Daniel Milnor is a self proclaimed creative evangelist, disinclined to social media, film shooter his work can be found in the Los Angeles museum of art, and the George Eastman house. Today we talk all finding and telling the best story.
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In This Episode You'll Learn:
How Daniel got started with photography
Why Daniel went to college to learn photography
What Daniel hoped to learn by going to college
If Daniel thinks college is still relevant for photographers
What Daniel has to capture to consider a shoot a success
How much of Dan’s stories are planned out
How Daniel goes about planning a trip and story to capture
How shooting film has made Daniel more connected to his work
Why Daniel swears off social media
How not being on social media has effected his work
What Daniel feels is the best way to share his work if it’s not on social media
Did you enjoy this episode? Check out more recent interviews with other great guests!
Full Episode Transcription:
Disclaimer: The transcript was transcribed electronically and may contain errors that do not reflect accurately what the speaker said. Because of this, please do not quote this automated transcript.
Raymond: 00:00:00 Welcome to the beginning of photography podcast. This week we're talking all about how to find until the right story with your camera. So let's get into it.
Intro: 00:00:10 Welcome to the beginner photography podcast with Raymond Hatfield, the podcast dedicated to helping you grow your photography skills. Raymond interviews the world's top photographers in their field to ask questions that will get you taking better photos today. Now with you as always, husband, father, Home brewer, La Dodger Fan and Indianapolis wedding photographer Raymond Hatfield. Oh, welcome
Raymond: 00:00:39 back to this week's episode of the beginner photography podcast with you. As always, I am Oh Raymond Hatfield and today is a fantastic interview. You know, sometimes I have interviews where the photographer is very technical minded person and we talk a lot about, you know, settings or logistics and you know, how to be in the right place at the right time. And then other times I speak to photographers who were very emotionally driven and they look at the big, uh, idea of photography and it's more of a feeling for them than a strict manual of how to take photos. And very rarely do I get to talk to somebody who is both. And I think that today's guest, um, is, is just that is just that they're there. Whatever it is that your mind focuses on, you're going to find a lot in this interview that is just fantastic and I had such, such a great time.
Raymond: 00:01:37 So I'm super excited, uh, to get into this. But first I want to give a listener shout out a listener shout out this week it goes to Danni Leigh who left a five star iTunes review. Danni says, this podcast is wonderful. I love hearing the journey of each photographer and love how Raymond Geeks out asking them questions. He seems just as excited as his listeners to be listening to something new. Raymond does a great job making sure terms can be understood by everybody. I really recommend this podcast tech, everyone interested in photography. Danni. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for that review. And I cannot stress enough how, how happy I am that a, that you picked up on my excitement as well because, uh, when the podcast was started, the idea came from, I just simply wanted to talk to photographers who were better than me.
Raymond: 00:02:33 And, uh, I continued to do that. It's, I'm not here to just ask, you know, um, how do you take photos cause I don't care about that. I want to like really get into it. I don't care about what gear you have. I want to get into it. I want to find out more about you as a photographer, how, how you see the world and then also those technicals as well. Um, but I think one of the most important quotes I've ever heard in my entire life is, uh, or I guess it's a piece of advice is just simply be the dumbest person in a room. Because when you're the dumbest person in the room, all you can do is learn and soak up more information. And then that is how you're going to skyrocket your growth. And, and, and learn and grow and become a better photographer.
Raymond: 00:03:15 And this podcast is your room. I want, I want you to be the dumbest person in this room, right? Because when I speak to other photographers, I'm the dumbest person in the room and I try to learn more from them. And I hope that by you listening, you feel that same way, that wow, there's such a big, vast world of photography out there and there's so much to learn and I hope that it gets you excited and as excited as, uh, as I get as well. So thank you again, Danni, so much for leaving the podcast, a review. I truly do appreciate that. So we are going to get into today's interview right now with Dan Milner. Now, Dan Milner is a, uh, he's a documentarian, photographer, so he goes out on assignments and shoots, uh, all over the world and does new and interesting things. And I think that that is a really interesting, and it is a, a, a fantastic interview that we're going to get into right now.
Raymond: 00:04:12 But, uh, I want you to know that there are some, um, I had some difficulties with my audio recorder. It recorded all of Dan's audio extremely fast. Uh, so I had to fall back on just the standard audio that was recorded with Skype. So, uh, if you can get through kind of the cracks and the pops and a little bit of a freezing from time to time, I tried to clean as much of it up as possible, then I know that you're still going to get a ton out of this episode. So, uh, let's just go ahead and get on into it right now. My interview with Dan Milner, today's guest is Dan Milner, a self proclaimed creative evangelist, uh, with over 25 years of professional photography experience disinclined to social media. He's a film shooter and his work can be found in the Los Angeles Museum of art as well as the George Eastman House today.
Raymond: 00:05:04 I am so incredibly excited to talk to Dan. Dan, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Of course. Thanks for having me. I love talking about this stuff. This is, this is, this is a fun one for me. I learned about you through a mutual friend of ours, Mark Silber [inaudible] a quite a guy. I mean this guy obviously has been in it for a long time and the way that he kind of sees photography is very, um, very different compared to how a lot of other photographers today talk about photography. And when you two sat down and had your conversation, I knew that you as well would be a perfect fit for the podcast to kind of share your, your story of photography. You have a very, a different take than a lot of other photographers. But before we really get on into all of that, can you take me back to when you first picked up a camera? What was that like for you? I think you have to go
Daniel Milnor: 00:05:58 a slightly further back. It wasn't what made me pick up a camera was my mom picking up a camera. So when I was a kid, uh, we lived from Indiana to want to Texas and my mom had a Pentax k 1000 and Kodachrome and she had this caliber. The pace. Yeah, the, it's probably her camera's probably still out there. Someone's probably still using it. Those things are bulletproof and up everywhere I went we had that Halliburton case. So in Wyoming, if we were in one truck, he always had to move the Halliburton case over and mom was shooting all the time. So the idea of recording with the camera was always kind of in the back of my head. And, uh, I started actually writing before I did photography, which I still do, I write every day, but I, I would, I just started writing like fictional short stories when I was in elementary school and I would write down conversations that I heard and my parents talking to their friends.
Daniel Milnor: 00:06:50 And I don't know why I did that exactly, but I just started recording and the camera became sort of an extension of the writing, whereas I just, I, and I still feel the same today. I just have this need to record things. No one sees what I'm recording or reads or any of that. I just do it constantly. And it's an addiction. It's a curse, whatever you want to call it. So, uh, and then I've got out of high school and, uh, I actually had a scholarship as a shooter, shotgun shooter, believe it or not, uh, which was a really good scholarship and it was to a very good academic school. And the coach that taught the, uh, the shooting team that traveled internationally, it was a really amazing thing. He had seen me shooting when I was a little kid and he came to my dad and said, you know, with the pay when he's older, if he can qualify, get into the stool to the school, I'll give him a scholarship as a shooter.
Daniel Milnor: 00:07:40 And so my life was headed towards that. And also studying geology. I really wanted to be a geologist. And the admissions building and the admissions program at that call was, was moving. And in the process of moving, they lost a huge number of incoming transcripts, including mine. And so the dean of admissions called my mom and said, look, it's our fault. We've locked, we have no record of him. So he's going to have to go somewhere for a semester and then transfer in the following semester. And the only school left open was San Antonio College, which was a two year community school. I knew nothing about. All I knew was that, all I thought at the time was the only people that go to sac are the ones who can't get in anywhere else. And so I was sort of heavy hearted. I went down there, I signed up for basic classes, English history, whatever, that would transfer over to this other school.
Daniel Milnor: 00:08:28 And low and behold, I find out that they have one of the best journalism programs in the country run by a guy named Jerry Townsend. And Jerry was like a no nonsense guy who, who basically saw some images that I'd made and said, hey, if you want to be a photographer, I'll give you a scholarship to be a thugger. Wow. And that was it, man. And I had, I walked in Rudy Gonzalez, who's a photographer. I think at the rocky mountain, no, the rocky mountain news has gone, I don't know where Rudy is now, but Rudy, it was amazing. Photographer was the person I met in the program and he walked up to me with a and an old icon with a screw mount 35 millimeter. And he gave me this little printout that was the sunny 16 rule for exposure. And he gave me an assignment. So literally I had never used a camera for real. And I was, I was going out on assignment. It was that quick. And you learned very, very quickly working on a daily paper, wood blinds. It was a weekly paper, I think at the school. Anyway, it freaked me out. A, I was terrified for about five minutes. And then I just said, I have to own this and I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna go halfway. I'm gonna make this my life. And that was it.
Raymond: 00:09:30 Wow. So let me, let me go back there. When you, when you first showed up to San Antonio College and you decided to take this journaling or journalism class, was it, um, was it through? Uh, the stories that you were writing, is that what you were, were getting the scholarship in or was it through the, the photographs that you had shown?
Daniel Milnor: 00:09:51 So, my mom and I were driving home one day and San Antonio and there was a massive flood happening. And so, uh, when I got out of high school, I was in the, uh, uh, merchant marine program out of Texas a and M at Galveston. That was like a four month program. And one of my roommates on the ship had a camera and he was kind of serious about photography and the ship had a photographer. And I remember being in that ship and watching the ships photographer work. And I had never seen a human move the way that this guy moved and I couldn't figure out why he was moving the way he was. And then after about a month and a half on the ship, I realized he was following light. He was looking at light and he was moving himself into positions for light. And I had never thought about light before.
