Portfolio Refresh: Q&A with Photographer Graham Dunn

Graham Dunn is the rare photographer that possesses an otherworldly eye for what stirs the soul. The LA-based photographer and director represented by I Heart Reps infuses his work with an energy that is free-spirited and exuberant, capturing the raw essence of his subjects in all their gritty and youthful glory. His portraits are of people who are beautiful by anyone’s standards, yet Dunn deftly burrows beneath the gleaming surface, extracting an innocence and unexpected humanity from each image, hinting at, as he puts it, “a narrative, an emotion, nostalgia.”

There is a lovely sense of lightness to his work, a candid playfulness that feels like a happy accident, honoring the individual and the imperfect. These are authentic and unposed images that you find yourself wanting to crawl inside of, radiating an air of effortless cool and the inexplicable bliss of a life well-lived. We’ve been fans of Graham’s eye-catching portraits for quite some time now, so we caught up with the man behind the camera for a portfolio refresh and a little insight into what jumpstarts his creative process. Dive in below, and be sure to check out more of Graham’s work here.

Live FAST: Do you have a creative process or philosophy when shooting?

Graham Dunn: I basically just try to create an environment and set the scene in a way that makes people feel comfortable taking risks and experimenting. I plan the details first so that when we’re actually shooting we can be more free form and leave ourselves open to happenstance—maybe the light’s cooler around the corner from where we thought we’d be shooting, or maybe the model knows how to dance or has a great sense of humor—when you’re purposely comfortable with adapting, you leave yourself open to happy accidents and unexpected turns.

LF: Who or what is your favorite subject? In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?

GD: I like shooting my son a lot, if he’ll let me. I also like shooting places that have some history and texture to them—nothing too polished. As far as what makes a good photo, the simple answer is something you want to go back and look at again and again because it grabbed you or inspired you. The best photos seem to hint at something beyond what you’re actually seeing; a narrative, an emotion, nostalgia.

 LF: I’m obsessed with your Last Day On Earth series. I like that it’s presented without explanation and means something different to everyone who views it. What was the initial inspiration behind the work?

GD: I was interested in putting together photos that had a strange quiet quality to them, like a surreal version of everyday life, just frozen in time.

LF: What advice would you give to your younger self?

GD: Sometimes I think my younger self should be giving my current self the advice. Things get serious and risk-averse when jobs cost a bunch of money and the stakes are higher, so you tend to perfect certain techniques that you know will work well and the license to fail starts to disappear. It’s important to remember to fail regularly – that’s important. I try to learn one thing at least on every shoot, technical or otherwise.

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