(A.g.’s note: I’ve been a long time fan and follower of DAYV MATTT on tumblr. He is such a great person to interview and is the type of person who tells it like it is! He Straightforward in his answers and in his photography. This was a really fun interview and I hope all of you enjoy. Cheers! All Photos are owned by Dayv Mattt.)
A.G.:You started out in Toronto Photographing the Jungle/DnB Rave scene right? How did you end up in the streets of Seoul, then in Colombo?
DAYV: Shooting DnB raves was a lot of fun because I didn’t really dance, and it was fun documenting the scene. It was a pretty close knit group back then but as the parties got bigger I attended less and less shows. I never thought those pictures would go anywhere…and for the most part, they haven’t. In 2002 a buddy of mine who was living in Seoul called me up and asked me if I wanted to work with him in Seoul. I said yes, and seven days later I was in Korea. Seoul didn’t really have a music scene I gave a rat’s ass about at the time so I started shooting street photography. It just sort of grew on me. In 2012 I moved to Sri Lanka for reasons I don’t really want to get into, but I will be returning to Seoul, then Gwang-ju, this coming July. I’m pretty stoked to shoot in Gwang-ju, which is around three hours south of Seoul.
What are the differences shooting in Colombo and Seoul, if there are any? Or is there no difference as to how people react to you wherever you are?
In Seoul I did a lot of walking, but in Colombo I utilize a tuktuk a lot of the time. Colombo is just so much hotter than Seoul, so going out for a few hours isn’t all that fun to do. Reactions from people I shoot are drastically different when shooting in Seoul and Colombo. In Korea, people don’t really like having their picture taken. They’re a lot more paranoid that you’re taking a picture to hurt them or slander them in some way. It’s weird. In Colombo people just don’t care. They smile, they think it’s great that I’m taking their picture, and I have never once had a problem.
You have a very distinct look in your photographs. How did you arrive at that style? Did you experiment and explore or see someone doing it that way and you practiced to the point you made that look your own?
It just happened that way. I’ll be honest. I don’t really follow other photographers or admire a style that’s out there. There are essays and shots I absolutely love, but I don’t go out of my way to see what other photographers are doing. I used to really dig combat photography, but even that has waned. In fact I have no idea who the up and coming talent even is. I just do my thing and get on with it. I adopted the editing style I use now because it solved a problem I was having when I was shooting with a D1. I don’t have that problem anymore, but I kept using the style I’d chosen because I like it. Deep down inside I like it a lot and I love my photographs.
I personally think your street photography looks very unique but I still see the classic way of doing street photography in your compositions? Did you get inspired by the usual suspects like HCB, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand or did you just go your own way?
Not really. I mean they all have truly amazing shots, but I don’t own any of their books or even have any of their photos on my computer. I do what I do because I love doing it. I’m not out there trying to be like someone, learn from someone. I get chided a lot by people for having absolutely terrible composition, so thanks for saying that you see some “classic ways of doing street photography” in my composition. It’s not often I hear that.
I meant classical in the sense that you still go out and photograph stuff that interests you. I often see a lot of street photographers on the internet who stage photographs or take photographs for the sake of likes but that’s for another discussion. Moving on, I see something that you do which is by no means classic. You have a fascination with using GIFs in your street photographs. Where did you get the idea?
In response to those who stage photographs, it’s not something I’m against in photography, but those shots definitely aren’t ‘street photography’ or ‘photojournalism’, and people who take photos for the sake of likes, end up, to a certain degree, mimicking other photos? I’m not sure because like I said, I really only focus on photos that I like and quickly dismiss and forget about photos that I don’t like.
As for GIFs, I love GIFs! I don’t go overboard with them but I do like posting them once in a while. I don’t know if I’m fascinated, but since I usually do a triple shot of whatever I shoot, the three frames sometimes, and I mean very rarely, come out well as GIFs so I post them as GIFs. It’s fun to mix things up.
How do you want your work to be viewed or how would you describe your personal style?
People can view my work any way they see fit. I abhor photographers who try and put the people who are looking at their photos into some kind of trance or mood by way of some kind of mission statement or explanation. When I see a photo I like, I don’t give a shit what it means to the photographer. I hope it means something to them that I like the photograph, but anything extra they provide is just padding and fluff, in my opinion. That may sound harsh, but that’s the way I see it. As for my personal style, I would say that it’s nothing fancy. I have one camera, one lens, and photoshop. I guess if I had to be something I’d be a lover of high contrast.
Your haters over at tumblr have some of the harshest comments I’ve seen on tumblr, how do you deal with them?
They’re probably the harshest comments you’ve seen because most people who get comments like that just delete and ignore them. I appreciate a little confrontation now and again, and providing answers or a defense to the negative things people say about my photography is often a good way for me to explain what I’m all about; which isn’t much. Moreover, I think my answers and defense of my photography bugs additional people because, in their view, I don’t have a sufficient purpose or reason for taking photographs. Indeed, I find it quite frustrating that my photography CAN’T be good because I don’t blather on about this or that and I don’t have some sort of fanciful concept or philosophical intention. In short, dealing with the haters is entirely separate from me taking photographs. I like taking photographs, and I enjoy replying to haters, but in the end they’re two completely different activities.
