Interview: Matt Slaby and David Walter Banks photograph the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions


Matt Slaby - John McCain reflected at the 2008 Republican National Convention, St. Paul, Minnesota.Matt Slaby – John McCain reflected at the 2008 Republican National Convention, St. Paul, Minnesota.

David Walter Banks - 2008 Democratic National ConventionDavid Walter Banks – 2008 Democratic National Convention

For our next dvafoto interview, we’re talking to Matt Slaby and David Walter Banks, both of the new collective Luceo Images. I got to know the two and their work through the excellent APhotoADay email list, and consider them among my favorite young photographers. Matt Slaby’s got one of the most contemplative approaches I’ve seen among young photojournalists, and his writing is not to be missed. David Walter Banks has some of the strongest (and sometimes strangest) use of color going. The two paired up to cover both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions for the 2008 US presidential election, and I took an adversarial approach when I asked them about their process, the value of photographing such choreographed events, and their general journalistic philosophy. My questions and their answers follow:

David Walter Banks - Attendees wave flags as Al Gore addresses the crowd at Invesco Stadium on the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado where Barack Obama officially announced his acceptance of his nomination as the Democratic Party's canidate for the President of the United States of America.David Walter Banks – Attendees wave flags as Al Gore addresses the crowd at Invesco Stadium on the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado where Barack Obama officially announced his acceptance of his nomination as the Democratic Party's canidate for the President of the United States of America.

Matt Slaby - Alabama delegate Hal Pierce at the Republican National Convention.Matt Slaby – Alabama delegate Hal Pierce at the Republican National Convention.

What are your backgrounds? David, a lot of your work is lit portraiture; how do you get on an editor’s list to do an assignment that’s more documentary and newsy in nature?

David Walter Banks (DWB): I have a background in newspaper photography which I believe was an outstanding training ground for the work I do now. Despite the wretched state of the current newspaper industry and the disgraceful way they treat their photographers, there could have been no better way for me to learn my craft hands-on. About two-thirds of the work on my website and about the same amount of my daily shooting is documentary in nature with the lit portraiture accounting for the last third, so I guess the question throws me off a little. This particular shoot, I got because I’ve developed a relationship with Stern through shooting for them a couple times including coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings last year. I called and told the editor that I wanted to shoot the conventions, and eventually it ended up working out. Most of my documentary work just comes from continued marketing, word of mouth, and face-to-face meetings.

Matt Slaby (MS): I am colorblind and always thought that it would prohibit me from being a serious photographer. The short story is that I taught myself black and white photography, had some extra money one winter, and took a class with New York Times contract photographer Kevin Moloney in order to try and learn color photography. It was supposed to just be something to allay personal curiosity, nothing serious. At the time I had plans to become a lawyer and a few months to kill before starting law school. Ten minutes into his class it became clear that the things that I am particularly passionate about seemed to have a place in photography and that colorblindness was not as big of a hurdle as I had imagined.

The longer story is that I worked through undergrad as a firefighter and an EMT. During the summers, I went off with the Forest Service and travelled around with a hotshot crew chasing large wildfires, returning for the winters to work with a metropolitan ambulance company about two miles from Columbine High School. I had always been interested in taking photographs and, one morning at the end of a long shift at the ambulance company, I dropped into a used camera store with the idea that I would buy a darkroom setup if I could find one for less than 200 bucks. I found one, set it up in my bathroom, and taught myself the basics of black film-work over the course of the next few years. The darkroom travelled with me during the summers to different fire barracks where I was based around Montana and Arizona. During the summers I made pictures of the people that I worked with and the fires that we travelled to. I developed them on our days off when we returned back to our quarters and really just kind of had a lot of freedom to experiment without consequence. If a picture didn’t turn out, it didn’t turn out. Make notes, try it again next time. No angry editors, no nasty critiques. Artistically speaking, it was a healthy way to start.

Fast forward a couple of years and I had set my life in a direction towards becoming a lawyer. I had been accepted to school, received full funding for study, and was just killing time one winter by taking Kevin’s class. Really a life-changer, as far as I’m concerned. Although I spent the next four years finishing my J.D., I was able to fit in an internship at U.S. News & World Report as well as pursue several long-term projects on subjects that I am particularly passionate about –immigration, labor, and the unique subculture that thrives in my home-city of Denver.

Late last year I took the final steps towards shooting full-time, started working with David and crew on the project that has become Luceo Images, set up the business-end of my photography, and, for the first time in my life, feel like I am 100% committed towards something that I really love.

