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Fiercely Curious is an online art & design collective based in Brooklyn.

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Dan Wonderly


Cars 02


About Dan Wonderly
Born in Bogota and raised in Indiana, DUMBO- based artist Dan Wonderly has been living and working in Brooklyn for nearly eight years, specializing in fine art portrait and still photography. Finding the unnoticed, the overlooked, the easily missed minutia drives his desire to communicate from behind the camera.
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In conversation with Dan Wonderly

Erin: What are you curious about?

Dan: The small spaces we encounter on a daily basis, and conversely, the larger, enveloping spaces that are more on a theoretical, aerial level. I like to imagine myself shrunk down— as if a tiny crack were the Grand Canyon— or so big that life-size things, like mountains and towers, seem miniature. It’s all about playing with perspective.

Erin: Describe your art and describe your process.

Dan: My art is observational on one level and abstract on another, and it usually starts with a find. Through walking and looking down at the surfaces beneath my feet I find compositions that pique my interest. If I have a camera with me, I’ll try and capture them then. If not, I’ll make a note of the location and go back to shoot it later.
Erin: You're currently working on industrial landscapes. What is it in the city's grit that inspires you?

Dan: There’s a general fascination with industrial scapes, which some social critics call urban porn— torn down buildings, the collapse, the beautiful demise of time and gentrification and blah, blah, blah. While I’ve taken those pictures as well, what I’m trying to do is more abstract. This makes me go in close, and find a interesting composition of crack or texture; sometimes the light in those broke-down places can be really interesting, and that will sometimes spur action to capture. In a broader stroke, the whole idea of concrete and steel and these materials in a constant state of abuse— i.e., living in New York City— means a constantly changing canvas. You could take pictures of a broken sidewalk one week and the next it will be gone, or patched, or completely changed. I think this extreme, artificial landscape and it’s constant entropy is a good metaphor to tides and the ocean: Each wave washes up a new composition.

Erin: Being both a welder and painter, how do these skills play into your photography?

Dan: I love building things and welding is the ultimate physical process of fusing material. But it’s also helped me hone some of my mechanical/grip/lighting skills. It’s about problem solving, and thinking outside of the box: What crazy arm can I rig that will hold a piece of reflective material so it casts the right light? How can I make it do that consistently, and with mechanical repetition, so that my technique is more precise? All that comes from building things in an assembly, an environment. With welding, you have to think constantly about the order you grind your pieces to be the most efficient, and so the whole symphony comes together at once. It’s a lot like making the perfect meal and having the whole thing be at the right temp instead of something drying out because your prep wasn't right. Similarly, painting is also about the prep, but with composition. I think painting is the purest form of composition, maybe other than writing a score of music from scratch. It’s about deciding where to put things, what to leave in and what to take out. That type of training and repetition helps me place the lens/frame, so I’m free to play around with light.
Dan editing a photo from his 'Cracks' series
Erin: Working as a freelance photographer, what has been your craziest job?

Dan: The process of placing a camera in front of objects and more often, objects of value, is a recipe for some pretty interesting situations. Most recently, I was asked to take pictures of a cherry red Rolls-Royce for a charity auction. It was one of those situations where I had very little information going in, other than I needed to make the pictures, a certain number of them, and in the nicest way possible. And this was not on a huge sweep in a warehouse with huge light banks—it was in a parking garage and I had to pull out the roughneck, A-Team techniques. And I produced good results. The last shots of the day were of the car in a somewhat scenic environment for a sense of place, so I had to drive this Rolls on the West Side highway, find a park and then shoot images of it along the Hudson. As we got back to the garage where the car was being stored, the representative from the auction house told me that it was Lady Gaga’s Rolls-Royce and it was going up for auction in May— he didn’t want me to be nervous driving it, so didn’t tell me until the end. I’m not a huge fan of her work more from just ignorance, but it is just one of those strange, crazy days that at the end you stop and reflect: Huh, that just happened; this is my job and I love it.
Erin: What drives your obsession about technology?

Dan: I’m a huge fan of sci-fi: William Gibson, Phillip K. Dick, Assimov, Bruce Sterling. I love thinking about the outer reaches of tech and gear and where it will eventually project our consciousness. But I love old technology and new almost equally. Simple machines fascinate me, the physics of them. And then the pure, mind bending, nano-world of most of the electronics we rely on constantly these days. It really is a type of magic, I guess, and that kind of magic is what I first found in the darkroom 20 some years ago. That chemical reaction between light and silver, and something that can be turned on or off— much like a 1 or 0 in more modern conventions.

