Nowhere Newsletter 10: Dan Wood

Interview with photographer Dan Wood

What is your backstory?

My name is Dan Wood. I’m a self-taught photographer from Wales and I’ve been taking pictures (in a serious way) for around 25 years. I’m not a ‘working photographer’ per-se and mostly concentrate on books, exhibitions, and print sales as opposed to commercial photography. The majority of my work is made around my hometown of Bridgend as this is the subject that interests me the most. I know the area and people well and access to their lives can be gained with less suspicion. I continue to live in Wales with my wife, Kate and 2 little children, Tomas & Megan.

What camera /editing setup do you use?

I predominantly use medium format film cameras such as the Mamiya 7 and Mamiya 645 - I also have an old Leica MP 35mm, which I like to use every now and again. To save money on film, as it has become so expensive, I did actually buy my first digital set-up this year, which was a Nikon D800 and a couple of prime lenses, but it doesn’t get used very often. For editing, which I do very little of, I use Photoshop and also the Photos App on my Mac, which does pretty much everything I need. 

How do you achieve the look of your photographs and could you take us through the process?

I’m not quite sure how I achieve the look to be honest, I just shoot and that’s what the photos more or less look like when they come back from the lab. I do use a handheld meter for everything though as I don’t really trust camera meters - Its for peace of mind. I do tend to overexpose everything up to 1 stop too, just to be on the safe side. My picture taking process is fairly simple and mostly I just like to grab my camera when I have a spare few hours and head out to see what happens.

Could you tell us the backstory of some of your photographs?

There are so many! One story does come to my mind though and it’s the portrait of the guy on the horse (Derek & Qualvero, Cwmparc, 2017) I had been working in the village for over a year and a half taking portraits and landscapes for the book, ‘Gap in the Hedge’ (Another Place Press, 2018) I was talking to a guy on the street one day trying to convince him that letting me take his portrait would be a great idea. When I finished talking to him and taking his picture (he let me in the end) I turned around and saw a guy on a horse disappear down a side-street about 100m away! I said goodbye to my new friend, William, and jumped in my car and gave chase. When I got to the side-street there was no sign of him, the man on the horse had completely vanished! I was very confused so I sat in my car for a few minutes and put a fresh roll of film in my Mamiya and then drove around some more, but there was no trace of him or the horse, he had gone.

I decided then that I really needed to find him so this was the start of an exhausting 6 week search for the man on the horse. I would drive up to the village whenever I had any spare time and cruise the streets looking for him. I would look for clues like horse poo on the road or a horse-box parked somewhere etc. It even got to the point where I would sit in my car on the mountain overlooking the village with binoculars looking to see if I could see anything - I had become obsessed with finding him.

After a month I started to become exhausted so had to ask two former portrait sitters of the village to help look for him - the reward would be a free copy of the book and £20. Within two weeks they had both tracked him down, and it wasn’t easy according to both of them, the man was very elusive. But now I had his name and phone number, so I phoned him and of course, he was very nice and agreed to meet me the following week. When the, horse & man photo, day came I was very ill with a sickness bug and couldn’t get out of bed, but I knew that I had to do it as this might be the only chance I get. I got dressed got in my car and drove the 40 minutes to the mountain village - I felt terrible and looked like death. I put on my best healthy face and finally met up with Derek & Qualvero! Qualvero was a beautiful beast, a retired French racehorse that Derek looked after for a friend. We only spent 15 minutes together and I only shot one roll of film. We said our goodbyes and I collapsed in my car wondering how I could possibly drive home - somehow I made it. I was blessed with only one good shot from that day but thankfully that was all I needed!

What is Black was the river, you see’ and what is the story behind it?

'Black was the river, you see' is the 3rd part of the ‘Bridgend Trilogy’, as it’s unofficially become known as. The series documents life in and around the unremarkable local river known as the Ogmore and follows the route from source to sea. The main narrative behind the work is the past coal mining industry in Wales and how it obliterated the landscape and poisoned the local rivers.

There’s layered narrative in the project with family and personal values featuring strongly. The title, for instance, comes from an imaginary conversation I had with my dead Grandfather who I never knew. The book of this work is due for release in Spring, 2021 and will be published by UK based Kozu Books.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

Everyone seems to be in a big rush to be a famous photographer or have a photobook published these days, so my advice would be to stop shooting 'for the Gram’, slow down, engage, embed, take your time and concentrate on making the best work you possibly can, even if it takes years. The more time and effort you spend on something the better it will be. It’s crucial that you push yourself that little bit extra and step out of your comfort zone because generally the best photo opportunities are in the uncomfortable zone!