David Walter Banks - 2008 Democratic National ConventionDavid Walter Banks – 2008 Democratic National Convention

Matt Slaby - Rep. Barney Frank addresses lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender delegates.Matt Slaby – Rep. Barney Frank addresses lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender delegates.

Matt, you seem to favor longer term, conceptual work; how does a big overproduced news event fit in with that?

MS: Um, yeah. If by “longer term” you mean wanting to have the freedom to explore all the subplots to the main event, than yeah.

Two things inform that approach: first, my time working in emergency services –fire and EMS –taught me a lot about the nature of finding the real story apart from the obvious. The thing that fascinated me about being on a big fire was not the dramatic flames, but the banter of the firefighters, the way life goes on in good humor as you’re working. Working fire forces you into tight quarters with people you would never think to associate with –and those people become some of your closest friends in spite of their differences. There are all these quiet moments that, if you’re working the job, really come to define how you feel about the work and those things, to me, are the truest pieces to the bigger story of firefighting. Sitting on a remote ridgeline in northern Idaho at the end of a long shift, the way the ground feels under your feet when a tree falls, the pranks and the trash talking that fill the hours between real work, your bottomless appetite at the end of an honest day’s work. Similar subtleties working EMS. Say, for example, someone is dead in their house. The thing that always moved me the most was how traffic would carry on outside the front door completely unaware of the “big moment” happening on the other side of the wall. The kids playing in the neighbor’s yard, the sprinkler that hasn’t been turned off, the newspaper left open on the table, and the way you’d go and get lunch later that day and joke with whoever you were assigned to work with about regular stuff. In each line of work, there are unique cultures and, it seemed to me, that the bigger story could be told by looking at those quieter moments, the one’s that don’t make sensational news but get at the bigger picture of what it actually feels like to be there.

The second thing that informs the longer-term, conceptual stuff has been my experience with law school and my dwindling belief in objectivity as a legitimate paradigm. What I mean is that, for a profession that supposedly values balance, equity, equality, and justice, it doesn’t take long to figure out that lawyers, judges, politicians, and law students all flavor their “objective opinions” with their highly subjective backgrounds. It’s not surprising to me that the sons and daughters of industry –and, yes, law school can feel like being at the country club from time to time –flavor their “objectivity” with a lot of assumptions. Journalists do the same thing and I kind of favor an approach that showcases these subjectivities rather than pretend that they don’t exist.

So when it comes to covering a big, overproduced news event, I kind of draw on those two ideas in the course of making a photograph. I really don’t care to pretend like I’m an objective observer and I honestly believe that the wide world of politics has the same cultural traits as the groups I interacted with in my former working life. Those events are made up of people and there are all these tiny little moments that, put together, kind of establish some kind of emotional tenor for what it actually feels like to be there.

David Walter Banks - 2008 Democratic National ConventionDavid Walter Banks – 2008 Democratic National Convention

David Walter Banks - The teleprompter feeds Sarah Palin lines for her speech to the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center during the third night of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul Minnesota.David Walter Banks – The teleprompter feeds Sarah Palin lines for her speech to the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center during the third night of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul Minnesota.

How did you two approach the political conventions? David, you shot it on assignment, right? How did you plan it out with your editor? Matt, were you shooting for anybody? If not, how did that affect your coverage?

MS: My credentials for the conventions were through Mother Jones magazine. Since the credentialling happened so far in advance of the convention itself, the magazine had little idea of if or whether there would be space for the photos. In the end, my clients for both the RNC and DNC were spread along a spectrum from Newsweek to the Human Rights Campaign. As a freelancer, I’m thankful that Mark Murrman at Mother Jones helped me work through the credentialling process and just as happy to have been able to find paying outlets to help produce the larger body of work.

DWB: I was on assignment for Stern Magazine and I was given the directive by my editor to be as funky and creative as I want, not to worry about talking heads, shoot whatever I want, and generally avoid shooting ‘wire’ photos. This was absolute music-to-my-ears and the exact approach I prefer to take. At an event like this the standard image is available from 20 different angles and spread across the web before you can bat an eye.

The only way for someone like myself, or Luceo Images as a group, to really compete is to rely on our creativity and unique approach. My goal was to attempt to shoot for mood, broader themes and to look at it in more of an essay style. Furthermore, with this event, or any for that matter, it’s my goal to show my viewer something more than what they would have seen had they been there. I believe the mass public has a more sophisticated visual pallet than we give them credit for, and with the bombardment of images they see every day, they need something that makes them stop and question what they are looking at.

