Don't be surprised if you invite this guy over and he shows up with a toothpick in his mouth and a peach in his hand - that is how he appeared on my doorstep. An English linguistics major, he sat at our table and we had a good chin wag over stinky cheese. He does know how to tell a good story - is this why his photos are so dang good?
What is your full name?
Full name Michael Damien Maloney.
The nickname "Hollywood" was coined for you on set the other day. Can you explain? Any other nicknames we should know about?
I think that came from my big sun hat and my desire for 'Hollywood' standards even when we are working in the Bay Area. Nick calls me "Damo" and some other people have started to now as well.
Tell us where you are from and where you are based now.
I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, I live now in Berkeley, California.
Are you formally trained?
I started taking photography seriously in college, but my degree was in English Linguistics.
I've worked with you on a few projects now and I would say that as a photographer, you are a shoot from the hip kinda guy. Also decisive, calm, cool, collected and calculated. Do you agree?Why thank you. I like to make things work starting with where they are at and not from some ideal. I like to shoot from the hip but I really like using my tripod too which keeps me in line. People have told me I seem collected and calm when I feel that I'm an anxious mess inside. Maybe I'm just good at concealing my inner state. In general I try to embrace quick intuitive decisions, I'd rather spend more time on one thing than less time trying to make different options of that thing. Sometimes that backfires but usually I feel like it works for me.
Your photos have a really straight forward and clear point of view. Are you aware of your aesthetic? How do you achieve this?
Thank you! Yes yes, I'm always surprised by how pointing a camera transforms something. Sometimes it looks like nothing special to your eyes, and then you make a photograph of it and it becomes something else. I have trouble making images with a wide-angle lens, always have. My eye sees things closely and compressed so I'm usually using longer focal lengths to find this. I like to consider making images as linguistic study, where you can point to things and question them. I 'm always looking up the etymology of a common word to discover it has the same origin of another word and it make an association of seemingly disparate things and that makes me so excited. I think I'm doing that with images and sometimes it comes off as paranoid and sometimes comes off as cliché.
You are really decisive behind the lens, in fact, I was shocked by how few pictures you took when we first shot together. Is this part of your strategy in making a successful image? Am I giving out a magician's secret? Are you of camp Cartier - Bresson?
I feel like I loose sight of what I'm after if I try to make too many versions of it. I would rather have 2 pictures of a thing where one of them is obviously stronger than 50 pictures of that thing and having to choose between 10 images that are very similar. I think this is a lesson from shooting on film. Sometimes I take one picture of a thing and I like it and I feel relief and sometimes the one picture doesn't work and it serves as a sketch for another approach. I think that is the magicians secret--utilizing time as an element in a time where it is easy to blast off a bunch of things you've made without really considering them. I appreciate Cartier-Bresson of course but I've always wondered if he meant it to romanticize the conscious elements of taking a picture as I've always interpreted it. I think there are a lot of unconscious things that are going on where if we try to organize and describe them they get smothered and die.
You seem to be part of a network of creatives and especially photographers who really support and push each other professionally. Is there a ring leader here? Is it you? Where can an eager beaver sign up to work in that kind of ideal creative world?
I feel very lucky for that! When Corey and Molly and I were in London we heard from people we were meeting with how unusual it was for 3 photographers to have a group meeting and put each other on instead of feeling competitive with one another. I think Molly is definitely the ringleader, we started emailing before we met IRL to make Olive Juice and it is through her that I'm connected with all the great people who came out of SVA. The downside is that a lot of my friends and community don't live where I do! It makes visiting NYC and LA more fun I guess.
I love your series sunday el rancho and also the shoot you did for M Le magazine du Monde, Yosemite. Can you tell me a story or something about each of those?
Sunday El Rancho was an exhibition of pictures about my Dad in Austin, Texas last year. No one ever asks but the title is my 'stripper name' or the name of your first pet and the street that you grew up on. That assignment in Yosemite was really fun, I spent 3 days in the valley with no phone service, listening to the one playlist I had stored on my phone that was about 15 country songs. I hung out with the actor who plays John Muir at the theatre there, saw some baby black bears, ate pretty much only Sabra hummus because the food there is really bad its all pizza and hamburgers.
Last year seemed busy for you with books, shows and magazines. What's on the cooker for this year? Anything in the works you can tell us about?
Last year brought a lot of good things. Just finishing up a really fun shoot with you for King Kong that we worked on for a long time! I've had a few portrait commissions lately I'm excited to share when they come out. Got a book of photographs from Norway coming out soon in small edition from Houseboat Press very soon. We just photographed a bunch of friends for a little commercial project where I rented a big van for a few days and that was great.
Last thing: do you own any of the following? Cinnamon toothpicks, a huge industrial sized hot flash/lamp that requires gloves, black leather work gloves, poster of a naked lisa bonet in your cupboard, a garth brooks t-shirt, clogs, essential oils to sniff.
Wow yes, this all describes me perfectly.
Images courtesy of DAMIEN MALONEY
Interview by ASHLEY MUNNS
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