How long have you been shooting photographs?
Since my grandmother put a Polaroid in my hand when I was a toddler. I was fascinated by the idea that I could stop time.
It appears that many of the publications you shoot for relate to motorcycles, cars, tattoos and the like.
Yes, I love the culture. I love all things mechanical and like to know how things work and how they were created. I never get bored because nothing is constant. Everything is always changing. Just look at tattoos and motorcycle now compared to 15 years ago. I am fascinated with the evolution and or de-evolution of things, of people and places. I can’t shut down the curiosity.
How did you get started as a photographer and how did you get into shooting for these types of publications?
I started out modeling for car calendars, product, and catalogs. I always had a fascination with cars since I can ever remember. As a kid, the car represented freedom and a way out of the chaos that was my non-nuclear family upbringing. I would sit in the car for hours sweating my ass off to playing racecar driver and it was always a blast. I got my first car when I was 15. It was a 1973 350 Chevy Nova SS, but I was road trippin' since I could reach the pedals.
The modeling was fun but the technical side of it attracted me more. I was more interested in what the camera guy was doing with all the gadgets. I started shooting similar stuff to what I was modeling and at that time. I had a plethora of beautiful woman at my fingertips, so to speak. The first magazine I worked for was a men’s magazine in Phoenix Arizona called Playtime; still during the film era, I shot covers for them in large format. That got old quick for some reason. Not sure if it was the lingering smell of the lovely and adoring strippers and porn stars perfume in the studio, or if it was the constant struggle against the guy over the road that was bringing down the whole industry because he would shoot it for free just to get in on the eye candy.
Are you formally trained or self-taught?
Both. I took four years at a community college when we still shot film. That experience was great, learning from the ground up with the dark room and all helped me to teach myself photoshop in the later years because I already had a concept of photo manipulation. It just went from film grain to pixels with more benefits in digital…the self taught part came trying new things and making many mistakes.
Do you shoot digital, film or both?
All digital now, though the lazy part of me misses the film days; it was so much simpler. But the flipside is digital offers so much more, so we press on.
Really? I'd have thought that digital would be simpler than film. Can you elaborate?
In the days of film, we did a shoot, assuming it was color, we dropped the film at the printer, they made contact sheets, we showed the client, they chose the images, and we had them printed. Or if black and white, we went to the darkroom and did the same, developed the film, made a contact sheet, they chose the images and we printed them. Now, its download onto the computer, back up on the hard drive, make CD or DVD back up, upload to site so client can view or resize all photos, watermark, burn disc, deliver. Then the client decides which images, some want JPEG, some want TIFF, or RAW, some want all formats, then you have to charge according to what they are using the final images for… its just a different system with digital and though it is more work, I have to say, its better… I prefer digital now.
Another one of your passions is riding motorcycles, how long have you been riding and what was your first bike?
There was always some sort of gasoline powered death trap around when I was a kid and of course I had to find out how many ways I could fall off of it and still have the scars to prove it. I started street riding around 11 years ago. I was working in the motorcycle industry in Arizona. I MC’d bike week events, did motorcycle promotions, ran a bike night, and of course I was always around the bikes and bikers. Naturally, it would come that I had to get my own.
I was originally looking at Triumphs but ended up scoring a 1998 1200 Sportster from a tweeker with a penchant for losing everything. Felt a little bad taking it off his hands but hoped he would learn a lesson in his losses. After he gathered all the parts from hither and there, I rode it home with no forward controls and put it back together proper. Ken Lucas (RIP) did the motor work and customized it with the fatbob tail and tank, it was tight once we got the tweeker off of it. That bike was good to me and I wish I’d kept it now since it was part of my dear friend Ken that we lost in an accident last year. He will always be missed.
What is your current ride?
2004 Custom 1200XL Sporty, and I love it. But, I am looking at Triumphs again. I love the Thruxton and consider it, but the way it is set up from the factory is a bit tall for this tiny dog. I have a friend in Topanga Canyon ( http://www.adepackett.com/ )that specializes in high performance upgrades on Triumphs, especially Thruxtons, but I am still on the fence about changing it from the factory specs.