David Walter Banks - John McCain addresses the crowd in the Xcel Energy Center at the Republican National Convention and accepts his nomination as Republican candidate for the President of the United States of America in St. Paul, Minnesota.David Walter Banks – John McCain addresses the crowd in the Xcel Energy Center at the Republican National Convention and accepts his nomination as Republican candidate for the President of the United States of America in St. Paul, Minnesota.

David Walter Banks - A police officer trains his gun on a protester holding up a flower to the line of police dressed in riot gear forming a blockade to stop a protest march in St. Paul, Minnesota which ended in mass arrests and tear gass on the final day of the Republican National Convention.David Walter Banks – A police officer trains his gun on a protester holding up a flower to the line of police dressed in riot gear forming a blockade to stop a protest march in St. Paul, Minnesota which ended in mass arrests and tear gass on the final day of the Republican National Convention.

You two traveled together and shot together at both conventions and in between. Now you’re editing and presenting together. Why? What does this approach bring to the project that shooting alone would not have? How did you plan the coverage between the both of you? How do you tagteam pitching the story now that it’s in a somewhat finished form?

DWB: Partially the idea was that we would have strength in numbers and be able to tell a more comprehensive story than either of us could alone. In the very competitive and solitary world of freelance photography, it’s extremely refreshing to have someone in your corner. We were able to share information, split up and report back if anything was happening and generally double our knowledge of our surroundings in the midst of covering a very large event. Not only did we help each other, but we had a handful of other young photographers at the convention all calling each other and sharing information. We also had the help of an on-site editor every day via each other to help sift through work from the day.

We were able to present work together through a Photoshelter virtual agency to prospective editors at news magazines, and between the two of us had enough of a selection of fresh unpublished work that it was worth the editors time to look at our galleries along with the wire services (I had a deal worked out where Stern had first refusal right and I could offer the images to other editors).

We didn’t extensively plan or direct each other in exactly how our coverage would work, it was more of an organic process. We continually discussed what we were really trying to illustrate, and both went about approaching that in our own ways. Tagteam pitching the story, as you put it, is certainly new grounds for us, but the response is continually refreshing. Editors and art buyers just seem to like the idea of photographers working together and speaking highly of each other in an industry that is by nature very cutthroat. Pitching this story was mainly done by reaching out to editors during the actual convention. Such a time-sensitive piece after the fact has pretty slim hopes of selling, but it will likely be one of the cornerstones for our next group marketing trip to NYC, and hopefully a base for further political work in the future.

MS: I think David answered this question pretty well but I’ll take a swing at giving it a little more spin. The bottom line is that the approach to shooting and editing the convention work came as a natural extension to the work that we have been doing with Luceo over the last few months. That endeavor is highly collaborative and something that draws from the different backgrounds and strengths that each photographer brings to the group. It also runs a little contrary to the traditional notion of photographer as lone wolf in the sense that we all share a core enthusiasm and belief in the power of photography rather than the power of any single photographer. I think –and I don’t believe there’s any dissenters in our ranks on this point –that that’s really the glue holding us together.

When I talked with David last March about shooting the DNC in Denver (my home-base) we kind of hatched the idea to collaborate on covering that event and the excitement of putting that together pretty much carried the project over to the RNC and into the editing process. It just made sense that the team-effort photography continue towards a collaborative end-product. Take, for example, the acceptance speech at the DNC. We were able to hedge each others’ bets in our approach to shooting that event. David took the chance of taking a shooting position at, literally, the furthest point in the stadium from Obama. Upper deck, back row, behind the candidate. I stayed on the floor and spent my afternoon crouched on the floor inside of the Minnesota delegation hiding from the Fire Marshals who were busy clearing the floor of all press (thanks, Minnesota). Turns out that David’s risk made for some fantastic photographs. It’s just something that is much harder to do when you’re working in lone-wolf mode.

David Walter Banks - Protestor outside the Democratic National ConventionDavid Walter Banks – Protestor outside the Democratic National Convention

Matt Slaby - A dog at the home of local Hillary supporters.Matt Slaby – A dog at the home of local Hillary supporters.

Why did you photograph the conventions? In my mind, political events like these are the least interesting things in the world. They’re manufactured to make the prettiest pictures and show the subjects, literally using spotlights, in the best light possible. Newspapers and magazine usually don’t print press releases, so why photograph the visual equivalent? Matt, how’d your experience with US News & World Report enter into the approach? What’s more, every wire service in the world was at these events? Why photograph something that’s so over-photographed? David, I imagine you and your editor for the assignment talked about this aspect exactly. Any particular approach to find something different? Was that even an issue?

