Saturday, January 11, 2014

Q & A With Bill Dane

Bill Dane (from his website)
Bill Dane is a photographer based in Berkeley.

How did you first get involved with photography? 

Blake   I grew up with horses & work & hands-on  everything +  in the '40s+ and in suburban LA.

I had to move on down the line = TRUCKIN'…

OK,  horses and work...amidst a family legacy of achievement/education (Thacher School?)... Where does photography enter the picture (no pun intended)?

Oh dear  you've been digging.
ThacherSchool Vassar  Bowdoin  Yale - but small $$$  &! so what = not us & not me.
My Vassar mother pushed us to leave all that in the behind.  
I went to Midland School = chopped wood-horses-kerosene lamps-study/sports 24/7
I believe she was pushed 'left' at Vassar - '35.
IE: Her favorite uncle & Yale MD told her women can't be doctors.  
Edie was top of her class in biology & sciences.  She didn't try.  She was bitter.
She made it on her own with us three kids for years as a teacher & hospital Tech.
Me = always jobs since '49 & even signed up for 3 years in the army (hoped for language school).
I don't think Mom considered me & the army as a possibility! 
She joined the '60s Peace & Freedom Party before I did.
Poli-Sci at Cal was extremely not-pleasureful  not-stimulating  not-communal  !very dead-ended.
'63 moved over to the Art Department and drowned in pleasures. 
Painting & sculpture & histories.   
Environmental art-looking & photographing = '69 I start camera investigations.
'69-'70 was big for me = paintings-sculpture-photographs show in fine S.F. gallery. 
Fires burned my studio-living space and all my stuff - twice - '69 before the show & '70 after.
Hey! I still had my camera & that was that.
End of the road for me & this burning-man's studio and artist-isolation.
Into to the streets with Ruscha-Frank-Winogrand-Friedlander-Evans-Arbus-Atget +.

So the fire was a motivating factor? A reason to start over in a new medium?

Combo of confluences - some hot - some smoldering & $.
Blake  I'd always wanted to share my stuff.
How does one share much of anything painting cooped-up (my studio had been chickens' house).
!What . . . waiting to be 'recognized' by gallery & museum & magazine systems?
With my photo-picture-postcards & mailing  I was in small but inspiring control.

Bill Dane

Even before photography, you had a creative urge. Paintings, sculpture, etc. Can you trace that back to some root in your childhood or past? Were your parents artsy? Did they encourage you? Or someone else? What motivated you to make art?

Loved it = Mrs. Foote  my 5th grade teacher  included watercolor & singing in class. 
Curriculum for lil'billy brain-style kids.
7th grade art class = older kids got after me - disturbed my focus - loved it the more.
Nothing later that I chose or had pressed on me.
Edie was a hands-offer = no pusher.   We knew she had painted - read constantly - loved art history.
She did give me a set of oil paints after high school.
Made-up & painted one small picture of the KKK burning a black man at night.
Next = '63 undergrad beginning art-drawing-composing class at Cal. 
The future of post poly-sci BA looked real sickening.
Painting drawing sculpting made total sense. 
Then all Cal art classes for 1 yr + summer and I graduated … 3 times.
'64 BA,Art/Poli-Sci & '66 Teaching Credential  &  '68 MA,Painting.
'66 Berkeley Schools Teacher = painting & photo after-hours.    
Retired in '98 with Nancy's support! OXs!
A chance to do pictures full-time til I go away. 

What kind of sculptures did you make?

I had made sculptures only in classes.
For this gallery show I was inspired to hang a 10' x 20' plastic drop cloth from the gallery ceiling. 
I lightly spray painted the hanging plastic in pastel colors letting the mist fall to the floor. 
Also made a misty spray painted  4' x 6' piece of foam lying on the floor. 
Fabricated a 4' x 6' plastic panel & attached 4" x 6" transparent boxes in a grid pattern.
These held my 4" x 6" photos  for the taking by gallery viewers. 
Photo-pictures were influenced by the grossly-expensive commissioned enviro-art of this '69 time.
I taught in a clearly and sadly under financed USA school district. 
The elitist expenditure of millions on art projects is capitalist-cultural backasswardness.
Decided to create my version = environment-photograph-postcards @10cents each - gift & mail 'em, '69.

