London based photographer Dan Tobin Smith is at the forefront of still life photography. Whether it be shooting an ad campaign for likes of Coca-cola, Nike and Orange, or the latest interior for Wallpaper* Magazine, there’s something about Dan’s photography that sets it apart.
His latest project has seen him shoot one of the the most hotly tipped album releases of the year, The Blueprint 3 from Jay Z. With all eye’s on the album we caught up with the man behind the lens to find out more.
This is one of the most anticipated albums of the year, and the first album Jay Z hasn’t appeared on the cover, how did you get involved in the project and what was the reasoning behind a much more sculptural approach?
Greg Burke, the creative director on the project at Atlantic records had seen the Letter ‘E’ I had shot with the set designer Nicola Yeoman and I guess he had it in the back of his mind when he was thinking of ideas for Jay Z’s new artwork for Blueprint 3. I think Greg and Jay Z had lots of ideas about what the album meant and it seemed to be about taking it back to the source, in terms of the music itself and then subsequently the artwork. For the album and the idea was it was very much about the music and all the things that make music. The 3 is represented by 3 bars which is of course the old way of writing ‘3’ so that seemed to work really nicely with the idea behind the album and the set design that evolved. We all liked the idea that the installation was almost machine like, like all these things were interlinked. That’s why everything is packed and jumbled together. Like it had kind of grown out of this corner.
I think it was a brave approach for Jay Z as all his previous albums have had him on them. I love still life, and the way I shoot is quite old school. It took 3 days to shoot, was all shot on 10×8 inch film, so the quality in the whites is fantastic, so much subtle tone. We worked long and hard on the colour work on the post and even in a single page mag advert I can see that effort. You could blow the image up to the size of a building and it would still hold up. It seems the album is about that old school crafted production so its nice that that same method went into the shoot.
You’ve worked on big ad campaigns in the past and as a result the work has been seen by a large audience. However, it might not have been talked about as much as this, what’s the reaction been?
The reaction has been really good. Kanye put it on his blog which was nice. I’m sure some people want to see Jay Z on the cover but at least they will talk about it. I love the idea of this kind of still life photography being so looked at. When they see the rest of the shoot for the singles I think it will grow on some of the people who were maybe less enamoured with it. There has obviously been comparisons to the letter E, some people not realising it was me who shot it! It was great that we shot it and the whole experience was great, everybody worked together really well.
What were the seminal albums you grew up with and has it influenced your work?
My music taste is a little eclectic so I’m not sure I could name any particular album, although when I was 15 onwards and in the darkroom printing a lot I used to mainly listen to a guy called L. Shankar who was singed with ECM and an album called Who’s to Know. He played contemporary Indian classical. He plays a kind of self designed double electric violin. He is brilliant, technically so obviously but so much more than that. He made me realise a lot of great music is about timing and rhythm. I have listened to one of his pieces on the album probably thousands of times and still love it when I hear it again.
What are you listening to at the moment?
All sorts but quite a lot of Ennio Morricone soundtracks from spaghetti westerns, I think he’s really underrated and was actually very prolific, so fresh the way he makes music. Also listening to some klezmar, so lots of Naftule Brandwein. Tinarwen, John Fahey, Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grapelli. R L Burnside. So all sorts really!