Portraits, events, and everything in between, Dan Bassini is a New Jersey-based photographer with a 'kind of doing it all' specialization. Growing up surrounded by photography and darkrooms, he started taking pictures as a teen in punk shows, making him involved in the music scene. But his passion grew into a career. During months spent in confinement in 2020, he went out to discover his neighborhood, snapping some pictures of the empty streets. Months later he put all those pictures together in a book, Cruel Summer, captured with the Lomography Color Negative 400 ISO. We asked Dan about his passion for photography, editing his book, and how to find motivation in times of confinement.
Hello Dan! It's great to have you here at Lomography! First off can you tell us a bit about your artistic background?
Glad to be here. I grew up around photography in a way. My father was an amateur photographer in his college days and had a darkroom in my grandmother’s basement. In my teens, I started taking pictures at local punk shows as a way to be more involved in the music scene. I decided to pursue a career in photography and enrolled in a photo school in Western Massachusetts.
In such a digital age, why do you still shoot film?
My photo school focused heavily on the business and commercial side of photography and my year was the first that they did not teach any film. Being overloaded with shooting school assignment work, I felt like I was losing photography on a personal level. I bought a small Canonet QL-17 film camera that I could carry around with me and capture the smaller moments happening in my life. I started a blog called The RangeFinder Diaries where I post a new film photo every day as a way to keep shooting for myself. That blog just had its eleventh anniversary. I know it’s ignorant thinking but film photos feel less disposable to me.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I try to find inspiration from all over. I look to a lot of street photographers who have a knack for capturing moments among what most people may overlook. I try to be present in the world around me. It’s so easy to be distracted that you tend to miss things.
Can you tell us about the book “Cruel Summer”?
Cruel Summer is a collection of images I’ve taken during six months of quarantine. Not feeling particularly inspired and event photo work being postponed indefinitely, I
passed the time by rediscovering my neighborhood for the first time since I moved here. So much of my work recently had been so reliant on a person being the subject
in my frame. I had to retrain my brain a bit to think differently and find beauty elsewhere.
How did it come to life?
During my walks, I brought along my Yashica T4 or my Contax G2 and was going through my fridge of film. To change things up I started shooting film at different
ASA’s than the box speed for different results. Towards the end of September, it felt like the pandemic was waning and travel restrictions loosened. I booked a two-week
solo road trip around New England. Being able to get out of my apartment and explore on my own was exactly what I needed when I was feeling stuck both physically and creatively.
It’s quite different from the usual more editorial/fashion shoots you do. How was it to work on something more abstract like this book?
This book was actually quite difficult to put together. When I put together my portrait books, I put spreads together matching colors, settings, expressions, and gestures. Doing a book of mostly photos without people in them was challenging because I had to tell a story without the human connection of seeing a person in the frame. The mood throughout the book shifts in parts and sequencing everything as to not feel disjointed took a lot of time and quite a few drafts to get right.
Why did you decide to shoot it on film?
All of my personal work has been shot on film for over a decade now. Being able to take a photo without the immediate gratification of seeing the result helps me stay in the real world. I had taken a road trip five years ago where I also brought along a Fuji X100T and found myself seeing the photo I had just taken and trying to perfect it. I spent too much time in the viewfinder and not enough time enjoying the experience I was having. I also love working within restrictions.
How did photography help you during the confinement?
Photography helped me get out of the house more. Re-explore my neighborhood. Take long walks and pay better attention to things around me. I was feeling so uninspired being cooped up, going out to take photos really helped clear my head and stay active.
How did Lomography Color Negative films complement your work?
I love the Lomo CN films and experimented more while making the book. Shooting CN400 at 200 ISO was really great for landscape shots and captured the blue of skies and
oceans very well. I also love shooting 400 with a flash for a contrasty and saturated result that really pops.
From the pictures you sent us, do you have a favorite one? Can you tell us the story behind it?
Besides the cover, I really love the shot of the sky through the stone window frame. It was the corner of an old military base near the Portland Head Light in Maine. It was a beautiful fall day, and I stood and watched the clouds pass through the window’s frame. It felt almost surreal and glad that feeling translated to the photo.