how to authentically capture youth culture with lasse dearman
Photographer Lasse Dearman went from documenting his friends at a skatepark in suburban Denmark, to contributing to international fashion magazines.
Photography Lasse Dearman
In a new series, we speak to the young photographers making a mark online and offline, about studying, social media and creativity vs. commerciality, to better understand what it takes working within one of the most infamously competitive industries.
Danish photographer Lasse Dearman went to university to study photography. Twice. But finished neither courses. Like many great youth culture photographers before him, the imagery he creates embodies a sort of DIY spirit and ingenuity that extends far beyond the practical skills offered by art colleges. Obsessed with skating growing up, it’s easy to see why he exhibited such a raw talent at documenting this scene from a young age. “I grew up in a small city in Denmark where I would spend most of my time either playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 or hanging at the local skatepark. My first encounter with a camera was at the skatepark. I would take pictures of my friends doing tricks, which finally ended up as a recurring photo series called dearman dearest, on a Danish skateboard site.”
Possessing a remarkable ability to capture the energy in a room or space, each of his images contemplate youthful dissidence and nihilism, without falling into predictable territory. Dusky evenings, house parties, perfectly curated outfits, drunken revelry; Lasse’s photography is a love letter to long, teenage summers and that unique boredom we detest as kids and crave as adults. Now living in Copenhagen and contributing to international style titles like Wonderland, Tank, Hero and Heroine, and Man About Town, as well as collaborating with brands like Adidas and working on his own personal projects, we caught up with Lasse about life as a professional photographer.
Do you remember the first time a photographer’s work had a profound effect upon you?
I don’t recall a specific first time someone’s work made an impression on me, but I think one of the first photographers whose work really has an impact on me was JH Engstrom. I bought his book Haunts after seeing a few of his photographs, and it was really an eye opener -- especially in terms of using photography as a personal language.
Do you think photography should be studied at university? Did you?
I don’t think there’s any approach to photography that is right or wrong. I think everyone has their own individual way of learning and developing their skills. Some might benefit from school, and others won’t. Speaking from personal experience, I studied both photojournalism and fine art photography, at the Danish School of Media and Journalism and Glasgow School of Art, having a difficult time adapting my photography to either of the schools. I ended up dropping out of both.
In an industry saturated with imagery, how do you keep your ideas new and fresh? How do you keep it original when it feels like so much has been done already?
For me, shooting for different clients or magazines, it has been difficult not to end up compromising my work in a commercial direction. In the end, I see less and less of myself in my images, which doesn’t feel right. At the moment, I am trying to do more shoots just for myself, not conflicting with anyone else’s interest. It has been healthy and motivating for me, and luckily it feels like the outcome is more personal too. So to answer the question, I think the answer would be try to shoot for yourself before anyone else, and if you end up developing something personal, hopefully it will stand out from the rest.
Film or digital? Do you have to spend huge amounts on equipment to make it?
I shoot on film, and I probably spend more money on film-related expenses than I should… but at the same time I enjoy -- almost -- everything about it. So for now it’s still worth it.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a photographer?
Sometimes it’s challenging to be as personal as I would like in my commercial jobs. For me it’s a progress I’m still working on.
How do you balance creativity and commerciality?
I try to be conscious about which kind of assignments I take in, and as far as possible, only do jobs that I’m, at least to some extent, excited about. Obviously this is difficult, as you can’t expect every commercial job to be tailored specifically to you, but I think in the process of only saying yes to the right assignments, people get an idea of what you’re interested in shooting and what you’re not.
What makes a compelling, emotive photo?
A photo that is able to touch you in a new way, evoke new feelings or enable you to look at the world differently. I generally appreciate it when the photographer is as much present in the photo as her/his motive.
How much do you take Instagram, into account when making an image and thinking about the impact and distribution of the images?
As I mentioned earlier, it’s easy for me to get distracted, so I try my best not to let Instagram infiltrate me when it comes to making images.
Has the complete immersion of imagery online changed the way you think about, and research, photography?
I don’t think so, I think it’s quite easy to tell who has their heart in their work and who doesn’t. Obviously in terms of researching photography, the internet has a lot to offer, which would otherwise be difficult to reach, and I appreciate that.
Do you feel hopeful about the future of photography as a craft? Where do you think the industry is moving?
Judging from people I follow on Instagram, it seems like there’s an increasing interest in having a closer relationship with photography. For example, by making your own hand prints. For me this seems to be a way of acknowledging photography for what it really can be and treating your own photographs with a respect they deserve. So, from my point of view -- photography is being carried, at least by some, in a positive direction.
Why do we need professional photography?
I don’t think photography done for a commercial purpose, automatically loses its artistic qualities. I think campaigns can have a cultural value and impact. I really enjoyed the collaboration between Juergen Teller and Marc Jacob, for example.
Why is print still so important?
I guess it’s a matter of demanding the viewers attention in a different way to browsing online. Regarding photographs, I feel that their original purpose has always been to be printed, it's the original formula. To use print as part of your process and final delivery makes sense to me. If anything, in the constant rise of digital technology -- print could be more important than ever. It's no longer the standalone it once was and is viewed amongst all kinds of media. When necessity is left behind, it can play to its own melody. Besides that, the opportunities books and magazines offer, in terms of layout, gives you an opportunity to work with photography in series. Viewing the images in succession, page after page -- it's beautiful and something the exhausting digital world isn’t able to deliver.
Photography Lasse Dearman