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„I never photograph for likes“. Dino Kužnik on originality, trends, and shitty motels

Arizona Pastels

Instagram is all about selfies, sunsets, breakfast and pets, Instagram filter hell and wellness heaven. The prejudices stick. But anyone who looks a little further will find Instagrammers, that found their way to photography via the app and its social network. On a regular basis, we talk to them – in collaboration with This Ain’t Art School

Dino Kužnik a graphic designer and a photographer, or rather curious observer, lives and works in New York. He is originally from Slovenia, but has lived in the US for about 4 years now. He officially started taking photographs when in college in Ljubljana, Slovenia around 2005. Dino was inspired by his grandfather, who was a hobby photographer. When he was younger, they would spend countless hours just browsing through his collection of the Nat Geo magazines (all the way from the 60s) and books. Later in college, he tried a few of his film cameras just for fun, and got completely hooked on the feeling of not seeing the photos right away. The trips to the processing studio seemed like holidays. Shooting film is his primary obsession, but he also uses digital for a job here and there.

artefakt: Do you ever think about likes when taking photos?
Dino: No, I never photograph for likes or for Instagram for that matter. I just find it very useful as a tool to show my photography. I photograph because the whole process attracts me and makes me happy. It makes me focus, observe, see things I would usually miss. I find photography good for my well-being. It de-stresses me.

When I am traveling/road tripping and taking photographs, I feel sort of de-shackled from everyday life. This feeling is so liberating to me that I wouldn’t trade it for a million likes. But that isn’t to say photography can’t be stressful. When I was a student, I worked as a photo journalist, retoucher, studio assistant and second shooter. While I did learn a lot in that period, I also realized that I enjoy it the most while I am doing my own projects – so that’s what I focus on.

Do you travel a lot for your photography?
Not as much as I want to. I work as a graphic designer in New York and it is mostly an office job. But I do go to a destination 2-3 times a year only to photograph. I do have a camera with me all the time, though, so wherever I go for work or leisure I do photograph. By now it feels like something is missing if I don’t have at least one camera with me at all times.

Travel photography has become a cliché on Instagram. What do you do to avoid those cliché shots?
I think my way of seeing things is a bit different than the usual observer. I find beauty in the mundanity of things. I like colors, clean compositions, sometimes funny references or metaphors and connections. I like to think that I developed a style that I can call my own, and I think that kind of sets me apart from other photographers and the cliche shot.

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But that’s not to say there are not photographers like that out there … I just try to be different. You have to be selective to what you show. Of course I also take cliche shots, sometimes just for pure amusement. But it is only me, that usually sees these photos. Being super critical of yourself and what you post or want to be seen, is key to avoiding cliches.

How do you avoid the common path of the tourist?
I get easily irritated or anxious if there are a lot of people/tourists on the location. I usually rent a car and just photograph what I find on the way. I do a bit of research before I go, but just so I know what is where, otherwise I just drive and stumble upon things on the way. And I almost always book shitty motels – the most photogenic places in the world

Is there a way to take the cliché shot, like the perfect postcard, and still be original in some way?
That’s a good question and it is up for debate. I do think that it is in human nature to copy and a good example of that are photo trends – like lead me photos, floating/jumping photos, burning steel wool long exposures, sunsets, …etc. Some of those I would also call cliches. While I did try many of those things when starting, I do try to be original and try to follow a style that kind of evolved organically, just by shooting a lot.

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But still … even so I can be proven wrong. One of my most liked and shared photos (the view from a parking lot in monument valley with a stop sign) it turns out is very similar to a photograph from Josef Hoflehner. So am I original? I like to think so, but in this day and age, there are so many photos taken every second, that it’s very hard to be. But originality isn’t only in the composition … it is in the idea, a series, body of work as a whole.

It is hard to be original, as photography has become accessible to so many with the rise of mobile phones. But I do think, that if you are patient and put some energy into developing your style and don’t conform to the trends and copy or apply quick filters, you can create something of your own, that’s unique, original.

Would you call yourself a photographer?
I have a problem with labels. And usually cringe a bit when I see how everyone these days are calling themselves Photographers and Artists. I am a curious observer who likes to capture the compositions he find pleasing and moments and people that stand out in the crowd.

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Which are the photographers/Instagrammers all of us should follow on Instagram?
Definitely Cody Cobb (@codycobb), Hayley Einchenbaum (@interdisciplinary), Rueben Wu (@itsreuben), Daniel Arnold (@arnold_daniel), Benoit Paille (@benoit_paille), Aaron Berger (@aaronbergerfoto), and many more … I really like consistency, progression and the WTF moments and these guys definitely deliver. These are the accounts from the top of my head, that I check regularly.

Are there any photographers that inspire your photography?
I am very big fan of Magnum agency. Bresson, Cappa, Parr, Gilden, Webb, Koudelka, etc. But recently my biggest inspiration is Todd Hido. I love his recent publication Intimate Distance. Also one of my favorite photo books from last year has to be Lost Coast by Currant Hatleberg. As a whole, this publication is just magical. You know you got something special when it leaves a certain feeling when you flip the last page.

I also like and follow the work of Gregory Crewdson, Viviane Sassen, Andreas Gursky, Joel Meyerowitz, Wolfgang Tillmans. While I wouldn’t say I like everything they do, I also enjoy the „cool kids“ or younger generation of photographers like Ryan McGinley, Sandy Kim, Petra Collins, Ren Hang (R.I.P.), etc.

Thank you, Dino!

We - human beings have put this system in place, where stress is present everywhere in our lives. At the workplace, in our social life, ... it's omnipresent. Especially in a big and fast city as New York it can be very hard if you don't have a counter balance to battle it and clear your mind of the negativity and anxiety that it brings. My answer to this has been photography. When it's just me and the wast American unknown. This gives me a meditative feeling of freedom. I like to think it somewhat unshackles me of the system we put in place. No distractions, no stress, no expectations - it is my psychiatrist. It makes me more aware of my surroundings and clears my vision. I see things that are normally overlooked or seen as mundane and I enjoy each and every moment on the road usually not really having a plan on where to go but rather stumbling upon things on the way. The photographs I produce in these circumstances are a reflection of how I feel or a reflection of my state of mind, which is calm, organized, colorful, ... This series is my love letter to that feeling and the the desolate landscape - the desert. The series was shot in September of 2016 in Arizona.

We – human beings have put this system in place, where stress is present everywhere in our lives. At the workplace, in our social life, … it’s omnipresent. Especially in a big and fast city as New York it can be very hard if you don’t have a counter balance to battle it and clear your mind of the negativity and anxiety that it brings.
My answer to this has been photography. When it’s just me and the wast American unknown. This gives me a meditative feeling of freedom. I like to think it somewhat unshackles me of the system we put in place. No distractions, no stress, no expectations – it is my psychiatrist. It makes me more aware of my surroundings and clears my vision. I see things that are normally overlooked or seen as mundane and I enjoy each and every moment on the road usually not really having a plan on where to go but rather stumbling upon things on the way.
The photographs I produce in these circumstances are a reflection of how I feel or a reflection of my state of mind, which is calm, organized, colorful, …
This series is my love letter to that feeling and the the desolate landscape – the desert.
The series was shot in September of 2016 in Arizona.

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Follow Dino on Instagram here.

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