In a world drowning in over-choreographed images, it is a pleasure to see that Darren Ankenman is a photographer who appreciates a more organic composure. The artist can boast regular travel as one of the perks of his job. That, and capturing beautiful forms before his considerable collection of lenses… Emma de Caunes, Kate Hudson and Paz de la Huerta to name a few. Ankenman’s work is not dissimilar to the almost threatening photographic style of Nan Goldin, yet he manages to retain the softness and antagonizing allure of David Hamilton’s practice, all the while forging a style of erotica that is all his own.
Ankenman forces you to confront what you’re seeing in his images, whether that is a left-of-center view of an American streetscape, or the affecting expression on the face of a stunningly beautiful young woman. As comfortable as he is shooting in colour, his work is as entirely poignant in black-and-white, a rare feat when considering the transience of a craft today. In saying that, Ankenman doesn’t have an Instagram, and nor should he. Someone of his talent and competence shouldn’t have to subject their work to any filter apart from that of pure artistic reception. In considering his work, it’s clear that the mark of a truly sensual image is one that holds you between ecstatic climax and the shiver of the first touch. At this, Ankenman is a master.
Hall of Furs: Firstly, can you tell me a little about yourself? How would you define what you do?
Darren Ankenman: I’m a photographer based in Los Angeles, but I have spent the past few months in Europe. I tend to shoot people both commercially and artistically. But I am also quite interested in exploring places I’ve never been with my cameras.
What is your idea of beauty? Where do you find it?
This is difficult to answer. I like natural beauty for lack of a better word. Overdone styling and makeup is not what I’m after.
Can you tell me about your first camera? Do you still have it?
One camera that I bought about 10 years ago changed everything for me: the Konica Hexar RF. [It is] sort of a poor man’s Leica M6… it’s a manual camera that works well in low light. I have two of these Hexars plus several of the lenses. I put Leica lenses on this, as well (same mount). I also have a quite similar Zeiss Ikon 35 RF.
Do you prefer to shoot digitally or on film?
I shoot film.
Who would you say are your artistic icons? Who are some influential photographers relevant to your own practice?
Will McBride, William Klein, any photographer from the Japanese “provoke” era. David Hamilton is pretty amazing. Vivianne Sassen. Nan Goldin. Miroslav Tichy, GP Fieret. Eggleston. These are just photographers I love. The list is much longer.
Do you see a difference in shooting in colour or in black and white? Does it change the meaning of an image in any way?
Yeah. Usually I’m thinking in terms of light and what’s going on spontaneously in the meeting of subject, background and camera. If I see it will be perfect in color, I’ve got color film loaded. If the shot seems like it should be black and white, there’s always a camera with black and white film right there. Also, a low light and bad light situation (i.e. florescent) usually feels better in black and white.
How do you approach your photographs? Are they planned or posed? Or do you aim to capture more spontaneous moments?
I discover what will work spontaneously while shooting. I guess, yes, some subjects pose. If they are over-posing, I stop them from doing that. I like to find locations in advance and then plug the right subject into that spot. Location and light are as important to me as the subject.
You worked with, the beautiful personality of Paz de la Huerta (for Oyster). Can you tell me about this project? What did you like about working with her, and with the Oyster team?
Oyster is amazing. Super nice to shoot for. Great page quality and layout. I’ve done a few things with them. As for Paz, I’ve known her for a few years. ‘Beguiling’ is one word I’d use to describe her. She is quite unique and a lot of fun to shoot. She is always willing to shoot with me… and we have done quite a few shoots.
In your opinion, what’s the importance of social media, or simply having a website in regards to your work? Does it alter the intended viewing process that you had for the viewer?
I’ve always been put off by social media… But what do I know? People book advertising jobs based on their popular Tumblr. I have never used Facebook or Instagram or Twitter; I have no interest or time for those things. [But] yes, if you want to get work as a photographer then, for sure, a website is worthwhile. I’m definitely conflicted about what to put on my website in terms of what best represents my style. I see a lot of websites that could use a tighter edit.
What, for you, is interesting about capturing the human form?
Hmm… Shooting the human form… It’s something that does not come easy. And, each subject presents unforeseen challenges. So, I suppose, I like figuring this out and creating something beautiful, iconic, sensual, or real.
Do you prefer to shoot objects, streetscapes and landscapes or people? Men or women?
I like to go back and forth between shooting people and places. I have an ongoing series of nude women, but for the past 3 months I’ve been focused on shooting various cities, landscapes, and details all over France, Italy and Spain. And now I am shooting an incredible musician as he does his European tour.
Are the people you shoot close friends? How and where do you source individuals to capture in your photographs?
Sometimes the subjects contact me. Sometimes I see a model on a Tumblr and I contact them. Sometimes a friend tells me that I need to meet and shoot someone they know. Sometimes I see them on the street and give them my card.
Is travel a major component of your work? Where is one place you’d love to visit?
Yes. I want to go to Corsica and Puglia.
Are there any publications you’d love to be featured in?
French Playboy, Italian Vogue and Purple.
If there were one person you could photograph, who would it be?
I’m attracted to certain women in older films from the 60s and 70s … Shelley Duvall, Hanna Schygulla, Anne Wiazemsky, Irene Jacob and Mink Stole.
What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in five years time?
I’m doing a book of images from my daily Tumblr called ‘Welcome to L.A.’
Check it out at: welcometolaphoto.tumblr.com
Words: Sophie Flecknoe. Images courtesy of Darren Ankenman.