Interview with Donald Graham
BIFA 2022 Winner, 1st Place, Professional Book category, “One of A Kind”
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you come to fall in love with photography?
I’ve always had a great love of photography and made the move to becoming a full time professional photographer when I was 29.
Q: Could you elaborate on how you took this award-winning picture? What was the main concept and what was your process for creating it?
The award is for my book, “One Of A Kind”, published by Hatje Cantz, available on Amazon and bookstores worldwide. “One Of A Kind” began more than thirty years ago when I decided to make a portrait of my mother. She had Multiple Sclerosis, compounded by a severe stroke. She couldn’t move her legs or arms, her hands and face were contorted, and the only words she could say were yes and no. Yet, she lived with a gracefulness, an inner peace, and a smile that I found remarkable. Her relationship with adversity was inspirational. I wanted to make a photograph that revealed who I knew her to be and honored the complexity of her situation. Her portrait began this series of photographs. It became the standard by which I judged all subsequent portraits I made.
These photographs honor the diverse cultural and social spectrum of a wide swathe of humanity. I have made these portraits throughout the United States with sojourns in India, Tibet, Jamaica, Africa, and Europe.
The portraits are a collaboration. Building trust in order to make a meaningful image takes time. I have to dissolve self-imposed facades, and move past each person’s routine of how to act while being photographed. There is a tendency to perform for the camera, whether that be to act powerful, alluring, or joyous. Instead, I seek to find something more authentic. I ask that people be themselves in the moment because that originates from a place of truth and then the resulting photograph has a chance to enrich our understanding of the complexities of the human condition.
I seek a photograph where the face is no longer a beautifully decorated and carefully arranged facade but instead a canvas where the inner world of the person draws unique and complex stories into the face of each person. I think of these photographs as tough stories told with grace that honor the beauty of uniqueness.
Q: What does receiving this honor entail for you?
I feel humble and gratified being recognized by my peers for the work I have spent decades pursuing.
Q: What other photographers’ work, practices, or styles have had an influence on your own?
I’ve been influenced by Irving Penn, Sabatio Salgado, Herb Ritts, among other photographers.
Q: What difficulties do you think photographers face today?
It’s a very competitive field of work, with challenges to copyright and other issues in this digital age.
Q: Where do you find inspiration for your projects?
I find inspiration from nature, listening to other people, and meditation.
Q: What would the setting be for your ideal photo shoot? Do you have any tools or accessories that you must include?
I’m a simple man. Ideally, the perfect shoot is just my subject and me, a camera, and the time to ask and ponder meaningful questions.
Q: What are your future plans? Are you presently engaged in any intriguing projects that you can share with us?
I will continue photographing black & white portraits, but I also am working on a series of unique color photographs of the landscape of the American Southwest.
View Donald Graham’s Winning Work Here.