Interview #13: Dan Baumbach (2021)⁠

“Sweet Confusion” by Dan Baumbach/Boulder, Colorado, USA, 2020

Dan Baumbach is a retired computer programmer and lifelong photographer based in Boulder, CO. Having traded his 4x5 field camera for digital, he explores the often-overlooked natural abstracts that surround his Rocky Mountain home.

Here’s our interview with him.

CDC/Tell us about your background in photography and what role it plays in your life.

DB/I’ve been taking photographs most of my life. When I was about 10, my parents got concerned how much my Kodacolor film processing and flashbulbs were costing them.

In my late teens I was introduced to street photography. Living in New York City was a perfect place to practice. I eventually found work assisting advertising and fashion photographers, and I intended to open my own studio, but my life took a 180 degree turn.

I left New York, got married, and ended up living in Northern California making a good living as a computer programmer. There, the photography bug caught me again. I moved to a 4x5 field camera and would wander the local hills and Sierras making landscapes.

“Pink” by Dan Baumbach/Boulder, Colorado, USA, 2020

CDC/Do you still use a 4x5 camera in your current work?

DB/I lost my job in 2010 and could no longer afford 4x5 film and processing. I sold some equipment and bought a Nikon D300. I finally found programming work near the Colorado foothills, under an hour away from trails in the Rockies.

I tried going back to large format, but had more success shooting digital, so I eventually abandoned the 4x5. The grasses in the foothills turn amazing colours in the fall and I started trying to capture them with a macro lens. It took a while to translate what I saw to a photograph, but once I got the hang of it, I was hooked. I loved making abstract images with grasses and when it got cold, I moved to ice and leaves in the local creeks.

I’m retired now, so most of my time is spent making images. I still take landscape photographs, as I love wandering in the Colorado high country, but my main focus is making abstract and semi abstract images of grasses, leaves, ice, clouds and any pattern that might intrigue me.

Every year I participate in Boulder Open Studios where I’m fortunate to sell my images. I’m also a member of the D’art Gallery in Denver where I participate in solo and group exhibits.

“Unwavering” by Dan Baumbach/Boulder, Colorado, USA, 2020

CDC/Who or what are the major influences in your work? Who or what to do you look to for inspiration and how have those people and things shaped your identity as a photographer?

DB/My older brother was my first photography teacher. He took a photography class in high school and taught me about 35mm cameras, SLRs and such. He set up a darkroom where we could develop film and make prints.

Later on in my late teens, I met a photographer who’s quite well known in the art world today and he became a mentor to me, taking me to museums and introducing me to art photography. I was particularly attracted to Henri Cartier-Bresson and Andre Kertesz.

When I started doing landscape photography I was particularly moved by the work of Galen Rowell, Charles Cramer and William Neill.

My father was an artist, so art history and contemporary art was always part of our lives. I would also add the painters Van Gogh, Marc Rothko and Milton Avery as influences. Especially Rothko when I think of making abstracts.

My biggest influence these days is probably my constant shooting and trying to make abstract photos that are unique and moving.

“Another Vision” by Dan Baumbach/Boulder, Colorado, USA, 2020

CDC/What drew you to abstract photography initially, and what it is about abstract photography that keeps you engaged, creative and producing?

DB/My father was an abstract artist, so abstract art was part of my life growing up. Aaron Siskind was probably the only well-known abstract photographer when I was growing up, but at that time, I was more interested in street shooting.

Doing unique landscapes is hard as there is so much imitation and everyone wants to go to the same locations and take the same photographs. I was always on the lookout to produce something that I felt was my own and was unique. When I started doing grasses I felt that I had struck on something uniquely mine. Now with having everything available on the internet, I think I may have some copiers, but I’m more concerned about not falling into a rut and continually taking the same picture.

My main motivation is to make a beautiful and moving photograph that will look great on the wall as a print. I feel my strength is my abstracts, so I spend most of my time on them.

“Entry Point” and “Beauty in the Slums” by Dan Baumbach/Boulder, Colorado, USA, 2020

CDC/What do you enjoy most about photography?

DB/The thing I love about being an artist is that you can just lose yourself in your subject matter. I’ll go to particular places that have subject matter that I like to work with and I just let myself respond and take photographs. I’m pretty competent technically and digital makes everything so easy so I just compose, shoot, check histogram and move on. I just love going out and making images.

