Damon Loble was born in Montana but moved to Los Angeles very long ago. His images are predominantly captured on Hasselblad Digital Systems.
With both his subjects and his light, there’s a sumptuousness to Damon’s work you can almost taste. He creates a glow that sticks to his models like sweat, evoking an intimacy that stays with you long after you’ve finished looking at his photos.
This interview has been edited for clarity and content.
Um, I got a job at a camera store when I was 18.
Montana. And I just never got away from it. When I first came to LA I started working at Panavison as a film loader and was really shitty at it so I got fired. Esentially for my sins I was banished to camera stores. Calumet, Samy’s. For five long years. Have you ever worked in rentals? You learn a lot, I learned a lot of stuff. I got the chance to step out and start teaching. At one point I bought my first digital camera so I could rent it out to production, and then, you know, I would play with it when I wasn’t working. I don’t know, I still don’t really think of myself as a photographer.
Yeah, but so does a hobbyist.
I think the definition of professional photographer is someone who’s made money to take pictures.
I sort of do, but not sure that I have to figure that out. I’m a good digital tech, but when it comes to getting paid for photography, there’s a strange disconnect that happens.
If somebody tries to offer me money for pictures, there’s something in my mind that makes something wrong with them so I can back away. So I think that I’m pretty much just a hobbyist. I might be a career assistant.
It’s not what I like doing, but that’s what I do.
At some point I think that I need to put together a gallery show. I’m incredibly untalented when it comes to design and typography, so that becomes a collaborative process, it’s also an expensive process, because I have to pay someone to sort out my mistakes. You know, even make my mistakes for me. So that’s just one of those things that’s down the road. I don’t know. For the most part, I just sort of coast, I know that sounds passive, but I just want to keep doing what I do. Sometimes my work gets better, it usually gets worse before it gets better, so I have months of really bad work and then suddenly I have two weeks where I’m doing stuff that makes me feel like I’m moving ahead. And then back to months of bad work.
I think 80 odd percent of my stuff is not that great, and then every now and then I’ll have one or two images that really are a step up for me, that’s my metric, is it a step up for me. It’s not really comparative to someone else’s work.
Otherwise you just end up doing the same thing forever.
No…honestly I’m shy, and to collaborate with people is super difficult. I get the same fear of letting people down. So…to have a stylist, if somebody says they want to have a stylist, that puts too much pressure on me. Cause now I have to sort of appease them. Or rather, I just have to do something that they like, but it’s possible that I won’t.
There’s also that contrary streak in me. You don’t want to have any master but you.
That’s too…I just don’t want to disappoint anybody other than myself. I’m the only one I’m willing to disappoint.
I’m more than happy to have people come in and be like “whatever you want, I don’t care” but those people are far and few in between.
I don’t know, I don’t know how to say it without sounding like a sap.
Thanks. I don’t know, I sort of like the emotional content, doing stuff that feels probing of other people maybe in a way where they’re not necessarily prepared to be. I think sometimes that’s why my stuff feels a little off, because, you know, I’m not exactly sure of what I’m trying to do at the moment. It’s sort of like, I just have to shoot around until something clicks?
I think my work falls into two categories: the stuff that feels unlike the regular stuff you’d see on Instagram or whatever, and then the stuff that’s so boring that it wouldn’t even be on Instagram. I just think that sometimes I’ve done things that don’t feel normal. When you look at a picture and nothing’s perfect about it, even the pictures that i think are good or successful, there’s still something about it that feels wrong, that’s not perfect.
I don’t know…I’m not a deep process person, I don’t think that I have this over-reaching theme in my stuff. Which is probably why I can’t tie anything together in a book. Cause there isn’t that back mirror. I mean, I’m shooting just to shoot, basically.
Always. I’m trying to make an attractive image, sometimes I’m just trying to see light differently. That’s the personal betterment side of it. I post a lot of images that I personally feel like, are steps up for me, and I think that other people see them as exercises rather than works.
I kind of think it’s fun. To be honest, I feel like it’s helped me out a lot. There was a flurry, one week I just got a flurry of criticism, from others who were not well versed. Some of it actually made sense. You know, people get mad at me for tagging a shot “Hasselblad” or something and I’m like “sorry but, as a digital tech I worked very hard to pick this camera, and I’m going to use it.” Because they’re really good cameras.
Obviously, people who just only know me by the tags, they would see an asshole probably. I know I would.
No, and sometimes being located on the (west) coast you have access to more resources than you would, say, being in England. There’s economic advantages to being on the production coast. Still, one of the complaints is that some of my Hasselblad stuff is starting to feel the same over and over, and I had to agree with them. So I started shooting with a Nikon, a D800, and it was great. I mean, that camera focuses for shit, so I had a lot more images in soft-focus, but it definitely, at times, freed me up, and I also shot so many more pictures at a time. It almost become a chore to edit them and make these decisions.
