Dylan Lewis is a photographer and writer based in Richmond, Virginia. His work explores the tension between image-as-documentation and image-as-construction, as well as themes of memory, longing, fantasy, and solitude. His photographs attempt to disrupt the already fraught relationship between image, language, and narrative, and to create a space where new forms of meaning-making emerge.
To begin with, could you please discuss your earliest experiences with photography? What triggered you to use this medium?
I first got into photography through cinema, which was my main passion up until my early 20s. Ι’m not sure Ι could pinpoint exactly when it clicked for me that i was more interested in trying to achieve in still frames what Ι wanted to achieve in making films, this sense of world-building or emotional texture-weaving, but i’m sure it probably coincided with my first experiences of seeing photo series and photobooks, realizing that you could still gesture toward narrative in how you compile and sequence individual photos into a larger body of work, and that photographs were maybe even better suited (because of how inherently elliptical a series of photographs of disparate moments is) to making that gesture in the same way that the films Ι’m most drawn to do, i.e. very vaguely and with much more interest in tone/atmosphere/etc.
Why did you title the project Dusker?
I’m terrible at titling things but when this project coalesced enough to warrant one I knew I wanted to try and have the title hold some of the same mystery / magnetism that I hope the images hold – this feeling of something existing just beneath a concrete or easily legible meaning. something that evokes / elicits the same kind of grasping toward meaning without ever really closing its fingers around it that the images themselves attempt to embody. Ι liked the word ‘dusker’ on a purely sonic level, and i like the way it hints toward a couple different tones/textures without fully committing to any. Ι primarily studied poetry in school and still find myself most drawn to that mode of expression so Ι feel like the title was a place i could indulge that part of my brain, the part that likes the work that words can do just on the level of musicality, separate from how they function as vessels for meaning.
In your series, we see an interesting combination of vibrant color and black & white photographs. Why do you choose this route?
I think the simplest answer is that Ι like both formats and shoot both formats so they both naturally ended up working their way into the project. Ι think i start to feel limited by the ruthless specificity of color if Ι shoot it for too long, so i’ll kind of ping-pong back and forth between the two just to keep my eyes fresh.
“It immediately puts you in a place a few degrees askew from reality, for lack of a better word, and that sense of destabilization is one of the things that most interests me about photography and art-making in general.”
Βlack and white on a very basic level just allows for so much more of the mystery Ι alluded to earlier – it almost feels like a shortcut. Ιt immediately puts you in a place a few degrees askew from reality, for lack of a better word, and that sense of destabilization is one of the things that most interests me about photography and art-making in general.
What is the proper way of presenting these works in natural size? Are they big framed prints? Do you intend to create a photobook?
I always envisioned this project as a book. that is the method of presenting photographs that most appeals to me in general and also in the specific case of this project the medium that feels most conducive to evoking the emotional textures Ι’d like the work to evoke.
Do you feel that there are relationships between fashion and art photography? Or are there absolute distinctions?
This question is difficult for me because i feel generally averse to any distinction being made between ‘art photography’ and other types of photography, as that distinction is usually made by forces external to the people involved in the making of the photograph and generally refers to the product rather than the process or intent, which feels somewhat reductive to me? Ιf that makes sense?
but at the same time as i feel that aversion i also feel like it’s difficult (at least to me, and to my specific and subjective sensibilities) for a photograph made for the purposes of selling clothes to contain the same spark or spell or ineffable indefinable thing-ness as a photograph made to express some sort of emotional truth or individual perspective / experience. Αnd if you subscribe to the view that art needs to do that (which, to complicate this answer even further, i’m not entirely sure i do?), then i’m not sure where that leaves fashion photography. Ι don’t know. Fashion photography is interesting to me because it’s essentially marketing, but it’s so highly aestheticized that when done well it can very convincingly disguise its intent and basically mimic, at least on a superficial level, ‘fine art’? Which is kind of an indictment of the state of ‘art photography’ on its own. But it’s also so obsessed with the idea of beauty as a kind of shortcut to art, like this idea that beautiful things are inherently artful, or that artfulness must contain beauty, that it kind of ends up showing its own ass. Maybe ultimately i don’t think anything so concerned with beauty as an aesthetic value can be art. I definitely don’t think anything so motivated/infiltrated by profit and the movement of capital can be art. At least in how i personally conceptualize what that word means, but also my personal conception of what ‘art’ means is ultimately as meaningless/ful as anyone else’s. Having said all of this, i enjoy fashion photography for what it is, both as a consumer of images and as someone who sometimes photographs people wearing clothes, but it feels very much separate from my personal practice.
In your instagram account I saw this photo of billyyolk custom jacket that really caught my eye. How do you prefer to work on these cases in which I feel that you like to have the control of art direction?
That artist, olivia lewis (@billyyolk), is a friend of mine and I absolutely love the work she makes. We worked at the same restaurant and talked about collaborating on some photos of some pieces she made, so one day after work we shot those in the vacant lot next to the restaurant. It’s hard for me to think of those particular photos in terms of art direction or anything like that because it just felt like hanging out / fucking around with friends. It was very much like us just laughing at the idea of putting matt (the model, who also worked at the restaurant) in my chrysler sebring with the top down and having him pose looking hard and self-consciously ‘cool’ while wearing this crazy loud vaguely feminine jacket.
What are you working on now?
I’m trying to make a physical book of dusker, but i’m pretty attached to the idea of printing it myself on an inkjet printer i have at my house which is proving to be more of an undertaking than i originally thought. Ιt’s absurd how difficult it is to find good semi-gloss double-sided paper. Ιf anyone has any suggestions please let me know. Οther than that just going on lots of walks, trying to make more pictures. Also reading a lot of poems (mainly Ariana Reines and Matthew Rohrer as of late) and trying to get back into writing regularly. In the future i would really like to figure out how to weave those two practices, photography and writing, together in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Maybe in the next project.
More on his website.