Daniel Milnor: 00:10:34 So the I, when I got off the merchant marine ship, I picked up a camera. I thought I found an old camera in a closet in our house and I just started wandering around with this thing, no idea what I'm doing. My mom and our driving home one day and there was a flood happening and we come to a low water crossing and there's a school bus full of kids that's about to get swept over this bridge. And the army's brought in, or the air national guard or somebody brought in this big Chinook double screw. Hello. They're trying to lift this bus out. And so we're just standing there watching and I'm like, you know, hey, I have a camera. Maybe I should take pictures of this. So I shoot a couple of pictures and then I shoot a couple of other pictures during the flood and I'm at lunch at school with a bunch of friends sitting around the table and I have these little four by six.
Daniel Milnor: 00:11:14 This is on the table and I'm showing my friends like, Hey, look how great I am. I did these pictures and this instructor walks by and he leans over and he goes, who took those? And I thought I was in trouble, so I'm like, they're not mine. I didn't take them. And so we're all sitting there and then one's like, nope, don't know where they came from, who not ours. And he goes, I'm not leaving. I know one of you took these and that was Jerry towns and actually he was the head head of the journalism department. And I said, okay, I didn't want my friends to get in trouble. I said, okay, these are mine. And he said, I'll give you a scholarship if you want to be a photographer. And that ends, and this was not, this was a community call it, the scholarship was probably less than a hundred dollars.
Daniel Milnor: 00:11:50 It probably paid for my books. But what I didn't realize was that Jerry was, had a really remarkable career and Jerry was driven. And again, he was no nonsense. This was prior to the Internet. This was prior to digital technology. This was prior to politically correct political correctness. This was prior to having to basically baby people who were getting into photography. This was high pressure, high demand, you know, do not mess up if you come back without an image, don't bother coming back kind of thing. And so you're on assignment and people who are there are taking it very seriously, whether you're a writer or a photographer. So the first assignment I had was as a writer and I got sent to a bomb threat and one of the buildings on campus. And on the way there I thought, I wonder why they're sending natives. I'm proud I'm expendable. And then I got over there and they said, hey, we don't have a photographer free, can you make pictures? And I said, I don't really know. And that's when Rudy gave me the camera and the, and the Lens and the sun 16 rule for exposure. And I, I did a couple of assignments and I never went back to writing, even though I write everyday, I never did it for a career.
Raymond: 00:12:53 Oh my gosh. Wow. What a, what a way to get into photography. Like, Hey, here's the camera. Uh, let's go photograph a possible, uh, life, uh, you know, ending situation here. That's insane.
Daniel Milnor: 00:13:04 And the, the funny thing is the first, the first assignment I had after that was to photograph a speaker who, I don't remember who it is now, he's a well known guy. I show up and it's in an auditorium and there are at least 300 people in this auditorium and I'm like, I have a 50. I'm like, I have to be right next to this guy. I have to be up on the stage or in front. And everybody in the room is going to see me. And I stood in the back of the auditorium for a couple of minutes, minutes and I was really nervous. I thought, man, I don't want to do this. And then I thought, you know, I made a decision that I've stuck with for the rest of my life and it was a great decision how I came to it. I don't know, but I, I just said, look, I'm never going to see anyone in this room ever again. And if I go up there and trip and fall over and everyone gets a laugh out of it, that's probably the worst thing that can happen. So I'm going to own this and I'm going to go and move or I need to move to get the pictures. And I did and I still remember what the picture looked like. I still remember where it ran in the, in the, um, the paper. The school was called the ranger and uh, yeah, it was, it was great. It was a great way to learn photography.
Raymond: 00:14:09 Yeah. Very cool. Very cool. Especially to get one of your first images printed. That's a, that that's pretty rare. So that, that's, that's awesome. Um, so I kind of want to know a little bit more about, cause this is at that moment you had decided that you were going to stay at San Antonio College. Is that, is that correct to, to fulfill this? Uh, oh no, that's not what happened.
Daniel Milnor: 00:14:31 No, I, I was there knowing it was a short term gain. I still had the shooting scholarship and the geology school in play had, I wanted to go that direction. But once I started shooting photographs, I, I was like, oh, this is kind of what I've been waiting to do my whole life. And so I looked around for a four year that was in state that had a good photo journalism department. And at the time this, that the school that stood out was a Texas ut Austin. Oh. So, and at the time, this is pretty funny now because, uh, ut Austin, like all other colleges in America have changed dramatically and they're so, they're so expensive. It's what people are paying to go to school there now as beauty on my comprehension. So literally, this was like two weeks before classes started and I was like, I think I want to go to Texas.
Daniel Milnor: 00:15:23 So I applied and they were like, yeah, sure. Come on up. I got, I got in, I paid more for books than I did for tuition. I think my tuition was less than 300 bucks for the, for the semester. Oh my goodness. And Yeah, and I studied photojournalism and I had minors in Spanish and anthropology and fo it was good. The program during that there in the 80s had been one of the premier programs in the country. And when I got there, I would say that the program was in somewhat of a trough. It hadn't sort of kept up with some other programs like the University of Missouri, Western Kentucky, these were photojournalism schools. Um, and then you had the big art schools, like you know, our art center in Pasadena. You had Parsons and an ICP in New York and you know, there was a very different kinds of things.
Daniel Milnor: 00:16:07 We were very specific to photojournalism. And so I realized very shortly after getting to school that whatever I was going to come out with was going to be on my shoulders, not from the faculty saying you're going to do this. Because the faculty was training us to go in one direction. And I realized that the media lead that I needed to go in another direction and consequently I sort of fell out of favor, I think with some of the faculty who just looked at me as either arrogant or, uh, something. Because I said, look, I want to know black and white. I want to photograph black and white, but I need to know color. Because if I get out, I want to be a magazine photographer. Everybody shooting transparency, I can't, I can't shoot, try excel all the time. And they were like, no, no, no.
Daniel Milnor: 00:16:48 You're going to shoot tri-x and a 28 millimeter and everyone's going to love it. And I knew that was not going to be the case. And so I got very fortunate, um, I started shooting color right away and I bought a police scanner, an old police scanner, and every night I would drive from my horrible apartment to the I 35, which splits Austin, uh, north to south. And I would park park underneath the [inaudible] and I would turn on the police scanner and I would just wait because East Austin at that time was very unsettled. There were huge gang problems, there were, there was a lot of crime. There's a lot of stuff happening and at the time I thought, oh, as a photo journalist, this is kind of what I'm supposed to photograph. So I would go and I and I just would show, you know the police scanner would crackle and it would say, you know, box alarm, whatever.
Daniel Milnor: 00:17:39 Or they had codes for domestic violence, they had codes for shooting and I learned what all the codes were and I would show up. Oftentimes I was the first person on the scene. I'd be there before any law enforcement. And this was another education that I never saw coming was how to navigate in the field. And when you, when your police scanner goes off and you roll up on a crime scene and there's no one there, it's not just about photography, it's about all these logistics and scenarios that you have to understand before you can actually get in. Make successful pictures and get out, you know, where do you park your vehicle? If you park and you block an emergency responder, you're in trouble. If something goes sideways and your truck is blocked and you can't get out, then you're in trouble. Um, all these different things, you know, it does.
Daniel Milnor: 00:18:22 Somebody need help for more than, you know, it does that. Trump's making pictures kind of things. And so while I was out one night photographing a house fire, a guy approached me, older guy, suit and tie, oddly enough even at a fire and he was the Austin Fire Department photographer, guy named Erwin had. And Irwin said, you know, I've seen you around at these fires. Who are you? What are you doing? And I told him, it's photo journalism student. And he said to me, do you want to know how to print color? And I said, yeah, because we don't, we're not, they're not going to let us print color for like another two years. He said, come to the fire department, I have a dark room, I'll teach you how to print color. And he did. And Irwin was, was really great. He was a guy that like bent over backwards to help me.
Daniel Milnor: 00:19:06 And, uh, you know, at school you had these Joe blow processors to do a color print, which take about 10,000 years to make a print. And you know, they're good and they're fun. But after a while you're like, okay, I'd love to not have to spend 45 minutes on this print. So Irwin had an automated color processor and an enlarger with a color head. And he taught me not only how to print color, but then also told me how to use color settings to printed black and white. And that like blew my mind open. So I got lucky and, um, I had a good run at the paper. I started to freelance while I was still in school. I was doing assignments for the daily Texan, which was the paper at ut. Really good paper. And the people I was working with. I mean, um, John McConico who went on to AP, John Moore, who's at AP John Fronts, uh, John Mark Bizu who won two Pulitzers at AP, you know, these were my, um, we didn't hang out a whole lot, but these were my, my fellow students, Scott Dalton, who, who's covered the drug war in Columbia for 10 years.
Daniel Milnor: 00:20:04 Um, I went to school with some really amazing photographers. Oh my [inaudible]
Raymond: 00:20:09 goodness. So just before we move on, how long were you a a, a nightcrawler going and photographing these, you know, possibly horrific scenes. How long were you doing that for?
