Luke Bell Doman (b. 1991)
What kinds of things do you most enjoy photographing?
People I guess, tshirts, cars, houses, dogs, anything that people associate with memories and happiness automatically. Obviously I’m referring to specific people with a specific experience. Na but forreal I come from a background in streetwear and I grew up in the suburbs so all these things come from a mixture of those things.
Describe your photographic style.
I like to think It’s kind of cute, kind of simple, a tiny bit cool. My composition and subject matter definitely speaks to the notion of street style photography although that is mostly out of necessity as those are the kinds of things people want from me. I’m really trying to inspire a moment of nostalgia for a simpler time when we liked things just because, not because of what they meant or why they are important. Just a moment though, nothing major. There’s really nothing loaded about my style, the word nice is seen as a lame way to describe things but I like it, it’s the first word that comes to mind really.
Photography is a lot about the journey. How has it influenced your personal life
and the way in which you view the world (around you)?
Um…well first off it’s given me a craft to focus on so I burn energy that way which is important. It also gives me a realm in which to progress or regress. The burning of energy and the capacity to move I feel are important for mental health and such things. The idea of a culture, scene or industry is also important to me as it gives your existence a little context, although for the most part these things are pretty toxic. These things also give you the opportunity to engage with people who maybe think like you, which breaks you out of patterns of engaging only with people who look like you. Um….I guess my eye has changed. Before, I’d look at my surroundings as a series of things you could either skate or you couldn’t, now I look at the world as a series of potential backdrops or subjects. This has kind of changed the way I move, like now I find suburbs far more interesting than the city, where before I felt so drawn to the city. I also look at people differently, would you be interesting to photograph or no, what kind of shapes would you cut, do you have that thing in your face you can switch on. It’s very different from like, are you attractive or not. Some of these things kind of ruin life for me, like constantly seeing things through this lense affects the value systems through which you perceive, constantly judging people’s lives on like, would this make a good caption, would someone publish this blah blah blah so I try to stay out of that mode for the most part. I don’t ever have a camera on me nor do I take pictures in various circumstances like at parties or walking around, and I don’t take pictures on my phone really, I prefer to be there, present, a part of the world as opposed to a voyeur. When I do shoot it’s very deliberate, I’m going out with a specific goal, then I’m in the zone. When I’m not in that zone I try my best to perceive with a sense of naivety. More than anything, it has given me a vehicle through which to reflect the things I like, I like clothing so I can add to that conversation you know, as opposed to just being a consumer.
Photography is also about capturing a moment in time. What is your approach to a shot and your approach to a body of work?
It’s always different really, depending on my mood and energy levels. Sometimes I obsess about an upcoming project for weeks, to the point that I hate taking photos and I wish I weren’t to do it. Sometimes I don’t think about it until Im literally standing there about to go. Certain things are always the same though, I always have a little character in mind, and a tiny narrative, it could be maybe three words, it could be an entire biography, there’s always a little world there that I don’t really ever share unless it helps subjects with direction. It’s funny for me choosing subjects is like casting characters in a role that they will never know and that probably won’t even really be reflected in the output, it’s just a fun game for me I guess. It helps me to maintain consistency when it comes down to details, like what would this person be doing here, does it make sense in a very loose way. I like to have someone with me, like a friend or assistant, just because I like the comfort it brings. When I’m actually in the moment of capturing a shot, what I really look for is magic, I frame loosely and then I make small movements and I try to be patient, waiting for the angles and ratios to find their power and show it to me. I rarely shoot people I don’t know personally, I’m terrified of people.
Is photography your professional career? Or do you work in another field?
I mean I guess at this point it’s what is making me money although when I think professional I think of an old white guy who pretends he knows things that others don’t so that he can take advantage of them. I do other stuff; logos, styling, creative direction, videos, writing, casting, I dno it’s been a weird year, I can barely remember. I’m not sure what I’m tryna do going forward, I’m not really inspired to make photos rn cuz what’s the point, publication? Money? Clout? Exhibition? All v boring. I also really haven’t seen anything that I really like recently its much of the same, specially down here in South Africa, and the people and things that get a lot of attention are pretty ordinary for the most part. Meh, I dno. Some of my homies like Kyle and Imraan and some of my young homies who are way better than me keep me interested cuz they are from here and are doing the things, other than that its very fake you know, it’s all nonsense like any other form of media. Might just go back to coaching at the UCT graduate school of business next year and just giving the whole thing up.
