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Meet Los Feliz Photographer: Michael Dunker

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Dunker.

Michael, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve always been creative. When I was a kid, I drew and painted, but it was never something my family focused on. When I made the decision to move to Los Angeles, I found an ad on Craigslist to work on an independent film. I had no clue, but work was work. During the second week of shooting, the producer asked if I ever shot stills on a movie. “No, but I’d like to,” I said. She handed me the camera, looked at my photos at the end of the day, and I finished the job as the movie’s still photographer. From there, I went back to Michigan to finish my last year of school and bought my first real camera – Canon Rebel XTi – and started shooting photos of friends. When I got back to LA, I started working on commercials and brought my camera to every job. When I wasn’t working, I took shots of the set, directors, and talent and then sent the photos to the production staff after the job. Eventually, I built up a portfolio, put together a website, and progressed to the title of “freelance photographer.” Funny enough, I’ve never taken a photography course, nor went to a photography seminar. It’s raw talent mixed with experience. Photography is the only thing I was naturally good at, but I still have much to learn, still have much to grow in this business.

Has it been a smooth road?
If you are pursuing a creative life, there are no smooth roads and my story is no different. Many times I would get on commercial sets and they’d tell I couldn’t take photos. Many times I shot photos for free and worried about paying rent. Other times I shot hundreds of photos and never liked any of them. Ira Glass talks about having good taste, but your work doesn’t match up to your own good taste and then you have to work through the crap to get to gold. That’s every creative person’s life, myself included. I continue to shoot because I enjoy sharing how I view the world with the world, but it’s never been easy. I didn’t always have the best camera. I didn’t always have the best lens and perhaps I still don’t. The only reason the road to success treated me well is because I enjoyed it. Every picture, every job I learned something and often times learning sucks, but it’s the only way to progress. At the end of the day, I get to make a living taking photographs. In a visual world of social media where everyone is a photographer, I am blessed to have my career.

Tell us about your childhood, what were you like growing up?
I grew up in the Midwest, so half of the year you’re inside and I was a day dreamer. I loved movies. Star Wars was a classic favorite in my house and continues to be one of the best pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen. I played sports, but I’m the little brother of one of the best athletes in the state of Illinois. Sports wasn’t much more than a social outlet for me. All my friends played. All my family came to the game, but I was always more creative inside. I drew. I painted, but that’s it. I didn’t pick up a camera until I was twenty-six years old. I knew I saw photographs in my head growing up, but never had the experience, nor camera to take anything defining. Those were the days that disposable cameras came into our lives – before cell phone cameras – and disposable cameras were shit. When I finally started shooting with a DSLR, I started to learn and I’m still learning.

When I look back on my childhood it’s very All-American – boating on the Mississippi River, Disney World, hot dogs, snowmobiling, Myrtle Beach, Friday Night Lights, popcorn at the movies – but it was never perfect. I was creativity different and when the rain or snow or cold prevented you from going outside, I was turned to my creativity to keep me occupied. I come from a great family, but I’m not sure they knew how to handle my imagination.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
In 1987, my mother took our family to Alaska. After my parents divorced, my mom went back to school, got her CPA, and started working at an accounting firm in Geneva, IL. Alaska was the fruits of her labor and our first family’s vacation, but we always traveled. Summer after summer, my mother took us all over the United States. Still to this day, my mother and I travel together around the country, but when I was seven years old I saw the adventure of it all. Alaska was the perfect place to start. I saw mountains before I saw the beach. I saw the untapped beauty of the open tundra. Warm people, cold weather. And my travels continue today – it’s the best way to spend your time. Although I take candid portraits, some of my favorite photos are from my travels and that trip to Alaska opened up that possibility.

Also, my 10th birthday was pretty rad because I had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Chocolate cake.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I came to Los Angeles to be a screenwriter. Just this week one of my scripts made it to Sony Pictures, but they passed. I continue to write and several scripts have made it festivals like Austin, Glendale, Pasadena and were a semi-finalist at Universal’s Writers Fellowship, but nothing has picked up traction. But, I’m always writing another script and looking to write/direct a feature soon. In the meantime, I shoot as much as I can. Over the last year, my resume has grown and new agencies and production companies have used my services, which has proved to be profitable. I love working with other creatives, but ultimately I want to keep writing, keep shooting, keep filming, which is exactly what everyone else here is for. If I can pay my rent and afford Yucca’s double-cheeseburgers, good. If I can afford it by shooting photos, even better…

Contact Info:

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Image Credit:

Guilermo Zapata, Abbie Hairrell, Demetra Dokos, Alexa Valerie, Summer Bailey, Alex Ruiz, Brad and Vashti Leaf, and Alex Sanborn

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