Interview with a Photographer

IN CONVERSATION with daniel arnold


Newest York recently spoke with photographer
Daniel Arnold, whose first New York gallery exhibition 1:21 recently opened at Larrie (27 Orchard Street through November 24).

Daniel’s work was featured in Newest York’s third issue for the series “Afternoon & Early Evening,” in our thirteenth issue for the series “Analog Dispatch,” and illustrated a micro-profile of Daddy Saleh Ramzani.

Newest York: I’m thinking about prior interviews with you that have the focus of like… this Instagram “street photographer” who was able to quit his job as a writer for MTV online. How has the now-crystallized story of this quarter-life crisis, however it’s been variously described, how has the way you’ve relayed that story changed over time?

Daniel Arnold: I mean, the truth is there is no quarter-life crisis, there is no mid-life crisis, there is no plot. The minute that this took, the hook caught, it became very apparent to me that every other thing I ever did was the same thing. That it was all scratching this one particular itch, and just learning different ways to do it. And honestly learning to do it in a way where I don't feel ashamed. And working as a writer I felt so ashamed, I felt so exposed, I felt like such... I wanted to be removed and let the work exist as something separate.

And it’s a funny thing, because, obviously, I have in many ways not succeeded at that with this. My personality is heavily, heavily involved. I think that the work stands alone. But I think that the story has in a lot of ways stayed the same. I have interviews where I still have to talk about the prints sale on my birthday.

NY: That comes up every time. On the other hand, I get the sense that for you the project is much more about… finding a way to stay excited.

DA: Excited is great. I'm not an excitement guy. I'm a dread guy. I dread, I dread. And I found this trick where I can stay in today. And obviously tomorrow pokes his head in, and that's where dread begins. And yesterday pokes his head in and that's where shame begins. I don't know, I love doing the work, rubbing my face in my own fear. And I don't want to lose that part of it. That part is it to me. I stumbled into this scam where my job is to go every day and find a way for New York to look new to me.

NY: But how do you feel about this, I think usually very generation-specific, feeling that New York is dead, or over?

DA: Look, it's very hard to compete with the '70s and '80s in New York. New York was fucked, because New York was horrible. And what can compete with horrible? But I found out that I love, in a way, that New York disappears. I will still mourn my spots as they go. But it's magical that the backdrop of all of your memories ceases to exist within 10 years.

NY: Or overnight. A restaurant that's been there for years, and you come back a month later and it's totally gone. And I think about how a burger that you could have had, at whatever closed restaurant, no one will ever eat that burger again.

DA: Yes. Well, think about how good it makes my job to go and make proof of it. I love it, I love it. I mean, look, it hurts, but I love that hurt. It's like putting my fingernails into my gums, it feels so good. And I think that it ties back that this environment is a place where success means nothing. Where work means everything and success means nothing. It's just too big of a fucking pond. Success is a joke. There is no level of success that lasts or means anything. So why succeed when you can work? This story is always there. I think it's probably true that this was a much more interesting, vibrant place at some point, and that money is fucking it up. Sure. But the story of having just missed New York, I don't think it's going anywhere. I think it will always feel like you just missed it.

NY: You've said you are grateful to have “snapped out of the fantasy of being a young person.” It's a great line, it's a great sentiment.

DA: The best part of being young was that it ended.

NY: I'm almost 30, and am embarrassed to say I'm nervous.

DA: It gets so much better.

NY: I do think about that: how every year, despite the future becoming more foreclosed in some way, I feel better, happier. What does it mean for your work? What does snapping out of it mean?

DA: “Snapping out of it” is a bit convenient and grandiose because, look, I'm going to feel the same way in 10 years about this time. What a fucking performance, this buffoon running his mouth, drinking martinis at the top of a fancy movie theater. I suspect that feeling stays. That I wasn't always... there has never been a five-year stretch in my life where five years ago I wasn't a fucking idiot.

NY: No. But you're not nostalgic for 10 years ago, you're not nostalgic for your twenties it doesn't seem?

DA: I certainly wouldn't go back.

NY: That's a wonderful, hopeful thing to hear. Like this time won’t feel somehow wasted.

DA: Oh, no, no. But your question… the question was about snapping out of it?

NY: What does it enable you to do? Why is it important?

DA: I don't think that it necessarily enables me to do anything. I think more, it lets me do less. I mean, it can be a very long answer. I come from a very wholesome place from Milwaukee, and like a big nest full of kids. My parents are married. I come from a place where now, on the other side of 16 years of abuse from this city, and most of them abuse in the hands of like, bad relationships, bad jobs, blah, blah, blah. And I wouldn't undo one of those tortures because I needed to be broken out of the spell that I was trying to get to the wedding at the end of the Disney movie. I think that's what's confusing about what could be so great about being over 30. It's not about more, it's about less. It's like the distractions and the depletion of energy. Your perspective and your priorities change. And I don't know if I could do something that is so... I mean, it sounds stupid because what I do from the outside is essentially New York glamorous, maybe.

NY: Most of your work is of an outside, or at least a public inside.

DA: A lot of it.

NY: But I haven't seen your romantic partner photographed. I don't think I've seen your roommates?

DA: Right.

NY: It feels like you have basically two human subjects. Some of it recently is of celebrities, who are anonymous to no one, but who are shot in your work as something like everyday people. And then a lot of your work, maybe the majority, is the everyday person who is almost shot as a celebrity but who is anonymous ultimately even to you. But there is a third category of person that exists: someone who you know and who we don't know, who is anonymous only to us. And that third category is somehow unimaginable in your public work.

DA: I will say that there's a lot of hiding in plain sight.

NY: So maybe someone who I think is just an everyday person...

DA: Well, that's kind of another vein that makes me want to dive into a new pool, which is that instinct to hide in plain sight. It's so defining. Also to encode, to present you something, and I know how you're going to receive it, because I set it up, or I can see how it works as a simple straightforward thing.

NY: But to you there might be much more meaning.

DA: There's always more meaning. I mean, look, I spend a lot of time working. There's a lot of shit that's just exercise. But when I feel at my best, it's when I can make a mystery that nobody knows is a mystery, that maybe registers as some internal faded question mark. For me the show is all code.

NY: We will alert our readers that there is a code.

DA: I hope nobody cracks it, because it's not a practical code. It's like a world.