David duChemin is a world and humanitarian assignment photographer, best-selling author, digital publisher, and international workshop leader whose nomadic and adventurous life fuels his fire to create and share. Now based on Vancouver Island, Canada, his life is spent chasing compelling images on all seven continents and teaching others to see, photograph, and get the most from this astonishing life.
How did you get started as a photographer? What were your subjects when you were first starting out?
DD: Like so many photographers, I was given a camera by my father when I was (young). But it wasn’t until I was 14 and I bought a 35mm rangefinder from a neighbor at a garage sale that I really fell in love, though I think I was in love with the camera more than the photographs. I photographed everything I could find, just to play with that thing. It wasn’t until I was 16 and got an SLR, an already well-used Pentax Spotmatic, that I started getting choosier about my subjects. The longer lenses allowed me to focus on birds and other natural things. I shot band photos and still lifes and portraits of anyone that would allow me to.
Beyond photography (and writing books!), what are you passionate about? How else do you interact with the world?
DD: I’m passionate about creativity and the ways in which that enriches us and can make us more perceptive and more alive. A few years ago I took up SCUBA and that remains something that gets me excited, especially when it’s diving and interacting with larger fish and mammals. Put me in the water with sharks and whales and dolphins and I’m about as happy as I can be.
Future work: do you have any upcoming projects that you’re excited about? Photographic or otherwise…
DD: Right now I truly don’t know. Current situations have put a lid on many of my plans and I’m in a bit of a holding pattern. But that’s not all bad. I think it’s going to give me time to look more critically at older work and to do something with the photographs I’ve spent the last few years making. We spend a lot of time focusing on making the photographs, but often don’t take the time to do something with those. So perhaps it’s time I made another book of my photographs while we wait for this pandemic to be over.
Is there one thing—a particular trick or skill—that you think would make most photographers better?
DD: No, there’s no trick or skill, really. I mean, you need to know how to focus and expose, but then it’s all about the creative. Choosing a composition, being attentive to the light and being willing to experiment with different ways of playing with that light. The real job of the photographer is to perceive, to think. My latest book, The Heart of the Photograph is about that: learning to think, and think more creatively as a photographer. That’s what separates the stronger photographers from those who are not yet making remarkable work: not the ability to use a camera really well, but to think differently about how that camera is used.
What is your favorite Rocky Nook book (or author, or topic)?
DD: Guy Tal’s More Than a Rock. I have a ton of respect for Guy. I love his photographs, but it’s his way of thinking that I admire most, and I think the two are connected. He’s got a very thoughtful approach, and I think his voice is needed.
Do you have items on your artistic bucket list; e.g., landmarks, places, or people you’d like to photograph?
I used to have a long list. But now I mostly want to keep going back to the places I’m doing longer bodies of work in. Venice is one of those places. So is India. India is incredibly rich visually and culturally. I’d like to be back there sooner than later. Also Lesotho. I started a series on the shepherds there that I’d like to finish. And Kenya. Kenya feels like home to me, and any chance I can I’d be there.
How do you relax? What are your leisure activities?
DD: I read a lot. Lately I’ve been swimming, though the pool is closed during the pandemic, so I guess I’ll go back to riding my bike. To be honest I find my creative activities the most relaxing. Making photographs; writing. I’m a lousy guitar player and long weeks go by before I remember that it’s time to practice. Wine. Is wine a hobby?
Who do you admire? Photographers or otherwise. Why?
DD: I admire anyone that is truly themselves and living courageously, out of the box, and with compassion. Some of them you’ve heard of, others just people I’ve met that I want to know better. I try hard not to let myself get too captivated by people just because they’re well known. Photographically I lean towards the humanist tradition. Guys like Willy Ronis, Cartier Bresson, Fan Ho, Robert Doisneau. More contemporarily I’m drawn to people like my friends Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier, passionate photographers and conservationists. I was recently introduced to the work of Finnish photographer Pentti Sammallahti—his book Des Oiseaux is fantastic.