LETS MAKE IT PERSONAL – Duston Todd Photography

Creative ruts happen to all of us! But what do you do about it?
For Duston Todd the answer was a personal project…he has shared with us how it came about, why it’s important and what it means to him – I’m warning you it’s a long post but grab your coffee or tea and sit back and make this read your you time this morning……it is inspiring and I just couldn’t cut any of his words out…..
what motivates me to do a personal project such as this?
personal growth:
i have learned that interesting answers always start with interesting questions.
the personal growth i have experienced by using my camera to seek these hidden answers is what motivates me. a cliché term comes to mind but it speaks the simple truth…”nothing ventured, nothing gained”. i’d never be able to peel back the layers of personal fabric, i’d never be able to dig into the undiscovered rooms that sit inside me if it wasn’t for my camera and my willingness and dedication to fight through the hard work. i don’t truly know what is waiting to be found. none of us do. and that is why it all starts with a question. it is up to each and everyone of us to find our answers. nobody is going to take us by the hand and search these deep personal chasms. but when you do, that is where the jewels are found. that is where the work becomes personal and meaningful. that is when the work becomes separated between you and i and they. that is where the answers are. it is bringing these answers to the surface that motivates me.
i was excited to learn that “extremely loud and incredibly close” (one of my favorite novels) is now being made as a motion picture. and i was thrilled to hear the closing words spoken in the trailer…”if things were easy to find, they wouldn’t be worth finding.” no, it is not easy to find these answers, but it is so worth it.
building a body of work:
each separate project is contributing to a greater whole. this knowledge has become a big motivating factor. i know that each study i do, each observation and question i ask, each body of work completed, will become another important book that i can add to my library of my work.
the big goal is for all this hard work to pay off, not just pay off for my personal growth, but pay off for future actual jobs, jobs that i don’t have to self fund…hahahaha.

so what is the value?
there is much to be learned by these self assigned projects; from grabbing ahold of the inspiration, to the pushing of the parameters and limitations to the fullest, to the hard and lonely work, to the fulfillment of accomplishing your goals, to the closing of the gallery door, and to the addition of a new prize to your portfolio….this is the value of these personal projects.
who, what, when, where, and how.
this was easily the most difficult project i have done to date. to approach a young woman and explain “i would like to photograph you immediately after you have had a full night’s sleep” is difficult enough…actually DOING it, was even more difficult. I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON and little did i know what a demanding project this would be.
here’s how the project came to be…
i was in a creative slump. i wanted to do something but i didn’t know where to start. so i decided to pick up Richard Avedon’s DVD Darkness and Light to serve for some inspiration. after watching the flick i laid in bed stirring with the thought of shooting something similar to his approach. how can you not be inspired? nothing at that specific moment came to mind so i decided i would at least crack out the white seamless and just shoot similar to Avedon’s minimalistic/iconic and todays now common standard. it was the next morning that the light bulb of inspiration burst. i woke from my bed, stumbled to the bathroom mirror, and took one look at myself. i saw the puffy swollen face, the creases, the drool, the hair…and i knew that was what i needed to photograph. that is where the question arose, “what if i do a series of portraits of when people wake up?” to my knowledge, no one had done that before. the more i soaked in this thought, i realized it’d be even more interesting if i chose to photograph women only. let’s face it, women are much more visually interesting then men in the morning AND there is so much more depth to dig into about the social masks that are not yet present in the morning.
the idea had been born. and shortly after i had decided the terms of this project did i realize that this would be a perfect companion and follow up to my “death portraits”. where my death portraits was the study of the removal of life in a portrait and men only, “sleep is the cousin to death” became the study of the returning back to life and women only. i was hooked and so began my project.
i will never forget the first morning, my first portrait.
i had gone over to the house the night previous to set up my lights in her living room. i marked the floor where she was to stand the next morning. we agreed i would return to her house 5 minutes before her alarm clock was to sound. i slept horribly that night. i jolted out of bed when it was go time (because everything would be messed up if i was late). i arrived at the house, with their key in hand…and that is when it dawned on me, at that moment is when it hit me…”what in the hell are you doing Duston? what have you got yourself into??” with a breath of persistance i unlocked the door…and was met with a wall of black air. wow. it felt like a physical curtain. and i had to push through this, and penetrate this bubble of someones quiet hour, of someones home, i felt like a complete violator..but i continued on. i stepped in the house and turned the lights on and waited only minutes. i heard the alarm sound in the next room and was ready with camera in hand. she came out, all covered in sleep, stood on her mark, and BOOM!!! it was like lightening had crashed in the house and shattered away the sleep and darkness. i never have felt such a jolting surge of power due to strobes and the physical light they emit. i packed up my gear and drove away completely elated at the experience. i had just set off a personal electronic bomb.

what does the “sleep is the cousin to death” project mean to me?
i feel this project was a challenging lesson both physically (shooting in the early morning) and socially/emotionally. i really learned to respect others and their homes, the home being a place of sanctuary and safety especially in the quite morning.
but i feel the real value came from the women and their messages to me…their messages remind me of why it was important to do this project and is the true substance and reward for my efforts.
“you’ve definitely provoked my thoughts about the way we come alive, the things that we “think” make us come alive, and the sanctuary of home & family who make us feel alive regardless. this project has incredible depth.” – sarah
“duston, i have had such a range of emotions looking at this. at first i hated it, picking apart my flaws, my face, my ‘morningness’, dark circles..then as i looked at it some more i fell in love with it. what an incredible gift. thank you duston, this is beautiful, it’s magic. after you left our house the other night i said to tyson “he’s so inspiring, i think i have a creative crush on him.” tyson goes “yeah seriously, so do i!” 🙂 not in some weird way, just in a way that you are incredibly inspiring with your work and it rubs off on other people – thank you again, i am so happy i decided to do this. as you know, we had a hard time having babies. two early losses and then the loss of our daughter hazel mae at 18 weeks. my pregnancies are intense and scary and we are pretty sure august is our last baby. this portrait really means so much to me, my time with my babies, my intimate time with my son is forever saved in this photograph. i truly don’t have the words to express how much i love this. thank you, thank you, thank you.”  – meghan (portrait of mother with child)

so what’s my next project?
i am currently photographing my backyard, the great salt lake. the landscape is incredible, it has an energy, a reverence and holiness, a peace, a comfort, and a stillness. it is awe-inspiring, majestic, and humbling all in one breath. out in the desert everything is amplified, every brush and rock and texture has been placed there with purpose. the landscape reminds me of poetry, the words are fewer, the excess has been cut down to the bone, so that we can ponder on what remains.

shooting landscapes is a different and refreshing direction to go, though i don’t think i’ll stay here long (as i love working with people). it is just another book to add to my shelves, and more of my words written on photographs.
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Duston was included in our workshop week last week and we think it’s one not to miss!!
You can check out all the information here!

And welcome to our two FAVORITES listings winners — Heather Nan and Debbie McGeorge! Thanks to all who entered.

Happy Monday all!!
Looking forward to a great week ahead!

Tory + Wendy

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