MS: Like I said above, the thing that fascinates me about these events is not the politics but the culture and production surrounding the main event. I feel like, in the best of all possible worlds, publications would give the candidates a degree of coverage but would spend their dollars drilling down into the issues the candidates talk about rather than focussing on the candidates talking. Of course, in an era of dwindling budgets and a publishing industry that is struggling to stay solvent, it makes more sense to illustrate these stories with images of the politicians rather than of the issues. I think the math on that looks like this: one day to cover the candidate vs. weeks to cover an issue.

The back-story and context for these kinds of events is, to me, the most interesting aspect of politics. Covering the White House while interning at U.S. News I got a taste of some of the more aggressive handlers in the business. The Bush administration’s ability to wrangle coverage to fit its agenda is well documented (thinking, in particular, about Helen Thomas’ book and related interviews) and something that was clear from my first day there. So, at the time, it seemed only natural to focus on that back-story, to show the behind the scenes of the Washington PR machine rather than the thing they were pretty much cramming down your throat. The conventions are just an extension of those observations.

DWB: I’ve been extraordinarily interested in the political game this time around. The entire culture of presidential politics is very much a staged circus, and the conventions can be seen as the grand gesture of this in my opinion. Despite how over-covered it may be, it was still a draw to me to cover such a large-scale event that has impact on not only our nation but the world at large. It’s kind of like shooting the Olympics (with added possible impact on the world economy) in that it may be over-covered but it’s still a historical if not monumental event.

I would always prefer to be the only photographer present documenting a particular event, person, or place, but the over-saturation of media is also almost a draw for me. It gives you even more of a reason to ignore where the politicians want you to look and walk your own path. It was perhaps some of the truest-to-myself documentary shooting I’ve done all year long. My goal was to shoot these conventions in a way that I didn’t see done in the mainstream media, and that’s what my editor was looking for. So for me, I just followed my own instincts and tried to think in terms of a more broad essay-style look at the whole circus rather than think so much on daily coverage.

David Walter Banks - Sarah Palin, Republican nominee for the Vice President of the United States of America, addresses the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center during the third night of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul Minnesota.David Walter Banks – Sarah Palin, Republican nominee for the Vice President of the United States of America, addresses the crowd at the Xcel Energy Center during the third night of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul Minnesota.

Matt Slaby - Political activist outside the Democratic National Convention in favor of seating Washington, D.C. as a voting entity in the U.S. Congress.Matt Slaby – Political activist outside the Democratic National Convention in favor of seating Washington, D.C. as a voting entity in the U.S. Congress.

What about your less straightforward pictures? Who publishes these pictures? In the US, at least, the coverage is dominated by wire-style podium pictures, close-ups of the big-names, etc. I’m sure a lot of readers would look at your pictures (David, the blue-lit little girl on the red carpet, for instance; or Matt, the big McCain projection/reflection) and wonder why you even made the picture? Do photographers alienate nonphotographers with these sorts of pictures? Is this an uncharitable view of readers’ visual literacy? How do these sorts of pictures (the impressionistic, the offbeat) fit into your edits and pitches?

MS: Funny, I kind of feel like your question is less charitable to photographers than it is to readers. By way of analogy, if mass-appeal was the only thing that motivated society, we’d be photographing an election between Toby Keith and Britney Spears. So, the short answer is that I think that just because a picture breaks from the visual norm of a clean, tight, lit politician –well, that’s not really enough reason not to make the photograph. I was talking with David about this on the drive to the RNC, how so much of who a photographer is has to do with their select images and not the whole take. If you go through either of our contact sheets, the clean, standard frames are there. No doubt. Just that those pictures didn’t fit with the final vision for this body of work.

DWB: I will be the first to admit that sometimes I shoot ‘less-straigtforward’ or downright weird images just for the sake of doing so. That being said, I do believe they can also serve a purpose in helping the flow of an essay or simply striking a new chord with viewers. Using your example, the image of the little girl with the blue color-caste fit in with a series of images aimed at showing the nearly-absurd nature of a grandiose 14,000 square-foot tent filled with presidential memorabilia, including the mock oval office behind her. I don’t expect every viewer to pull all of that out of it, but nonetheless I think it fits in with the larger essay look at the event.

