Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Conversation with Daryl-Ann Saunders

I met Daryl-Ann Saunders when she contacted me to participate in Night Moves, the exhibition she recently co-curated with Jill Waterman. I immediately loved the idea of participating in a show conceived and curated by female artists. Daryl-Ann and Jill curated a fresh and diverse selection of night photography in the show, including selections of their own work. I was intrigued by Daryl-Ann's unique take on one of the core elements of the urban landscape, the subway platform, and asked her to share her thoughts about her art and the process of curating a group show from an artist's perspective in the following conversation.

Night Moves is on view till April 11, 2009 at Safe-T-Gallery and Farmani Gallery in DUMBO.

In The Middle © Daryl-Ann Saunders

Departures © Daryl-Ann Saunders

Nymphoto: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Daryl-Ann Saunders: While growing up, I lived in Long Island, NY, Miami Beach, FL and in Queens, NY. When I was 14, I was restless and unhappy so I hitchhiked to New Orleans with a school friend and stayed near the French Quarter for a week. It was a dangerous, stupid thing to do but it opened my eyes from suburbia to the WORLD and awakened my desire to never be bored, to desire living a bit on the edge. Also, I learned the ability to be alone, which is really useful in photography because photography can be such a solitary thing to do.

Throughout high school and college I was very into reading, theatre, musicals, singing and poetry; I spent time acting and also behind the scenes as a member of the stage crew. It’s interesting how all these experiences and skills are now integrated into how I go about creating my photographs and into the final result.

NP: How did you discover photography?

DS: My love of music finally pulled me into being a photographer. After college, I kept going to music venues in Manhattan and I wanted to capture the fleeting experience of those performances. So even though I was initially self-conscious, I finally got the courage to begin carrying a camera with me to shoot the performances. Eventually, my music photography got published and then I was hooked so I started photographing everything in sight and learning everything I could about photography.

Transport Station © Daryl-Ann Saunders

Lift Off © Daryl-Ann Saunders

During a 10 year period, I did a lot of different things in photography - - I worked at a portrait studio, a camera store, photographed music performances at night, took photography courses at The School of Visual Arts, received a scholarship for courses at The International Center of Photography in New York where I met and studied with Lynn Davis, worked as a freelance assistant, became the photo editor of two alternative downtown publications (first the East Village Eye and then Ear Magazine) and spent all of my time either photographing or working at jobs to pay for my photography expenses.

Now, I shoot both commercial and personal fine art projects. I’ve worked on assignment shooting magazine portraits for business magazines like Forbes and photographed events, architectural interiors and business portraits for corporate clients. My commercial specialty for the last five years has been executive portraiture.

In my fine art work, I’ve explored alternative processes such as Polaroid Transfer, color toning and I’ve shot with low-tech cameras like pinholes and Holgas. For the last 7 years, I’ve been working on one main series titled On The Platform. It involves traveling to different cities throughout the world to shoot on subway platforms at night.

Doing both commercial and fine art work is pretty much like having two full-time jobs so it keeps me ridiculously busy but they each add value to the other. The camera is my way of observing and expressing things – it’s my notebook of life.

NP: Where do you find inspiration?

DS: They pop up from dreams, the news, the irony between what is hoped for and what is real, immoral action, nature, the juxtaposing concepts of immortality & fragility, seeing the work of others in exhibits, books or museums. Being in a beautiful natural setting often gets my creativity flowing. And thinking about childhood things brings lots of ideas to the surface that I’d like to explore through photography. I write many ideas down – and I look forward to following the trail of some of them.

Launch Pad © Daryl-Ann Saunders

Blue Bridge © Daryl-Ann Saunders

NP: How did this project come about?

DS: The impetus for the On The Platform series was the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Living in the urban center of NYC at that time, I felt personally brutalized by the event. I sorrowed for my city which I had always assumed was invulnerable and, over time, I desired to express some photographic connection to the event. There were rumors that terrorists would attack the subway system and that immediately clarified what I wanted to photograph. I scouted subway locations and, on quiet, cold nights began photographing. I explored combining images to create completed pieces. The first was an image from a Coney Island, Brooklyn station, that I titled Launch Pad. I liked the perspective and so I kept going with the idea. When Pfizer, Inc sponsored a solo exhibit in their Manhattan location, it was a great boost for the project.

