Dale Leifeste

By Maureen Moore

attachment-1

INTERVIEW WITH DRPP MEMBER DALE LEIFESTE

How did your photographic style develop?

It was a matter of discovering what I liked to photograph, and what drew my visual attention, then actively following that direction. I seem to be drawn to the details of shape, line and color, rather than to particular objects. I most often find this in the built environment; the city rather than the countryside, the garden rather than the woods. Even out in nature I usually find myself drawn to the details rather than the grand expanse. I’ve sometimes called this style urban abstraction.

I make images in both black and white and in color. Of course, in the digital world one is always starting out in color, then subtracting the color to create a black and white image Though, sometimes the attraction is strictly about the color. Some images would have no meaning without the interaction of the colors. Other times the color just gets in the way, and the final image is strengthened by the greater abstraction of reducing the scene to shades of gray. That’s why I’m often attracted to shadows as graphic elements. Sometimes I find scenes that have no color in themselves; that is, color photos of gray-scale scenes that may need only neutralizing the grays to create a black and white image.

Who are some of your influences?

Part of finding one’s style begins with becoming familiar with the works of the great photographers from the past, knowing what has come before and figuring out why you are attracted to it. Did something about how another photographer pictured a familiar object surprise you, and open new possibilities? In my case I realize that many of the photographers who influenced me worked in black and white, though the highly graphic color work of Pete Turner had a great impact at an early age.

Photographers like Minor White, Josef Koudelka, Michael Kenna, Ralph Gibson, may have had little in common with each other, but they all influenced my visual style. Whether you can find any direct visual links between any of them and my work, is another story, but elements in photographer’s work like graphic simplicity, a sense of mystery and ambiguity, and a meditative feeling all made their mark.

The German photographer and teacher Harald Mante was another influence. Two of his books on composition and color theory were translated into English in the early ‘70s, and formed the basis of my understanding of these topics. It wasn’t until a few years ago when a monograph of his color work was published for the first time in the United States that I could really see how much he had formed my vision.

How important are projects in your photography?

As I said in a lecture to DRPP a couple of years ago, I find that creating personal projects is a great way to focus my attention. I then mentioned photographing the small Main Street in Beacon, where I live, and than is an ongoing project. I have a number of other projects that are continually added to when I have the opportunity. Last Spring my wife and I spent two months in Japan related to an exhibition and art project she was doing in Tokyo. During the day, when she was busy with her work, I gave myself the project of exploring and photographing the gardens of Tokyo. Of course the most famous gardens are in Kyoto, but there are also many beautiful gardens in Tokyo, hidden among the crowded urban streets. Having the garden project gave me a chance to tighten my focus among all the visual stimuli of Japan. Other small projects during that trip were going to the Ginza on a Sunday, just to see what I could see, or hanging around the International Conference Center, near Tokyo Station, practicing HDR techniques.

Are you starting any new projects?

Three years ago I inherited my mother’s house in my old hometown, St. Petersburg, Florida, and my wife and I have been spending more of our time down there. I’m m reacquainting myself with the local landscape, which is quite different from New York. It’s very flat, and the woods and parks are filled with oak, pine and palmettos, and an amazing variety of wildlife, including some of the best birding sites in the world. There are marshlands, lakes and rivers, Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, all of which is beginning to turn my interest toward landscape photography again.

One of the challenges down there is how to create a photographic vision that isn’t an imitation of Clyde Butcher, a marvelous black & white landscape photographer who has been called the Ansel Adams of Florida. For far, I’m finding that a lot of my attention has been drawn to graphic details of dead palmetto fronds rendered in black and white. I’m curious to see what develops from in the future.

What camera equipment are you using now?

Over the past couple of years I been simplifying my photographic equipment, often using a Sony a6000 or a6300 interchangeable lens mirror-less camera with a wrist-strap, which is much smaller and lighter than my Nikon DSLRs, and a small MeFoto travel tripod.

I find that I’m much more likely to carry a small camera with me at all times when it can be tossed so easily into a small bag, than have to commit to the weight and
size of the larger cameras. This was certainly true in Japan where it would have been very difficult and burdensome to carry around a DSLR. Many of the photos I brought back would never been taken without the convenience of the small camera. In fact, almost all of my entries for the last few DRPP print competitions have been taken with the small Sony camera.

Do you use a studio for some of your work?

Yes, I do. More and more, my larger DSLRs are being reserved for still-life studio work, and photographing dancers using large strobe lights, situations where the extra weight and size don’t matter as much as getting that little extra bit of sharpness and resolution.

This is certainly true for the macro work I’ve been doing with focus stacking. Last summer I took a weekend workshop in still-life light painting with Harold Ross, which opened a whole new world of lighting techniques to me. Now I have another set of potential projects that will put me back in the studio with the larger DSLR cameras and a heavy, rock-steady tripod. So the circle turns again, and that’s what’s exciting to me about photography. There are always new horizons, new ideas, new visions ahead.