As I said above, I personally believe the mass public has a more sophisticated visual pallet than we give them credit for, and with the bombardment of images they see every day, they need something that makes them stop and question what they are looking at. I think more and more editors are keen to this too, not to mention the European ones who are much more-so. Often, the editor will pick the ‘safer’ photograph to publish, but I find it’s the more risky ones that make them hire you again. For me, photography is an opportunity to show the world in a way that’s a little more surreal and hopefully something more that what that viewer may have seen had they been there themself.

MS: As far as readers are concerned, I tend to think that photography has a lot in common with music in the sense that the emotional tone that an image creates is a lot like a song. Major or minor key, rhythm, chorus is kind of the same as color, composition, content –these things are immediately accessible. I think that, like a song, even if someone can’t articulate why they like something, the connection is immediate. Our industry doesn’t give enough credit to the power of the photograph or the visual literacy of our culture. I mean, honestly, on my short drive to the coffee shop where I am writing this, I probably passed by a few thousand things designed for to have some kind of visual impact –buildings, advertisements, landscaping, painted things, outdoor art, people’s fashion, the way cars look –all these things are designed for some degree of visual appeal. Except for people who are blind, we are bombarded by things informing our visual literacy and I think its cynical to think that readers just don’t have the capacity to “see.”

David Walter Banks - Protestors outside the Democratic National ConventionDavid Walter Banks – Protestors outside the Democratic National Convention

Matt Slaby - Police arrest protestors and journalists outside the 2008 Republican National Convention.Matt Slaby – Police arrest protestors and journalists outside the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Why did you photograph the protests? I imagine politicians and delegates are pretty sheltered from demonstrations at these sorts of events, which would lead me to believe that the protests are done mostly for the benefit of the media. How do you photograph a protest? Most protests look the same and any signs in pictures dominate the frame and make a picture a political message.

MS: Funny, most political photographs look the same in that they are dominated by signs and political backdrops of carefully chosen people to make a political message.

I’m not sure that I have a good answer to this line of questioning other than to point out that the messaging of most protest tends to be the product of some sort of disenfranchisement from the decision-making process. If you go back a short time in history prior to the most current Iraq invasion, dissenters were literally removed from the picture. NPR had a wonderful snippet the other day about how Rumsfeld’s war plan didn’t include any post-invasion strategy because he simply didn’t believe in “nation building.” So it came to pass that the way the war was conducted (and the consequential guerilla war that we are now fighting) was supposed to conform to what he wanted to believe rather than what was real. Rumsfeld cut the dissenters from his earshot. The largest protests in recorded human history –larger than the protests against the Vietnam War–happened prior to the Iraq War and were given little play or consideration in that dialogue.

Given the less-than-remarkable coverage of those protests, I kind of think that a good percentage of the protests at both the RNC and DNC were for the benefit of the delegates and spectators more than the media. I obviously can’t speak for the protesters, but that was my impression.

DWB: For me, the story of the conventions was just as much what was going on outside the respective convention venues as what was happening inside. The emotion in the air and general feeling of the city hosting the event. Inside you have the delegates and the super-elite, often one in the same. These conventions started as something that was ‘for the people’ and have turned into something that is ‘for the rich-elite people’. Then outside the convention, you have all these people who have a disagreement with the way our country is run and they are completely ignored.

Despite the huge presence of consenting voices and police violence, I saw very little on the topic published in the media. I try at all costs to avoid ‘sign’ photos and believe I did in most cases this time around. The idea was less to tell their particular fight or cause, and more to portray the general fight-to-be-heard for their dissatisfaction of our government. In a time when most Americans are feeling very disenfranchised with their government, showing this side of the events was very important to me. For example, the Iraq Veterans Against the War led a huge march that ended in a nearly violent confrontation with the Denver Police simply because they were denied access to give a letter to the Obama staff about the poor treatment of veterans and the Iraqi people. If part of the media’s job is to be a watch dog, I believe it’s important to cover the dissent.

Matt Slaby - The crowd at the 2008 Republican National Convention.Matt Slaby – The crowd at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Matt Slaby - A man hawks copies of The Onion, a comedic newspaper, to people waiting the enter the Republican National Convention.Matt Slaby – A man hawks copies of The Onion, a comedic newspaper, to people waiting the enter the Republican National Convention.