CDC/What type of equipment do you use and how does it shape your work? Do you feel you are limited by your equipment, or do the restrictions it imposes contribute to your style and encourage creativity?

DB/I use Nikon D850 and D800 cameras with a 70–300MM Nikkor and 200MM Macro Nikkor lenses for my abstract work. I love my equipment and I haven’t found any limitations to it for what I do. I have a 7’ long image of grasses in Boulder Community Hospital that looks great. As someone who’s worked with film and large format, I am continually impressed by the quality and color accuracy of digital.

“Looking Forward” by Dan Baumbach/Boulder, Colorado, USA, 2020

CDC/Tell us more about your photographic process “in the field”. How do you like to work? Do you plan your images meticulously, or do they happen organically?

DB/I do most of my shooting in the morning, shortly before and after sunrise. There are a number of different locations near me where I’ll go for grasses, leaves, ice and clouds depending on the time of year and what I’m excited about doing that morning. Once I’m there, I try to let what I see take over. I may go to a place for grasses and if the sky looks interesting, I’ll change lenses and photograph the sky or if the trees look good, I’ll do the same.

I try not to get caught up in producing a particular type of photograph. I only want to respond to my subject matter and try to capture what I’m seeing and feeling. I’ve been taking photographs a long time so I’m very comfortable with exposure and focus and don’t have to think about it too much. Yesterday I was photographing trees in the mountains and I got so caught up in it that when I stopped, I first thought where am I? What am I doing?

So to directly answer your question, photographs happen organically.

CDC/Tell us more about your photographic process “in the studio”. What role does processing play in your work? Do you print and exhibit your work, or do you only publish electronically? How do you feel the final medium informs your studio process?

DB/I grew up developing and printing my own black and white work, so post-processing has always been part of my photographic process. I work on images in photoshop in a similar manner to how I worked on them in the darkroom. I look through my raw images in bridge and pick ones that have potential, load them into Camera Raw, do minimal processing like color correction, opening shadows or darkening highlights and then open the image in Photoshop where I do most of my work.

I post online on Instagram and Facebook, but my real goal is exhibiting prints. I’m all about having a printed and framed image on the wall. No matter how careful you are, an image will always look different, better or worse as a print, so before preparing for an exhibit, I first make small prints of everything I’m interested in. From the small prints, I’ll choose what to print large and maybe do more post processing work before printing.

CDC/Natural abstracts of vegetation — grasses, leaves, flowers — are a consistent theme in your work, and your instagram feed seems to exhibit an intentional seasonality. What draws you to these subjects? Do you prefer one season to another?

“Intersect” by Dan Baumbach/Boulder, Colorado, USA, 2020

DB/My inspiration is the natural world I’m drawn to subjects that I think I can make beautiful images from. Living in the foothills in Colorado, my subject matter is naturally seasonal. It’s hard finding interesting grasses and flowers in the winter and there aren’t many leaves in the lakes and creeks in the summer. I always have some regret when it starts to get colder, but once I get into the winter subject matter, I don’t look back. I don’t like to have to bundle up so much in the winter and operating a camera with gloves can be a pain, but once I’m involved with taking photographs, I’m into what’s in front of me with no regrets.

It’s hard to say what draws me to these subjects but as long as I continually find new ways to see and photograph them, I’m happy.

CDC/I see two distinct editing styles present in your work: 1) a soft and ethereal style with a pastel palette; 2) a contrasty and darker style with a saturated palette. How do you choose which treatment an image will receive?

DB/Good question. I don’t know. I just respond to have the raw image looks and try different things. Some images like grasses where I try to keep the focus narrow and naturally more ethereal. It’s like your question about subject matter. It happens organically.

Dan Baumbach is a retired computer programmer and lifelong photographer based in Boulder, CO. Having traded his 4x5 field camera for digital, he explores the often-overlooked natural abstracts that surround his Rocky Mountain home.

Interviewed by Charles David Corbin.

Additional pictures from Dan Baumbach curated by Charles David Corbin.

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New digital magazine that seeks to portray the abstract photography scene and the human-beings behind the pictures in all their depth and diversity.

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