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Meet Silverlake Filmmaker and Photographer: Dan Chen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dan Chen.

Dan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My interest in photography started while I was attending film school at USC. I was lucky to be surrounded by inspiring peers and used photos as a way to keep a diary of people and experiences (still do). I’ve found that I respect photography’s myriad ways of communicating ideas, but I’m primarily interested in using it as a subjective way of seeing my own world. This means using my Mamiya 645e to shoot on medium format film, which I think matches human eyesight more effectively than 35mm, and shooting in exclusively natural light to keep things as unaltered as possible.

I’ve done photography a few times as a way to supplement my income and because I was interested in my client’s goals, but it’s not my primary source of income, which is how I continue to enjoy it. I love meeting people through photography but don’t think I’d still be interested in it if I had to sell a product or something like that unless I could keep it in my subjective, diary-esque, and decidedly natural style. I also direct and shoot films as a way to explore reality using different methods and involving more people in the process. My goal is to romanticize the ordinary, without embellishing.

Has it been a smooth road?
The first couple of years out of school were challenging in terms of making money, and I quickly realized that I didn’t enjoy shooting weddings or anything that the client weighed in heavily on. No disrespect to the people who do, as it’s an art form in and of itself. It could also be that I’m interested in more mundane, awkward, or quotidian subjects, and the overt romanticism of a wedding or the slickness necessary to sell a product or service don’t interest me.

I’ve also found that as a creative person, it’s incredibly hard for me to think clearly about new ideas if I’m stressed about money, as then I’ll hang this expectation of “my next project needs to make money or open some kind of door,” and while the next thing definitely can, it’s unproductive and stifling to create that expectation. Once I got to a somewhat comfortable financial situation after several years of plugging away at cinematography and photography, I’ve found that I can approach personal projects with more freedom and the result is they’re better because of that freedom. Photography is the thing I hang the least amount of career pressure on, and it’s why it’s so fun to do.

Any predictions for the industry over the next few years?
I see the creative industry becoming increasingly community driven. It’s a cliché to talk about at this point how the Internet has allowed people to reach people with their art directly and attract loyal followings, but we’re about to have an entire generation who grew up in this connected society come into their own as creators. I see a lot more creatives begin their careers by cultivating a community of followers and using that to launch their careers into the industry, or by simply leveraging their following into entrepreneurial ventures like online shops, Patreon, and Kickstarter to maintain their creative autonomy.

At least, I’d be jazzed if this happens. I want the things we create to be representations of how people see the world, not committees having meetings about what combination of pop culture elements will sell the most tickets/get the most clicks.

What has been the primary challenge you’ve faced?
I’d say the biggest challenge I’ve faced is channeling intent into action. Everyone who wants to live a creative life has a burning desire to express themselves. It’s finding a lifestyle that supports your creativity that’s the hard part. Everyone comes at a creative lifestyle from different angles and backgrounds. I had to find out how to support myself financially through cinematography and photography to pursue my directing career, and it took a few years to get to a stable place to think creatively and take risks.

The other half of the challenge, which every creative faces, is becoming confident in your own voice. This comes through perseverance and making mistakes, and the only thing you can do is spend time making work. It took a while to stop being precious with my ideas and to start making things with them, allowing all the warts and imperfections to show. Then you realize that these imperfections are as much a part of your work as the good stuff is.

Let’s change gears – is there any advice you’d like to give?
Step one: take care of yourself. Make sure you create a lifestyle that’s enjoyable and that can pay the bills. Step two: meet people, and cultivate good relationships with the people you connect with. Step three: keep making things. Step four: never stop learning. You can do these things in any order, actually.

Contact Info:

  • Website: Dan Chen
  • Email: thedchen@gmail.com
  • Instagram: thedchen
  • Other: danchen.co

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