Daniel Milnor: 00:20:21 I did that in Austin for a couple of years. And then my first internship as I got out of school and I looked forever to try to find an internship. And this is kind of a long story with that. I'll spare you the details, but at the time it was incredibly difficult to find internships and I kept getting rejected for all kinds of reasons. Very rarely was it about imagery. It was always about extraneous things that would keep me from getting these internships. But I finally got one, I think, I don't know for certain, I think someone called on my behalf, I think I know who it was that called them on my behalf, but he has never admitted doing so. But anyway, I've got this internship, Arizona, Republican Phoenix, and it was amazing because the republic had a huge budget. It's, you know, it's a big paper.
Daniel Milnor: 00:21:05 It's state paper. They did international, national, local news. They covered the whole state that a big staff. Um, but I worked the three to 11, 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM shift as an intern and after seven o'clock, because it was a morning paper, it, unless a UFO landed in the middle of downtown, nothing you shot after 7:00 PM was good to make the paper basically. So I had my police scanner and I would leave the paper and I would drive straight south on central avenue and I would pull over and south Phoenix at the seat at the time was a war zone. It was not a happy place to be after sunset. And so for me as a photographer again, and I was like, oh, I'm a journalist. I'm supposed to be doing this stuff. So I started shooting the same thing and it was worse than Austin.
Daniel Milnor: 00:21:53 It was, you know, every night there were, there were, there's a lot of bad stuff happening. And so I got to know some of the police department. I got to know some of the fire department. And I also began to understand editorial policy and marketing and advertising and how what you saw in the paper was not necessarily representative of the news because I started coming back with images that were not popular in the newsroom because management saw them and said, no one's going to buy the paper if we're showing this stuff. And we're trying to sell ads for golf courses and they don't want to see domestic violence shootouts in south Phoenix. And so I come. And so what I started to do is I compiled this huge folder of all the work that I've made in Phoenix in the middle of the night. And when I quit at the paper and moved on, I went to the photo editor and just dropped it on his desk and said, you know, you can kind of deny that this is happening in the city, but this is happening in the city.
Daniel Milnor: 00:22:48 You know, we can't, you're supposed to be a news organization. You have to cover everything. Yes, the golf course is important. Yes. The Phoenix Suns are important and the cardinals and I get it. It's, you know, and that's the thing about a community paper is you have to cover the community. And thankfully by the time I left South, Phoenix was making some progress and I don't know what it's like now, but you know, most of these places have been gentrified to some degree. The violence levels are down. I mean, there are exceptions in the country where there's some pretty dicey places out there. But, um, I learned a lot, you know, and the fact that I could speak Spanish, uh, the police loved it because I would show up sometimes at like domestic disputes and translate where the police, yeah, they would say, hey, you speak Spanish.
Daniel Milnor: 00:23:27 You guys speak Spanish? Well, Hey, what would he saying to her? And vice versa. And, and I'm like, and at the time I forget what I was probably like 22 and I'm, I'm walking around like, is this really happening? And uh, and just crazy scenes, you know, I mean, I got shot at once in [inaudible] at a little league baseball game. There were people all over the place. There had to be 2000 people around. And I was photographing a, a kid who was part of the gang in Austin and I'd known him for a long time. We'd spent like four months together and we were hanging out. Uh, I was with his gang and we were all sort of hanging around drinking beer, hanging out in this little section of the buttery over that was theirs. And someone came in and said, hey, so-and-so from this rival gang called Egv east of audio there, he's at this other location and you know, we've got to go get him.
Daniel Milnor: 00:24:18 And so they all run to go. And I was like, well, I want to go to take pictures. And I didn't know what get him meant. No. I was like, oh, they're probably gonna fight. And so we roll up and I get out of the car and like an idiot first of all at a 24 millimeter lens on, which is mistake number one. Number two, I've strobe on major mistake number three. I put myself in the worst possible position, which was between the guys that I was with and between the guy that they were going after, but there were people all over it. So there was a little league baseball game happening to my right. There was another one behind me and I was like, nothing's gonna, nothing's gonna happen here. And then I heard a window break car window and it just, I saw literally it was like, it was as if a gunshot had gone off.
Daniel Milnor: 00:25:07 All the people at the little league games collectively went like this. Everybody froze, duck and started taking cover. And again, I'm like looking around, not quite putting it together. And then full auto rounds guide, the guy whose car window was broken gets it's trapped in the parking lot. He stands up, turns around with fully automatic and just unloads on the parking lot. So like I'm hearing these rounds hitting and I'm like, maybe I should take cover. I didn't take any photographs, which is not not good. But I remember looking down at my feet and there was a mom and a little boy behind the front wheel of a car and, and you could tell that this was not, this was not the first time they'd had to do this, that this was, this kind of violence was relatively common. And so the whole, you know, 10 seconds goes by, I have no idea what I did.
Daniel Milnor: 00:25:58 I wake up and I'm next to her on the ground behind the car and the guy, that's stupid. The shooting is driven away. And I waited and I waited for the police to show up and nobody showed up. Nobody came. And about 10 minutes later, the games were gone again, everyone's back plan. And I was like, wow, this is a, you can get used to anything. Wow. So did tell me that you made the conscious decision not to take any photos in that moment? No. Hell No. I didn't know what I was doing. I froze. I mean, I, there's a, there's a 10 to 15 second period where I have no idea what I did. I got from standing down to the ground. So I did something smart. But the other thing was the distance involved with a 24 and a strobe, if I'd pop the strobe, it would have highlighted my position, which is probably not a good idea. And with a 24, he would have been, you know, microscopic in the frame and I just, it was just a bad move. It was bad all the way around, but I didn't get shot. So.
Raymond: 00:26:54 Yeah. Well, yeah, you're here today and I'm, I'm, I'm thankful for that. I'm sure it's, you're thankful for that as well. Wow. Uh,
Daniel Milnor: 00:26:59 but I also realized that, that, you know, the sort of getting shot at thing was not something that I was keen on. Oh yeah. And the other thing was the idea of having a picture of the guy doing the shooting was not what was intriguing to me. What was intriguing to me was the game starting again five minutes later. And the fact that this was conditioned, this was a conditioned response to, to perpetual simmering sort of crime and violence and you get used to it and all of a sudden, you know, uh, it's normal. It's like, oh, they're not shooting at me. This is totally fine. I'll be fine. That's what was intriguing to me. That is really the moment that I went from being a photo journalist to a documentary photographer that I was not the front lines and stuff was not, I don't think I have the fortitude to do the front line stuff, but what I did have was the fortitude to do longterm stories.
Raymond: 00:27:54 Yeah. I definitely want to get into to you as a documentarian and doing these long form stories, uh, as I think that sets you apart from, from a lot of other photographers. But as you mentioned as well, a lot of people are, you know, we're, we're still kind of, uh, under the impression that you should go to college to make it in a profession that you want to be in. But with the rising cost of college, a lot of people are wondering, you know, is photography something that you really need to go to school for? So I'm sure that when you made the decision to go to, uh, Texas and Austin to, uh, to go specifically pretty much for photography, I want know, uh, what did you hope to have or what did you hope to know by the time you left school? And do you think that it's still as important to go to college today, uh, as it was when you went,
Daniel Milnor: 00:28:50 what did I help to get out of it, you know, fame for
Raymond: 00:28:52 in a famous I right out of college.
Daniel Milnor: 00:28:55 No. And uh, and I had an apartment right in the middle of all the sororities, which was a good move. That was, that was a good move. Uh, in hindsight now I ha, let me think about that. What was my goal? Getting out? I wanted to be a professional photographer. And at the time there were, there was a clear foot path that you followed to go from a to B to c to d and how you became a photographer. Uh, the short answer to the second part of the question is it's not necessary. It's not critical, essential to go to college. However, in my opinion, it is critical to actually learn photography. So whether you do that in college or you do that with a mentorship program where you do that through a series of workshops or a combination of all the above, if you're going to be a legitimate photographer, and this is, people are going to take offense at some of this I know, but there's a big difference between being an online photographer and being an actual photographer.
Daniel Milnor: 00:29:49 There are two industries working simultaneously. You have the online photo community and you have the on on earth, realtime human being, editors, agents, agencies, assignments and professional photographers. These are two entirely separate groups of people that oftentimes don't even recognize one another. They don't know any, they don't know each other. So, for example, you can have a guy that has a million Instagram followers who does youtube that has a ton of followers and blah, blah, blah. And if you said to any agent or editor or photo art buyer in the photo industry and said, have you ever heard of this person? There's a good chance they're going to say no idea who that is because that's the online photo world. The online photo world to me is very deceptive because you have a lot of people selling things. And so, you know, hey look at me. And basically it's based on numbers based on following and traffic.
Daniel Milnor: 00:30:39 And that's a very dangerous thing. Very different thing from saying, here's a really good photographer. I know tons of good photographers, elite level people who have no social following whatsoever. They just, cause they're busy working all the time. They're actually doing real assignments, they're doing editorial work, they're doing commercial advertising, fashion and fine art, automotive, et Cetera. So these two very different things. There was no internet when I got out of school. So my goal was to get into the, into the photography world for real. I wanted to make my living from photography and that meant I wanted to have health insurance, I wanted to have money in the bank. I wanted to, I didn't want to, I've never been a believer in this concept of the starving artist. I think that there are plenty of starving artists, but I think that that in some ways is something that you have to mentally get over.