How did your own political leanings figure into the shoot? Matt, I think it was your photo of McCain reflected or projected onto a teleprompter or other weird surface–he looks like Big Brother; I don’t know your political affiliation, but can take a pretty good guess from that picture. David, your photos of the protests in particular belie a sympathy with the protesters and a distrust and contempt for the police. Maybe these are my own politics coloring my interpretation of the photos, too. Of course, injecting your own view into the shoot is not necessarily a bad thing. Does/should something like David Alan Harvey’s notion of authorship and vision extend to politics and inform photography of hot-button political issues?

MS: I don’t know. I kind of feel like taking the question apart a little bit to get at what I think you’re really asking. That is, I think that photography –as far as journalism is concerned –has an aesthetic that is relatively straight-forward. A picture with clean borders, clean background, light, and moment is a solid B+ picture for the purpose that it serves towards selling print. And, in as far as journalism is a business, those kinds of pictures fill space without being too distracting or risky. They make for a saleable product.

The problem that I found in D.C. is that the handlers and PR people are on to the this. They are more than happy to oblige photographers by creating huge, clean backdrops with slick messaging printed on it for candidates and politicians to appear in front of. They are usually pretty good with lighting the podium and skilled politicians are good at making dramatic hand gestures to help brand themselves by way of the still photograph. If you are working the floor in front of any political podium and have the chance to stop and watch the candidate and listen to the shutter sounds, those motor drives only really sound off like gunfire when the subject is gesturing. You don’t need to be Pavlov to figure out that, at some point, PR-hungry politicians cue to this in their speech choreography.

The conclusion that I came to is that if your goal from a political event is to come away with a clean frame of the politician, you might as well also ask the reporter to just reprint the talking points from the speech. That’s a pretty low bar and I guess I feel that photography is something that can (and should) be a little more sophisticated.

Given that, what I think you’re really asking is why we’re not showing an edit of standard-ish, clean political photography. And the answer to that is something that I think you’ve hinted at in previous questions: these events are choreographed, overproduced, and staged for the benefit of creating a PR package for the party and their candidate. Honestly, I’m interested in figuring out how to provide some kind of context to these events, to look at the production itself including all those little things that go into the staging. I kind of think that there’s a lot of value in talking openly about he behind-the-scenes and spin-heavy components of these events. So the reflection of McCain is just one tool for getting at that and not really a political statement about the candidate.

DWB: I’m not now, nor do I believe I will ever be a void-of-opinion drone pressing the button at whatever happens to be in front of me and I’m proud of this. I have my own ethical guidelines and opinion on when to be fair and just, but I have strong views about this world. I attempt to let my emotion and feeling guide my shooting, so there’s no doubt that my personal feelings about the world come through.

I want to say something about the world with my photography and I want to attempt to make art and not just record. I would go further to say that photographers who say they are completely unbiased are probably lying to themselves. As soon as we step foot into a documentary situation and point our cameras one way instead of another we have made a choice as to how we’re going to show that event, inevitably revealing at least a piece of ourselves. In my ideal world I’m not some stone-faced outsider without any human compassion towards my subject, at best case they become my friend if they aren’t already. For me photography is an entrenched part of my life and the idea of separating my personal and professional photographic life is impossible.

Matt Slaby - Delegates at the Democratic National ConventionMatt Slaby – Delegates at the Democratic National Convention

David Walter Banks - A protesters in St. Paul, Minnesota shows his red and blistered body before seeking medical attention after a clash with police which ended in broken windows, a pepper sprayed crowd  and show of force by police during the first day of the Republican National Convention.David Walter Banks – A protesters in St. Paul, Minnesota shows his red and blistered body before seeking medical attention after a clash with police which ended in broken windows, a pepper sprayed crowd and show of force by police during the first day of the Republican National Convention.

David, how’d you get sprayed in the face with pepper spray? Did that change your approach to shooting the protest?

Alex Boerner – Photographer David Walter Banks after being hit with pepper spray while covering protests outside the Republican National Convention

DWB: I got sprayed in the face because I was standing next to a protester that a cop deemed had gone too far and the cop was trying to throw out a show of force. It didn’t matter that I was a member of the press with a huge badge around my neck that allowed me access to the floor of the RNC in spitting distance of the presidential candidate. I was still somehow deemed a threat, and it wouldn’t be the last time I was threatened or bullied by the St. Paul Police. I guess I shouldn’t have been photographing someone exercising their first amendment rights (sarcasm). It did nothing to effect my approach except to use a little more protection and caution for myself as well as create a further distrust for the police.