I suppose postcards are easier to mail than paintings. I think you were anticipating the internet with your distribution strategy.

It took my Monet & !Sun-in-law (Major Powers) until '07. 
They ignited my dawdling smoldering ass = internet-website-flickr +  connections.
Thank the spirits and stuff does happen if you keep on movin'. . .

OK, so you're taking photos and mailing out postcards. In 1970 or so? Who did you mail them to? How was your work discovered by the photo world? Was it through the cards?

Blake, it's '69+  & how many serious picture guys were out there?
Lucky me - young & old boys network = one best friend interns for Szarkowski at MoMA.
I see & hear Szarkowski present Winogrand pictures to his NYU class - unholy shit - I was hooked again.
This is the smartest picture guy in the world. 
I'll send him mine as postcards = let him react or whatever = that was that + somethings.
Luck-place-friend-inspiration-motivation = Bill Burback & me stayin' alive.

Which pictures did you send Szarkowski? Do you remember the first one? Or the one which caused him to notice you? Or reply to you?

I sent him a picture every day for years - until he quit - there's + - 5K pictures there at MoMA.   
He 'replied' by having Bill Burback create the slide show at MoMA in '73.
Unfamiliar places, A Message From Bill Dane

Selected images from Unfamiliar Places, A Message From Bill Dane, 1973

Which was a show of the original postcards?

A loop slide show of some of the picture-postcards I'd mailed - mostly to JS.
There were a few backsides - I wrote little stuffs.

Wow. Were these silver gelatin cards? Is that how you made them?


Over the years I built 9 funky darkrooms at Berkeley High & in BUSD alternative schools .
I always had a tiny one improvised in 4 homes.
I built a mailing list which reached +-99 folks. 
My students even mailed their photo-pictures all over - had pic-pals.    
We were hella-cool public-school guys  with-it  oh yeah  gelatin-silver hipsters  fa-sho!

Do you miss the darkroom? 

Never been comfy with tech stuff   from camera to processing film to printing & I was not good.   
Digital is my tech-salvation & it's cheap - actually - almost affordable. 
Pictures look swell to me.  I know there are pixels there  - hiding or not - used to be grains.
Editing is way more accessible and accurate & productive for my kinda guy.
Enjoying editing now   in good spirits!
I computer edit & now it's Lr5 which I can keep real simple = crops-highlights-shadows-colors.
Pretty much like darkroom adjustments.   
If it looks digi-tweaked = this is not good!
Right. But seeing a photo online is not exactly the same as holding a postcard in your hands. With handwriting on the back.

Of course it's not the same form of connection - but oh will I take it & it's My non-business  B-dear.
I have the internet to connect with 100s -1000s of folks now! not just my tiny selected mailing list.   
I love Mac-screen picture-viewing - if someone wants to hold one or 2 = For Sale!:
Open 24/7/365 @  & peoples' prices = we are the 99.9%ers.
Or drag from my Website for free!   Have a mini-picture.   I'm a mini-commonist.

Do you generally make prints of your photos now? Or do they exist just online?
I can only afford to print for buyers - they pay $99 plus production & shipping costs for a print.    
Pictures can be viewed at  Some Flickr - Ipernity pictures are available for sale.

Hmm. It seems you were willfully remaining outside that art-gallery world by creating art on post-cards and mailing them out. What could be less precious? Less fancy? Do you consider yourself an outsider in the photo world or in the art world?

We're all outsiders … it fits my picture-life  &  I am a disturbed human - pissed off … chips.
I've been feeling & looking since '38 … its not good out there on the planet +.
Lucky we have balancing stuff = oh bless the spirits for yin-yang = music-art-good-folks-commonisms .  
Human-nature fucking capitalism = horrifying union & we get the off-springers.  
No Qs!   I left the funky 'politics' of the art-gallery world for internet + 'possible-commonism'.
If I'd sold hella-stuff = who knows what I'd think  feel  say  today = I might be an off-sprung.
Always wanted to get out-there to art-connectors  which no established-game could provide. 
I engaged with Pop's diss of the masterpiece.  I felt in '69 we're all outsiders.  Byebye in '07. 
I've mailed to connect since '69 … connected at that level and never stopped. 
Maybe that's partially why I never sold = my pictures were floating around for free = good!
But! Lucky+  I did get 4 grants which let me take off teaching to travel with camera foe pictures.