The underlying themes of the series have evolved and deepened from when I first started. I usually shoot above-ground, not underground, because showing the close proximity of the subway platform in relation to the surrounding community introduces a powerful theme that I find interesting - - that of machinery vs. humanity. I act as photographic architect, combining imagery to create new realities, merging simultaneous moments into one. This reinforces the concepts of construction and de-construction from which the work first evolved. Initially, my work showed full scenes but it has now evolved to include grid-like arrangements of the photo material.

With the help of friends and assistants, I’ve photographed the On The Platform series in New York City, California, Boston, Atlanta and Shanghai. On location, I am assisted by friends or assistants and I work in whatever cities where I can find inexpensive or free lodging through friends, colleagues or relatives. I stayed with my brother for three and a half weeks in Shanghai, China to add to the series and that was an amazing experience.

Underpass, Shanghai © Daryl-Ann Saunders

Open Door, Shanghai © Daryl-Ann Saunders

On The Platform subway images are in corporate & private collections and have been exhibited nationwide. A selection of these images was recently published in the book “Night and Low-Light Photography” by author and photographer, Jill Waterman. And currently, this work is displayed on 4’x10’ banners in an ongoing public art installation in Jersey City, NJ. Prints are available through Safe-T Gallery in Brooklyn.

NP: Tell us a little about the show Night Moves you recently curated at Safe-T-Gallery? How have you found the experience of acting as artist and curator?

DS: I conceived the idea to have a night photography exhibit at Safe-T-Gallery and it was discussed with the gallery director, Don Burmeister. I thought it would be timely to curate it with Jill Waterman since her book on night photography was due out in several months. It was sheer coincidence that Jill was in contact with Farmani Gallery, the gallery next door. So, we proceeded to create a dual-gallery exhibit focusing on the subthemes of city and sky.

I think I was successful in donning the “curator hat”. In fact, it became so natural to think of the artists first, that I ended up printing and framing my own work for the show merely a week before the opening. Curating is certainly a test of your character and skills of impartiality. I had to deal with the ongoing changes that occur in the evolution of an exhibit’s premise, ideas and artist roster not just with one gallery but two. And interacting with personalities and layers of agreement always results in some amount of compromise so that plans can proceed smoothly. In addition, I was doing this while maintaining my commercial photography business so getting enough sleep was definitely a challenge. But the end result is stupendous. I am very exacting so I am especially gratified that Night Moves turned out to be such a captivating exploration of night time photography work.

We had a huge turnout for the opening reception on March 5th. And several related events were planned. The night photography symposium coordinated through B&H Photo last Monday was packed. Through Adorama Camera, Jill and I are conducting a night photography workshop. And the final event is a gallery artist talk on Sunday, March 29 from 2 to 4:30pm. It is a free event to which the public is invited and information is at

NP: What's next?

DS: I’ll be working on more subway images from other cities (Atlanta, CA, Boston, etc.) and exhibiting. For 6 weeks starting in mid-April, On The Platform images will be on view in the lobby of 545 Washington Boulevard in Jersey City, N.J. (across from the Pavonia PATH Station) as part of the “Building Cities” project organized by Jim Pustorino, director of Victory Hall Inc.

I'm currently shooting a night series of minor league baseball games titled Rituals: Night Baseball in which rituals of family life are revealed through clothing, possessions and demeanor against the classic American backdrop of night baseball. I’d also like to explore some childhood themes through my photography, participate in an artist residency, and put more of my commercial and fine art work onto my website. I have lots of ideas, as always.

Rituals: Night Baseball (Untitled) © Daryl-Ann Saunders

Rituals: Night Baseball (Untitled) © Daryl-Ann Saunders

For more information, visit Daryl-Ann Saunder's websites:

Commmercial Work:
Executive Portraits:
Fine Art Work:
DAS Fine Art Calendar & Night Moves Information:

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