Drew Doggett has made a career of creating unique and visually engaging fine art photographs from travels to isolated places and cultures around the world.
Trained in fashion photography, Doggett creates images that capture a broader definition of beauty and culture – one that speaks to worlds beyond the immediate context of his subjects. He desires to encourage viewers of all ages to find links and common ground between seemingly disparate cultures. The interaction between landscape and human physicality is a particular focus of his work.
We like how Drew incorporates both his work and all his business lines into his website in such an artistic and beautiful way. We highly recommend you visit Drew’s website at www.drewdoggett.com.
By: Zach Singh
SAIL: MAJESTY AT SEA
Can you tell us about yourself and how you got started in photography?
My introduction to photography started as a hobby rather than something that I believed that I would pursue as my life-long career. On the one hand, I grew up in a creative household – my father being an architect – and was surrounded by structural drawings, strong lines and silhouettes. On the other hand, the school that I attended prioritized academics and athletics, while art classes were pushed to the side. Once I had completed all the photography courses made available to me, my teacher and I created an extended curriculum that would allow me to continue my education.
Being in the dark room watching the magic of the chemistry, patiently practicing how to dodge and burn for hours at a time, got me really excited about the process, and I became fixated.
I was fortunate enough to be part of a family that liked to travel. My early aesthetic was shaped by my passion for exploring new places and my learned appreciation for architectural design. Fueled by excitement for these new environments, I’d often use my “downtime” to discover the locations on my own, hunting for images and developing my eye.
Your background is in Fashion Photography, how did this come about and when did you decide to make your seemingly effortless transition from fashion to fine art?
I never really set out to become a fashion photographer, it was an organic transition based on my assisting experiences. While in college, over the summer, I would go to New York and work in the industry. By the time I graduated, I was well versed in digital photography and was able to utilize my understanding of the new platform to work as a digital tech. I was very fortunate to have those skills early on, which helped me secure a position with Steven Klein within two weeks of moving to NY.
After assisting for Steven, and then Mark Seliger, I started working with magazines and stylists shooting my editorials. But, honestly, I was never really drawn to the clothes or the fashion. My experiences in this industry had taught me that fashion wasn’t necessarily the right genre to express myself creatively. I missed being able to combine my love of the medium with my passion for learning from interesting people, experiencing new cultures and the aspects that make a locale unique.
To satisfy this yearning, I decided to leave the comforts of New York City and explore the Himalayas on a month-long trip that would change my life forever. The physical strain of this journey, combined with the opportunity to tell the remarkable story of the Nepal tribe’s existence sparked a shift in my focus. I remember vividly sitting atop one of the high mountain passes, reflecting on the adventure, and deciding to move away from fashion to pursue a fine art career.
OMO: EXPRESSIONS OF A PEOPLE
How would you describe your aesthetic and where do you get your inspiration? Which photographers from the past or present have influenced you the most?
Form, texture and symmetry inspire my aesthetic today. There’s certainly an idealistic nature to all of my subjects and images. I create and craft a documentary perspective but also through a fashion inspired lens which focuses on individual elements, micro and macro shapes and textures. Each series contains images that analyze the most subtle characteristics, but others offer a more holistic vantage point. It’s the combination of these perspectives that, when viewed together, tell the complete story.
Much of how I initially approach my work comes from my time working with Steven Klein. My experience on his team taught me the importance of the artistic narrative, and I have applied this to my process, often researching my subjects for months before I even pick up my camera. I allow ample time to develop the “why” behind my collections — why is this story important? Why now? — and through this process, I develop the concept and message I want to convey.
The photographers that have acted as personal sources of inspiration for my work are varied, from Sebastião Salgado’s documentary images, I relate to the important issues facing humanity and the environment, from Peter Lindbergh I find an incredible timelessness, intimacy and comfort in his images of women. Also, from Ansel Adams, his ability to capture his subjects and create prints with such an extraordinary tonal range and richness inspires my sense of sublimity and focus on details.
Themes of travel, discovery, conservation and environmental awareness dominate your most recent projects. How do you choose your subjects?
As a photographer I’m captivated by stories which force us to think critically about larger issues that we face within our cultures, and globally. Each series starts with a natural curiosity for people or place, but also a genuine interest in how that subject fits into the larger conversation of how we interact with one another and our environment.
My generation faces extraordinary pressure and challenges to protect our natural resources. In certain areas, we are approaching the point of no return with the negative effects of climate change and pollution. I’ve seen firsthand, the ramifications of these issues felt far and wide, even in some of the most isolated locations. As a result I’ve developed a strong interest in exploring these endangered natural treasures which I captured in my recent series, Shadows Alight; documenting seemingly raw, unspoiled vignettes within America’s national park system.
My work in the Omo Valley and Nepal really fed my desire to understand that which is foreign to me, accommodating my natural curiosity. We are headed towards an increasingly homogenous world, restricting the opportunities to learn from one another and to understand different points of view. I have a fear of not being able to share these cultures and traditions with my children one day.