Where did you travel to?
I tried to spend + - a week in cities  in Europe  Africa  Asia   South & Central America +.   
Volume one includes all the Guggenheim & NEA pictures & they are place-named.
Spent all the grant $ on photography.
!Oh - You could love this Blake:
After I digitalized my fave 777 negs by '07 - I took boxes of negs & funky prints to the dump.
Nancy screeched - I just couldn't handle the unholy-thoughts of editing all the years of 'rejects'.
I was in the local recycling-dumpster smashing my stuff.
A looking-on guy says  You Bill Dane?  Can I have one of those prints?  
"Hep r Sef "  (never forgot those Alabama gas-station road-signs).
Months later same guy walks by the house - yard sale day - buys an Outside Inside - 10$ - laughter. 

Bill Dane, Outside and Inside America,1993, 84 pages, softcover

Why 777 negatives? Why that number? Did you toss all of your negatives or just the ones you'd digitized?

I knew they showed  Walker Evans prints in NYC from digital files.   Beauties - a friend reported.
Tested & got a digital Nikon = D80 w/zoom-macro in Jan '07.
In '06 we found a lost bond that east coast Gramma had secreted.
Meeting of The Board = then spent 3.5 years & the bond digitalizing the negs of all the pictures I wanted to live with. 
777 pictures.  Saved these negs.  
Trashed boxes of most 'leftovers'  and all the prints I could not quality-tolerate.  (Re: The dumpster story.)

Do you pursue exhibitions with your current work? What is your relationship with Fraenkel?

I pursue sharing-connections on our for-how-much-longer-free-egalitarian Internet
Not pursuit - but connections-stuff happens occasionally & over years I've been around a few fruitful blocks.
Jeffrey and Frish seem real good to me - they surely do what they do 'successfully'. 
They tried to do me for years - loved parts.  I'm sad and ecstatic that it didn't work out.
I am a slow evolver - they pushed me  as I was always inching out to BD-heaven? = internet commonism!?
I repeat: 
What if I'd sold hella-stuff = who knows what I'd think-feel-say today.   !You?
What do you mean "it didn't work out". What happened?

+- No takers   I assume ?.
Do you still mail out postcards?

Not much.  I have some left.   I'll mail you one if you'd like = my pleasure.
I mail to anyone who asks.   Apparently un-wise capitalist practice.

Bill Dane

Sure, I'd love one. But I wasn't asking as a hint. Just curious if they were still happening.

Blake  I wasn't asking-hinting for a show at MoMA. 
I wanted Szarkowski to 'see and judge' my pictures.  
Didn't even know moma was The MoMA at the time - lil'billy's naivete will continue for better & worser.
Just keep on keepin' on - outside & inside is here & there & beyond & who knows what's comin'…
What was your reaction when you were offered that show by Szarkowski? Were you surprised? 

Musta been real happy  Blake.   
Szarkowski had several hundred pictures worth of decision helpers.   & I simply couldn't say No.
But! I did know people on the museum staff by then & in different Depts  because I visited NYC.
I knew there was strike talk - I'm an AFL-CIO Teacher Union guy (they just wouldn't postpone it!).
Damn!  Cross a picketline & with Mother & wife!  
Friends were actually on the line. 
 "Go on in Bill   Be happy  We'll take care of this".

What? Your MoMA show occurred during a strike?! And people had to cross a picket line to enter? What a star-crossed event! More details please.

There we all were fall '73 - joyous & very troubling (not a publicized dilemma) yin/yang.

What's your photo routine? Do you generally go to the same neighborhoods? Do you have a camera most days? Or just specific shooting hours? Do you have a photo group nearby to share and talk with?