Back to the photography, what is your current set up as far as camera equipment goes?
I shoot all Nikon and use Comet for my studio lighting. I am on an equipment simplicity kick right now. Looking for aesthetics, composition, and working with all natural light. I tried and tried with some success to shoot the perfect photograph for years using all the gadgets and equipment but "try" was the key word here, now I am just doing.
I am not as interested in trying to be a good photographer in as much as I am interested in shooting what does it for me that day, or admittedly what pays me well. As always, my interest is in breaking all the rules. I’ve worked for people in the past who’ve stifled my creativity trying to keep me in some rule box they created while shunning my good work only to copy it for themselves at a later date, and I am so over all that. I only follow the rules when there are scientific and technical reasons to follow that rule; with boundary and some guidelines, but rules???
Creating needless rules stifles creativity. When I work for a client that has a clear picture in mind I do my best to deliver what they want, within their boundary. That is just how it goes. But when I am shooting without anothers input, I know the rules, so now, I try and break them, its just fun for me.
I imagine that with all of the events on the west coast, and the weather being what it is, you don’t have to travel too far to find subject matter. True?How blessed I have been to live in these warm climates. And yes, there is always subject matter. I think the saying goes, “just show up.” People and things are interesting everywhere.
How often do you actually travel for work?
I used to travel much more, now a show or two here and there. I am looking for more opportunity in travel in the future. I want to check out the motorculture in Germany and France. I want to ride France and Spain for a month or more. I am trying to make this happen as a working vacation.
I’ve noticed your photos in motorcycle and tattoo magazines that I've read over the years, most recently the Horse, from their Smokeout Events and feature articles. Tell us about that.
I am not with the Horse anymore. I think when Josh Kurpius, Colleen Swartz, and myself showed up on that scene back in ‘05 or so, we transformed the Horse. Josh remains one of my favorite photographers, (us too) he’s the real deal and hardcore to the bone, Colleen too. I was looking forward to working with them more and maybe that will still happen. I am happy to be freelance again.
Will you be attending their Smokeout East this June?
Possibly, but probably not. I made some great friends through the Horse that I would love to see, and I think the Smoke Out is a great event but for now, probably not.
Is the majority of your income from magazine work?
Yes and No. I have been shooting mostly architectural stuff lately. My favorite thing I have shot in a while was for a great California based band called a Seraphim Rising (http://www.theseraphimrising.com/). I still love shooting people and when we get a great image that everyone is happy with, it makes me doubly happy. Back in the day when I only shot women, I loved it when they were happy to see how pretty they turned up. It was like therapy for some. I like to show how beautiful people can be and my definition of beauty is broad. I can find beauty in everyone!
I went through many changes recently. Life kicked me in the ass in 2011 as I think it did almost everyone and I moved back to California in April of last year putting me in a position to really start all over and make some long overdue decisions. All those unexpected transitions in life forced me to evaluate where I was at and where I wanted to be down the road. I realized I had hit a ceiling with my current job and life and needed to go in another direction entirely.
For now, I am rolling in neutral. I have some direction but nothing is certain. I think the next magazine you will see my motorcycle work in will be Street Chopper. I really like what they are doing and how they are doing it. I am looking for a team, not a bunch of individual egos that are competing against one another on the same team – makes no sense to me.
I would love to find a group to work with where everyone in that group has one another’s back. I’ve pulled way too many knives out of mine trying to create that team, now I just want the team to already be in place and welcome me and my input with open arms and hope that my presence is an enhancement to the whole team. I’m a team player and the minute that changes I am a track star.
You seem to have a variety of subject matter that you shoot. What are your favorite subjects?
That is a tough question. I honestly think after shooting for all these years that I am just now coming into my real creative skills. I don’t think I was really seeing it all before and now I see much more and have so much more to learn. I love shooting machines. I love shooting people and I love interviewing and learning about people. As I said, I love to show the beauty in people. I also love the arts and gravitate toward the creators of the world. So anything that was built, rebuilt, designed, painted, etc. by a fellow artist, architect, or musician, I am interested. I love creative people; the rhythm of the world, the vision of another individual, and of course I am always astounded by nature. I guess I don’t have a favorite thing to shoot.