MS: Not sure if you caught any of David’s impromptu press conference on television, but it made for a fun entrance into the convention later that night. Apparently video of the spraying had been playing on television all day long. David was hosed with so much pepper spray that it literally ruined the laminate on his credential so that it looked more like a soggy piece of paper hanging from his neck than it did any kind of official document. Anyhow, I was standing behind him in line to get into the convention as he was explaining to the officer at the checkpoint what happened to his credential. Somewhere in the middle of his explanation, the officer interrupted him, exclaiming: “Oh, we know. You’re famous. You’ve been on the Jumbotron all day. You really oughta’ stay away from stuff like that.”

David Walter Banks - An attendee of the Republican National Convention walks around the convention floor after John McCain addressed the crowd in the Xcel Energy Center accepting his nomination as Republican candidate for the President of the United States of America in St. Paul, Minnesota.David Walter Banks – An attendee of the Republican National Convention walks around the convention floor after John McCain addressed the crowd in the Xcel Energy Center accepting his nomination as Republican candidate for the President of the United States of America in St. Paul, Minnesota.

David Walter Banks - Pins bearing a portrait of Barack ObamaDavid Walter Banks – Pins bearing a portrait of Barack Obama

How’s Luceo Images doing? What’s the value in a collective? Why’d you guys team up? It seems like this project, between the two of you, is the sort of thing that can grow out of a collective. How do you guys pitch the collective? I saw Luceo mentioned on Rob Haggarts Aphotoeditor.com; how’s the response been from other photo editors?

MS: I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the enthusiasm and developments of Luceo over the last couple months. We’ve been building the collective for a while and, really, I think the strength of the group is twofold: first, I think it’s safe to say that each photographer brings to the group a belief in the power of photography rather than the power of any single photographer. Kevin German talked about this on his blog (here-link) and David’s words on aphotoeditor elaborated that point in a way that, I thought, was pretty spot-on (here-link). Second, on a logistical note, each photographer brings their own unique background and specialties to the group, allowing us to be efficient as we build the collective. Chip has a background in graphic design, Tim is a crack flash designer, David has marketing nailed to a T, Kendrick has a knack for numbers and network-building, Matt understands the niche aspects of the industry, I speak legalese –it makes for clear division of labor.

DWB: I’m happy to say that Luceo is doing well and I’m very excited for the future if we keep progressing at the rate we have. For me the value is a belief in helping each other out and being open in the photo industry rather than the one-for-all mentality that is so engrained. We can all work together to edit new projects, work up budgets, make pitches and generally have strength in numbers. We can also market ourselves together which is perhaps one of the most practical values in the group.

There is also the lofty idealistic aspect of having a place for us to display our personal work and projects that has no outside influences. Going forward, we hope to make the Luceo website even more of a destination rather than just a portfolio. The goal is to make it more of a fresh space for visual narrative as content provider, rather than an agency-style website. Luckily our resident web-guru Tim Lytvinenko has some pretty exciting advancements for website 2.0

We do all feel like we have styles and approaches to photography that mesh with each other. We hope that this aesthetic is one more element will keep editors coming back and that the personal relationships we build will give them the desire to continue do work with our collective.

On a recent trip to New York, Matt Slaby and I made the rounds of many of the major magazines, and it was very well received. It also seemed a novel concept that we were talking so highly of other photographers and showing their work. We’re basically trying to keep our idealistic goals while making this a sustainable business model for ourselves, and I’m excited so far.

I think Kevin German put it best when he said that it is not the collective representing the photographer but the photographer representing the collective.

MS: The most encouraging thing, for me, was the way editors responded to our first visit to New York. We were enthusiastically received and, I think, it had a lot to do with the simple fact that Luceo is really a break from the lone-wolf-photographer model. In terms of pitching the idea, we bring something unique to our meetings in the sense that we use that time to showcase several quality photographers from across the geographic spectrum and we are truly enthusiastic about each others’ work. If an editor doesn’t care for my work, for example, we can move the meeting along to a photographer that better suits their taste. In that sense, our meetings aren’t one-trick-ponies.

I don’t know, I could be completely wrong, but I think that collaborations like this are refreshing to editors who do their job for the same reason we formed our collective: because they don’t just believe in one photographer, rather in the broader power of the whole of photography.

Matt Slaby - People's Law Project attorney before midnight arraignment hearings for protestor arrested outside the 2008 Democratic National Convention.Matt Slaby – People's Law Project attorney before midnight arraignment hearings for protestor arrested outside the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Matt Slaby - Before the Democratic National ConventionMatt Slaby – Before the Democratic National Convention

Any more dual or collective projects on the horizon? What about individually–what are you guys shooting now?