Daniel Milnor: 00:31:25 There's no reason if you're a, if you're capable of making unique work and that's easier said than done, but if you're capable of making unique work, there's no reason to starve. You know, you have to, you have to be intelligent about it. But there's a way of doing it. At least there was at the time. So I got out of school knowing that I needed to get a job at a newspaper that was step one on. And then while I was at the newspaper, after I had been there for awhile, I would start freelancing for editorial clients on the side magazine clients. And then eventually when you had enough magazine clients, you would leave the newspaper and you would jump into the magazine world. And from the magazine world that led to commercial photography and from commercial photography to advertising where the serious money is, and that's still true to this day, is advertising. Photography is really where the massive budgets are. Not nearly as massive as they once were, but the ultimate end game was to be able to shoot advertising very sporadically, just enough for me to be able to pay for my own documentary projects. That's really the rub is most documentary photographers, it seems like, or a significant percentage are doing other kinds of work to try to make money to do their own projects. That's the, that's the key. It's hard. It's not, it's getting harder every day.
Raymond: 00:32:40 Yeah. So as a documentarian, in your own words, what would you say is your job as the photographer? What do you have to do or capture to consider your job a success?
Daniel Milnor: 00:32:55 I think you have to make original work. Um, that's, that's the key. It's very easy for me to go online and see what somebody else has done and go out and copy it. There's people who are doing that every day, every generation of photographer, every generation. There's a handful of people worldwide that come along that add something new to the conversation. I am not one of those people. I wish I was, but I'm not. But every, you know, you have Sebastian, you had, let's go way back. You have Jean Smith, w Jean Smith, documentary photographer, probably the best documentary photographer that's ever lived after Jean Smith. The next person that jumps out to me would be somebody who likes semesters. So Gado. And so Gado was not only a good photographer, but he was able to secure funding. He was able to secure longterm assignments. He was able to envision where his projects would be in 10 years time.
Daniel Milnor: 00:33:45 And so God would also work on a project for 10 years before it was before it was released. So he did, you know, uh, the, his first project, big one that got recognition was the famine in Ethiopia. And then he did a project in the Americas than he did workers. And these were 10 year increments. And so Gada would come to someone like Kodak where I worked at one point and he would say, I want x amount of money. And they would give it to him because he come in and say, if you give me this money, this is what's going to transpire. And it was all worked out over like a five, six, seven year period. And you're like, nobody else is doing this. While it's remarkable, you want to be able to key for really the key to be an a to being a photographer is to try to tell unique stories in a way that people can immediately recognize who did the work. And that's hard today when there's so many people working in. So much of the work you see looks exactly the same. And it's hard. It took 10 years of shooting every day to figure out what I was doing. Literally 10 years.
Raymond: 00:34:43 I believe it. I believe it. So was it, you'll work for the paper, which seems very running gun. Do it now let's tell the story right away, which is, maybe I'm wrong, but I would consider kind of short form. Uh, did that kind of, um, open you up to the idea of long form stuff or, or get you excited for that?
Daniel Milnor: 00:35:05 Yeah, so the, the daily paper, especially a big day daily where you're getting multiple assignments every day, you get up in the morning, you go into the paper, there's a little basket that has your name on it and it is a stack of paper. And each one of those is an assignment. And the beauty of that is that, and we're shooting at the time, I'm shooting 35 millimeter transparency film. So I'm shooting slide film. This is not easy. It's not easy. You've got to get it right. Your exposure has to be right. And the assignment range on a typical day would go something like this. Um, city council meeting in a windowless room with three people and overhead fluorescent lighting, which, which meant you had to put a green Magenta filter on your camera and a Green Gel on your strobe, balance it out for the, you know, with, with a hundred speed, Fuji Chrome pushed to three 20, you could shoot it f for at a, you know, 30th of a second with a strobe bounced off the ceiling and you do this and these pictures are horrible and they suck and no one should have ever assigned this.
Daniel Milnor: 00:36:02 But you've got it and you're like cursing the paper and you're cursing the person that assigned it and the people in the city council don't want you there and you don't want to be there and you, so you bang that thing out and you're like, okay, well get me Outta here. And then you get in the truck and your beeper goes off. At the time we had beepers, no cell phones and it's, and it's always nine one one. It's always a panic emergency. Hey, this fell through the gaps. You know, you have to go photograph the mayor. And so you go, okay. And you go and you shoot a portrait of the mayor. And then on the way back to the paper, there's a brush fire that fires up in downtown Phoenix and there's houses on fire and they're like, go shoot the brush fire.
Daniel Milnor: 00:36:40 So you're going from all one thing to another all day long. And it is the ultimate training ground. But it's frustrating because you don't get time. So on this on the side, on the days of the week that I was not working or from, if I work through 11 I was still up at whatever, six in the morning I would be out shooting projects. And so what you were hoping for was that the paper would occasionally would throw you a bone and say, look, we're going to give you a picture package on, you know, the community section. And they ended up running three, four, five pictures and that, what's your appetite for [inaudible]? This is great. And also my, you know, I'm, I'm at the half price bookstore in Austin looking at books of my idols. I'm looking at Salgado, I'm looking at Nachtwey, I'm looking at Jill Perez and I'm looking at an Alex Webb and Maggie Steber and I'm looking at the books and the work that they're putting out. And I'm like, that's who I want to be. I want, these are multi year, you know, 50 to a hundred images over a five to 10 year period on the same story. That is intriguing to me. It still is.
Raymond: 00:37:45 Yeah. Yeah. So, so when, when did you, what was, I guess your first assignment of, of this caliber? Was it something that you had given yourself that you decided to tackle? Did you get an idea from somewhere else? Was it commissioned?
Daniel Milnor: 00:37:59 So all of the best work I've ever done. This is really sad, but I think it's true for about 95% of all the photographers out there. The best work I've ever done was all self assigned because what I learned very quickly, and I'm, I just, I turned 50 in January, so I'm, I got the tail end of what I would consider the last sort of real photo industry that existed as ar, as the generations before us new. So there was a real editorial world. People were paying rates, you could get contracts, all of these things that are really out the window, these, so, but I learned very quickly that to get a multi-day assignment was rare. So you know, I'd get a three or four day assignment editorial assignment. Those were few and far between. Most of them were these quick hit things that I thought, this isn't helping me at all.
Daniel Milnor: 00:38:51 I'm shooting all these pictures and these pictures are other people's pictures. These are not mine. Yes. So in 19 1997 I'm living in southern California. I'm assisting for a photographer named Rick recommend. And Rick, who I think is actually from New Mexico. Um, Rick was really helpful to me because he sort of took me under his wing, taught me a lot of things about photography, not actual image making, but taught me about invoicing and assignments and working with editors and all this stuff that I had no experience with. I didn't know what I was doing. And so Rick, I assisted for Rick for several years, um, and he was super helpful to me and he would get multi-day assignments. He would do stuff for the geographic and life and time and people and all these things. So he was, uh, he was a working, uh, editorial guy all the time.
Daniel Milnor: 00:39:39 And so, but I realized that the odds of me becoming him were very slim. And so I decided my wife works for Canon or worked for Canon for 30 years, and she got a call from someone she knew that worked at Kodak and they said, Hey, we're looking for rep in southern California. And my wife said, oh, and she'd get my husband to do it, he'd be great. So I did that job for a few years and to get the job I had to sign a conflict of interest letter that said I would no longer do assignments because if I was doing assignments then I'd be competing with the people that I was trying to help at Kodak and I said, okay, I'll sign this if you sign something that says I get all the free film, Chem host and paper I can possibly use, which for Kodak was nothing.
Daniel Milnor: 00:40:23 Of course they signed it, they signed it, but it was not a big deal and so I sold all my equipment except for like a 35 millimeter thick guy to like 50 and a 35 and for the next four years, the only pictures I made were longterm projects of my own assignment and I realized at the end of four years what I was onto and that this was the best work I've ever done and the only work I wanted to do. So I didn't want to do magazines work anymore. I didn't want to do commercial photography, I just wanted to do longterm projects. That is very difficult to do in the u s because there's so little market for it. And every year the market was getting smaller and smaller and now there's virtually nothing. There's virtually no outlets for that kind of work outside of the books.
Raymond: 00:41:07 That is a shame. That is a shame. Uh, I know growing up and I, I talked about this in the beginner photography podcast Facebook group before. I've always said that kind of when I first got into photography, my dream was always like to follow the band, you know what I mean? Like, or follow the team from, from the underdogs to like winning the, you know, the world series that year or whatever it was, or coming out with a granny winning album. Um, and, but cause you never really saw those photos. You'd see everything in between and you would never see the entire book. And that's when, that's, that's where when you would go to these bookstores and you would see these photo books of these, of these singular events, you know, a singular topic that, that took up the entire book. It really puts you in that place because suddenly you knew the story and it didn't take any words at all. So I want to talk more about the storytelling aspect of photography. As I've said many times on the podcast that a great photo is so much more than just the sum of its settings and a lot of what makes a photo great is the story that it tells now specializing in these longterm stories. D, How much of the story is planned out and you know like, like, like you know what you want to capture versus just showing up and simply reacting?
Daniel Milnor: 00:42:30 Well it entirely depends on the project and it depends on two primary ingredients, which are time and access. How much time do you, and what's your access? Like assets back in the mid nineties was very easy. If you had a press credential, you get anything you want and you'd show up in the middle of nowhere and some part of the country and without a press pass and people would be like, hey, you want to come into our house, we'll make lunch. You could hang out, whatever those days are. Those days are gone. Everybody's suspicious now. So time and access are really critical. But for me, I was working at the newspaper in Austin at the daily texts and I was freelancing for like anyone who would hire me that doing these, you know, little assignments here and there. And I went to half price books one day, and I'll never forget this, I go into the photo book section and there's two books.