Living out here in the flatlands of our country I hear mixed things about living in California (of course from people that have never lived there). I’ve had a love affair with the west coast from an early age, but have only visited a few times. Being from Illinois yourself, what are some pros and cons of living in the state of CA from your perspective?
Pros: Three seasons where I live, so no long hard winters, year round riding, lane splitting. I am in southern California just north of LA and the roads around here are like the south of France; twisty, scenic, dangerous – the riding is off the chain. Christmas Day I rode out to the beach; it was 72 degrees. The heartbeat of living in SoCal is inspiring in so many ways. You hear the stories about how nuts LA is, well it is - but if you use that energy to be inspired vs. brought down, you win. LA inspires me. I love the culture, the people, and the heartbeat. I am fortunate enough to not live in the middle of it all; it’s just down the road when I need it.
Cons: you never want to leave California so you kinda get stuck. I only have interest in traveling to other countries at this point.
List your top 3 events to attend/shoot during the year.
It’s been a few years since I have been to Viva Las Vegas, so that is a strong maybe.
I am most definitely attending and participating in Mark Balderman Highlove’s (http://highlovecompany.blogspot.com/) Bobber Zun Zun event in May.
Mark is a good friend and an amazing guy and knows how to put on a really great show. This event is a fundraiser to benefit our Veterans and raise community awareness. Choppers, Hot Rods, Tattoo, Circus, Healers…it is going to be an experience. Check out his blog for more info – this is one I will not miss. I have more interest in doing projects that help the world these days. Marks event is on top of my list and I look forward to more events like this one in the future. I have learned that the more I give, the more that comes back to me. These last years have proven that and I am super grateful to be able to keep on giving.
I think some people believe that doing what they love for work wouldn’t be good for them, believing that their hobby or passion would lose its flair if it were their job.
I assume you always have a camera in your hand?
No, some of the best photographs I have ever taken were with memory only and I have quite a collection of those. The other night I was without my camera for the first time in months and stumbled onto Lukas Nelson (Willie’s son) playing at the Deer Lodge in Ojai, California (best bar show I’ve seen in some time). It was an amazing show and I was without Nikon.
Luckily, with the invention of the smart phone, I got to take home some low res memories. I never stop seeing a photograph. I can find something to shoot in a dark alley of piss and garbage, get the image. I do know that there is a certain amount of time you have to put into this hobby if you think it’s going to support you, there are no short cuts; and to add a little cliché to that “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s true, if it can support you, you’ll never work a day in your life. That is why I do what I do, it is what I love. When I am working on a project, nothing else is in my mind – it’s kind of a zen thing. I love my work.
Is it always ‘work’ though, or are you able to maintain a good balance between business and pleasure?
My pleasure is working. I am a busy body and must keep moving, so any kind of creative work that keeps me busy is my pleasure. Though I love people in general, I have a misanthropic as well. I think we all do to an extent but many mask it because they fear not being liked. It’s harder to get close to me these days because I have been taken advantage too many times.
Somewhere along the line, I grew up and I am in touch with this age and this part of my life, where I want to be, who I want to be around etc. I am all done with drama, jealousy, and its creators and I steer clear of social encounters as soon as they start to get sticky or deviant. There is a lot of that out there and it doesn’t interest me in the slightest bit. I am more interested in talking about creating things, making things happen and helping people that need it, and living as authentic as I possible can in the now. Many people only have their best interest in mind and I don’t mind using my legs when they come round.
What kinds of music are you listening to currently?
Music is an addiction to me and will always remain my greatest escape. Since childhood and my desire to be away from the drama, music is my go to place. I like all types of music. It’s another of those things I go through phases with. You could hear anything from Bach to Little Fish blasting out of my house depending on the mood of the day. I used to say that Rush, Supertramp, and Pink Floyd raised me in some way because they were giving out the wisdom I needed during the younger years. The song Under Pressure by Queen and Bowie, saved my life and gave me hope at a time when life was looking a little dim.
