most important things in your personal life?
The people that I am surrounded by .
The opportunity to pursue my what I consider to be my life’s work.
And the freedom to drink a really great red wine.
Do you work in any other fields of business?
Everything’s kinda connected to either photography or creativity.
I publish, I write, I mentor, I coach, I dabble in design. But the hub of it all is photography.
Can you share a bit about your daily schedule and what you do within your work that you don’t like and why?
My daily schedules fairly simple. Generally I get up around 7 or 8 o’clock and I make a coffee (which I do more because of the ritual more than the coffee itself) and I sit in my lounge or my office and I tackle emails and get into the day.
And then it depends. It’s really reactionary. So much that I do that’s day to day is different. If I’m travelling my schedule is one thing, if I’m at home and I’m writing a book it’s another.
It really depends on the project that I am doing but I’m fairly self-motivated. So I sit down and I get it done but with breaks or take a nap to split my day up a little so that I’m not sitting too long in the chair.
I work for an hour or two and then get up and do something else.
The part that I like the least is sometimes you take a project on that you’re really excited about, but it’s like someone once said about writing, “everyone wants to have written a book, no one actually wants to write a book”. [laughing]
I love photographing, then the initial downloading of images, taking a quick look at them, post processing them, but the actual drudgery of going through it all, some of the stuff that is the actual craft, that takes your images into the area of excellence, that stuff can be a little bit drudgery and I am enough of a control freak that I don’t want to offload it to someone else.
Creativity has ups and downs and that stuff is kind of one of the valleys that allows my brain to refresh,. It’s a little bit mindless.
I like the stuff that isn’t mindless. I like the stuff that gets my brain kinda going but if I only do that my brain shuts down awfully quickly, so as much as I dislike those troughs or valleys in the creative cycle, they are also really important and necessary.
What will you be doing or hope to be doing 5-10 years from now?
More of the same please!
I would like to be healthy and drinking my red wine and travelling the world. So long as I’m creative and doing the thing that scratches the itch. Whatever that is.
10 years from now, the person that I am then will be so different from the person that I am now. I would hate to impose upon him my desires now. Because in 5-10 years, I am living a very different life now than I imagined I would be. I’m still doing all the same things, it just looks different.
I had no idea when I left comedy that I would be living the kind of life that I’m living now, writing books, travelling quite as much, doing the mentoring and coaching. I get such a kick out of that and it’s not my primary thing but I sure enjoy it and it is a creative outlet for me.
So I don’t know. As I get to be creative and do the things I love and spend time with the people I love.
happy days. Can you share an image that you are particularly proud of and tell us why.
I’m particularly excited by my recent work with the sea lions and I’ll tell you as best as I can why.
For one it was a dive I didn’t expect, the weather was terrible, we waited out a dreadful storm and we went out thinking that we would not even get in the water and if we did, we thought the visibility would be terrible. We did manage to get there, it was a hell of a ride, quite an adventure. But the reason I’m excited by it is not because of the photography but because of the experience.
The intimacy and the playfulness and the curiosity of these sea lions was life changing in the sense that I think we have greatly cut ourselves off from the rest of the world – the natural world. To be back in communion with the natural world as an observer, but in some senses, in practice,
These sea lions come in, they would play, chew the nozzles, bite our things, chew our heads and its very intimidating.
If you put a skull of a fully grown sea-lion next to a skull of a fully grown grizzly bear, the skull of the sea lion is much larger.
So to have your head even in a juvenile, in their jaws and be 35ft under the Salish Sea .. it is a position of great humility [laughs] and you’re kind of at their mercy. To experience their playfulness and feel like “you know what ‘in this moment everything is ok’ ”.
It was just a hell of an experience. It’s hard to describe, so I guess I’m excited by the images because they relay at least to me some of the playfulness and adventure of that experience.
I’ve used the word curious a lot and these sea lions were so curious. I saw something of my own nature kind of reflected in them.
What was the hardest or most painful creative failure to deal with and what did it teach you?
By far the hardest creative failure was a bankruptcy that I went through years ago. But I don’t really separate the business stuff from the creative stuff – they are all connected.
Frankly, going bankrupt was a failure to be more creative with my finances. At the time my bankruptcy was actually a success of my creativity.
However you look at it, I did not heed the voices that I should have and didn’t take the action that I should have. It was also a very liberating experience.
I look at failure as a most faithful teacher, it’s just not the teacher you want to spend the most time with.
So that bankruptcy, while very difficult or hard to swallow, did also get me back on my feet financially and put me in a position where I am now, where I can afford to do the work I do and travel the world in the way that I do and accept the assignments that I do.
Humanitarian photography, as I alluded to earlier, is not the most lucrative field in photography and so I’ve had to find other ways to be creative about my business in order to fund those experiences.
Are there any mantras that you live by?
