In Conversation with Dan McMahon

Interviewed by Timothy Frazier
Images by Dan McMahon

TF: How did you get into photography? 

DM: I was lucky enough to have a black & white darkroom in my high school as well as a close group of friends that were all interested in photography pushing each other and sharing ideas. As far back as I can remember I was really into drawing with technical pencils and trying to get things to look as realistic as possible. It was mostly just simple still life with the occasional portrait. I think printing in the darkroom had a lot of similarities to the drawings that I was trying to make and I eventually gave up the pencils completely.

TF: Tell me about this image (see below).

DM: I just happened to be photographing another assignment when an afterschool fist fight started in the park. After all the punches had been thrown I just went up to one of the kids involved and took this photo. I don’t have any idea what the fight was all about and the end but I liked his expression as he tried to make sense of what all had just happened.

TF: To me, your work feels documentary in approach and a lot of your images have this feeling of stillness and quaint simplicity to them that I quite like. Can you talk a bit about how you approach photographing/making work?

DM: I believe that the simplicity and stillness has crept in slowly over time. Sometimes I feel like when I’ve made too many decisions about a particular picture it doesn’t really grow with me. Whereas, in images that have happened more spontaneously, where it’s a subject I care about and isn’t clouded by too much else, I feel like I can come back to those same images over and over and still enjoy looking at them.

TF: How’s Brooklyn treating you? Are you originally from NYC or did you move out that way to pursue bigger and better things?

DM: I just moved to Red Hook last year from Kips Bay and enjoy the new neighborhood. I like the slower pace, the seagulls and walking by all the unique businesses that are still operating out here. It feels like an entirely different city more than a neighborhood. I’m originally from Ohio and moved out here almost 15 years ago. Bigger and better wasn’t necessarily the goal in the beginning and I always had thoughts moving back home one day but the cliche of days slipping into years is real and I can’t see myself living anywhere else.

TF: If you could photograph anyone from any time era, who would it be and why?

DM: So many to choose from but since a time machine is possible maybe Buster Keaton would be a fun one. Watching the way other people work and seeing the different processes they go through in perfecting their craft is something I’m always drawn to. I think it would be fun to be a set photographer for a day on one of his films.

TF: Outside of photography, what interests you?

DM: I like any kind of restoration project. Painting homes, restoring furniture or anything where you get that satisfaction of transforming something that has been neglected and seeing it brought back to life. Spending so much time looking at a screen in a darkened room has its moments but I miss working in a hands-on way with real materials.

TF: Future plans or upcoming projects?

DM: I’ve been wanting to work on a longer-term project back in Ohio for a while. Whenever I visit home I meet all these great people and drive past places I’d like to photograph but I’m never able to put in the time because I’m usually only there for a quick holiday and busy catching up with family. I’m thinking of doing something loosely based around how we unconsciously use cognitive maps as a way of organizing memories. Maybe revisiting some places of personal significance and seeing what’s there now as a starting point.

After receiving his Bachelor’s degree from the Columbus College of Art & Design with an emphasis in time-based media studies, McMahon worked as a graphic designer for several years before pivoting to photography. With a practice that leverages his design background and approaches in Fashion, Portrait and Documentary photography, McMahon attempts to find meaning where the lines between these categories overlap. McMahon’s work has appeared in publications including the New Yorker, Centrefold Magazine and Modern Matter and has been commissioned by clients such as Arc’teryx, MoMa, and Carnegie Mellon University.