DWB: Well, we actually just had an online meeting about a larger scale collective project that most of us will participate in, but I’m gonna keep my lips sealed until it starts to materialize. If things go according to plan though, there should be something of that nature in a few months. Personally, outside of daily assignment shooting I’m working on a project on Cannabis Culture in the US that’s coming along slowly but steadily.

MS: I’ve been working on a project that looks at the broader spectrum of guns, gun owners, and the role of the gun in mainstream U.S. culture coinciding with the recent Supreme Court decision on the DC gun ban in which the court held, for the first time in history, that private citizens actually have a Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The legal back-story is particularly interesting given that, until June of this year, the Second Amendment has held little sway over state and local regulations on guns and gun ownership. The impact of this decision is currently being played out as part of a larger legal strategy to defeat local gun regulations in several U.S. cities in favor of greater access and availability of guns. So the project basically looks at the gun-toting side of America, the spectrum of gun owners, from hobbyists to proponents of sidearm self-defense, as a way of tackling the issue.

Who are some photographers you’ve been looking at lately that people haven’t heard of? What about any blogs/magazines/newspapers that you’re always telling people about?

MS: Obviously, I’m a fan of the Luceo photographers and have had the pleasure of seeing more work from the group. Outside of that collaboration, I’m a huge fan of Krisanne Johnson, Matt Mallams, Michael Rubenstein, Bob Croslin, some guy named Kathryn Cook, and Bryan Derballa. This list could literally drag on for another ten pages and I’d hate to make it sound like those are my only favorites. Melissa Lyttle and the entire list at aphotoaday.org has been an incredible resource for both developing a sense of personal vision as well as peeking at new and exciting work. It’s obviously how I know you and also the same place where I became familiar with the work of the other Luceo photographers.

DWB: The photographers I look up to most right now are mostly my peers and that’s part of what makes me so excited about the future of this field. It’s not the giants of the industry that have been around for 30 years, but the young photographers that are really inspiring me to push myself. Of course my colleagues in Luceo Images are some of my favorite photographers out there and that’s exactly why I’m involved so closely with them. Others that I’ve been into lately include Justin Mott, Peter McCollough, and Shaena Mallett and Matt Mallams just to name a few.

Matt Slaby - John McCain takes to the stage at the Republican National Convention.Matt Slaby – John McCain takes to the stage at the Republican National Convention.

Matt Slaby - Clay and Lauren Whitfield.  Guests of the Florida Delegation to the Republican National Convention.Matt Slaby – Clay and Lauren Whitfield. Guests of the Florida Delegation to the Republican National Convention.

What are your links?

David Walter Banks:

Website: http://www.davidwalterbanks.com
Blog: http://david.luceoimages.com
Collective: http://www.luceoimages.com

Matt Slaby:

Website: http://www.mattslaby.com
Blog: http://mattslaby.blogspot.com
Collective: http://www.luceoimages.com


  1. This is really exciting and very inspirational, both the collaborative effort of the photographers and the bloggers.

    Thank you for the insights.

    -s-

    [Reply]

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Steven!

    [Reply]

  3. David Ryder says:

    Great questions. Great interview. I needed some inspiration before having to shoot some talking heads. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  4. [...] of the 2008 political conventions for an ongoing interview series on his blog.  Check it out here at [...]

  5. [...] Pictures of the Year (including one by previous dva interview subject Matt Slaby and Alixandra Fazzina’s excellent picture mentioned here [...]

  6. [...] see these folks doing so well. And in case you missed it the first time around, here’s an old interview we did with two of Luceo, Matt Slaby and David Walter Banks. This was written by M. Scott Brauer. Posted on Thursday, November 12, 2009, at 8:53 am. Filed [...]

  7. [...] check out the presentation by friends of dva and Luceo Images founding members David Walter Banks (previously interviewed) and Kendrick Brinson; they’ll be giving what should be an interesting and useful talk, [...]

  8. [...] Walter Banks (previously interviewed) wrote in to tell us about the upcoming Luceo Images and MJR publication and one-night exhibition [...]

  9. [...] worked with (here’s one with Matt Slaby on creating long term bodies of work (Slaby previously interviewed on dvafoto)), discussions of compositional theory, ideas behind how bodies of work should be [...]

  10. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

    [Reply]

  11. ojmiaomake says:

    I took one look at the quad, saw “Carbon” on the list, and went. ,Wholesale Mac Makeup

    [Reply]

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