I'm no group-guy Blake.
Although I did help logistic Moses & Esther thru their Jewishness. 
From 2.5 to 13 years and their very-moving Bar/Bat Mitzvah - with fine pleasure!
I have plenty of routes that I cycle thru & year after year.   
I add places every month & subtract a few!   
No big travels now.    
I live here.  
So much of us & this USA culture is right here hanging out on our surfaces.
It all evolves.   I do.    Now happily with my Fuji X-Pro1 w/35mm 1.4 (normal lens).
Hunt & gather when I feel like it.   Usually 4 days a week.   Having plenty home-work.
= spend big daily photo-time editing & sharing.

Selected images from Bill Dane's Volume 16: 2013

Let's set aside the process stuff for a moment. What are your photos about? Loaded question I know. But what are you trying to express?

You of course know that all the words are good-fun and 'instructive' sometimes. 
It's The Pictures! (not stupid). 
It can be very hard for folks to really look at and see pictures - real hard if they aren't grabbed fast.
Hard without experience  but not always.
It's real natural for me to be struck and grabbed when I hunt.   
But I'm not you and/or viewers looking at my pictures.  
I sure hope we do connect now and later.   
I just can't care if my pictures are accessible to folks.  I have this non-profit job to do.
The only plan I have on the streets is to take a picture when I'm struck-grabbed! 
Then I edit and find out what it looks like as a picture.
What does what-grabbed-me look like photographed (venerable poignancy).
My pictures are then 'about' what you experience  in your own way  when you view them.
I find my picture 'subjects' in public places.   Places generally familiar to you? 
I don't walk along internally-intellectually verbalizing my hunting experiences.  
I mumble shit - even out loud - a lot! 
In my pictures I do 'express' what strikes me-personally as true-unique-pieces of 'this life'.
My picture-pieces are presented to you in organized rectangles. 
Only when I feel their wholeness-completeness will you see them.
Form and content are inseparable-symbiotic = group dancing til I freeze the actions - canvas or print.
Blake  I spent 7 years drawing-painting = organizing rectangles into 'whole' personal experiences.
The frame is always a critical ingredient - there's always outside and inside - in n out - decisions all over!
With still-straight-street photography I accept and love the givens of the scenes and surfaces encountered.
I'm out here working up to my eye balls in treasures.   In the middle of life-stuff.   Decisions everywhere.
I do (seldom now = retired) show pictures to an audience. 
I point to clues they might use to help them to their own experience. 
I can't & don't often 'explain' stuff to myself.  I notice stuff.
I know what I feel & think & like!  Like You?!   
We can point.   
If we can tell-all - fagetaboutit - it's no poem.
The real right stuff  floats.
The picture-experience is for you to have . . .  I've had mine . . .
Good luck for all of us always.
!&  All of us please read - The Photographer's Eye  plus lots by John Szarkowski.

Is there any order to what goes on your website and in which sequence? Or is it just random?

Unholy shit Blake = nervy hippyster from Briceland to Eugene wit mazy website . . . . 
Enabling-Tabatha   3 boys    Brown University   older Toyota?    hoping animals?   nuffsaid!
You are not always funny  Blake.
We are creating the tasty-functional website starting place for future site-building pioneers!
We are the in faux-timelessness.  
My website's opening - splash page is a randomly presented group repping all Volumes.
This beauty-rest just might float over dead-heads . . .
Blake  I am one anal guy.   Lining up ducks & whatevers.    
'Random' only shows when authorizing-lil'billy is in otherwise fullish control.
I edit in Lr5 'capture order'.   I know stuff.
The sequencing of each Volume is my pleasurable-busyness.  ?Quixotic - possibly.    Keep out.
When the Volume in-progress is within my climaxingzone  I can feel it. 
On it goes.    Mostly in chronological order  doctor.
Blake.  You've poked me-us where others fear to feed.   Chow-down Bra.
How do you know when a volume in-progress is almost finished? 

I mumble stuff like  gotta get down to some serious editing here.   
Start engaging possible first & last picture sequences     # of pictures     passage of time +.    
The feeling of the 'whole' comin' on     fatigue  +.
What do you think connects the photos you're making now with your work in the 70s? Do you see any consistent theme? If I can generalize, the field of view now seems much tighter and more confusing/abstract. Is that a reflection of some internal change?