DUNES: LANDSCAPES EVOLVING
You have garnered some incredible support in photography companies such as Hasselblad, Leica, and Lowepro. How do those partnerships work and how, if at all, do these benefit your artistic practice?
Yes, I am lucky enough to have partnered on projects with brands that align with both my aesthetic and exude similar goals surrounding issues of conservation and community. For my artistic practice, these opportunities allow me to choose the best “paintbrush” for the project. Through the latest technologies, I get to experiment with my technique and fine tune my approach to each subject based on the specifics of each environment. For example, on my Shadows Alight series, I chose to shoot with a Hasselblad medium format camera and 65 Megapixel digital back which was essential to reproducing the intricacy of landscapes and foliage in large-scale format. Recently, Leica allowed me to work with their latest M series monochrome camera, specifically crafted to create dynamic and rich tonal ranges at the of highest ISO’s, which enabled me to move nimbly through the tight and dark canyons of the Southwest.
You have some amazing video’s that compliment your work and show just how much effort goes into the shoots from behind the scenes, is this extension of your artistic practice?
Shooting primarily in black and white centers my work and allows me to achieve my desired aesthetic, however, there is a certain sense of a place that can be best captured through moving images and accompanying audio. As an extension of my work, these videos help to ‘fill in the gaps’ per se, adding another dimension to my subject beyond still imagery.
On the other hand, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some of the most remote, extraordinary places in this world, and there’s obviously a lot that happens creatively and logistically between leaving my front door and the release of a collection. I want my collectors to get a glimpse into my creative process and how I work when out in the field. But they also help develop a complete understanding of my source of inspiration for the work, and the elements, which make a location and subject truly unique.
You have very strong charity connections, with proceeds from your books giving back to various foundations. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Throughout my travels, I have been touched by the stories of locals, from those living in the mountains of Nepal to the low-lying villages of Ethiopia. I’m often humbled by their existence and interested to learn about the issues they face in their community. In Nepal, I was struck by the difficulty of providing year-round health care to those living in the remote villages. Along my journey, I encountered a non-profit called Nepal Trust, which provides basic health services to the villages of Humla. I saw first-hand the real impact that their work was having on the local community and I decided to donate the proceeds of my book, Slow Road to China, to their efforts. I’m proud to say that we successfully funded one of their health care centers for an entire year from that project.
I also try to address issues that face my community locally. I’ve pledged 100% of the net proceeds from my book, Sail: Majesty at Sea to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This came about through the idea that cancer knows no borders, has no boundaries and is present in all waters.
For me, the issues we face globally and locally are our shared responsibility and should be part of the larger conversation of how to protect and preserve our cultures and environment for future generations.
SHADOWS ALIGHT: PORTRAITS OF THE AMERICAN WEST
Your work is present in some amazing collections throughout the world, including the Smithsonian Museum. How do you get your work out there?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have some reputable collectors follow me on my artistic journey. Their interest has coincided with my work being featured by private dealers in high-end boutiques. I’ve grown my following through this network and have an excellent group of individuals and organizations supporting me.
For each of my series, I try to align myself with institutions that embody similar values, and which have the means and the audience to present the works in a way that can be utilized for educational purposes for years to come. I am of the belief that my approach to these images being idyllic but relatable, will result in genuine enthusiasm for preservation, especially among younger generations.
My objectives with the Omo Valley works aligned with the integrity and interests of the Smithsonian. The series is unique to their archives in that it captures the extraordinary elements of cultures that have been traditionally captured in a more “documentary” light, through a fashion inspired lens.
Of all the images you’ve made so far in your career, which is your favorite and why?
Each series I make is so personal to me, which makes this hard to answer. The works that I surround myself with often represent calmness and serenity. I wake up every morning looking at the image of a woman breastfeeding her toddler in the Omo Valley. There is such a feeling of warmth, connection, and love. With all of the foreign elements; the body scarification, the beads around her neck, there is still a shared sense of humanity. In my living room, I’ve chosen an image that, to me, symbolizes the feeling of independence and raw spirit of the horses of Sable Island. It reflects the arduous nature of their lives; the horse trudges forward, its’ rustic mane flowing in the wind, it’s reminiscent of the challenges that they face in living in this harsh environment, a reminder of the challenges that we all face.
You have a beautiful website, successful online gallery, and custom-design and frame your work in-house, how do you see yourself growing?
I see the website is an extension of my practice, how I present myself is very important to me, and I take pride in this – from my website to my moving image videos, to my behind the scenes blog. My framing, like the website, is no different – minimalistic in nature, it must complement the work. This all goes back to my appreciation for form and architectural aesthetic.
I’ve recently chosen to capture my latest series in color, which is very different coming from working purely in black and white. It was an important development for me to recognize that there are some stories that are best told in color. To progress, I feel it necessary to continue to adapt and grow and extend my palette to what best serves my progression as a fine artist.