The Amsterdam Photography Museum (Foam) in March selected Daniel Gordon as the winner of the 8th Paul Huf Award, which is handed out annually to an exceptional young photographer under 35 years old. The award comes with €20,000 in prize money and a solo exhibition at the museum later this year.
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Daniel, first of all, congratulations on the Paul Huf Award. Were you familiar with Huf and his work?
“Thanks so much! To be honest I wasn't familiar with his work.”
He was in many ways a classic photographer, Holland’s Cecil Beaton if you like. Your work is quite different: bold, rough, colorful, though it has its own sense of harmony. As a young contemporary photographer, how do you look back at the masters of the past?
“It just depends on the specific photographer. I think any genre of photography can be really good, so long as the photographer makes good pictures.”
Could you tell us a bit more how you work? How does a Daniel Gordon image come to life?
“I use found images to construct three-dimensional tableaus that are lit and photographed with an 8x10 view camera.”
You do not hide the fact that your collages are, in a way, glued together. Is that your way of reminding the viewer that an image is never a picture-perfect reflection of reality, but a construct?
“I think that's my way of making them my own. It's hard to see all of the glue, rips, tears and seams when looking online, or even in print in a magazine or book. They are best viewed at full size as a print – until then I really think they are just approximations.”
To me, the rough edges and cut-outs also suggest a certain violence. Is that a major theme in your work?
“Yes, that's a part of my work. But so is beauty. I try to make pictures that conflate opposites.”
The body plays an important role in your work. What do you find so fascinating about the body?
“I have one, and so does everyone I know! In other words, a body is intrinsic to our existence.”
Both your parents are surgeons, I believe. Coming to think of it, they, like you, are in their own peculiar way in the “cut and paste” business. Maybe a surgeon and a photographer are not so different after all?
“My father is a surgeon and my mother is a pediatrician. There are definitely similarities between my interests and my parents’ interests, though they have the ability to save lives – I'm just making pictures.”
Your work is often praised for its painting-like qualities. And, frankly, when I first saw some of your portraits and still lifes that was the first association I made. Yet in your interviews you seem a little annoyed by that association.
"Maybe “annoyed” is not the right word, but you always stress you are a photographer, not a painter."
What do you find problematic about the parallel? Or are you just afraid of being labelled and pushed into a corner?
“I think my issue with this parallel is not that it exists (because it does!), but that I'm praised for it. Sometimes I get the impression that people are implying that the thing they like about my photographs is that they don't look like photographs.
My process from start to finish is extremely photographic. I just don't want that very important fact to be lost. In other words, it's fine to talk about painting or sculpture in relation to my work, I just feel it's important that my pictures are ultimately viewed as photographs.”
I am sure there are many, many photographers you admire and are inspired by. As that would make too long a story, let me ask you this: what was the last photographer or photographic work you saw that really touched you?
“The Robert Adams retrospective at Yale University. It was a slow, beautiful and haunting show that was truly incredible.”
Finally, I guess, 2014 could not have started in a better way. What else may we expect from Daniel Gordon this year?
“I have a solo show opening at Wallspace in New York this Fall, as well as a group show at Pier 24 in San Francisco. And of course a solo presentation at Foam! I'm so excited to visit Amsterdam!”
INTERVIEWED BY: PETER SPEETJENS