Daniel Milnor: 00:43:16 There's one book called Mexico, which is by a magnum photographer named my boss who I met 15 years ago. And his, his primary work at that time was a multi like 15 year product on Islam all around the world, which is this remarkable book, if you can get it. But he did this little book called Mexico and Mexico was basically all black and white, all like, uh, and it was just kind of random. It was like a personal notebook from Mexico. And I looked at it and I'm like, oh, I like this. And then I opened this book called Telex, Iran by a photographer named Jill Perez, who's a French guy who, a magnum photographer as well. And I just froze because one, I had never seen pictures like this before. They were so different and so sophisticated compared to what I was looking at. It literally freaked me out.
Daniel Milnor: 00:44:05 I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it, but the book was about the Iranian Revolution in 79 and GL had been there for a long time working on this project and this story and the book, the copy, the writing, and the book were telex is between he and that Magnum office in Paris. If I have that, if I remember this correctly. And what got me was that was the honesty in the telexes because here's a guy that's already established at Magnum. He's got multiple stories under his belt. He's an incredible photographer. He's a very intelligent guy that's way more than just a photographer. But there's a vulnerability in these telexes that I did not expect to see of of the, of the doubt that he had in his mind and the uncertainty and the challenges. And I was like, wow, I'm in the same boat that he is like he's, even though he's way better than I am.
Daniel Milnor: 00:44:54 And he's way more established and he's got these books, you know, he's, there's hope for me because he's, there are cracks in his armor, he's admitting. And so, but I didn't buy that book, which was a big mistake because that was a first edition telex Iran, which is now probably worth like $5,000 but anyway, I was like, I can't, I can't buy this. It's too intimidating for me to look at this. So I bought the Abbas book, which I still have, but it haunted me that I'd never bought this book. And then like five years ago, I'm sitting in a cafe in Brooklyn and I had my camera on the table in front of me, which is an emperor like a, and a guy walks by and he goes, nice camera. And I look up and it's jeal and it turns out that the coffee shop I was sitting at is like half a block from his studio.
Daniel Milnor: 00:45:38 And I said, holy cow. I go, he's Y'all Perez. And he sat down and then he goes, hey, let's go to the studio. And then I called the founder of blurb who was in New York at the time and I said, you're never going to believe this. I'm going to show Perez a studio. And she was like, Hey, I want to go to show a studio. So we went to a studio and we had lunch with him and he gave us like a t. It was amazing. And he and I wrote letters back and forth for quite a while and I told him, I said, I screwed up. I didn't buy your book. I should've bought your book, you know, in Austin all those years ago. And then something funny happened about six months ago, a friend of mine moved from California to Wisconsin, a really good friend, good photographer.
Daniel Milnor: 00:46:20 And he called me and he said, we're having a going away party. Make sure you come to the going away party. I said, okay. So we get to the party and he goes, where's your truck? I said, oh, I parked around there. He goes back your truck up over here. And he opens up the back of his truck and it's filled with photo books. And he said, look, I can't take these with me. And the first book on the stack on top was Tellico Iran and he's like, and he's like, here's the book I know you're really going to want no. So I got my copy. Wow. What an amazing story. What an amazing story. That must have felt really good in that moment. Oh Man. That book is, it's still freaks me out. I mean he gave me a stack of books that are theirs.
Daniel Milnor: 00:47:06 To me, books are evidence. You can't deny what's in there and they are, they are the quality bar that has already been set. So if I'm, if I'm coming to new Mecca, northern New Mexico and I'm going to do a project about the culture here, then I have books like Norman mouse costs, the descendants that, and Jimmy Santiago was the one who wrote the copy for the book, a Jack Woody at twin palms published it and Norman Mascot is the photographer. That book is there. It's my responsibility as a photographer to know about that book and to know what's in it. And I'm either going to add to that conversation or I'm not doing the project because it's already been done and it's been done at a very high level. And that's one of the big things that you'll see today with the online photo community is there's very little research done.
Daniel Milnor: 00:47:55 So with sometimes I'll see, I'll hear about a project and it's being hyped and everyone's like, oh, that's amazing and it's great, it's amazing. And I look at it and I go, not only is it not amazing, it was already done five years ago by So-and-so, and when they did a much better job, it's that the new photographer was able to learn how to market the thing and spin it with through social and marketing numbers and traffic and be like, well look, I'm getting all this buzz. But ultimately when you look at the work you go, this is just not that good. That one of the big misconceptions about photography in the digital age is that it's easy now because of all the technology and that is completely inaccurate. It's as difficult to make a good image today as it always has been. And it's just as rare because to get a lifetime sort of signature image you need, you need the right light, you need the right timing, the right composition.
Daniel Milnor: 00:48:44 And it's really hard. And it's rare. I mean, I go maybe if I'm lucky a couple of times a year I'll get something that I think would fit if I, if I've reduced my life down to the top 20 images, it's rare that something new comes along and knock something out of that original 20 it's really hard to get work like that. And so I think the Internet and the technology fools us into thinking that what we're making is really good. Most of the time it's not. And that's totally fine. I think as a photographer you need to be prepared to fail the vast majority of the time. And for some reason when I was in school, and again I'm 50 so it was a little bit different philosophy back then, but failure wasn't viewed in the same way. You kind of expect that you are going to fail most of the time.
Daniel Milnor: 00:49:29 And when you put your work up in front of your peers, they were going to tear you apart piece by piece. And that's typically what happened. And then suddenly failure wasn't viewed the same way and you weren't supposed to talk about it and you weren't supposed to admit it and whatever. But I think, I mean, look, if you're a photographer and I'm a photographer and you put your work down in front of me and I put my work down, you're going to see things you like and you're gonna see things you don't like. And you have to be able to say, look, Milner, you know, I, I see where you're going here, but you're not there yet. It's not good enough. And then I have to be able to set thick enough skin to go, hey, well thanks for being honest with me. What do you think I should do?
Daniel Milnor: 00:50:04 Like what's missing? What? How do I fill the gaps or whatever. And so that's the kind of education that you get when you're learning photography in a school. It's not about technical stuff. You know ut Austin, the tech pickle, literally the entire amount of time that will be spent on technical was probably less than a week. And the rest of the three and a half, four years of the stuff was had nothing to do with technique. It had everything to do with process about story, about editing, about sequencing, about design. Those are the important things. The equipment, nobody cared. I mean, you know, people had of Nikon FM body with a 28 and a roll of triax and they were like here. That was the extent of the gear conversation. Sure. W we probably spent more time talking about printing technique and photographic technique. Yeah, cause it's con it's complicated.
Raymond: 00:50:58 So, okay. So, so we talked about when you first started creating a a gallery of say 20 images of your life's work, it's very hard to, to, to break that, to move one of those out and replace it with a new photo today. Yeah. So if we wanted to do that, if we want to take better photos, just so that I'm clear, the best way to do that is constant critiquing, constant ripping apart our own photos to, to, to continue to grow. Is that it?
Daniel Milnor: 00:51:32 Well, I would say the first step is you have to practice, you know, photography is a, is a physical skill, right? It's, it's hand eye coordination. It's anticipation, it's knowledge of your subject matter. It's an understanding of light, of timing, of composition. But it's, it's like working out, it's a skill. It's like riding, riding your bicycle. You ride every day for 30 days. At the end of 30 days you're like, well, I feel pretty fit. But that first day you're riding and you're like, oh my God, I think I'm going to die. Like that's, and photography's the same. So for example, um, I had not worked on a project for quite awhile and two and a half weeks ago, I flew to Albania and I shot every day for two weeks in Albania trying to produce a project. And the first couple of days in Albania I was terrible.
Daniel Milnor: 00:52:16 I mean I'm looking at things happening and saying, oh, there was my phone. Oh, I should have shot that. I just wasn't good because I'm sloppy. I'm slow, I'm not looking, I'm not anticipating, I'm fumbling around and I've been doing this for 30 years. So practicing and staying sharp, um, I think being aware of what has already been done and, and understanding where you fit in as a photographer and what the context of you, what your context is in the grand scheme of things. Really important. Let's say for example, I want to do a project on the border. The border has been photographed in a million times over. I've done multiple projects down there myself as have many of my friends. So if I go to an art buyer or an agent in New York and I want to show my work and I'm showing a project on the border, I better know what's already been done.
Daniel Milnor: 00:53:02 Because if I put something in front of this person and I say, look at me, look how original I am. And she looks at me and says, you know, so-and-so, and so and so and so and so already did the same project. It makes me look really bad. So even if I, even if these people have already done the project and I can sit with her and I can say, look, I know that bill and Mary and Tom all did this project before, but this is why I did it and this is I'm Kay, I'm going to take the baton from them and I'm going to move at one step forward because I'm adding this other element or I have a different angle or I got better access. And so you're adding to what's been done and for whatever reason today, I see there's a lot of aversion to this idea that you have to know what's been done because people want to believe that they're amazing and they want to believe that very quickly that you know, you get out of school and you're like, I want to be famous, you know, I want big assignments and do this and that and you kind of, that's a hard game to win.