Every photo-picture is more-or-less out-of-context ! 
I've always worked in a continuum of more-or-less out-of-context.   ?Don't we all.
It's a huge ingredient for me in hunting-gathering-editing. 
Conscious or not it must be for you in experiencing my pictures for a connection to happen.
75 years of hella-slow evolution.  I can't think or care much about past pictures & themes & stages.  
? Why contemplate my pictures from day one. I hardly even look at my old pictures. 
I'm an intentionally-devoted-newish-eye-for-each-picture hunter. 
I find - new pictures and Volumes over time - therefore I am.

Your earlier b/w photos show the real world in a more "normal" context. I can look at them and have some sense of what's happening and what the scene was. It seems now you've gone past that. I can't tell much at all about where your photos were made or when or anything really.

From Bill Dane's Volume 9: 2008-9

Every photo-picture is more-or-less out-of-context ! 
I've always worked in a continuum of more-or-less out-of-context.   ?Don't we all.
It's a huge ingredient for me in hunting-gathering-editing. 
Conscious or not it must be for you in experiencing my pictures for a connection to happen.
My 'out-of-context' is clearly normal for me Blake - like yours is for you.
Pictures.   Foods.  Partners.  Musics.  Contexts.  All very personal engagements.   
If I don't believe pictures can be engaged with = I edit them out.
Not simply because they're mysterious   difficult  and/or ethereal  +.
All my 'changes' over time have been evolutionary - undiscussed with a board of directors.
All my Volumes and their pictures are in roughly chronological order.

I know. I like that presentation. Just a steady stream by date. It's almost completely counter to the prevailing style which is "This is project X", "This is project Y", etc.

I'm repelled by theme-pictures taking & presenting.   
I must try to maintain open eyes-mind-psyche +.   
One amazement at a time  please. 
Do you ever seek editing opinions of others?

Just want hugs - loud exclaimers - family yelling  Hell Yes! 

Is your family the primary target audience?

That could be humorous Blake.  They could be the ones that finally care.   
My target folks must be those who want to be targeted or by chance get caught in my headlights.
I would prefer that Time mag - sorry - The Nation - beatify my picture & before I go away.

Do you think your family understands your photos?

Assuming my family includes a few for these purposes. 
I know Nancy and Monet and Major Powers have as poignant understandings as I do = my pleasure.
Moses & Esther are 23 and moving … they get 'em. 
They wonder why I'm so far 'outside' and there's the money-business.
We care about a lot of stuff - I'd rather folks are housed & working & healthcared & commonized!
I'm plenty lucky enough.

Who you do consider your main audience? Are there some people you know who "get" your work? Or is audience important at all?
Mailing my postcards I knew the receivers.
Using the Internet the audience is mostly anonymous.    
You know how Flickr folks can respond = view-favorite-comment-email.
Way more people see my pictures and respond to me on Flickr than did with the postcards.  
? 'Get' my pictures.  Yes  I know of a few people.   
They talk to me.  They translate their experience of my pictures into words - talking - writing.
Half the time I say, "Never occurred to me." or  "Damn!."  or "Gotta love it." 
Audience is half of why I do this.

Ivar Theatre by Bill Dane

Switching gears, can I ask a few questions about the Ivar? I saw your photos from that scene in your book and also at the Drkrm Gallery. What drew you to photograph there? Did you engage with any of the other photographers?

The Ivar.  I visited with Garry (Winogrand) in LA we hunted there 4-5 nights '82+.
I assumed the other folks there were horny citizen - no Ivar chatting - I dropped Garry at home.
We were engaged by staff on occasion for walking around - we sat & then walked on.
I could do many trips to LA overs decades.   My mother had a house in Sierra Madre.
Garry is tempting  - for You.
Was this during your Guggenheim travels? Yes, Garry is tempting for me. What was your general impression of him? As a shooter? And as sometime to spend time with?

Tod Papageorge and his writing tells us Garry. 
Wonderful Tom Consilvio died and Szarkowski - Paul McDonough & Tom Roma know.
Garry was intense - he took a lot of pictures - we visited over years - we weren't buddies - my pleasure.
Which photographers working now do you like? What about photobooks?