I’m not sure if you’ll agree but I think the problem lies in the fact that many photographers think there is a need to have an artist statement that contains lines like “entomological study of the post-modernist human condition” or “Ludo narrative dissonance stemming from mimetic examination of liberal capitalism’s failure”. But I do think an artist statement, when written with sincerity, can actually help the photographs. I guess at the end of the day, it’s the photographs that matter.
Listen, apart from the total nonsense you just gave me as examples, writing something about a photo essay with a clear topic is fine, and often helpful. However, most photographers, including myself, are not dedicating a significant amount of time documenting a single project for that kind of essay. So, my problem is with single shots – for example photos of a sad face – with titles like “despair” or “something else that’s stupid”. The photographer, in what I am going to boldly assume is most cases, does not have a clue why that face appears sad.
Let me tell you a story. Back when I shot parties in Toronto, I’d often sit on a stack of speakers to reload film, take stock of how much film I had left, of have a drink of water or a smoke. I’m not a smiler. My normal face is rather deadpan and solemn. I can’t tell you how many times some kid rolling on whatever he/she was rolling on would come up to me and say “DUDE! WHY SO GLUM? YOU OKAY?” To them I looked sad, but inside I was having a perfectly amazing time.
Now let’s say one of them snapped a shot of me and posted a photo to Tumblr with the title “sadness surrounded by happiness” or some bullshit like that? Is that photograph better? In my opinion, as soon as the photographer put that lie about the picture, the picture itself became a lie. A photograph is not a painting. A painter can say whatever the f*ck he/she wants about his/her painting because he/she actually painted it. Photographers who write about their photos like painters about their paintings annoy me.
Speaking of Tumblr, what do you think about that platform? People say it has a lot of copyright issues but you’ve been there for some time now right? What do you like about it?
I absolutely love Tumblr. It’s a really easy platform to use and it’s even easier to connect with like minded people and see what’s going on all over the world. I just dig the user experience more than I did with Flickr, 500px, or WordPress.
I don’t really get the copyright issue thing. They’re my photos and I have the original RAWs of each photo I post. I think most people are taking the ToS out of context when they read it. It’s realistic to assume that Tumblr requires a little legal mumbo jumbo in their ToS simply because photos are reblogged and, heaven forbid, added to the radar. They wouldn’t be able to do those things if there wasn’t that legal language giving them permission to do so. Will Tumblr sell one of my photos and make thousands of dollars? I seriously doubt it. There is this notion out there that your work is worth millions. That’s the problem, and that’s why I can’t take a photographer who watermarks their images seriously. It’s just dumb, and I don’t want to get into it more because I’ve complained about watermarks enough on my Tumblr.
Let’s talk gear for a second. You’ve been a Nikon SLR guy ever since. What is it with Nikon that you like? Have you tried other cameras or you just like to keep things simple and use that one camera over and over again?
I’m not a rich dude and so I’ve never really had the chance to buy a new camera and new lens at the same time because I don’t dig kit lenses. I’ve always had Nikon bodies and Nikon lenses, and because of that I’ve stuck with Nikon. I’ve snapped a few pics now again with a buddies Canon, but the backs just don’t make sense to me after having used Nikon for so long. The 14-24mm F2.8 lens I have now cost more than my D700 body, so I don’t see myself moving away from Nikon any time soon. That said, I’m not a gear minded individual. I make do with what I have and buy what I can afford. I don’t dream about bigger memory cards, a trendy secondary PNS, or a wide selection of lenses. I just shoot and hope for the best.
You successfully self-published a book called High Street Low Street. What was that experience like for you?
It’s a giant leap of faith putting out a book. It isn’t hard to design and get printed. It’s hard convincing yourself it will sell and finding people to buy it. I really had no idea it would sell so well (I sold around 300 of a 500 print run), and for anyone out there who thinks they’d like to do it, just do it. The worst that can happen is that you have a lot of books to give away to people for free. The one thing that embarrassed me A LOT about HSLS was that it fell apart quite easily. The binding just wasn’t up to snuff. I did my best to get replacements to people who complained, but it was a learning experience, and you can’t learn if you don’t make an effort. I’m pretty confident the book I have planned next will be pretty well received because it’s going to be awesome if everything goes as planned.
Are we going to see a new book anytime soon?
Yep! The provisional name for my next book is HIGH STREET LOW STREET COLOMBO but it’s still really early on in the planning stages and I won’t be getting hardcore about it until I’m settled back in Korea.
If your current self could give some advice to your younger self shooting raves in Toronto, what would it be?
I’d probably tell my younger self to shoot more colour film. Almost all of my pics from that era were shot on black and white because I had a dark room at home. I should have shot more colour. They were colorful events, and for the most part, that aspect of the scene doesn’t resonate with my photos. I’d also tell my younger self to buy APPLE stock, haha.
Any Final Words?
More photos from Dayv Mattt