Erin: What would be your budget-less dream project?

Dan: So many! Currently I daydream a little about mapping discarded gum on NYC blocks. I’m sure that sounds ridiculous, but next time you’re walking through Midtown, or standing on a subway platform, take a look at the insane amount of gum people just spit out. The oblong little blobs- they take up permanent residence. So, I’d choose one block and then somehow record and graph the changing gum spots on the sidewalk, and take high-quality, overhead photos of this progress so that you could make huge prints from them, and also so you could make somewhat of a time lapse, to map and record the spots. I’d love to see if any patterns repeat or emerge or how long certain spots stay. I feel like this is very boring, very academic work, but I think it would be interesting and totally art for art’s sake. And extremely expensive.
Erin: If you could collaborate with any artist alive or dead, who would it be with and what would it look like?

Dan: Emily Dickinson, Frank Black, Francis Bacon, Bill Brandt, Laurie Anderson, Mark Sandman, Thom Yorke, Kyle Ferrill and Egon Schiele. I think that lineup presents a pretty good picture of what the collaboration would look like, just by their histories. It would be dark, weird, and hopefully funny.

Erin: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Dan: Telekinesis, for sure. I am working on developing this every day, just trying to focus on small things like pens and moving them across the table. Sadly, no progress thus far to report, but I think this would do wonders for photo shoots where you are minus an assistant.

Erin: When I stopped by, I saw an image of a tiny car in a real New York City landscape. Tell us about the project.

Dan: This is another ongoing project that is all about perspective and time. Juxtaposition is a favorite vehicle of artistic expression for me (pun intended), and this utilizes that method. I’m just now working on the technical side of placing these toy cars into the urban environments and neighborhoods that I’ve photographed for the last five years or so. Once I get that technique down how I want it, then I’ll have 8-10 solid pieces for this series.
Erin: You live and work in a loft DUMBO What is it about this area that inspires you?

Dan: The sheer fact that I can live, work and exist in NYC as an artist and photographer, let alone in DUMBO, is humbling in itself. The expense of this city is overwhelming and when you step outside of it physically and view it in the scope of the rest of the world, it is literally insane. As for the neighborhood and location, it is a huge nexus point in Brooklyn. You have two bridges and then these views of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island that create these different entrance/exit points to NYC. The ability to take a walk during a day of work and sit for five minutes and watch that whole exchange of helicopters, boats and tourists is completely chaotic and therefore inspiring. I am inspired every time I come home off the F train, and walk toward the water and see a part of that chaos. So, needless to say, I’m in one of the most inspiring places I’ve ever had the chance to live.
Dan's beautiful loft apartment in DUMBO
Erin: We see that you collect junk and take beautiful photos of it, where are the best places to find gems in Brooklyn?

Dan: I don’t see it as junk— more as artifact, and most of my still-life is actually derived from a place of curiosity surrounding artifact. How did that object end up on eBay for sale? Why is it so damaged? What is its worth? What is the story behind that random, dismissed “piece of junk?” It’s the trite, humorous thread in all of my work, where one sees an old piece of junk or a pile of dirt, I see an object or composition of beauty that, if you look close enough, transforms into this other world of light and darkness that is captivating when frozen in a single frame.

Erin: Tell us the story of your bionic eye self portrait.

Dan: I’m all about robots and technology, so I always imagine cybernetic augmentations that would benefit my existence and artwork. That was the general idea around creating a self-portrait that deals with these specific ideas and it has been a 3-4 year process of different incarnations and working portraits. I finally got down to business this last year and bought a mannequin torso, and built the arm right into the torso and photographed that at the same height it would be for me standing. I then built the eyepiece and hung it so I could stand behind it and capture remotely. The result was an easier retouching experience and a very realistic, almost eerie portrait. I love it. It’s rare I can say that about work, but I love that portrait. It is exactly how I imagined it. And that says a lot about where I am at with my abilities and craft of photography and also how I am able to extract the images in my mind and put them out into the world.
Dan's bionic eye self portrait