Dale Niles’ solo exhibition, Life Revisited, a series of photo collages invoking both nostalgia and everyday life, opens March 16th at Brickworks Gallery, Atlanta. Dale was kind enough to take time away from preparing her show to speak with SxSE.
Nancy McCrary: Dale, thank you for speaking with us today. Your career in photography spans 4 decades, going back to the 1970’s when film was king and digital wasn’t yet even a thought in someone’s mind. How has your photography changed due to the expediency and ubiquitous aspects of digital photography?
Dale Niles: I shot film until about 10 years ago. When I started shooting digital, at first the immediacy of being able to shoot and see the image at once brought on an obsession to shoot everything, kinda of willy nilly, not as much thought as with film. No cost of film development, if there was something not right about a shot you could just hit delete. After the newness wore off, I did go back to shooting with purpose, thinking about a shot before pushing the shutter. Better images were then made.
NM: Has the perception of photography changed for you and, if so, how?
DN: My perception of photography has changed because there are so many photographers. Every person that has a cell phone has a camera and they carry it everywhere. There are some good images that come out of cell phones but it sure made for a lot more photographers. More photos are taken because of the immediate availability. The sad part is that a lot of images are never seen or if they are it is brief and then they are gone because they are not printed. Printed images are tangible and far different from the view on a screen. Years from now there will be no records of a lot of them. I have an entire bookcase full of photo albums and I am thankful for them. I have boxes and boxes of photos in albums and boxes that were my parents and grandparents. It enables me to see what my ancestral family looked like. It is part of the reason I have morphed these image into storytelling photos, to give them new life.
NM: This series, Life Revisited, is composition photo collage. How much of the imagery is from your previous photographic work?
DN: There is no set number of my photos in my images. When weaving a story together I put in different elements until I feel the work is complete. Some images have as many as eight different parts of photos that I have shot as well as the vintage photos or animals. This is a tedious process of combining the photos and then melding it all together with textures. The textures give the image a new dimension, a painterly quality. Some of these images have taken me up to two-three weeks to create. I used to paint and I feel this is an extension of that. It also does give new life to the subject. The process is like putting together a puzzle, I look through images and I see one that sparks a glimmer of a story. It is the first piece to the puzzle. I then think through images I have taken that would fit. As I start compiling, I sometimes change the background image until one is right. I then add elements from other photos that I have until a story develops in my mind. I then start adding the people from old photos or animals until a balance occurs. Sometimes I have done and redone an image but it is just not what I envisioned at first. I have several in progress that I have had to put on a back burner until other elements surface that will make it complete.
NM: How long have you been working on the series, and is it still ongoing?
DN: I started this series approximately a year ago. I have boxes and boxes of old photos. Some of the people I know and some I don’t. The animal images are either photos of taxidermy animals or animals I have seen at the zoo or along the way. The series is ongoing. I love conceiving and then constructing these montages telling a visual story.
NM: You mention in your biography an accident where you nearly lost your site and which made you “want to soak up everything I see and preserve it”. Can you tell us more about this?
DN: I was a child playing with a button on a loop of thread. Some people may never have done this. When the thread is looped properly on the thread you can put it on a finger of each hand and moving your hands in and out you can make the button move from left to right. I was doing this and not knowing the button had a crack down the middle of it. The fast movement caused it to split and one half hit me in the eye cutting it. My parents rushed me to the hospital where I laid in bed with my eyes covered for 2 weeks until my eye healed. The doctor said that I was fortunate because if it had been a little to one side or the other I would have been blind in that eye. I became obsessed with the thought of “what if I could not see”. I looked at things differently. What if I could not see color, people’s faces, my friends, my dog….etc. I overthought every scenario making me thankful for my sight.
NM: You have a remarkable collection of series with a common theme of family and home but they run the gamut from painterly to stark, not something every photographer is capable of pulling off. How does a series begin for you?
DN: It began when my mother died and my father moved out of our family home. The house has since been torn down. Before that happened I went to photograph the home I had grown up in for the majority of my life. I did not take these photos to be a series. I took them as a personal record to preserve memories.
After a few years had passed when I started showing my work publicly, I was encouraged to have a series. It was so much pressure. I couldn’t conjure up one idea that I wanted to pursue. I then realized that a lot of what I had been shooting had a similar theme which was family and home.
I have branched off to different series that are based on this theme. I have also created several that are more diverse themes like my still life series and I am also shooting eclectic collections of a friend of mine. I love the variety of so many different things that I could not focus on one. I find that you don’t have to do just one series. I think that having several different things going at once helps me to stay creative. If I find I am getting stagnate on one I move to another and in doing so I am sometimes able to think of new ideas for one of the other series.
NM: Is it intentional where you seek images that represent a theme, or are you drawn by a particular image to create a theme?
DN: My images are usually conjured up by a particular object, something I am drawn to. My mind then jumps to “how can I photograph this to make it interesting, to make someone want to stop and look further, possibly wonder what the story is.”
NM: Is your creative process more intentional or organic?
DN: A little of both. Sometimes it starts out intentional and that works and then sometimes it does not work as originally planned and the process takes a different direction which in the end was better. Just going with the flow.
NM: You are admirable to younger photographers for your tenure and your talent. What advice would you like to give those following in your footsteps?
DN: My advice is, shoot, shoot, shoot! Do it because you love it. Do it because you absolutely have to. I believe good photography comes from the heart. Photograph things you are care about not the things that you think you ought to photograph. Go for a unique approach. It is not easy. It takes hard work. Keep at it. Don’t stop questioning yourself. There is always more to learn, more to shoot, more to discover.
Life Revisited will be on view March 16 – April 18, 2018 with an opening reception on Friday, March 16 from 6 to 8 pm. Brickworks Gallery, 686-A Greenwood Avenue, Atlanta, Ga. 30306