Interviews with the PDN 30: Eliot Dudik
Eliot Dudik is a documentary, fine art, and landscape photographer who has made PDN's 30 for 2012. His project, 'Road Ends in Water,' documents communities that live along the waterside in South Carolina. The project ended with the creation and publishing of a book of the photos.
Eliot spoke to us recently about what it's like to be included in the PDN 30, and about the project.
B&H Photo: Your project "Road Ends in Water" deals with the changes happening to the communities along U.S. Route 17 in South Carolina. What originally drew you to these communities and compelled you to pursue this project?
Eliot: I became invested in the rural communities, both north and south of Charleston, SC, shortly after I moved to Charleston in 2004. I spent a lot of time on the waterways and barrier islands. While in graduate school in Savannah, GA, I drove north to Charleston every weekend, through the South Carolina Lowcountry. Construction-riddled Route 17 began to cast doubt on the future of these subtle communities that lie on either side of the once-relaxing and scenic highway. I imagined the road expanding and bringing with it much more traffic, commercial establishments, and housing developments. Soon, I found myself not so much on Route 17—rather, I found myself wandering the country roads that stretch into the landscape from Route 17. I began by photographing the landscape in the hopes of preserving it, and eventually began to meet the folks living in the areas, sometimes photographing them as well.
B&H Photo: How did the communities and subjects react to your project? Were they skeptical or welcoming?
Eliot: Most of the time, I was welcomed.
There were awkward moments; I would drive past a home or place, then about 100 feet down the road I’d realize that I noticed some people that I needed to go back and talk to. I'd put the vehicle in reverse, park on the road, and walk up the driveway toward the people, who looked at me with utmost suspicion. This usually subsided once we began a conversation and I showed them some prints or a mock-up book. At this point, they were generally very excited about the project, and almost always agreed to a portrait. I never carried my camera out of the truck until we had engaged in conversation. So after receiving permission to make a photograph, I would grab the large format equipment, and that would usually excite them even more. I really enjoy the way people interact with a view camera when having their portraits made. There is surely a sense of pride in the subject, and I think an intense connection is made between the subject and the viewer.
B&H Photo: You shoot with a large format camera. How did you come about making that decision?
Eliot: I shoot with a large format view camera because of the careful consideration required for each image. Additionally, in my opinion, the depth and detail obtained in a landscape is unmatched in smaller formats, and the interaction I sought between subject and camera was best achieved through a view camera. Throughout this project I attempted to use other formats, but the view camera was the equipment needed to create the desired images. Being so devoted to Kodak large-format color film is a bit scary right now, but I hope the company pulls through this downturn, and continues to offer quality, affordable film.
B&H Photo: Your project ended in a very-well-received book. How was the book-making process? Did you expect to be published this early in your career?
Eliot: I am a book lover and a collector, to the point of obsession. As I was creating this work, I had in mind a gallery’s walls and the printed book. I knew the project would be both; consequently, I carried a mock-up version of the book with me while photographing. I self-published the book as a culmination of my graduate studies, printing 1,000 copies with a renowned company called Oddi, based in Iceland. I studied and researched the process of self-publishing for the year-and-a-half I was in graduate school, visiting with printing companies, looking over thousands of types of papers, covering materials, varnishes, other books and designs. I worked with a graphic designer and a few writers, and researched the possibilities and opportunities for distribution. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience, and has surely reached its goal of delivering the work to a wider audience.
B&H Photo: Congratulations on being named to PDN 30. How do you think this honor will impact your career as a photographer?
Eliot: Thank you. I am honored to be named one of PDN's 30 photographers for 2012! I studied and admired all the previous PDN 30 photographers, and still can't believe I am among their ranks. What the future holds is unknown, but having chatted with Debra Klomp, and now B&H, I can only imagine. On a personal level, the achievement bar is set quite high, and fuels the fire within to push on and live up to the PDN 30 recognition.
B&H Photo: What advice do you have for young photographers pursuing documentary projects?
Eliot: Putting in hours and persevering seem simple enough, but I think that is the bottom line. A project can sometimes get frustrating. That happened to me with this project, and I eventually quit because it wasn't evolving into what I wanted. I began working on another meaningless project, and after about a month I returned to the original concept with a new sense of energy and purpose. I was reminded of my love for the area and my reasons for making photographs. Finding the right way to convey a sense of place takes time, so persist, show your work to others, weigh their responses, and go back and create more photographs. Repeat. Expect to spend as much time marketing and discussing your work, as you spent photographing it. Get it online, on your website, onto blogs, and into online magazines. This is all part of putting in the hours.
B&H Photo: What’s next for you? What projects are you working on now?
Eliot: I am working on another project that is more inclusive of South Carolina, instead of just the southern coastal region. That is currently what I do, outside of teaching photography at the University of South Carolina. I have a few other projects in the pot, but not quite on the burner. I am looking forward to this summer, as I hope to spend a lot of time on the road, making photographs.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Photo, Video, Pro Audio