As featured in print in Live FAST Issue 1
Evie Bear sat down for a heart-to-heart with photographer, Daniel Arnold and discovered he’s so much more than just a self-confessed “dipshit philosopher.”
LF: I’m dying to know, who is Daniel Arnold when he’s at home?
DA: A dumbass philosopher. A perpetually broke compulsive over-eater. A super bummed hilarious joker. A psychic Wheel watcher. An ugly, brown-haired Rapunzel.
LF: When did you move to NYC, and what was the city experience like for you then, compared to now?
DA: I was 23. Now I’m 35. I worked for my cousin going door to door in the projects speaking Spanish and went around in bellbottoms and a striped train conductor hat and memorized the stats on every band. I think it was around then I decided it was important to always carry a camera and I would go see music every night and stand in the front row and figure out how to take pictures. When I had free days I would pick an avenue and walk from Houston to the 80s, until my feet bled. Not for pictures; just to see what was around. I must have been so energetic, which in this city, no matter how starry your intentions, works the same as being so ambitious. I didn’t experience it as ambition. I’ve always had a major underdog complex and thought of myself as a lazy person. Now at least I have some awareness of how hard I work, and a much better idea of my place in the world, but I’m still pretty perpetually unimpressed and unsatisfied with myself. The big change in 12 years is that I love Chinatown. When I first moved here it made me sick. Really glad I stuck around to get that straight.
LF: So, do you make a conscious effort to spend most of your time snapping people on the street, or is it an accidental daily occurrence?
DA: Both. Discipline is a necessary part of taking any practice seriously. So, though lately I’m a wimp about bad weather, I do force myself to go interact with the world. But the practice isn’t the actual taking of the pictures. The practice is just being in the world and letting my mind and my eyes wander and seeing what it does to my thoughts, and letting it take me where it takes me, and keeping just enough of a brain spark engaged to pay attention to what’s going by, so I can remember to push the button. In that way, the pictures do feel accidental. But also, yes, I do spend most of my time snapping people on the street and then looking at them on the couch.
LF: Do you consider yourself an artist?
DA: I’m gonna make this up as I go. Brand new thoughts. Mixtape. No edit. Exclusive. As it applies to a magazine story about me taking pictures, everybody else is the artist. The tracks of a fool in a mindless day say more than the Met or Hot 97. By focusing so externally, maybe I leave less revealing, or at least less arbitrary tracks. But at the same time, I’m such an addict that my output feels involuntary. Maybe that’s why this question is so hard. In the “art” process of sorting through my photos and deciding which ones to share, I’m Dr. Jekyll in the morning, making sense of his bruises. OK wait, I got it. The answer is yes and no. Half of me sorts the photos and does the interviews. He’s more of a doctor. He is self-conscious and tortured. But the guy who goes around with the camera, the other half, is a bad enough junkie to stay truly dazed in a current. That guy is a stick in a wave. He’s a hard guy for my doctor brain to own up to being, but I like the bruises he gives me (@adamjloeb). And after two years of really letting Mr. Hyde run wild, I am a much better, smarter doctor. Are you sorry you asked yet? Here’s an easy answer. I’m a guy who goes around looking at things that don’t matter like they’re very important. I didn’t choose to be that. It’s just how I came out. OK, final answer. My great grandpa called himself an artist. My grandpa too. For their sake, I’ll say yes.
LF: Do you read traditional media and print, or is your world consumed by social media and digital content?
DA: My brain is hooked pretty bad on the phone. It’s the nightmare of my life. My main source of news I’d say is Facebook. A year ago that would have been a cynical boomerang to the forehead, if not an omission, but I think it has actually become a pretty interesting, positive phenomenon. I like it as a news source. I also watch local news because it’s the weirdest show on TV. Not in a human interest way. Just the language and format of TV news, talk shows too, it’s so bizarre and outdated. It’s so funny.
LF: I find I feel pressured the more followers I get (on instagram) because I suddenly have a lot of people looking at me. Judging me, ready to unfollow or comment. Do you spend a lot of time considering what you post? Do you read your comments? Do you look through all your ‘likers’?
DA: I read the comments and watch the likes but I don’t work for them. I don’t care about judging or unfollowing or negative comments. I kind of even like them. It’s flattering to have a following and it’s validating and it gives me the audacity to inch farther out on the limb, but that’s all it does. Beyond that it’s entertainment. Though I will say that it’s a new age bonus to find myself with such a platform. And I have met tons of interesting people.
LF: I know the story of you being close to broke and offering your instagram followers the opportunity to buy your prints for $150. $15k richer by the end of the day, you must’ve realized people were really into your work. What other outcomes did that exercise bring about? Do you still sell your images through instagram?
DA: In reality that was just an instance of being nimble in a crisis. It got me loads of unexpected attention, but so far I don’t think it’s had much tangible impact. The paid work I get so far grew from other seeds. Press was fertilizer at best. I sell photos as needed, i.e. when I can’t pay rent. But I have more on my plate than I can manage as it is — this is a hard job for one guy alone. I have been hoping to find some outside help or establish some simple infrastructure so I don’t have to shut down my life every time I have a sale, to track down files and place orders and ship a million envelopes, because it’s exhausting and demoralizing to have no money. But so far I haven’t found the right help and I’ve been too scattered and overwhelmed to come up with a good system on my own.
LF: What is your intention with your imagery? Are you trying to make a point or capture a moment in NYC’s history or nah?
DA: History and the point are for after I’m dead, assuming anybody bothers to comment. Taking these pictures is a handrail in a laundry shoot. I was lucky to find it slapping around in the dark. It’s a temporary fix to keep from falling through my life at terminal velocity. Paying attention to what’s around me makes my existence feel full. Leaving behind a document of the view as my brain processed it, makes my time feel meaningful. So in a way I’m coping with death. Big surprise, human being. I’m looking hard at the world. That’s all. It’s good for my brain. It keeps me full of thoughts and questions. It’s a way of experiencing love alone.
LF: Have you ever had any serious drama from taking or publishing someone’s photo? Or any love stories?
DA: Plenty of people get mad at me for taking their picture, but those are hype stories. They don’t matter. Once I posted a picture of a beautiful girl in an airport and she ended up contacting me, but we haven’t fallen in love yet.
LF: What’s your goal for 2015?
DA: The top goal is to find more efficient ways to pay rent and buy presents. Charmed, hard life.
LF: How FAST do you live?
DA: I don’t live fast. My whole thing is making the world stop. I used to be 23 and think “who needs a long life,” but now I am grateful for all the time I can get to go around and feel sad or happy wondering about things.
LF: What’s your dream. Like, if you could do or be anything on earth and money wasn’t an issue, what would it be?
DA: A dad in his twenties.