I'm pretty much under n out - sorry Blake. 
Motivation and inspiration come from everywhere - from collecting experiences - psyche-evolution - the streets. See above - see below - see as much as you can.
Inspiration and motivation come from comrades - over the years - working separately-together in melieus.
It was African masks   Giotto  VanGogh   Picasso  deKooning   Warhol   Kiefer's big-wall-pieces +.
R.Bresson   Godard   Sayles   Tarantino +.
Dostoyevsky  Brecht   Robbe-Grillet   Beckett   Boll   Sebald   T.Morrison  Banks   L.Michaels +.   
Marx   Gandhi   Malcolm x   Chomsky    Moyers   M.J.leger +.    
It was  Ruscha  Frank  Atget  Evans  Weegee  Diane  Lee   Garry +.
I do have my very own Internet Volumes.  No books.  I don't need no stinkin' wonderful books.

From Bill Dane, Volume 4: 2003-5

Do you think books are important? I don't think I'd know about you if it not for your photobooks.

They're more important now than they were before you asked  thank you.
Picture books were important in my past.  I don't read easily - physically.  Visual memory here.
Blake I literally do not have the brain-style to be the intellectual-combo guy I'd love to be.
My mother had the academically-sufficient thing - my wife has it.    
I have what I have - try for more - work with it - mostly with pleasure.
In pop-terms I've decided it's some type of dyslexic-leaning.  So What.  ?!Luckier-me.

Tell me about Briceland  Blake.

Briceland is not much of a town. And I didn't live there, actually about 2 miles away up a dirt road in a house my parents built. Back to the landers, ex-hippies. I was born in Berkeley actually in a house found through community bulletin board.

& I was in Berkeley when you arrived.

I only spent about a day there before shipping off to Walnut Creek where my parents lived. Then they moved north a few years later.

Your wife's name is wonderful  must be ancient.

She's named after the Bewitched character.

No TV for us til '85  -  then we got this house & bills.
I lived & painted on Mt Diablo's back side '67-'69.
Nancy is a Professor at St Mary's College Moraga - last 3 years as Edu.Dept Chair = hassled by the minute.   
!She will have her sabbatical June-Feb.  YinYang!
And what do you two have planned for that time? Any adventures?

How to plan with our USA-planned-plutocracy - No-democracy - $college$ loan payment plan +.
We're not even Europe.  We are not a civilized country.
But!  Nancy will go (flyer miles) places with buddies and garden and rest and write articles +. 
I feed cats & do picture stuff + & I traveled a lot.   
Adventures small & big do show up if you just KEEP ON TRUCKIN'…
IE: Thank You Blake!   
This is a pleasureful adventure!   
Os Bill.

bs:  KEEP ON TRUCKIN'…  is R.Crumb  ZAP Comics   bet your folks know that & you too … tell the boys!


whale/mouse said...

I like his answers.

China Plate said...

Just great! What a cool guy.

Joe Reifer said...

Great interview, Blake. I worked at the lab where Bill printed for some years, and visiting with him was always a pleasure.

William Keckler said...

Fabulous interview, from both sides of the table. A classic. Love it.

6 ft white rabbit said...

so much to take away from this - thanks to both of youse.

Didi S. Gilson said...

Bill is utterly awesome every which way. He plays to his own inimitable drumbeat & is always upbeat (imagine that)! He doesn't toot his own horn, so much as just get on with it & do the work (creative work that's play, yes) -- so it is wonderful to see this Q & A here. Thnx for that, for this. I love how his enigmatic images + codeword/Steno-speak/write = who Bill Dane is. A total gentle-man, very kind & interested in others too. I'm always taken aback by that. Let alone by his wonderful way of shooting. Bill is inspirational in so many ways... he reminds us that sometimes doing the work is its own reward (it's gotta be... both when doing it in obscurity, but also when only some few fans get to peek in), that living creatively is its own reward AND that each of us cannot have the same career/life = we each have our own idiosyncratic life/art & we need to concentrate on it/ours, jump(or kick)-start it when we feel the need, gumption... but otherwise, simply keep at it = keep on keeping on = enjoy it & enjoy the fans & friends & communication along the way.

You go, Bill Dane on the Internet!

Cheers & much respect,

Bill Dane said...

Thank you Doctor Blake!
Lucky me.
My pleasure-adventure.
Your audiences' words are alive n heal.