Daniel Milnor: 00:53:54 And I think if you're, there's a big difference between being hot for a year as a photographer and having a 30 year career. Those are two entirely. It's a, it's a marathon and a sprint and I'd always rather be in the marathon conversation and to be in the marathon you have to do some basic fieldwork and some groundwork and have some basic knowledge, so practicing having a fundamentally sound, but then also just learning who you are with a camera because if you can't make original photographs, there is no chance that you will have a 30 year career. None because there's too many people who can do everything. Jack of all trades, low level commercial photographer has a studio, what do you shoot? I'll shoot anything that comes in. I'll shoot a wedding, I'll shoot a portrait, I'll shoot a product, I'll shoot this, I'll shoot that.
Daniel Milnor: 00:54:41 There's 10 thousands of these people out there and what you end up doing is you get into these pricing wars where the price goes down and down and down because everybody's competing for these small jobs. That's a hard run. I'd much rather take my chances, have a part time job doing something else, learn who I am as a photographer or be able to make original work. And then when clients see that original work, they say if, if we want that kind of photography, the only person who can do it is that person that has value. That's why people still pay for photography is because certain people do things that nobody else can do and there's value in that.
Raymond: 00:55:16 Yeah. So you mentioned being not being a jack of all trades and if you want to have a 30 year career, you have to really be a master at something. You have had that 30 year career in your own words, what are you a master of wasting time? That's why you're here with me today. Yeah, that makes sense.
Daniel Milnor: 00:55:38 Photographically, I don't know. I don't know if there's anything that I would call, it's hard to call myself a master at anything. I think that there are things that I've learned how to do well and there's things that took me a long time to figure out, but once I figured them out, I think that they, they've helped. I think this is probably not a great answer for you, but I think what I realized a long time ago was that it wasn't enough anymore to just be a photographer. You need to be a more well rounded human being. Because here's the funny thing, there is a lot of photographers out there a lot more than ever. So let's say that you want a commercial assignment and the creative agency that's in charge of assigning the photographer, a photographer, they're looking around, they're looking around and when they meet with you, let's say you go to a portfolio review and there's, they're looking at 10 photographers that day and you walk up there and I walk up and our friends walk up and this are our buyers looking at you and she's looking at your portfolio and she's looking at my portfolio.
Daniel Milnor: 00:56:39 She's not just looking at your portfolio, she's looking at you and she's listening to you. And she's looking at your, how you're dressed, she's listening to your vocabulary to see you have a sense of humor. Does he have a massive ego? And more importantly, are the clients going to like this person? Can I leave this person alone on the set with a client and they will not embarrass me? Will the clients like them? Will they, if something goes wrong, will they be able to handle it? What's their, what's their crew like? What's their plan B? Like all of these different things that in photo school, they don't teach you anything about this. Right? So you learned that being a photographer is about being a well rounded, intelligent human being that is continually on the hunt for new knowledge. The photography will come with practice and with sort of perseverance. But all the peripheral things to me are more important today than they ever have been because it's way more than the pictures. That's it.
Raymond: 00:57:37 So what was I going to get into this for a few more questions, but is this one of the reasons why you are, um, according to your website, you, you believe that, uh, social media that you are a complete and total non-believer of social media and that these platforms have done irreparable damage to human communication skills and attention span?
Daniel Milnor: 00:58:02 Jeez. Did I say that? Well, it sounds, whoever wrote the copy on your website, that sounds negative. Uh, yeah. But yeah, in essence, I believe exactly that, but there's a little background here. So I don't want social media. I think things like Instagram, uh, are proving themselves to be one of the most detrimental, uh, contributions to our society that I think I've ever seen. I always kind of joke with my friends. I'm not sure that that's a species we will survive. Instagram, you know, it's unleashing a LE, a level of consumerism on the planet that we simply can't sustain. It's unleashing a, a battle against the environment that we can't sustain or can't win. But this goes way back. So, um, and here's the ironic part is that I was one of the first people that I know in the entire world to be on Facebook.
Daniel Milnor: 00:58:57 I went to New York to do an assignment and it was for someone that had something to do with the Central Park Committee. So I'm talking to her in New York and she says Facebook. And I'm like, what's that? And she goes, oh, this is new thing called Facebook. When you get back to California, you should sign up for it. And so I'm like, okay. I fly back to California, I sign up on Facebook. No one I know is on Facebook, not a single person, it's just me and I'm on there. And there's other people on there. I'm like, Hey, this is kinda cool. And same thing when in scrap hats, I'm walking down the street in San Francisco. Friend mine calls me and goes, hey, there's this new thing called Instagram. You should check it out. I stop in the middle of the street, I download the app and I start Fitbit, fitbit, start taking pictures and posting on Instagram.
Daniel Milnor: 00:59:35 So I was on these things long before any of my friends were on there and including all my friends who are basically given their entire life to be platforms. But six years ago I was here in New Mexico. My birthday is January 1st I woke up on my birthday and I was like, I don't believe in this anymore. This is not what we were originally sold of what this is. I said, I am watching this. These networks destroy my friends. They are like skittish, scared little creatures who can't get through a conversation without looking at their phone. They're insecure, their work has gone downhill and the work they're producing is only being produced to try to drive numbers on these social networks. And it's garbage cause it looks like everybody else's, it looks like Instagram content. So I called the founder of blurb and I called him the marketing director of Laura, who was my immediate boss at the time.
Daniel Milnor: 01:00:26 And I said, uh, I know this is probably isn't going to go over well, but I'm deleting seven networks right now and I don't ever want to go back on his networks. And the marketing director said at the time, she said, I hate them too. I think this is all, you know, go ahead. So I thought, oh, that's great. And then the founder said, go ahead and do it, but write about why, why does you're doing it. And so I did and I did a couple, I deleted social media, which is by far the highest traffic post I've ever done. And look at you went to those numbers. Well it's because here's something funny happened. So two weeks goes by and I went through detox. I would literally, in moments of like call, just pick up your phone just to look at first. And then I just pick it off for no reason.
Daniel Milnor: 01:01:09 And I'd be in the field shooting and I'd go, oh, I should check like Facebook. As I'm walking down the street somewhere trying to shoot, I'd be thinking about Instagram and I thought this is bad. So two weeks detox. And then after two weeks I kind of came through the veil and I looked back and I thought, man, I am I, that was just not good. So I, uh, wrote a post, the posted got all this traffic. I don't know the specific numbers, but it was by far more than any post done. But something funny happened, kind of tragic, is that people began to write me asking for help. They were saying, I'm physically addicted. I lost my house, I lost my job, I lost my family. I can't stay off of Facebook. I'm on Instagram 60 hours a week. I'm on nerves, nervous, I'm unhappy.
Daniel Milnor: 01:01:53 I'm taking depression medication. So I had to write a follow up post and saying, I'm not a medical person. I'm not a psychiatrist. If you need medical help, please seek, you know, attend, seek medical attention or psychiatric help. But that's not my role. I'm just not qualified to, to help in that way. That post was six years ago. I get emails every week from people all over the world saying, help me help, help. Um, you know, I can't get out. And that's the, one of the things that's very interesting to me is that I think all of us are probably touched by someone in our family or close to our families that has substance abuse problem, right? Either alcohol, drugs, whatever, and you and people are pretty thirsty. Uh, it's pretty easy for people to say, yeah, that's an addiction. You know, it's too bad.
Daniel Milnor: 01:02:36 Get help, whatever. Then you move down the scale and you come to things like sex and gambling and you go, well, I've got a, I've got, I'm a sex addict, or you know, I'm a gambling addict and you get up. There's a lot less people that want to say, Yep, those are legitimate addictions. You know, there's a lot of people that go, oh, those are just choices. You should just stop. Then you slide down the scale even further and you get to technology and there are so few people who want to admit that something like Instagram is a physical addiction, but it is, it is a dopamine physical addition. And I have seen it ruined. So many of my friends who are photographers whose just their entire existence is based on that app and it's not, I don't want any part of it. I have.
Daniel Milnor: 01:03:22 So I deleted all my accounts and then about four years later, the marketing director of blurb at the time said to me, it would really help us if you had an Instagram account. And I said, never gonna happen. I'm never going to do that. And so about 15 minutes later, or I'm sitting right next to her, she says, I just created an account in your name game. Don't worry. Don't worry about it. We will manage it. And I said, okay. And so two days goes by and I'm like, I better look at what they're putting on there cause it has my name on it and none, it's not their fault, but they don't know me. You know, they're not intimate with me as a photographer. They don't know my philosophy. And so the work they are putting on, the captions, the style, the look at it said, no, I can't do this.
Daniel Milnor: 01:04:02 So I started managing the account and then that lasted until I guess about six or eight months ago and I thought, why am I doing this? This, I don't like anything about this. I don't think it's helping blurb really in particular. So I quit posting and I haven't heard anything. So go back and look, why are you not posting? But you know, I think, I think anyone who gives themselves two weeks away from social, I think you'll be amazed because if you can survive two weeks cold Turkey, no access, no like sneaking peaks, no nothing. If you do two weeks, you will look back and you will see it in a very different light and I can almost guarantee that it's going to make you at least take pause to one, how much time you're putting in and two, how fake it is, how phony the entire thing is. You know there's, there's a big difference between being a good photographer and being someone who knows how to build following. Those are both, those are both legitimate skills. Absolutely. Building a following is a legitimate skill because it can give you the freedom and independence to operate on your own. But don't confuse the fact of someone with a big following is a good photographer because very often those two things do not overlap.
