How did you get started doing photography? Although I have been a photographer most of my life, I started out as a documentary filmmaker. Consequently this way of seeing greatly influences my work. Light and motion are often dominant characteristics of my work… just like a movie. It's the beguiling light that seduces me. When I learned to print color, I was able to control the interpretation of my images even more.


What influences have driven your work? Documentary filmmakers such as Ricky Leacock have influenced the way I see light and motion. Ricky always says to "stay wide and get in close". But it took a while for me to get past my own isolation in order to do this. In this sense most of my work is driven by personal experience. For instance, when I stopped drinking I started photographing bar scenes at night and found my own loneliness and isolation everywhere I went. Several years later I am able to get closer to people and see Saturday night for the Pagan holiday it is when we all go out in search of tribal unity... or... a desire to belong.

What do you find most appealing about working with photography? …most challenging? Photography represents a way of seeing …A means of discovering myself and the world around me. When I go out at night I use my intuition, calling up old feelings to lead me. These feelings come out again as visual identities in my photographs regardless of the subject matter. The most challenging part is connecting with my inner self in order to find compelling material on the outside that expresses my feelings. Photographs are always out there going on all the time… it's when I connect with my mystical or intuitive self that I find them.

What qualities attract you to a subject or scene? Is your primary focus one of aesthetic intent or is the image organized to communicate a message? I am initially attracted by the colored lights. I look for backgrounds in the form of light and atmosphere and then wait to see what transpires. Psychologically, I believe the colored lights promise transformation out of myself and out of the darkness with allusions to festivity, warmth and companionship. It's the interplay of light that I find so seductive... foreground and background. It sets the stage for a fantasy.


Do your subjects know they are being photographed or are your photos strictly candid? In most cases my subjects know they are being photographed although I almost never speak to them until I am finished. I don't hide what I'm doing. I hang around for awhile before shooting….just watching so everyone knows that I'm there. They often find me as subjects, not the other way around. If someone doesn't want to be photographed I honor their wish, but that is not usually the case. If I talk to someone before photographing them, they often become stiff and self-conscious, posing in the pictures. At the very least, they stop doing whatever they were doing initially that attracted me to them.

Do you see the finished work in your mind before you begin or does the image captured on film surprise you? Spontaneity works best for me. Whatever turns my head to make me take the picture also has the power to make a good photograph. If I visualize or pre-conceive an image before I begin , chances are good that it will be boring or flat. With respect to the question, It's not that the captured image surprises me, but the process is spontaneous. I can watch a scene or couple all night before the most compelling situation or composition develops. It's still spontaneous. Again, it's my intuition, not planning, that directs this process. I often look for backgrounds I like that are rich in color and atmosphere and then wait to see what happens there. Once I've hung around for 5-10 minutes I think I own the room or the street and everyone who arrives is my guest. In this way I am creating movie scenes. The stage is set and I'm waiting for the players to arrive.

Do you ever alter the photos? I print my own color photographs because I am the best printer I know. I utilize the techniques common to all photographic printing such as burning and dodging but do not consider that manipulation in the same vein as computer compositing . Burning and dodging are part of the craft of photographic printmaking that are a necessary part of interpreting the image. In color printing, contrast is derived through color balance, it is not controlled separately as in black and white printing.

How has your style evolved or changed over time? My style has definitely changed over the past 10 years from the cool nihilistic scenes I used to photograph from a distance. Many were in New York. They were all shot on a tripod, allowing for sharpness, clarity and control and often had rich color saturation as part of the composition. They were more studied than spontaneous although I would stand four hours waiting for the right moment or situation to develop at times. As my life changed I was able to get close to people…to be more intimate with my camera. They let me close and I let myself experience the intimacy. Now much of my work is hand held…a totally different technique than that of my earlier work.

Why do you choose not to title your individual works? All of my photos are part of the "Saturday Night" experience. To title them takes away from your direct and personal emotional connection with what is going on. I believe people enjoy my work more when able to use their imagination and create their own story... or connect with their own feelings in response to what they see. If I say too much about an image, it deprives them of that.

[ Artist Interviews | ]
Image copyright © Deborah Whitehouse.
copyright © 1998 All rights reserved.