David Carol recently published his 7th book of photography. With 32 photographs, No Plan B is a compilation of work from the last 25 years. David was kind enough to talk with us about this work, advice for emerging photographers, and what brought him the accomplishments he’s earned so far.
Nancy McCrary: First let me thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about your latest book, No Plan B. 32 photographs made over the last 25 years – how did you make such an edit , what criteria were used, or was this purely an emotional and personal choice?
David Carol: That’s a great question. At first glance it would seem virtually impossible to narrow down a “lifetime” of photography to only 32 pictures. After giving it some thought and to be honest I don’t think about my own work very much, this is what I decided. I wanted every image to fit into the following criteria. The photo must stand on its own, meaning I would be happy to have someone see that individual image and “judge” me and what I’m trying to do photographically by only having access to that individual image. Secondly, it’s a kind of joke at this point but I think all my pictures look the same. So my second criteria was to have as few as possible of the 32 “look the same” to me. Third and finally I wanted to represent all the places and things I shoot, such as urban, suburban, rural, people, etc. Using this set of guidelines I narrowed it down to around 60 or so pictures. The rest was easy. I just did the final edit to make everything “look right” to me. I’d say 28 of the 32 selections became obvious and maybe the other four or so could have been interchangeable. So its was calculated to a degree, but ultimately, as with most of what I do it was about “how it feels”. Instincts always win in the end for me.
NM: Often people speak of knowing what they want to be when they grew up from an early age. In the forward to No Plan B you speak of making that discovery on a trip from NY to Colorado back when you were around 20 years old. You speak with such excitement still about that decision. What factors on that trip played into this career choice?
DC: I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I only knew what I didn’t want to be. I read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies, and as a kid also lot of TV, and learned that fantasy was much more interesting to me than reality. I think a combination of Kerouac, Vonnegut, Orwell and a documentary called The Sky Above the Mud Below gave me the bug to travel. Initially the camera became the excuse. I had absolutely no idea that I could make a living as a photographer. It was just about discovery, fun and “seeing the world”. And so it goes…
NM: Your work has been compared to Winogrand and Erwitt, the street photography style combined with the wit. Talk to us about how you shoot, and why.
DC: I love both those guys and have been lucky enough to speak with Erwitt a few times about photography and my career. I can go on and on about photography and what I do, but to be completely honest its very simple for me. I literally put myself in a place that I find interesting, for example a desert, a beach, a city, whatever and I look around and I wait. When I see something interesting I take a picture. It’s that easy, its always been like that for me. But, Ill add something that I don’t talk about that much. I actually believe that if I stare through the viewfinder long enough I can make things “be interesting”. I can force an object or a place to become interesting if I look at it long enough, in a certain way that I cant explain, through the viewfinder. How ridiculous is that? Haha but I believe it!!
NM: You’ve also spoken about a difference in shooting film and digital being that with film you don’t see the end result right away. Why is this important?
DC: Well I think there are many differences between film and digital. What you’re referring to is my belief that when we take pictures we always have an expectation for the photograph. I also think that our expectations are rarely met, the photo whether better or worse is almost always different than our expectations. An advantage with film is that we don’t see the results immediately. Its much later on and in most cases our expectations are long forgotten. One can then see the photograph in a more unbiased way and decide if it was successful or not based on the image and not some preconceived hope or expectation. I find the opposite is true for many people shooting digitally. They take a photo, check the monitor and may not be happy with the results. They then might delete it or move on or whatever, but they’ve seen results and I don’t see an upside to that. Obviously for commercial purposes seeing the photo right away can be a great advantage. I often recommend to students using digital cameras to turn off their monitors once they’ve figured out exposure and not too look at the results for a week or two. Most say ok, and then do what they want anyway. Its all good…
NM: Peanut Press is the publisher of No Plan B, and is also co-founded and owned by you. In an interview you gave Elizabeth Avedon for L’Oeil de la Photographie you share how Peanut Press came about. Would you tell us about this again?
DC: Yikes, Now I have to remember my lies!! I was working with Ashly Stohl, who is now my partner at Peanut Press, on her project Charth Vader. She wanted to make a book of the work, but she didn’t want it to be made by a commercial publisher. It was a very personal project and she wanted to make the book herself. We organized an amazing team of people to help us and found the best printer in the United States, Meridian Printing, to print the book. The book was gorgeous and also was very, very successful. It basically went “viral” and sold out in a couple of weeks. I think as a result of all the press Charth Vader got, we started receiving emails from photographers we know and respect asking how we did it. We both had so much fun making Charth we decided that we should use this great team and start our own imprint. To date we have made four books, Ashly Stohl’s Charth Vader, Richard Bram’s New York, Rammy Narula’s Platform 10 and my latest book, NO PLAN B. We are in production with two books right now, with commitments to six other photographers through 2018. The presses are rolling.
NM: What books should we look forward to seeing from Peanut Press in 2017? 2018?
DC: We have announced Robert Larson’s The Summer of our Lives and Victoria Will’s as of yet untitled Sundance Tintype Portrait book and as I said before, both are in production. We have some surprises coming up in 2017 and will probably make announcements in January or February next year.
NM: One of the ways your story is inspirational is that you created a remarkable career and life on your own, without a whole lot of outside help. Considering that today’s world is a little bit insane for artists just starting out, what encouragement do you have for them? Or maybe speak a bit about discouragement and how to handle it?
DC: Being “on your own” for me was a sort of blessing and a curse. The blessing I guess is that when you’re on your own you either adapt or die. There’s no net, so you cant fall off the high wire, but if you actually do fall off you absolutely must get back on again ASAP. The curse is obvious. It sucks to fend for yourself, but I honestly wouldn’t change 99% of my life. I’m not sure whether it is better or worse today than when I started in the early 80s. Its certainly easier with todays equipment to meet the minimum requirement of competence, but you still need to be creative, interesting, diligent, etc. Its easier to “be seen” today than back then, but maybe it was better not to be seen and have the freedom to fail and learn privately without the public scrutiny of social media or the absurd expectations of being “ a famous and successful” photographer that seems to be prevalent these days. That just didn’t exist back then. Nobody was famous or had many shows or had a book of their work or even thought they should or would. I guess I think its tougher now because everybody is a photographer and everybody is so impatient with their careers. So my answer to young photographers is easy. Do anything else you can think of to make a living and do photography for yourself. If you can’t do anything else and all you want to do is take pictures then go for it. Never ever give up and never ever give in. Do it your way, with your unique approach. If you’re talented enough, good enough and interesting enough then they will eventually come to you. If they don’t, well at least you have pictures you care about as opposed to a bunch of pictures someone else made you take.
NM: No Plan B is your 7th book. You began with 40 Miles of Bad Road back in 2005. What’s something you’ve learned about book publishing along the way you’d like to share with photographers just beginning?
DC: Wow, so many things. But two things stand out above all others. The book is the thing. It is you. Make the best book you possibly can. The best design for you, the best pre-press you can get, the best printer you can find and put it on the paper you love the most. Put in every effort you can, because once its done its done and there it is forever! The book is you. The second thing is easy. Keep a lot of books for yourself. If you make 1000, keep as many as you can afford to keep. I’d say at least 250 copies. The book will be your calling card and in some ways your photographic identity. If you give away a book or two a month to clients, curators, reviewers, friends, family etc then 250 will be gone in less than ten years. Ten years goes by fast baby! I don’t know where my last 35 went. But, I know it was and is a helluva ride. I’m one lucky m*therf**ker!