Raymond: 01:05:19 So, so then, so then let me ask you a question. Let me ask you a question because Canon, uh, not too long ago, uh, had hired a photographer to do an ad campaign and then they ended up letting that photographer go because even though they said that this photographer was, uh, was, was well suited for this ad campaign, she didn't have enough Instagram followers, so she let her go. So this is, this is just horrible to hear, you know, it, it's devastating to a lot of new photographers. Uh, how has, uh, not having a social presence affected you and um, I suppose for lack of a better term, your, your ability to, to get work?
Daniel Milnor: 01:06:01 Well, a couple of things. Number one for Canon to do that, it's just dumb. That's just a dumb and it's short, shortsighted, and then it looks really, the optics on that looks really bad as well. Um, but that's all the companies are doing that and the companies are lost, right, because all of this stuff came on so fast. They were caught so flat-footed and they're playing catch up. And a camp, a company like Canon Kennedy's a very conservative, slow moving company. That's a little bit like a big cruise ship. You know, you turn the, the, the, the uh, the, the steering wheel basically, what am I blanking on the a, you know the, the wheel ship. The wheel. Yeah. There we go. You turn the wheel with the ship. It doesn't just turn left. It keeps going straight for like eight miles and then it slowly makes a turn.
Daniel Milnor: 01:06:42 That's what these companies alike and they're lost because they're the mark. The industry's going away. Professional photography industry is disappearing and people are not buying equipment like they once were. And these people are, the companies are a little bit desperate. They're a little bit, you know, crazy trying to figure out what the next trend is. And so that's a hard thing for somebody like a company like Canon to have to over come and somebody is in the same boat like a Fuji where whoever it is, they're all in the same boat. I mean all these people, they're all pandering to Instagram followers and the crazy part is for a company like Canon, I shoot Fuji Company like Fuji. They're going after these Instagram stars. 99.9% of all those images are made with phone. They're not made with food cameras or Canon cameras. That makes no sense whatsoever and instead of slowing down and actually hiring somebody who could make original work that's going to last longer than five minutes online, that would be interesting because there's plenty of people using canon equipment in the world who are doing amazing stuff.
Daniel Milnor: 01:07:39 I was able to do a project a couple of years ago with a guy named Ron [inaudible] who who's a war photographer, documentary guy out of New York City, one of the founders of the seven agency. Ron's canon shooter. Right. Just off the top of my head. Yeah. Let's say that I had x amount of money for budget and I have no idea what his social following is. No idea. I don't care. But that's a guy who's capable. If I had budget to say, Okay Ron, is there something happening in the world that you've always wanted to do that you haven't been able to do and what can we do with it that's completely different, that's going to make people look and think in a different way. That interesting marketing campaigns and me not pandering to his social following thinking that their following is going to be your following. So for me, I'm in a unique spot.
Daniel Milnor: 01:08:20 So in 2010 I decided I did not want to work as a photographer anymore because I had done it for 25 years ago, almost 30 years, and I just wanted to do something else with my life. So it was a Tuesday afternoon. I just deleted my email account and I'm like, I'm done. I'm out. And my wife said, well, what are you going to do? And I said, I'm going to move to New Mexico and I'm going to change my career. And so I was kind of lurking around California still. And my phone rang and it was the founder of blurb, a woman named Eileen Gittens. And um, Eileen said I'd been on blurbs, advisory board going back to like 2007. And she called and said, hey, I heard you're not what's up with the photography thing? And I said, yeah, I'm going to move on, do something else.
Daniel Milnor: 01:09:00 And she said, why don't you work with them? And so what started as kind of an informal part time thing within six months was a full time job. And it's been by far the best job I've ever had in my life. It's been great helping people make books. There's been a lot of travel. I've been able to see the industry from a direction that I would've never been able to see it as a photographer. And I work with photographers, designers, artists, illustrators, educators, all over the world, Australia, Europe, Canada, the u s et Cetera. So it's given me this great perspective. And the other thing it's done is it's allowed me too, when I pick up a camera, only work on the projects that I want to work on. So I don't need to do assignments anymore. I don't have to do shoots, I don't want to do.
Daniel Milnor: 01:09:45 But here's the funny part is the second, this sounds so counterintuitive, but it's important. The second I said, I'm not a photographer anymore. I started doing projects. People would come to me and they'd go, Hey, uh, you want to work with us and do this? And I'm like, how did you even find me? The fact that I had disassociated myself with being labeling myself a photographer almost opened the door because what I realized was more important than the photography was the fact that I was somebody who has ideas, right? I, I read every day. I'm, I try to spend as much time as possible thinking about things. Um, I'm constantly trying to educate myself about things, stuff that I don't know about. I'm reading a book right now about the San Andreas fault and just ironically after the quakes of last week and people were like, why are we reading that book?
Daniel Milnor: 01:10:34 And I'm like, cause I don't know anything about the fall. Nothing. Oh by the way, you know the guy Richter, they're from the Richter scale. You know, he um, apparently never experienced a heavy duty earthquake in his entire life. And after he passed away, he owned a house in Northridge, California. That was then in possession, I believe, of his son, which was filled with all this stuff. And in 94, it burned down in the North Ridge earthquake. So it talks about, I talk about irony, but here's the weird thing is when your knowledge base expands beyond photography, you're suddenly interesting to people far beyond photography. So I was able to do something last year as well, a contract for a creative contract for a, with a, an organization that's in an industry that I know nothing about. And they came to me and said, look, you have interesting ideas.
Daniel Milnor: 01:11:20 You know, we want to hire you for a year and we'll give you a contract. We'll do this and that. And so I did that and I wasn't looking for that. It's not something I particularly wanted to do, but I thought, okay, this is a challenge. And they did not want a photographer, even though I did photographs for them. They want it stuck. Someone who had creative ideas, you know, how do you get this group to talk to this group? And if you're going to get this group to talk to this group, what are you going to make in the middle? Is it a film? Is it a still is it's copies of the magazine, is it a book? Like how's it gonna work? And so I have ideas like that.
Raymond: 01:11:52 W there was so much there to unpack. A what? A what a what a journey. Um, okay. I gotta I gotta no, no, no, no. It's not a mess. It's not a message. Just this whole time that you're talking, I'm thinking, oh, that's a great point. I want to go off of there. That's a great point. I want to go up there. That's a great point. I want to go up there, but at the same time I still have, I still have a few questions that I really wanted to touch on today. One of them was blurb. Um, I know that you're a huge proponent of uh, creating books, especially, you know, not being on Facebook, not sharing your images on Instagram, but having that physical copy there yourself. Um, when you talk to me about, about creating that book, talk to me about that first time I, well I guess I have to rephrase the question because you, you, you, uh, were in the position to have your images printed in a newspaper. So now that maybe people don't have as many images printed in the newspaper, what do you tell people about getting their images printed in a book?
Daniel Milnor: 01:12:59 So a couple of things. 1993 or 94, I made my first trip to New York as a photographer, which at the time is what you did. A lot of people still do that, that New York is where the people with who make decisions are based. It's where the people who have budgets that are based, et Cetera, and so I went and I showed my work to throw agents at the time primarily, and I realized that not a lot of these people, believe it or not, had a loop or light table to look at the time. Your, your portfolio is a single page of 20 slides. Like you throw it down, threw it down on a light table and they looped it and they went through and I was like, God, there has to be a better way to do this. So I went, I left New York, I went back to Phoenix, I went to the newspaper when an incident, the design department, and I said, I think I want to make my own book because that would be way easier to read than this page of slides.
Daniel Milnor: 01:13:50 And they were like, eh, go away. You're an idiot. Takes too long, you don't know what you're doing, blah, blah, blah. So three months later I had my first book, which was not really a book. It was like glorified oversized color copy that was laminated and bound and I made 10 all I could, I could only afford 10 copies. You could do this at Kinko's. Now I'm like five minutes, but was like, oh my God, this is a book. This is great. And so what I did is I took a list of the 10 clients that I really wanted to work for, National Geographic, German, Geo Stern, all these magazines around the world. And I was like, I'm going to send a copy to them. And of course this was snail mail and no announcement, just blindly mailing these things off. And a funny thing happened was they started contacting me, German Geo.
Daniel Milnor: 01:14:35 My phone rang and it was this very heavily accented German accent, female voice. And she's like, you know, we got your portfolio. This is on the believable. How did you do this? What is this? You know? And they were so intrigued by what I had, was able to do. And then the photo editor at the National Geographic at the time I got in Kent Koberstein, he wrote me a hand, like full page handwritten letter saying we've never seen a portfolio like this before. Like how did you do this? And so that's what got my bookmaking on the road was all the way back in 93 so when blurb came along it was sort of a natural progression of that. But the book is very important. And the funny thing is you have, you know, the digital online technology proponents and I think all those things are great. Digital, online and technology are all fine, but there is this a different level of consideration when it comes to print, especially at high levels of the industry because print signifies a couple of things.
Daniel Milnor: 01:15:29 And number one is it signifies concerted thought specific thought about your work because there's a big difference between putting your portfolio on an iPad and putting it into a book form because the book makes you, forces you to apply critical thinking to your work. What's the best image? What's the cover? What's the sequence? What's my ed? Is this good enough to last in this book or is it not good enough? The same thing, what happened back in the day when you go in the dark room, I'd go shoot, I'd worked for a day, I'd come back processed the film and your head, you're like sort of compiling what you have or you don't have and I would mix chemistry. I would get in the dark room. I would take my negative, get it in the enlarger, put it in the enlarger, turn the enlarger on and stand there and stare at this thing and say to myself, is it good enough?
