Parallel Worlds: Interview with Photographer Dan Rubin

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Parallel Worlds
“Parallel Worlds” is an exhibition of photographs by Dan Rubin on display at the Garage Art Center throughout October of 2021.



“Parallel Worlds” is an exhibition of photographs by Dan Rubin on display at the Garage Art Center throughout October of 2021. This series of beautiful infrared photographs were shot by Dan over the past several years in the New York area.

Dan Rubin began working with black and white 35mm film but moved to digital imaging in 2003. Among his current interests is infrared photography, which is greatly facilitated by digital technology. Dan has since moved into art films as well as traditional photography; Solar-Lunar Suite for Four Seasons, his collaborative video with Tina Seligman, was screened at the 2016 New York Independent Film Festival. His images can be seen at www.danrubinphoto.com.

Dan is heavily inspired by New York and has recently been captivated by infrared technique. The Garage Art Center will feature photographs that he has taken in various parks and public gardens in the NYC area over the past several years. The subjects of the photos are scenes of the natural world—trees, flowers, skies, water—that exist in the midst of our densely built and populated environment and thus may be appreciated as urban oases.

Dan recently discussed his career via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially become interested in photography?

Parallel WorldsDan Rubin (DR): Even from an early age I was drawn to photographs. In the eighth grade, when my interest in the Civil War led me to books that contained photographs from that long-ago time (i.e., before I was born), it was a powerful experience. It struck me then how photography could record, with precision and detail, a moment that would otherwise be lost in time or at least subject to the vagaries of human memory.

At about the same period, my family had a subscription to Life Magazine, which was famous for its photojournalism as well as other genres of photography, and I would look forward to devouring each week’s new issue. I was inspired to buy my first 35mm camera, which I mostly used to shoot Kodachrome slides during vacations. While in college, I took a trip out west, hoping to be able to photograph some of the great landscapes that I had only seen in pictures, but lost my camera early in the trip and did not replace it.

After graduating, I traveled to Europe, where I had long wanted to go; however, I decided not to bring a camera, as I felt that constantly looking at the world through the camera’s viewfinder would interfere with my ability to experience things directly.  But after I was there for a while, I happened to find a cheap twin lens reflex camera on the street in Paris and started using it to capture street scenes and old architecture, often in the process of being demolished.  I lost that camera soon afterwards but still have those prints and negatives. A bit later, I saw a sidewalk vendor selling plastic cameras for 10 francs (about $1.50 then); I couldn’t pass up such a bargain and continued to take pictures until that camera broke — which needless to say didn’t take long.

Back in New York, I was soon involved with many other activities, work, school and other hobbies, and for many years had no camera.  Eventually, before going on a vacation to Hawaii, I bought a 35mm Minolta for the trip.  I found that I enjoyed taking pictures again and brought the camera on another trip to Paris.  At that time, I was using color film, and was usually disheartened that the drugstore prints did not come out looking as I had imagined when I had pressed the shutter.

In 1994, I left my job as a lawyer and purchased a used Nikon 35mm reflex camera. I decided to take black and white classes at the International Center of Photography. The courses were purely technical – how to process film and print negatives. There was little discussion about the art of photography, which I found disappointing but, inspired by the work of various photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, I started to wander around New York exploring with my camera.  What especially fascinated me about B&W is that the end result is not what you see with your eye.  There is a mental process of envisioning what the image will be like in tones of black, white and grey.  This changes how you compose and experience light. No longer at ICP, I rented darkroom space until realizing I could create one in my apartment. I traveled to France a few more times, however, instead of worrying about the camera separating me from the experience, now my intention was to use the camera as the experience.

In 2003, I discovered digital photography and never went back to film.  I was blown away by the quality and possibilities of the technology. A few years later, after upgrading to a new digital camera, I had the old one converted to shoot only in infrared.  This enabled me to create the often-otherworldly images that can be further processed using digital technology like those on display in Parallel Worlds.

Parallel WorldsMM: Why does the relationship between nature and art so appeal to you?

DR: Returning to the same locations in nature brings a heightened awareness of how a landscape can change through light, season, growth, decay, and human interaction. Nature is one of the best subjects for infrared because of the way that part of the spectrum reacts to foliage and cloud formations. In addition to landscapes, I also use a macro lens to study flora and insects up close with both my traditional digital camera and infrared.

MM: You have worked in both photography and film…

DR: About 10 years ago, artist Tina Seligman, who is familiar with the range of my work, requested images to combine with live action video for experimental short films.  Solar-Lunar Suite for Four Seasons, a surreal video screened at the 2016 NY Independent Film Festival, started with music Tina transcribed from cycles of the sun, moon and tides over one year. She combined images primarily from my series of Bergdorf Goodman holiday windows to express the seasons. In the most recent video, Chromatic Suite: Prelude created for Parallel Worlds, Tina cleverly placed herself inside my infrared photographs, dancing to compositions by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco recorded by concert pianist, David Witten. Once I’ve seen preliminary versions, I can suggest other images so it’s really a collaborative process and allows me to see my work from a different perspective.

MM: Why is New York City such a muse?

DR: Having spent most of my life in New York City and its boroughs, I’ve been drawn to the architecture, transportation, nature and people, the diversity of cultures, and again, that sense of capturing the ever-vanishing moment.  I have many images of skylines and architectural elements that have been destroyed or replaced, as well as buildings rising at various stages of construction.

MM: How did you find out about The Garage Art Center and secure a show with them?

DR: When Stephanie Lee saw my 2018 solo exhibit at Flushing Town Hall, she expressed interest in my work. Tina had an exhibit at the GAC last June which included some of my prints and I was excited when Stephanie invited me to have a solo exhibit of infrared photographs for this year.  These 12 prints are from a few of my favorite haunts including Old Westbury Gardens, the New York Botanical Gardens and Central Park.  More images from this series can be seen on my infrared website.  My presentation on October 30 is about infrared photography and my own use of the process.

Parallel WorldsMM: What has been the highlight of your artistic career so far?

DR: In addition to this exhibit at The Garage Art Center, the 2018 installation of Tribal Baroque: Moments and Metamorphoses in 3 large galleries of Flushing Town Hall, a Smithsonian affiliate museum.  Over 9 years I had used a variety of approaches to photograph Tribal Baroque, a duo who performed at Bethesda Terrace beside the iconic “Angel of the Waters” statue in Central Park.  Engaging in serious editing of a large body of work offered me new insights, and reactions to the exhibit were very encouraging.

MM: What events, projects, or other exhibitions are coming up soon and is there anything else that you would like to discuss?

DR: I’ve been organizing a series of infrared photographs taken in Hawaii which has a much different landscape, light, and sensibility from New York.  I also recently acquired a cell phone and am interested in discovering more about its capacities and characteristics as a photographic tool.  Also, I’m continuing to explore the possibilities of digital processing and editing through Photoshop.

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Parallel WorldsDan Rubin Photographs

www.danrubinphoto.com

Infrared Photographs

https://www.dan-rubin-infrared-photographs.com/

Chromatic Suite: Prelude (20-minute video)

https://vimeo.com/585996319

Tribal Baroque:  Moments and Metamorphoses

https://www.tribal-baroque-photographs-by-dan-rubin.com/