Certainly the idea of being intentional about the decisions of my life, the direction of my life and not allowing other voices to unintentionally divert my course.
I’m quite open to other voices but I want to be intentional about how I hear them and what I do with that advice.
As a photographer my mantra for years has been “gear is good, vision is better” and as worn as that has become, it rings no less true for me today that we can get preoccupied with gear.
Photographers have an unusual, one might call it incestuous relationship with our gear, and I don’t think that’s always a problem to creatively collaborate with our gear. In that sense its important, but to elevate gear over the rule of the photographers creativity, their patience, their curiosity, their understanding of the visual language, all the stuff that goes on in our in the idea factory of our brain, that stuff is so much more important. Vastly more important.
And then that all sits on top of the desire to be compassionate and to leave the world better than it was when I arrived. Or at least better from my presence, if possible.
If you were no longer able to use a camera how would you express your creativity?
Any way that I could.
I spent a lot of time writing and to be honest, I was really offended the first time someone said they thought I was a better writer, than I am a photographer. But that’s probably true and my legacy will probably be more affected than my words, than by my photographs and I’m ok with that.
If one day I can no longer use a camera, then I will use words and if words fail, I will find something else. I’ll do an interpretive dance or something (laughs).
If you only had 20 hours to live, how would you spend your day?
I would probably do less of the paperwork and I would go for a scuba dive.
I would spend time with the people who I love.
I would open the most expensive bottle of wine that I could find and I would go to bed a little later than usual.
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work what would it be? I feel like you’re doing that through your work already but ..
Well I hope I am. I think we are kidding ourselves if we think we are more than one voice in a choir.
I’m not out there changing the world. I’m contributing a voice to what I hope is something bigger, that maybe I hope will change the world for the better.
I’m actually more interested in how the world can change me and how I can become a better person.
If I could want one more thing from our society, it would be that we would become more empathetic.
More empathetic to the challenges of the generation that will come after us, that won’t hear our problems, more empathetic towards the poor and marginalized, more empathetic to the natural world that has long been the victims of our of our greed and our short-sightedness.
That empathy I think would take us a lot further, the deeper it went.
Is there a question that I haven’t asked that should have or something that you would like to share with others?
I don’t think so. I think you’ve actually been an unusually insightful interviewer. I usually get questions that start sounding very similar to one another and that was actually a really insightful interview.
brilliant thank you David. we appreciate that and I’m sure that the readers will too.
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS
FILM / DOCUMENTARY THAT IS A MUST WATCH
Your favourite podcast(s)
I don’t listen to podcasts, so I guess it’s my own Vision is Better, a video podcast on YouTube
A mix – Bruce Cockburn, Rush, Josh Ritter, U2, Tallest Man on Earth, Van Morrison, Miles Davis
Film / Documentary that is a must watch?
Casablanca. It’s a classic. Who doesn’t love Bogart?
Your favourite book // A book you are currently reading.
I’m currently re-reading Shantaram. Wonderful book.
My favourite? My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potock.
A website you regularly follow?
The Weather Channel
Last place you travelled?
Just got back from Italy, and now packing my bags for Lesotho, South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Zanzibar, Rajasthan, and Istanbul.
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre?
I love the work of Edward Burtynsky.
Do you have a favourite poem or quote?
Too many to mention but I love Rumi, so here’s a favourite:
“Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.” ― Rumi
Your favourite drink?
Single malt whisky. Or a great italian red wine.
Favourite TED talk:
The last one I watched: Guillaume Néry, The Exhilarating Peace of Freediving.
Last gallery / exhibit you visited
Not sure. Either Edward Burtynsky at Vancouver or Elliott Erwitt in Venice.
Your favourite photography book
A creative you’d love to see interviewed on ARC?
Links to your personal work // projects
davidduchemin.com is my blog and portfolio site.
CraftandVision.com is where you can find my eBooks, magazines, etc.
Can you share a short assignment / project that has benefited you in the past OR create / describe an assignment that you feel can help those reading this interview?
I think the best assignment I’ve given my students is something well-constrained. Pick a theme, then do a 12-image body of work on that theme. Make it visually cohesive, that might mean all black and white, or all in the same aspect ratio or orientation of frame. Stick to a deadline. This kind of well-defined project has a way of focussing people and giving their creativity something to push against.
Can you describe your style via a series of 10 photos that you feel define the work you’ve done in the last year and where possible describe why each one was included.
Describing my style is hard. A graphically simple, emotionally compelling, look at the natural and man made worlds, with a focus on un-contrived moments. Or something like that. If I could perfectly describe my vision I wouldn’t need a camera.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR TIME DAVID!
You can see more of David’s work here // Web
UP NEXT …
Stay tuned for an interview next week with Saint Louis wedding photographer, Jacob Loafman.
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