Dillon McNeil is a Film Club Member who has been an active customer and community member. This week he shared with us a collection of photographs that are part of a project he has been working on titled, “Family.” Scroll down to learn more about the project through our interview with him and to see the images.
PL: What got you interested in film photography?
DM: When I left my baseball career behind after my junior year at the University of San Francisco, interests in video production and filmmaking led me into a few photography classes, including one called Photography and The City. My professor, Pedro Lange-Churion, an incredible photographer in his own right, was my entry point into analog photography. When I first tried it, I was terrible. I still take lots of bad photos. But it’s those few frames on the roll that turn out that inspire me to load another into my camera and try again.
PL: What type of camera do you shoot with and what kind of film do you usually use?
DM: I shoot 35mm film on a Canon T70 and 120 film on a Mamiya 645. I like 35mm for photo walks and street photography. I prefer to shoot portraits on the Mamiya. I shoot Fuji 400 on 35mm. Three rolls for $30 at CVS is the best deal I’ve found anywhere. I’ve been shooting Kodak Gold with the Mamiya, but I mix it up. I’ll shoot with the cheapest color film I can find.
PL: You mentioned these “street portraits” are part of a project you are working on called, “Family.” Can you tell us more about the project and what inspired you to start it?
DM: I traveled abroad in August 2022, spending a few days each in Amsterdam, Berlin, Barcelona, and Marrakesh. It was my first time out of the country since I was a kid, and it made me think a lot about the Human Family, the community we all belong to regardless of where we live, what we believe, what language we speak. While I certainly felt the cultural disparities between the places I visited, I was moved by the connections I felt to the individuals I met. I’d started taking street portraits in the months leading up to the trip, and this epiphany about the Human Family inspired me to lean further into the project when I got back to the States.
PL: Some photos seem candid while others look more posed. How do you decide who to photograph and how to photograph them?
DM: Everyone featured in this collection was asked for their consent to be photographed. I do that to eliminate the sort of “gotcha” sneakiness that some street photography depends on. It can feel dishonest to try to photograph people without them noticing. That’s not to say I never do it, but for this project, the human connection before and after the photo matters as much as the image itself.
People aren’t always willing to be photographed. In urban spaces, I find that people typically have an understanding of what street photography is, but in other circumstances, photographing strangers can be associated with surveillance or voyeurism; it’s seen as predatory or just creepy. Not to sound too “woo-woo”, but deciding on a subject is all about the energy I feel from that person. I like photographing people with eccentric style, individuals who are unapologetically themselves. I also like to photograph young people – it can be easier to relate to people closer to my age, and they’re typically flattered to be asked for a photo.
PL: What do you enjoy about photographing people? What is challenging about it?
DM: I am so grateful for the people I’ve met and the interactions I’ve had because of these street portraits. Before I started doing this, there wasn’t much of a reason for me to approach a total stranger and strike up a conversation. These days, I find myself doing so even when I don’t have my camera with me. Photographing people has challenged me to become more comfortable in those kinds of random interactions.
It can be hard to be told “no,” but you get used to rolling with the punches. Just like it’s my right to ask for a photo, it’s the subject’s right to decline. It can be a bit awkward, but you learn from it and move on. At first, I found it hard to explain to people why I wanted to take their photo. What made that easier was becoming comfortable describing myself as “a photographer.” Early on, I didn’t feel like a photographer – my work wasn’t good enough, I didn’t have it exhibited or published anywhere, I hadn’t been doing it for long, etc. Eventually I realized that being famous or making money off your work doesn’t make you a photographer. What matters is commitment to your craft and having a vision. Once I decided that my series of street portraits was going to make up a larger project about the Human Family, it became a lot easier to explain to people why I wanted to create a photo of them and what I planned to do with it.
PL: Your photos have a nice composition. When photographing, what are you thinking before you click the shutter?
DM: My all-time favorite photographer is Henri Cartier-Bresson – the way he composed his images has always moved and inspired me. His work balances symmetry and imperfection, comedy and tragedy, clean-cut geometry with free-flowing rhythm. While these street portraits are much different than Cartier-Bresson’s work, it’s with those principles in mind that I compose my photos, trying to find balance with each portrait while allowing individuals to bring life to the images with their own expression, style, and personality.
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