What gear do you shoot with? Specifically camera arsenal and film stock.
Right now I’m focusing on shooting with my Bronica ETR si with a 50mm lens. It’s new for me cuz I only ever shoot portrait when I shoot 35mm, so now shooting only landscape is like a whole new thing, but I like the fact that I’m really now presenting a scene as opposed to a subject with a backdrop. I want to start making moving pictures so framing with the Bronica is helping me to understand how to create scenes or sets or whatever. For 35mm film I have a Pentax K1000 from my grandpa and I’m on my third or fourth Olympus Trip, which is where it really all began for me. With the Pentax my best is a 28mm lens, for me its best for capturing a full body look when doing the fashion or streetstyle type things. I’ve gone through millions of point and shoots but I actually don’t have one at the moment, my two go-to’s were destroyed by a wave that covered the whole fucking beach and went onto the path, guess the ocean spirits were mad that I was shooting at the beach even though I hadn’t been to talk to them in a while. So as far as gear goes I’m here tryna rebuild a collection tbh ‘cause I had to let go of some stuff to be able to afford the Bronica, so the images I’ve submitted weren’t shot on any of these cameras besides the trip. For 35mm film my ultimate best is Fuji 400 not that Pro XP trash, just the normal one, its kinda rare here though. For 120mm its Kodak Portra 400. I’m not really like a gear head (I had to google the name of my camera to see how to write it proper), nor do I understand what the cameras can actually do, i just try to figure it out as I go.
Growth is important for any artistic craft. How do you stay motivated and
enthusiastic about your work?
Ugh I used to be very motivated because clothing and streetwear was my thing, and photography allowed me to really be a part of that conversation. Now that fashion is super dead I’m really not sure what compels me to keep going. Probably those rare occasions when you see your shit and you’re like ‘ok, I’m not terrible at this’. But na forreal it really does make me sad that fashion and streetwear have died such a nerdy white death, that shit was my shit and now its gone. I guess maybe the idea that if I keep practicing and trying new things I might be able to make a short film or something one day that really actually reflects the small world I have inside of me. Other than that I’m not sure tbh, i just kind of don’t know how to stop at this point.
In the age where digital photography is prevalent, what draws you to film and what makes it special to you?
I guess the air of romance that comes with exploring a medium in the way it was initially conceived. I’m not sure, for me it was born out of the fact that I couldn’t afford gear and I was in no way interested in learning how to edit and shit like that, my attention span is minute so sitting in front of a computer doing something I didn’t know how to do seemed impossible. Also when I was small it was just a cool thing man, cruising around with a sexy little point and shoot, the anticipation when you’re waiting to see what actually comes of it, the excitement when your ratio of good to kak isn’t so bad. All these things give the whole thing life for me. Not that I’m opposed to digital, this is just what I like now. Each photo is special cuz each one literally costs money and time. All my homies shoot on film too so it’s something we share as friends which is nice.
What are your influences? Please list other photographers you look up to or
things that generally inspire your image-making process.
I mean I try not to actively seek out inspiration or to look at other photography for inspiration because I feel that’s where things become derivative and that sort of process leads us to the homogenous mess we’re currently in. It’s more like I live my life like I always have, I consume stuff that I consume because I like it and then when I have to do something I guess a mish mash of everything I’ve consumed plays a role in whatever I come up with. Who knows. Memory plays a big role though. Like we see and hear things and those things become little stories in our heads. Over time those stories change shape, we lose pieces, add pieces, whatever, to form new shapes and ideas. It’s like a myth you know, or an epic poem from before writing was invented, every time the story was told, it was changed a tiny bit. This is how culture moved at a point, through myth and memory. I like that. So by the time I’m tryna make something, that little idea that inspired me is very different from the way it originally looked. I don’t go back to check the reference, I work from memory, making something that’s a little bit new, something with a little bit of my brain in the mix, but something you’d immediately associate with the same feelings or whatever. That’s not to say that I’m not inspired by things. If things inspire feelings of longing, nostalgia, melancholy, hope, despair, cuteness, power, anarchy in me, those things generally make me feel like doing or making stuff, cuz ultimately I’d like to inspire certain feelings in people. Also there’s a bunch of artists I love and respect; Kyle Weeks, Katya Abedian, Kristin Moolman, Ib Kamara, Robbie Augspurger, Lotta Volkova, Wanda Lephoto, Kabelo Kungwane, Anees Petersen, Petra Collins, Johnny Dufort, Misha Taylor, Imraan Christian, Jade Ayla, Harley Weir, William Stroebeck, Sep and Simon, Jabu Newman, brands like Sunnei, Richardson and Martine Rose, Jamie Hawksworth, Dapper Dan, characters like Princess Gollum and Ketu Malesa, Gondo, Samuel Ross, Manthe Ribane, Larry Clark, Fela and Desire, Stiff Pap, Nico Krijno, Kalo, Bradley Abrahams, Rei Kuwakubo, Alexander McQueen, all my young homies, um….fuck there’s way too many actually I can barely think.
