10 Questions With Dean Forbes

Street Scene 2020 3rd-Place Winner: “Pairs” by Dean Forbes

Dean Forbes was the third-place winner of our Street Scene 2020 Photo Contest. We caught up with the Shoreline, Washington-based photographer a year later to learn more about their craft, how they got started and what inspires them.

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1. How did you get started with photography?

My first camera was a Kodak Brownie when I was 7 or 8 years old. I’ve done photography for almost 60 years. But it wasn’t until the advent of digital and my first digicam in the early 2000s that I began a more regular practice of photography. Before that, I shot intermittently or during vacations.

2. How long have you been an active photographer?

I became much more active in 2004 when I discovered flickr.com as a place to share my images.

3. Do you consider yourself a professional photographer or a hobbyist?

Somewhere in between. I don’t get paid to do photography and I don’t do it as a profession (I have a non-photographic full-time job). However, I’ve shot images for my employers to use in publications and websites. I’ve done volunteer documentary photography for NGOs and social-good organizations, most notably in India.

4. How would you describe your photographic style?

I lean toward black-and-white photography and pride myself on my ability to capture, and my interest in, almost any kind of subject. I tend to go out and see in the moment with little preplanning or scouting. I think the only things I haven’t done are studio and commercial work using lighting setups. I don’t use flash much.

5. Which photographic subjects do you focus on?

My focus since 2009 has been street photography. However, a bad hip and the COVID pandemic curtailed going out into the streets at the end of 2019. In summer 2020, I bought a Fuji GFX50r medium format mirrorless digital camera body with the thought that—barring putting myself in the middle of crowded situations—I’d look for “quieter and slower” subjects such as small town and rural landscapes. I was intrigued by the details and dynamic range possible with a large sensor. I still do some street photography and look forward to doing more as the pandemic eases.

6. Which photographers do you most admire?

There are many, however, I draw most of my inspiration from the old-school black-and-white documentary and street photographers from the 1950s on, including Vivian Maier, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, Walker Evans and Lee Friedlander. I also admire the color work of Fred Herzog and Saul Leiter as well as many contemporary street shooters. The person I knew personally whose work I admired wasn’t a well-known photographer but my friend and photo buddy Larry Larsen in Seattle. Sadly, he passed away in 2019.

7. What inspires you creatively?

Seeing new places where the opportunities unfold unexpectedly. The play of light and shadow is a big thing with me. I’m also interested in ideas/themes that are new to me. One example is the “New Topographics” school of photographers who set out to document the human impact on the landscape in the 1960s and 1970s. I’d like to look for those kinds of situations.

8. What are you working on at the moment? What’s next?

Despite the oft-repeated advice to create projects, I don’t shoot that way. I sometimes group individual photos into what could be called projects, but that’s not the original intent. Domestic road trips and more overseas travel are the next things I want to do.

9. What is one of your favorite photographs you’ve made, and why?

The one that was featured in the magazine’s Street Scene 2020 Photo Contest is among my favorite street images because of the serendipity of the moment and the symmetry of the two pairs of people. Others include the additional images I’ve shared here.

10. What’s in your camera bag?

I use two Fujifilm systems: GFX50r with mostly adapted manual-focus film-era prime lenses (I have only one native prime GFX lens) and a Fujifilm X100V with the wide and tele adapters. I also recently became interested in Polaroid photography, so I have a vintage SX-70 and a new One Step Plus. I used to be a longtime Fujifilm X interchangeable lens shooter. My favorite medium format lens is the Pentax-A645 35mm f3.5 (28mm equivalent field of view on the GFX). For street it’s mostly 35mm field of view, so the X100 serves that purpose. I also have a few old East German and Russian prime lenses that create unique images on the GFX.

Bonus Answers!

11. Is there a photo accessory you consider essential for your work?

Hand grips and thumb grips. I use them on all of my Fujifilm cameras past and present because the bodies are either too small or too heavy to hold comfortably without them.

12. What software do you use for processing and managing your images?

I taught myself Photoshop CS2 back in the day, so I’ve stuck with Photoshop and Bridge. I shoot in RAW and use ACR. I never got used to Lightroom.

13. Which trends in photography excite you most?

The resurging interest in film and instant photography is pretty cool. What I don’t find exciting is the use of AI to alter photographs (don’t get me started on sky replacement). I’m generally not a fan of heavily altered/edited images.

14. For you, what makes a compelling photograph?

Composition, the moment, the play of light and shadow. Storytelling is important but not always primary for me.

15. What motivates you or gets you out of a creative rut?

The prospect of seeing new places and the photographic opportunities that I’ll find.

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