November Featured Artist
A picture is worth a thousand words…no matter how it’s taken. Since receiving his first iPhone in 2009, art consultant Dave Webb has become a modern master at smartphone photography. His hyper-realistic landscape snaps have found their way into The New York Times’s blog “Lens”, the Sacramento News & Review, the Davis Enterprise, Sactown Magazine, and other news outlets.
Read on and discover what goes on behind his smartphone lens.
1. Tell us a little bit about your photography and how it’s different. What are the advantages of the method you use over traditional forms?
I never had an interest in photography until I wandered into my first iPhone. A few shots and boom, I was gone. Coupled with the apps, the iPhone does some things really well, other things not so much. In my experience, it’s not great at detail or at broad landscapes; I shoot within its limitations.
I love those wonderfully lucid moments, moments of hyper-awareness when I start to see a lot of good images around me, and suddenly they’re everywhere—snap, snap, snap, snap. It’s an attuned state, it’s electric—the thing caught in a glance, in the corner of the eye.
I’m not a schooled photographer, not at all, but I’ve heard pros talk about “a good shooting day.” With the iPhone, the camera is always with me—it’s not a special piece of equipment I take out on a foray, it’s here in my pocket. Just having it around all the time places a kind of demand to stay attentive, to pay attention to the images that all around us. If I see a good image, I stop the car.
There’s a line between painterly effects and photographic effects on the iPhone. I try and err on the reality side, that of traditional photography, but some of those painterly effects are seductive.
2. Do you have any rules for shooting? Or any little quirks you observe when you’re photographing?
To get the picture right, you have to frame it right. Crop with your feet. Still lifes allow it. I put effort into the composition. In my early days at marketing director at the Davis Food Co-op, I had to do my own graphic design—when presented with a blank page and a deadline, you start to learn composition, whether you’re ready or not.
It’s common now, but when I first got my phone I made myself post an image each day. My friends liked the saturated images, and that’s how “Saturate Yolo” was born. Facebook is a gallery of sorts—a place of limited attention spans, but a gallery nonetheless. There I developed certain disciplines, an audience, and my confidence.
3. What do you think are the key ingredients to telling a story in a photo?
I shoot a lot in rural California, I’m drawn to it. It’s ever changing. The classic stories: the road that leads off into the distance…where does the irrigation ditch go, etc. The barn that’s falling down, the dilapidated farm equipment—decrepit is a good story told over time. Rural landscapes are lands of big sky and possibility.
People are the best stories, but I don’t photograph people yet. I like the idea of street photography, but I’m married to a journalist and I’ve come to have hesitations—there are ethics about capturing someone’s image without their permission.
Rural and dilapidated landscapes are commonly found in Webb’s iPhone photography.
Image: “The Market is Correcting Itself.”
4. What are your favorite photo apps?
PhotoForge and Snapseed are fundamental. I like PhotoForge better. Get a good camera app—I use ProCamera. I also use BlurFX, Scratchcam, PhotoStudio, Photo fx, and Image Blender. I hear Laminar is great but haven’t gotten to it yet.
5. Your work helped the City of Sacramento and the City of Davis to each declare a “Phone Art Month” in 2013. How did these proclamations come to be?
I just asked—I’ve lived in Davis for a while, I knew who to ask. I also had a civic arts rationale that both Davis and Sacramento City Councils—by way of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission— agreed with. In Davis, we had a real response, thanks in no small part to the Davis Enterprise. In Sacramento, the response was not much.
6. You recently wrapped up your “You Are Here” exhibit at Capital Public Radio. Tell us more about your photos in this collection and your collaboration with fellow artist Steve Barbaria (if at all?).
“You Are Here” came about through Facebook. Steve’s spouse Kim Tackett is an active Facebook friend, and she likes my images. It was a logical collaboration—Steve’s wonderful paintings and sculptures were all about the place, he builds his work around maps—and together I think we fit well. It was a fun show, and Capital Public Radio was generous in their support.
7. What advice do you have for novice photographers who want to start taking more creative photos?
Take lots of shots; time will reveal the good images. A photograph has a place it wants to go—there are limitations to a given photograph, you have to push it in every direction to see it. Experiment wildly with different apps and filters, find your own language and find what works. It takes hours, but it’s a gas. Beware of ruts!
Also, I like to shoot where there isn’t too much activity in the background. The background can be as important as the foreground.
“The Balloon Ride” is one of the 14 saturated images from his latest exhibit, “You Are Here.”
8. Tell us three personal, lesser known things about you that people may be interested to know.
I was the programming director at KDVS in 1977 and gave punk its first primetime show. Much later, I oversaw the Distinguished Speakers Series at Mondavi Center for 11 years, bringing Bill Clinton, Toni Morrison, Jane Goodall, Frank Rich/Tony Kushner and many more to the UC Davis campus. And I’m contemplating starting a Neil Young cover band called Old Man.
9. How do you spend your leisure time?
I’m a consultant, which means I work too much! Luckily I’m happily married to the founding editor of the Sacramento News and Review. Melinda and I talk all the time: we decompress with movies good and bad, long drives, a wonderful, crazy dog, friends and family stuff.
10. What are your plans for 2015?
I’ve finished a novel I’m proud of. My readers are saying wonderful things, mostly; the literary agents I’ve approached are saying nice things too, like “experimental” and “non-commercial.” I also just pitched a short story to The New Yorker—now there’s a sure thing—about a guy who sees himself and others entirely in terms of brand. Brand, in the marketing sense. As to the iPhone, I’m just waiting for the next wave to come along. I just do what I do. We’ll see.
Keep Up With Dave:
Interview by Sacramento365’s Content & Social Media Coordinator, Jamila B. Khan.