daniel arnold is the street photographer who finds beauty in the banal

New York based photographer Daniel Arnold has always managed to camouflage himself within the fray and weave around the chaos of the crowd.

by Zeyna Sy
08 August 2014, 2:55pm

Daniel Arnold

Watching street photographer Daniel work is like experiencing an incredible, yet strikingly odd, alternative dancer prance around you - you can't help but stare with a combination of amazement and fear. Daniel seems to notice everything and be extra tuned in. It is his acute sensitivity to the world around him combined with his deep attraction to the beauty of strangers that motivates his growing audience to pay particular attention. From a $15,000 sale via Instagram on his birthday that was written about in Forbes magazine, two covers for The Goings On About Town section of The New Yorker as well as shooting for Vogue, it has been a good year for Daniel.

What's your relationship with New York like?
It's like a marriage, but it's also like a parent. I think the pace, the energy and the heat of this place really ends up changing people. It melts you down and moulds you into a different version of the same thing.

When you shoot are you looking for anything in particular and are the photos of these characters in any way personal to you?  
Inadvertently yes, but when I'm doing it right I get immersed enough that I stop thinking. I'm not even really looking . I just let this thing happen and I don't mean to do it but when I look back it I see all these emotional moments for myself that I have ended up telling through other people. I don't mean to be doing it but I think it is a personal reflection and subtly emotionally autobiographical.

You had an exhibition in San Francisco a few months ago where you shot everything right before the show, that's a lot of pressure! How did it go?
I didn't realise what I was getting myself into by doing that... I'm crazy! I flew in ten days before the show, walked 100 miles in a week just shooting. Printed, edited, all that in like three days, then hung the show. It was a very hard, physical job that I still feel slightly worn out by. Maybe it's just because I'm an outsider but San Francisco feels dangerous in a way that New York doesn't, it makes New York look like a playground. There's something about the width of the streets that makes it so much more threatening. It was a really emotional, taxing, amazing, lonely, sometimes scary, lost experience to explore San Fran.

Do you feel like you have to constantly reassure people that your intentions are pure when taking their photo, especially when children are involved?
I rarely reassure people - I don't want to do it, I'd rather just keep moving most of the time. It happened just the other day, I was in Times Square and halfway down the block there was an older woman in a full head-to-toe white outfit, she looked really cool. Behind her was an Hasidic guy, I wanted to time it right so I'd be there to take a picture right when they intersected - and I did. Right then, along came a little girl with a teddy bear in her hand who fell perfectly into the frame - so I take a picture and keep going. But there's this woman who sees the entire sequence of events and I can see that she looks real concerned. She grabs the kids mother and says "can I talk to you, can I talk to you?!" I'm sure once I was out of earshot she was like "this guy is taking pictures of your kid!" It's frustrating as hell.

You could potentially get into a lot of trouble...
Yes! It's risky. Especially with the climate of things right now with surveillance and the paranoia about terrorism - all that shit. When a stranger gets their photo taken they associate it with some kind of deviance, like something bad is going to happen to their picture. How far do you go as a photographer to get a good photo? I've hurt myself plenty, I've put myself in dangerous situations. I've messed with people who I shouldn't mess with, I've had people rip the film out of my camera and throw it on the street, but it's been worth it.

Is it like an addiction now?
Definitely. When I first got in the thick of it I wouldn't eat, I wouldn't use the bathroom, I walked for 12 hours straight and I lost a lot of weight. It's more like the in love kind of addiction rather than a heroin addiction. It's a very positive, character rounding, life affirming kind of thing.

You started off as a writer, are your photos an extension of writing? Your images often seem like visual storytelling... 
It was very consciously an extension of writing. The writing I was doing, though it started out being a music thing, happened to be more of a human thing about experiences and reviews in a way. I then got so sick of hearing myself talk that I just wanted to shut up and stop exposing myself. I started a second blog called When to Say Nothing which was, hopefully, telling those stories. Those nuances, exposing personal and emotional stories without saying anything. That was the first filter for taking the photos more seriously and the first instance in where writing and my photos were linked.

There's a plethora of photographers who take street-style photos from London to Paris and right here in New York. Why do you think people paid particular attention to you and your work?
I think I'm taking a totally different picture than those people are. For them, I think it's more about form and more about photography. My photos aren't really about photography - they're about people. They're about feelings. I think the majority of people that are doing this in a serious, focused way are trying to take beautiful photos and concentrate on doing this architectural, high contrast, lighting and perfect composition. I'm not trying to take beautiful photos.



Text Zeyna Sy
Photography Daniel Arnold

New York
Daniel Arnold
zeyna sy