What else do you enjoy? (Hobbies, etc – Any other creative exploits or interests?)
Skating but I’m fat and old now and I don’t find much time for it and also the culture here is pretty toxic its a bunch of old salty whites blocking bags and opportunities for young brown people who are far far better than them, fr it’s such a sif thing to see and be associated with. I must say though, the first things I probably ever made I was proud of were definitely little skate edits on my phone so it was super important for me in terms of building confidence and engaging on social media. Um, I like to hang and party and things like that too. Love watching stuff, series cartoons things like that. Love clothing although there really isn’t anywhere to wear nice things to here. Talking kak with certain people is my favourite thing to do in the world. I love driving and listening to music when I get to choose the music, its my favourite thing in the whole world so i guess talking kak is my second favourite thing. Um, lamming with my puppy is jas. As far as creative exploits go I mean I’ll do anything literally, product design is my ultimate fantasy but we live in a kak place for the kind of stuff I like, also I’m too impatient to fuck w the process. I like drawing and graphic design but I suck so bad.
Any tips for aspiring film photographers?
I’d say the most important thing is to focus on your shit, the shit you like, the shit that makes you unique, the shit that you like to consume not because you wanna make it but because it resonates with you for reasons you don’t yet know. Don’t focus on photography, photography is a tool, it’s a vehicle for you to enter the conversations surrounding the things you like, instead of being consumers. Don’t let photography itself become the object of your obsession, you’ll run out of subject matter real quick and you’ll fall into the trap of making derivative shit you think others might enjoy. People can smell that shit from a mile away fr. I can’t reiterate this shit enough, be obsessed with the things you’re naturally drawn to and use photography to engage with them. Be a person, be a child before you are a photographer. Make sure you get the chance to play every role you might encounter on set, style something, model something produce something so you understand the experience from these perspectives. Be gentle, be willing to adapt, relax, let go, be willing to fail all the time. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Try something new every time you get the opportunity. Don’t listen to anyone, don’t listen to me either I don’t know fokol I swear. Don’t get caught up in our society’s current obsession with ‘creativity’ and ‘talent’, that shits not real, this shit isn’t special, it just so happens to be what certain people are compelled to do, and it just to happens to be marketable at the minute. Breathe in, breathe out. Do things with friends. Leave your camera at home. Check your intentions. Stop shooting from references. Most importantly, network horizontally, stop sucking dick of people you think have something to offer you, suck your damn friends dick, that homie beeeeen there, since before your ass knew what a photoshop was.
What lies on the horizon? (any plans for series, exhibitions, travels, etc.) And what do you hope to achieve in the future?
Ugh had some things planned, some stuff fell through, some stuff fucked out so rn I’m not really sure. Gonna do young exhibition type thing December (2018). Mostly i’m tryna have fun and figure it out, this thing was never sposed to pain me as much as it has been lately so I’m really tryna reflect on what I’m actually doing here. But awe, I mean like I’m making work and practicing all the time even when I’m not putting stuff out there. Will do the big boy thing and approach agencies and stuff at some point so that’s like a vague goal. Videos and things too, like fictional shit, funny stuff, make people laugh, that kind of thing. When I’m ready, go back to focusing something that will help and inspire my young homies. It’s just like, this fake world is lame so really mostly focusing on where I’m even tryna be if that makes sense.
All photos by Luke Bell Doman
DEAD TOWN™ | Film-only Photographic Showcase ©2017-2019.