Dannielle Bowman embraces dark shadows and “mesmerising light” in her complex photography

Dannielle’s photographs are multilayered, pushing a more nuanced understanding of history.

Date
19 October 2020
Reading Time
4 minute read

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Dannielle Bowman is a photographer based in New York City, originally from Los Angeles. Having received a BFA from the Cooper Union and an MFA in photography from the Yale School of Art, Dannielle is a fine art photographer whose concepts and style change as she develops artistically, while always retains a sense of investigation in her work. “There is a lot of watching, looking, research, thinking, reading, talking, writing that goes into my work,” she tells It’s Nice That. “Ideally, the final product is a response to or a comment on the mix of the things that I expose myself to.”

Visually, Dannielle has been working in black and white for the last few years, a visual decision which gives her portfolio distinction. It’s a facet of photography which allows her to play with and push her images tonally. “To make pictures that are ‘too black’ and thus ‘incorrect’ has been an occupation of mine,” she explains. Light and trying to work with “mesmerising light” has also been important to her work. “ Yes, light is always important to photo,” she adds, “but I have tried to incorporate it as a kind of physical material, or palpable presence in the work.” Notably, Dannielle employed this technique when working on The New York Times Magazine’s historic project 1619, for which she contributed the issue’s cover; an atmospheric and loaded image of the sea.

Another series which sees Dannielle working in her signature black and white is What Had Happened. Convoluted and curious, the series doesn’t give much away on a surface level. The images are mundane – a carpeted staircase, photographs on a mantelpiece, a basketball sitting in an empty garden – and were in fact shot in and around Dannielle’s family home in LA. Almost all of the images feature stark light and shadows too. In turn, the series explores notions of home, personal histories and displacement.

GalleryDannielle Bowman: What Had Happened (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2019)

One image which the artist keeps coming back to from the series, she explains is titled Vision (Bump’n’Curl). It shows a woman stood amongst her tomato plants in her garden. “I think because of the super bright, intense sunlight, it is a blazingly clear depiction of a certain kind of older woman and a certain kind of American blackness in a location made visually specific in the way that the light describes the scene, in the dense foliage in the background, and in the way the structures in the distance occupy elevated points in the scene,” Dannielle says. “I went to that woman’s home thinking I would photograph her objects and around her home. But when she answered the door in that wonderful outfit, with a fresh bump’n’curl, there was no way the picture wasn’t going to be about her (and her hair-do). I see so many of my aunties, my mom, my grandmother, my great-grandmother… many other, older, Black women in that hair. It’s a special, even sentimental picture for me.”

Many of the images in What Had Happened are similar: they appear simple but contain complex narratives in them and there is always more to be discovered. This kind of imagery is the direct result of Dannielle’s approach to photography. “I always hope to surprise myself with what I do,” she explains. “I don’t want to wrestle my practice down into a thing that can be easily understood and anticipated. I want it to be more slippery than that. I have learned that it is important to me to be open and intuitive and not try to understand what I’m doing before I do it.”

It’s a methodology which perhaps stems from her introduction to creativity when she was in middle school. As well as discovering her school’s incredible dark room facilities, Dannielle spent her weekends going to the cinema with her mum, sometimes seeing multiple films in one day. One film, O, Brother Where Art Thou sealed the deal for Dannielle. “It was so exciting. In that moment, in that theatre, I felt like I had discovered gold,” she recalls. “From that point on, I spent a lot of time thinking about all the decisions that go into making movies and images. I quickly realised that I wanted to be a person who makes those decisions.”

Dannielle’s work today retains a glimmer of the kind of multilayered storytelling that is possible in cinema but also film’s ability to reflect the world back to us. With a portfolio largely concerned with “history and the past, how the past is not actually the past and how it manifests in our present reality, how to disrupt linear/binary/easy thinking in favour of a more complicated understanding of history, time, place and people,” Dannielle is a fascinating photographer. To say the least, we can’t wait to see what she produces next. Currently, the artist is working towards a show which will be opening in the new year. “I know that there are ideas I haven’t found the language for yet and ideas I haven’t found yet at all! That is exciting,” she concludes.

GalleryDanielle Bowman

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Here, Now (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2018)

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What Had Happened (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2019)

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What Had Happened (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2019)

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What Had Happened (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2019)

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What Had Happened (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2019)

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What Had Happened (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2019)

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What Had Happened (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2019)

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What Had Happened (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2019)

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What Had Happened (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2019)

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What Had Happened (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2019)

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What Had Happened (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2019)

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Here, Now (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2018)

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Here, Now (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2018)

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Here, Now (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2018)

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Danielle Bowman: Here, Now (Copyright © Dannielle Bowman, 2018)

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

rbd@itsnicethat.com

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