A graduate from The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Los Angeles-based photographer David Uzzardi has the rare talent (or karma?) to find himself exactly at the right place, at the right time… with a camera. Combine this with an uncanny ability to capture candid imagery on black & white film and you get this fantastic, exhaustive portfolio of work, built over the last ten years from San Francisco to New Orleans. Uzzardi shared with us his five favorite photographs – enjoy the ride!
This is my quintessential photograph. Honest, pure, and most importantly: timeless. When I started taking cross country trips I decided I wanted to find those Norman Rockwell moments in life and capture some of the same warm moments in real life modern America. I caught this photo first thing in the morning while walking along the Mobile, Alabama coastline.
I was on my third trip to New Orleans and I was doing one of my long walks through Downtown when I came across a bunch of soldiers about to be shipped out, most likely Iraq. (This photograph was taken shortly after the 9/11 attacks.) The soldiers were very disturbed by me photographing them and some even thought I might be an al-Qaeda spy. I shot this picture along with a few others before I was escorted away. What I like most about this shot is the admiration the boy has to the soldier and the fear and anxiety in the eyes of the soldier. So much in that image.
New Orleans is my favorite place to photograph. It’s like time has no relevance to the actual place. Life’s just different there and so are the people. This photograph was taken on my first trip there. Just 19 years old, my friends and I rolled in a hostile we read about online in the Bywater Section. Having no idea of the area and the history of anything Louisianan I walked around with my camera like I was at Disneyland. I was stupid and naive, but I survived and was able to get some great shots of a New Orleans that existed just a few years before Katrina devastated that particular area.
Scored this image while cruising through a flea market somewhere in the midwest. She seemed like the grandmother of these dolls. Her face is as empty as the dolls. Also, just looking at her in the photo scares me and I’m rarely scared by anything. A creepy doll collector / vendor is creepier then any Hollywood horror icon.
I was in the hills of Bernal Heights, San Francisco when I spotted smoke clouds coming from below. I quickly grabbed my camera, jumped on my motorcycle and found the fire. This shot does it for me. His disconnect and sadness are staring right at you. This picture is all about the loss of hope and that sure as hell makes for a captivating photo.
Q & A
LF: Something in your photographs makes a real life scene look like a movie still. How do you recognize these moments as you’re walking down any given street? How do you set your shots?
DU: When I started to shoot more and more pictures of strangers I started to discover what makes some pictures work and why other stood so flat. My first move was to stopping taking any exposures of the backs of peoples heads. Then I began to see the strength of an unposed expression, as opposed to a posed one. Posed always looked the same. So I would approach some thing/one interesting while shooting, ask them if you could photograph them (as I was still shooting), and then hopefully get their approval and go to town with it. As Far as any setting up, I am only able to set up my frame, everything I shot with my black & white fine art work happened in front of me organically. The key to me catching all these scenes was to always be lurking and moving around with a super heavy necklace.
LF: What makes you tick / what makes you click?
DU: I am kind of neurotic and high strung. I have constant nightmares that I come across something so spectacular and I don’t have a camera to capture the experience. It’s like I couldn’t really enjoy or feel any proper emotion unless I make a picture of it. So that become a daily reminder to always be looking and ALWAYS have a camera with you.
LF: How can a photographer who first got known from his black & white film reconcile fine art and digital commercial work?
DU: Over ten years of taking street pictures. Ten years of working in photographic labs. Tens years of trying to get recognition through shows, zines, magazines, and books. Ten years and still I couldn’t sell not even one photograph. Maybe $50 here or $100 there from magazines but I never saw my work make me a dime. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on all my photographic buys, trips, and supplies I went through during those ten years but never anything coming in. I decided that I needed to come into the industry through the commercial side. I needed to kiss some ass, learn digital, figure out lighting and forge into the industry. I moved to Los Angeles a little over a year ago and haven’t looked back. San Francisco was an amazing city to find your way into the art world and I couldn’t say a bad thing about my old home but Los Angeles is always looking for photographers and SF wasn’t. And here I’m discovering and learning so many new aspects to the world of photography. So far it’s been tough starting again at the bottom and figuring out the digital side of photography as well as learning to work the business angle. Since I have never given up on processing and printing my own film, I decided to start a small business of custom hand film processing and contacting. It’s a dying tradition and I hope to continue making images come alive the old fashion way.
LF: What are you working on, either a finished work or in development that we can look forward to? What’s your musing for it?
DU: I’ve been working on getting people to get in front of my camera. Portraiture and complete control of the lighting are something I am exploring now and am always looking for the right personalities to allow me their privilege. I’d love to bring some of my lights on the road and photograph the last of the old country legends like George Jones, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, and Jerry Lee Lewis. I also have huge aspirations of becoming a travel photographer. To be able to get paid to travel and capture the beauty of these places excites me a lot.
LF: What do you want to be when you grow up?
I’d love to be a successful travel photographer. The dreams of a being a rock star died. The thought of bartending forever does not really interest me.
I buy pretty much everything I own from Goodwill. Getting great clothes and helping deserving people. Also, my brother owns a boutique in Soho Manhattan so I get some super hip stuff from him now and then.
The super greats like: Robert Frank, Danny Lyon, Garry Winogrand, Herni Cartier-Bresson, and WeeGee. I also love listening to old George Jones records and that probably has rubbed off on my work.
Being a photographer, I’m obviously a very visual person. Mirrors are good.
My favorite destination’s gotta be Kauai, Hawaii. So peaceful there. One of the few locations where it’s ok for me to put me camera down and relax properly.