Marrying the best of classic and contemporary photography, Mitch Dobrowner brings a sense of history and enormous skill to his craft. Exploring his imagination and pushing what's technically possible with his storm-filled landscapes, his work has garnered much attention - including winning the Sony World Photography Awards Photographer of the Year back in 2012.
Mitch takes over our Instagram feed for this week, November 3 to 9, with a selection of his monochrome stormscapes. To kickstart his takeover he answers our quick-fire questions...
Hello! First of all, please introduce yourself and tell us how you got into photography.
Growing up on Long Island (Bethpage), New York, I felt lost in my teens. I got into quite a bit of trouble. I started fooling with drugs and motorcycles and my parents were worried about me. In desperation, my father gave me an old Argus rangefinder to play around with. Little did he realize what an important gesture that would turn out to be. Once I started shooting I couldn't stop. As I was researching the craft I stumbled upon the work of Minor White and Ansel Adams. After seeing images of the Southwest I decided to leave home at 20, quitting my job, leaving my friends and family.
Photography is my personal art form. My photographs speak more about me and the subject matter than I could ever describe in words. The pictures truly do evoke what I feel about our planet. The storms and landscapes here on earth deserve our respect and admiration. This is what I feel as I stand in front of them; their stature and prominence overwhelm and amaze me. I'm just trying to capture them in a manner that does justice.
You appear to exclusively shoot in black & white, why?
I shoot in black & white because shooting in color just seems too real and ‘everyday’ to me. Monochrome interprets reality the way I 'see' and feel. My wife (who is a designer and painter) says I’m color blind but I’m not – I just know the names of all the colors. And the only time I see in color is when I’m listening to music. I see music/orchestrations in their various tones. Not sure why…but its what I see.
What is it about the weather that captures your imagination?
Photographing storms has made me a better photographer and person. I've learned how to better quiet my mind and concentrate. I never really know what the particulars of a storm are going to be until I step out of the van. Each storm is different and is constantly changing. There are so many elements that can easily break your concentration – the noise, wind, the people around you. Over the years I've learned how to get into a Zen state while photographing. The only thing that might break my concentration is when my friend Roger says, 'We have to get out of here, now!'. This state of being has helped me grow as both a person and a photographer. Hey, maybe all this training will lead to my next chapter in life as a war/documentary photographer...who knows?
In 2012 you won the Sony World Photography Awards Photographer of the Year, tell us, how did that award impact your career?
The award was instrumental in getting my images seen by an international community. It also validated and gave me confidence that the best of black & white landscape photography did not end with the images of Ansel Adams, Minor White, Edward Weston. I'm not saying that my photographs are on the same level as the great black & white landscape photographers of the past, but it did show that the creative torch could be passed to future generations. It was a humbling revelation to me.
Looking on your website, the great environmentalist writer Edward Abbey appears to be a great influence on your photographic practice. Are you passionate about conservation?
I believe whole heartily in preserving our planet for future generations (I have three kids!!) but I'm really not a conservationist. I see myself as a fine art photographer. If my images help inspire and educate others to protect our beautiful planet then I'm honored and humbled. I owe so much to the great photographers of the past for their dedication to the craft and for showing us all how stunning the world truly is. Those photographers inspired me in my late teens. Their dedication, determination, craftsmanship, and vision still inspire me. Although I've never met any of them, they've helped me choose the course my life would take.
On a separate note, but something I feel equally as passionate about is how art represents a quiet place – a place that can inspire and allow people to get back in touch with themselves and their priorities. Art has an intrinsic value and, as with music too, is a staple and foundational piece of society that has been a part of us since the beginning of mankind. It's important that art continues to evolve and inspire; I feel honored and very fortunate to even be classified as an artist today.
While you were driven by photography in your early life, you took a break from photography to develop a design studio business with your wife. Do you think this hiatus benefited your photography in any way?
Yes, it gave me a true perspective on life. When I began shooting again in 2005 to 2006 I was as fascinated with digital technologies as I was when I was younger. I'd take cameras apart, explore the technology behind the film (and then eventually digital) sensors, learning how and why the filters were created they were. Today my cameras act as only an extension of my mind, eye and hands. I don’t think about them much… only as a tool, as a painter would see his or her paintbrush. And digital printing is truly an art. From my perspective, producing a great digital print takes the same amount of training, research, and skill as producing a great silver print.
You largely photograph in America. Have you ever been tempted to take your camera further afield?
I spend a good amount of time thinking about what I want to focus on. I’m in love with weather systems and the Southwest - among many other things. Our planet is a truly mystical, spiritual place. I find it easy to photograph. I see my work being portraits of the rocks and environments. I think you need to love what you decide to shoot. I've photographed in the UK, Iceland and Argentina in the past, but I never force things or locations. Images need to come from your heart. If and/or when I feel that urge to photograph in other countries I'll go.... as I always try to follow my instincts.