For homemade photographers looking for something to aspire to, here’s an urban-myth-come-true: shooting pictures was merely Daniel’s escape from monotony when he was working his day job as a web producer, and it took him seven years before he broke free and pursued it full time. Never imagining that he could make a career out of photography when he was younger, he completed a communications degree with a specialisation in web, and it was only when he needed a creative outlet that he developed his long-subdued passion for imagery. “I did it as often as I could outside work hours for several years before being offered a job as a full-time photographer at Time Out Sydney. That was when I took the plunge to pursue photography and abandon the web.”
He started off by documenting his and his friends’ day-to-night adventures – the drinking, the music and everything in between. He then created a website on which to publish his photos, and this was well before personal online portfolios became a creative prerequisite and browser history started to multiply. It wasn’t long before he caught the eye of the print world as well: “I met someone from a street press magazine out one night and she saw what I was doing and asked if I’d like to contribute some pictures to her magazine. At that time there wasn’t the glut of nightlife and gig photographers that there is now. Photographing for a publication was the start of getting official accreditation to concerts and festivals and getting better access.”
Daniel’s gradual progression continued, and soon after he started shooting live bands he asked them if he could shoot them off the stage as well: “I threw myself in the deep end and borrowed some lights and began learning about studio photography.” Where the urban-myth really kicks in is that he didn’t even intend to get that far – or to escalate to the high point he has reached today.
“I had a non-traditional entry to photography in that I never studied it nor assisted other photographers. The whole process wasn’t a conscious effort to become a professional photographer. It was simply practicing something I loved.”
Call it luck if you will – or, of course, talent mixed in with a steady dose of fervor. Daniel cites the moment he was published in SPIN in 2005 as one of the most defining events in his career: “I funded my own way to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival and took a whole bunch of photos and published them on my website. SPIN’s picture editor must have done some googling and found my photos as I got an email out of the blue asking if they could run three of my shots. Australian Rolling Stone also found my shots of SXSW and ran one in their Random Notes section. So upon returning from that trip I had a huge confidence boost, plus it made me appear more legit by having those credits.”
Not that he takes his sudden success to heart. When asked the advice he would give to aspiring photographers, he puts it humbly, but ever so self-reflectively: “I feel like I’m still aspiring myself so not sure if I’m in a position to impart my wisdom. But something I see too many aspiring photographers do is concentrate on self-promotion and getting a break, rather on making compelling photos. You should invest as much time as possible into making great photos and getting better at that.”
“Stop worrying about getting a break – start worrying about taking a photo that people can’t ignore.”
Posting work on his website is something Daniel still does regularly, and all it takes is a few scrolls to witness some of the faces he gets to shoot day to day – many of whom are as recognisable in Sydney as they are in Hollywood.
“I sometimes get anxious before a shoot if I’m shooting someone high profile. I remember getting nervous before a cover photo shoot with Cate Blanchett and her husband Andrew Upton,” he says.
“But once we met and started taking pictures that anxiety dropped away. I always feel comfortable when I’m taking pictures and they’re turning out well. And it’s hard to take a bad photo of Cate Blanchett.
“Two other people I can recall getting nervous about meeting were Henry Rollins and the photographer Anton Corbijn. Both were big influences on me, and I didn’t want to meet them and come across as a bumbling idiot.
“It’s such a cliché, but celebrities are just regular people. They come with an army of publicists, managers and hangers on but once you get past them you usually find a nice regular Joe.”
With his experiences in mind, it seems natural that Daniel is drawn to the US. Still, he maintains that his roots are established in Sydney and it would be difficult to start at the bottom again – not that it would take him much time to get back to the top, we suspect. He also lists the “great community of creative people” as one of the Sydney’s drawcards. And of course the weather. “I know a number of other photographers and there’s a nice sense of camaraderie rather than competition. It’s an ambitious city, but I don’t think it’s too cutthroat.”
For creatives, there is perhaps nothing better than being satisfied with the end result, and Daniel is certainly no different. It makes all the left-brain, boring, admin-y stuff worthwhile.
“My favourite thing is nailing a killer photo. It’s the best high in the world. It doesn’t happen all that often, but when it does you’re walking on air.”
Daniel is in a show with his extremely talented girlfriend Cybele Malinowski from Friday (February 5) through to the 20th at MART Gallery in Surry Hills. Can you imagine what their babies are going to be like? No fair. Anyway, the exhibition will feature their magazine covers.
Daniel is also speaking about Rock Photography with Tony Mott at the Australian Centre for Photography on the 19th of February.
words: Seema Duggal