Daniel Milnor: 01:16:18 Is it good enough for me to spend the next three hours making one print of this image if it's not good enough. There were times where I sat there and I go, it's not good enough, and I took it out of the larger, I poured the chemistry back into the bottles and I left because I didn't have something. So the book is a great way to get your head around what you actually have. And the book is confrontational because you have to put your phone down to look at it. So when you go into a meeting with someone and you hand them a book, they're not looking at the book and looking at their phone at the same time. They have to take it. They use both hands, they flip through it, it's tangible, and they're so inexpensive and writing, even if you, even if you did a copy of a book and no one in the world saw it except you, it's totally work that I do it all the time. By the end of day tomorrow I will make the first, I'll print the first test copy of the magazine I created from Albania.
Raymond: 01:17:12 Oh wait, wait. So, so I uh, actually had this on the podcast before. Every year I make a family yearbook, um, uh, of me and my wife and we have two kids. And, uh, before we had children, I quickly realized I am making all these photos and okay, let me step back. When I was growing up, I would go visit my grandma and we would look through those shoe boxes of images and they were great. And then when they were done, they were done. We would put them back and then the next year I'd go back for summer and we'd look through them again. And uh, you know, after getting the, what the iPhone four or whatever, and then, uh, getting into a digital SLR, photography, I'm taking all these photos, but that's only half of the equation. You're never looking at them again. You'll make them, you'll create this image or edit it, whatever.
Raymond: 01:18:03 And then you never look at it again. And I thought to myself, and luckily this was right before we had our first child, uh, Charlie, that I didn't want that to happen. I didn't want that to happen. And Luckily, uh, that is luckily light room has a partnership with blurb to be able to create books. Uh, and that's what I did. And every year since then, I have done so. And I can tell you that one of my favorite memories every single year as time has gone on is the second week of January when we get that book in the mail and then the family sits down, we all sit down together and we look through the book of our previous year. And then that of course sparks, well let's look at all the other books as well. And that to me brings back the joy of photography more so than even taking the photo. Um, because oftentimes you can, you kind of forget, you know, you kinda forget what had happened, especially if it's just a snapshot with a cell phone in the moment. But getting it in print is really, really something special. So I love this message that you are, I love, I love what you're sharing. I love blurbs message to trying to make photography tangible, you know, and just get it in your hands because that is the missing piece of, of photography. Um,
Daniel Milnor: 01:19:17 yeah. Watch what you're doing. Doing an annual book on the family is way more difficult than what I'm doing. And, but what you're doing, the annual with the family is what a lot of people that using blurb are trying to do. And there's a million ways to get derailed. You know, you shoot a lot of photos, you don't know how to, where to store them, you don't know how to tap a log down, can't find them. And so there's a lot of things that keep people from doing this. Um, I think one of the things to toss out the window is the idea of a perfect book. You know, people, I've see them just grind, grind themselves to a halt because, oh, it's gotta be perfect. Gotta be perfect. I don't know what a perfect book is. I've probably never seen on. And if I didn't see on, it's probably going to be really boring.
Daniel Milnor: 01:19:54 So, you know, I'm in Albania and I'm shooting and every night I'm designing, I'm taking the work that I made that day and I'm designing a magazine. So when I left Albania, I had 90 pages of magazine already fairly well thought out. I am changing it around quite a bit now, but by, I sort of gave myself a deadline of this Friday saying I want to have the first test copy and then when I say test copy, it's a test copy. It's not perfect. It's not even remotely close. There's going to be a million things wrong about it. But to see it in print, uh, is a whole different ballgame. It's, to me, print is a, is the great equalizer because again, the online photo community and in many ways there's a lot of people, very successful people in online photo community that have never printed a single photograph.
Daniel Milnor: 01:20:36 And I'm not talking about dark room printing, I'm talking about any kind of printing. And so bookmaking for them is like climbing Mount Everest. They go, Whoa, I don't know how to do that. And I saw it, I saw it in my photo students going back 10 years ago where people would like, I used to teach in Latin America. Every year I would go to Peru and teach a workshop and people would shoot 10,000 images. And I'm like, I had, I had someone shoot 22 gigs one morning shooting one morning, and then I try to edit on an iPad. And I said, why would you shoot 22? Like what could you possibly do that? And for her, for her it was about quantity. You know, she'd been listening to online community. People talk about, you know, well the first 500 Jews of the day doesn't count, you know, because they're never going to count.
Daniel Milnor: 01:21:21 I'm like, who told you this? This is absolute insanity. So I was there, I was in Albania for two weeks. I shot about a thousand pictures total, um, film. Oh, this was all digital, digital. Um, Yup. And uh, I edited the 193 that was the first sort of one-star big chunk. And then that went down to about 50 pictures. And then within the 50, there's about 20. That would be pictures that will sort of be the nucleus of what the project is. But that's in that, you know, I'm not, I don't think any of those were, were, are gonna knock anything in my sort of top 20 lifetime work out of the way. The trip really wasn't about that, but it was fun.
Raymond: 01:22:04 Yeah, it's a jigsaw puzzle I would imagine. I would imagine. Um, I feel like I could sit here and talk to you for another two hours or so, but, um, I, I really do want to be, um, conscious of your time. You've shared so much with me, Daniel. My next question is how can people find you online? Obviously you're not going to say Facebook or Instagram, so where, where would you like people to find out more about you?
Daniel Milnor: 01:22:33 The easiest way to find me online is a website called shifter, s, h. I, f, t, e, r, and it's dot media, not.com shifted or.media that has like the audio interviews that I do. It has, there's one tab of photography which rarely ever changes cause I'm lazy. It has a creative tab that talks about books, other people's photography, other people's books. I have an adventure tab that talks about cycling, hiking, fishing, climbing, et Cetera, which I do a lot of. And there's a tab about yoga, which I'm a big fan of and, and also to have about Lyme disease, which I got six years ago. And there's a global community of people that are all suffering from the same thing. There's a lot of stuff on there, probably more than anyone wants to see, but there is some good photography stuff from time to time.
Raymond: 01:23:19 I love it. I'm going to go check that out right away as well. A, I will put the links or the link to that in the, in the show notes. So if anybody's interested in just whatever podcast app you're listening on, just swipe up and you'll be able to see some of Dane's, uh, images as well as links there. But, uh, Dan, again, thank you so much for, for coming on and sharing just a piece of the knowledge that you have accumulated over the past 30 years of, uh, of, of, of being a photographer. I, I've really enjoyed my time with you today. So again, thank you so much for coming on.
Daniel Milnor: 01:23:49 Absolutely. Thanks for happen. And I hope that somebody, uh, actually gets something from my weird views
Raymond: 01:23:57 if, if anybody did, it was me as well. But I know, I know that. Plenty of that as well. Uh, uh, too. So again, uh, thank you so much.
Daniel Milnor: 01:24:05 Yup. Absolutely. Thank you.
Raymond: 01:24:07 Wow. I got to tell you, that was honestly one of my favorite episodes that, uh, were interviews rather than I have ever had the pleasure of hosting. Dan was a fantastic guest with so much to share. Um, my biggest takeaway from this interview was absolutely just how much more connected, uh, Dan came after he, uh, got off social media. Now there is, here's the thing, there's a lot of, um, talk or suggestions or blog posts out there that, you know, say, you know, we should get off social media. We should get off social media, we should get off social media or that it's, you know, ruining society. And I get that. Right. But then there's also a lot of people who make all of their money from social media, right. I the majority of my money through social media, through finding, um, clients, bride specifically as for me, Facebook just makes it, uh, the easiest platform and the cheapest, uh, to be able to do so.
Raymond: 01:25:09 So, um, while I, uh, you know, would love to cut out social media from my life completely, and I loved hearing Dan's take, I don't want everybody to think that the, you have to go out and, and get rid of it, you know. Um, but being more intentional about how you use social media, about how much time you're on social media, I don't think, I don't think that it would hurt. You know what I mean? I don't, I don't think that spending less time on Facebook or Instagram is really going to hurt your business because, uh, even if you do use social media for business like myself, you know, that's not all that you use it for. You go on there, you read dumb articles, you watch dumb videos and you waste a lot of time and, you know, ultimately do think about it a lot.
Raymond: 01:26:03 So, um, I really appreciate, uh, Dan coming on and sharing his, uh, view and I envied the ability to be able to just go completely off the grid and not worry about status updates of people who I knew, you know, in high school, you know, 13 years ago. So, um, I thought that it was just fantastic. I thought that it was an absolutely fantastic interview and I hope that you got a lot out of it as well. So, uh, I know that this was a long one today, so I'm gonna cut this outro short. Um, I would love to know what your biggest takeaway was from this episode. Please feel free to share it in the beginner photography podcast, Facebook group, and that's it. I will see it there and uh, we can continue the discussion. So that is it for this week. Until next time where I have some really exciting things, I will be sharing a, I want you to get out. I want you to keep shooting, I want you to stay safe and most importantly for this year, I really want you to focus on yourself. So that is it. I'll see you next time. We'll love you all.
outro: 01:27:11 If you enjoy today's podcast, please leave us a review in iTunes or your favorite podcast player and continue the conversation with Raymond and other listeners of the podcast by joining the beginner photography podcast Facebook group today. Thank you. We'll see you again next week.
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