A wide range of environments and character types are explored in the works of New York City-based Dean West. The Australian-born (1983) artist who studied at the Queensland College of Art, is best known for his intricate and highly staged photographs that take everyday occurrences beyond the realm of natural reality. Extraordinary in their tonal range, digital clarity, and artistic vision, Dean West’s meticulously choreographed scenes, character studies, and atmospheric landscapes powerfully yet synthetically link needs to desires and documentation to invention.
Passionately dedicated to the vast possibilities of digital photography as both a medium and a cultural epoch, Dean West’s narratives draw inspiration from the total diversity offered by the visual arts. While the tableau photography of Stan Douglas and Jeff Wall inform Dean West’s understanding of photography as a form of contemporary communication, the paintings of David Hockney and Edward Hopper provide evident aesthetic direction. The fictional world of cinema and the functional language of advertising have also clearly left their mark and taught lessons of their own.
International brands have embraced Dean West’s vision through partnerships and important clients such as Disney, MTV, Bombay Sapphire, and Fox Sports. Recognized as one of Saatchi & Saatchi’s “Top 100 Emerging Photographers” in 2008, Dean West has also been honored with “Advertising Photographer of the Year” at the International Loupe Awards (2008) and the prestigious “Arte Laguna Prize” in Venice, Italy (2009).
International art curators have taken notice of the accomplished skill Dean West applies to both his digital photography technique and the complex, cerebral narratives offered in his images. His works have been exhibited at important institutions around the world including the Columbus Museum of Art (2012), Faneuli Hall Museum of Boston (2015), the Paris Expo Porte De Versailles (2015), Puls 5 Gallery in Zürich, and the Discovery Times Square Museum in New York City (2014).
Hailed as one of the most promising artists of his generation and identified as one of the most accomplished practitioners of digital image making as an art form, Dean West has been honored by acquisitions of his work by some of the most prestigious collections of contemporary art, including that of Sir Elton John.
1. Do you consider yourself as a figure of contemporary photography ?
Dean West : Absolutely. I’m interested and dedicated to the vast possibilities of digital photography as a medium and a constantly experimenting with new ways to change the way we look at the world through the lens. I believe my staged works sit comfortably within the blurred lines of documentary and fiction.
2. How would you describe your style ?
Dean West : Painterly, surreal, hyper real, conceptual & illustrative are words that get thrown around a lot when describing my work. It’s hard to pin point exactly what it is that I do as the works vary so much from each commission or series.
3. What led you to photography ?
Dean West : My interest in photography began at age 7 after receiving a 35mm camera (something I’d requested throughout the year) and on the first roll of film there were some photos in there that gave me and my family an idea that maybe this was something that came naturally to me. I was lucky enough to have had some inspiring teachers throughout high school, which increased my passion of the medium right through to university where I studied at the Queensland College of Art with Griffith University. My original intentions were to just do commercial photography however studying at a traditional art school gave me so much more. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some great mentors along the way such as Erwin Olaf, whom I had the chance to study under at the Australian Center of Photography.
4. What is your vision of photography these days ?
Dean West : I see the medium continuing to evolve along with advances in technology much like it has always done through it’s short history. Just as Eggleston and Shore opted for color film over B&W and became pioneers of color photography, I have embraced the digital movement at its earliest stage. It has taken me 11 years of working with digital photography to finally reach a point where I’m happy with the quality. I have now developed the appropriate processes and techniques that rival, and in many cases now supersede large format film. For the most part, the work that I produce is possible because of these technological advances, and I hope that I will continue to push the boundaries of the medium as I experiment more and more.
5. What other artists inspire you in your work?
Dean West : A range of disciplines and artist inspire my work. Directors like Wes Anderson and The Coen Brothers, painters like Hopper and Hockney, photographers like Andreas Gursky, Gregory Crewdson and Alex Prager are all great influencers.
6. What is your view on David Hockney’s artwork ?
Dean West : I’m a huge fan of Hockney’s aesthetic and style from his pool scenes to his portraits. Hockney’s naturalistic representations of the human figure are much like a stylized cinematic production. There’s a reason Hockney is one of the most popular and widely recognized artists of this generation. His achievements across painting, drawing, print, photography and video is truly exceptional. I also very much appreciate how fluid he has been in changing his style of and ways of working, embracing new technologies as he goes.
7. Your work seems to incorporate a lot of narrative into the image, particularly classical mythology and stage design…
Dean West : I was particularly interested in appropriating Greek mythologies after college as I was trying to hone my skills in creating imaginary worlds. The narratives within Mythology provided endless inspiration (and challenges) forcing me to develop new and cost effective methods of creating.
8. How do you develop that style of imagery close to oil painting ?
Dean West : This style is the result of choreographing each little detail within the scene and the painterly effect is a natural result of these decisions. When you combine the perfect location with the great casting, styling, prop design, set design and lighting, everything harmonizes to this very painterly effect.
9. Your photographs can evoke choreography of a new kind of ballet companies…
Dean West : I see my role as being closer to a director than a photographer. In the earlier days my work used to be quite theatrical however I find myself more and more these days, looking at the world around me and going with more naturalistic talent direction.
10. What materials do you use ?
Dean West : I use a large format camera, much like the olden days where you put the cloth over your head however now the film back has been replaced with a digital back. The back moves across the image allowing me to multiply the resolution of each scene.
11. What does the creation process consist of ?
Dean West : I usually begin with an inspiration or a basic, nebulous concept and then fine-tune it throughout the creative process. I work with professional illustrators to help me sketch out the concepts and define the original vision before commissioning my team to do the production. This could involve set building, prop making, styling etc. all depending on the complexity of the idea. All the pieces then come together for the shoot phase before going into the post production and print testing.
12. What single most important factor is important to make a great picture ?
Dean West : Being aware of the reasons why you’re taking a photograph and the process it takes to get there is the most important. I’ve always loved that Jeff Wall quote, “I begin by not photographing”.
13. What are your future plans ?
Dean West : I’ve been working on a still life project/exhibit all 2017 which will be debuted in 2018. It’s the first time I’ve produced conceptual imagery without people.
More about Dean West : http://www.deanwest.com