Well yeah. I’m bad at making those final decisions, so when it comes down to actually selecting images, you start out strong, and halfway through a thousand images you’re like “oh my god.”
I wish I had that discipline. I wish I had the training that goes along with that. Because when you have unlimited shots, you have no reason to not try that picture. And, there’s only a vague difference between the photo and the one before it. So you can miss that decisive moment, or rather, you don’t pay attention to that decisive moment. You put me in a situation like a wedding or a party…
Nothing I take would be interesting. I would be missing all the moments because I don’t think I see it in time, I don’t see it in the process of it happening.
I absolutely do not. I throw a net up there, see what drags out. What I also do is, I shoot tethered.
That’s the one thing, you want to know what the file will look like right away. And you want the photographer to know that.
For me it’s more like, I’m so used to working that way. Even If I’m working outside and I can bring my iMac, I’ll do it tethered. If I can’t, I’ll do it from a card and put it in right away, I don’t stack cards. So I usually just do an 8gb card, so I don’t go too deep into a card. Then the model and I will go over and look at it So it helps them see what I’m doing, so they don’t feel like they’re in this vacuum. And if they’re nervous at first, because they don’t know the interaction, they don’t know what I’m looking at, being able to point out things, so so they can see it’s not super sleazy. It gives them the confidence.
Well, yeah. I really enjoy…I used to be guilty of saying that “I only shoot real women”. Then it came to my attention that all models are real women. But in general, I like shooting the girl that doesn’t necessarily model, but if you’re driving past her on the street you’ll slow down to catch a look. Those are the girls that I really like photographing. When you do get a chance to shoot with an agency, I don’t really put myself out there to do that, but on the rare occasion that I do, it’s super nice to work with someone who knows what they’re doing. When someone knows how to move with the camera it makes a huge, HUGE difference. But rather than trying to record an event that can take a long time…
Yeah, when these girls who know how to move are working with you, it’s pretty fantastic.
I love shooting…I just like people who are kind of emotionally open, or willing to try something. I like people who are willing to be uncomfortable.
If they’ve never done nudes before. Or if they may have done nudes but not in the way that I typically do them. I don’t know. I try and stay away from glamour models.
Super inland empire style.
I like naked girls.
It sounds stupid, but sometimes without a stylist the clothes that people bring are so wrong and horrible. It’s just not interesting. I wish I could have people who would bring interesting clothing. That turns you on to see beautiful things like that. But when it’s just grabbed off a Forever 21 rack and is two seasons old…
But I love that some people sort of come to terms with the fact that they’re doing a nude shoot in the middle of a nude shoot. That moment that they consciously realize that they’re nude and they accept it, and relax into it. That’s where the story begins to happen, because that’s when they start to create being on the set in that situation. They may never want to go back to that again. Or maybe they do, but there’s that moment where “it’s fine, it’s safe, and it’s great.” Very rarely they ask for me to take an image down, I always ask before I post, and only one or two situations have they asked to do that.
It makes sense, if they’re uncomfortable with it. But once they go online, I can take my image down, but I can’t take down the rest. People have to realize that if it goes up, it may be up forever.
I don’t know, I don’t really give much direction. I’ll give directions for like the lights. Every time I’ve tried to direct with posing, I end up turning them into a lump of something, and it doesn’t work. People have to find how they’re comfortable, especially if they aren’t trained in the way to move.
You know, if they’re not trained, it’s a lot of images with their hands in their hair, like they’re nervous and don’t know what to do with their hands. A lot of the time it’s about coaxing them to turn their nerve endings off in their arms so they don’t move around and play with their hair.
Then again, generally being tethered, I’ve been shooting in my studio so much lately that I’ve been getting bored with it. I want to go back outside. When you’re in studio, it’s easier to focus on the person, but when you’re outside the background has to actually tell that story. Sometimes it’s more difficult for creation, because you’re now trying to work two elements together.
Yeah. Which is the location.
I wanted to work in film and there I felt should be a narrative. I remember when I first started, I was shooting multi-paneled images to help tell the story. One day I realized any one image by itself can’t stand alone, they’re so weak, they didn’t work. So I started thinking on a still frame, a single frame, and now to go back to shooting something that’s like a frame-by-frame sequence, I can’t do it. I can’t even do video because of that. I just don’t understand that process anymore.
Which is really bad.
It’d be nice to be a little bit of both.
It’s sort of like looking at my bulging pectorals and deciding they were too big.
Yeah, I would definitely like to start making money as a photographer, even though it requires an entirely different point of view.
Yes, which may be just be me going to somebody with an electrocuting machine, fry part of my brain off.
Yeah completely, absolutely. It’s completely cowardice. You have to be honest about what it is. Making money isn’t bad, making money is a great thing, something you like. And to intentionally not try to make money by doing something means that you’re not ready, and don’t feel capable of being there. You’d have to be thrown into it or lean yourself into it. If you’re thrown into it, you might not survive, but if you can lead yourself into it, it means you’re ready to be there. So that’s what I’m hoping to go down.