The current playlist: (the usual) Flathead (Arizona), Deadbolt, Grave Danger, The Mission Creeps, Vitalic, Goldfrapp, Little Fish, William Orbit - just discovered Stupid Man Suit, the Ting Tings, and Lukas Nelson. I love music of all types; anything classical piano, digging the Dub step stuff these days too. As a student of ballet, swing dancing, and salsa, and coming from a family with diverse tastes as well, I like it all, and I am always looking for and listening to new and old stuff. I’ve been around music and musicians my whole life. This world would suck without music.
I think many people see a photo in a magazine and have no idea what goes into creating that image. Likewise, many people probably don’t even think about it at all. Can you explain to us the process of a Dawn Rosa photo shoot?
I do everything from start to finish myself; from planning to delivery - finding subject matter, people, and locations; setting it all up. I’ve even done make up and wardrobe once in a while. I wear many hats. And I go the extra mile.
Working with stylists and make up artists is priceless; my best shoots are when I only have to show up and shoot. Working with editors that know what they want is also priceless. Bob Baxter formerly of Skin and Ink was the best editor I ever worked with. He was tough (I mean really tough), to the point, and taught me more in a year about magazines than I learned in the ten years prior. He’s doing Tattoo Road Trip now. Pretty cool stuff. He knows his shit and is a great editor and I hold him in high regard. (http://tattooroadtrip.com/)
If you could meet anyone, alive or not, who would it be and why?
I must admit, most of my idols are the ordinary people in my life right now but for those no longer with us, I would have to say, Nikola Tesla, Hunter S. Thompson, HB Halicki, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Frank Lloyd Wright, oh and Jesus, because I think he was taking the pot and if he could teach me that whole water to wine thing, that would be great. Wouldn’t suck to meet Willie Nelson and Daniel Tosh either, hope they stick round for a while.
Besides riding motorcycles and photography, what are some other activities/hobbies you’re passionate about?
Writing, researching, learning, sharing, informing people. I want to learn classical piano and the French language. I love animals. I love to laugh. I try and surround myself with humor at every curve. I like to help people. I like to learn about people. I love living. I love exploring new things. I love cars; old and new. I love life. I am grateful everyday I wake with breath. I went to a holistic college to learn Life Coaching back in 2005. I graduated and coached for a couple years full time. The photography work took over and I had to lighten my load but I still take on a client here and there. I do love helping people. I love to see them blossom into their full potential. You could call it a fault, or you could call it a gift, but I see the potential in people and I often see the roadblocks that hold them back and I help them uncover themselves. In everyday life though, sometimes I share, sometimes I hold back on the advice. I’ve learned that people don’t want to be told what to do unless they are paying for it.
You mention writing, is that a hobby or a profession?
I write something everyday. Writing is cathartic to me; my own little personal bitching time to get something off my chest that is bothering me. I rarely publish or post my deeper rants because I feel like I am still contradicting myself. My best published articles were for Skin and Ink.
What or who inspires you, personally and/or professionally?
Life! Life inspires me. Other artists. My friends. My foes. Other inspired people. Realism. Authenticity. Struggles. Power. Pleasure. I wish to be as inspiring as I am inspired; not sure if that has come to fruition yet.
Well Dawn, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to chat with us here at “the Garage”. Anything you'd like to add?
When I was a kid and fascinated by the idea of capturing a moment in time with a still image, that is all I strive for as a photographer to this day. We live in interesting times and I am just a witness with a camera. I hope that my photographs evolve and tell a story, make a person think and inspire, or show someone something they have never seen before. I would ultimately like to create something that inspires and contributes to a smarter, stronger, and more informed world. I don’t think I will ever stop photographing. I hope people continue to enjoy the variety.
I am hanging a series of my work in a permanent collection at the Hub in Ojai, California. I am also moonlighting there as a bartender, as if my card wasn’t full enough. I invite everyone to take a ride and come out and see the work.
I would also like to thank you so much for asking me to do this; having to define myself at this junction in my life was good timing – Like a So’ful timing light; fine tunes, finds authenticity, runs in efficiency.
Be sure to check out more of Dawn's work at: www.DawnRosa.com