Educated & Cultivated Instincts: Darnell McCown Featured in Graphis Journal #377

Darnell McCown “discovered” photography when he was about 12 or 13 years old. Photography, for him, was always about looking, seeing, and creating a redefined view of the world. He never had a darkroom and was never a yearbook photographer. He poured over the works of famous photographers such as Stieglitz, Steichen, Cameron, Curtis, Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Adams, Arbus, Michaels… the list goes on. A year and a half into college, Darnell first changed majors and then, later, universities in order to pursue photography. He dropped out after a couple of years but eventually went back to graduate from Texas A&M Commerce with a BS in photography. He then worked the sales floor in a camera store, freelance assisted, assisted full-time, and, eventually, went out on his own. Darnell has, at times, grown weary of photography; there was a period in his life when he didn’t touch a camera for over a year, but has always come back to it because he believes that he has a talent for it. Darnell thinks some of his abilities are inherent, but he also thinks a great deal of it is the result of hard work, persistence, practice, experimentation, and failure, as well as being able to honestly assess his own work and being able to listen to criticism while still being able to trust his own instincts. For the last 30 years, Darnell has worked in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in his own studio, at Fossil, and at Heritage Auctions, photographing small products, primarily jewelry and timepieces, for advertising and catalogs. During that time, he has had the privilege of working with a great many very talented people. His photographs have been used locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally, and have been published in magazines such as InStyle, Veranda, JCK, W, Town & Country, and Vogue.

Here is a preview of his QA:

What is your work philosophy?
I have always tried to give the client my best work. If I can see a way to make a shot better and resources allow, I’ll do it again. I feel like I have a good eye and a fair amount of experience, and I try to produce images that I like. I think anyone doing anything will produce their best work when they have the confidence to follow their own (educated and cultivated) instincts.

Who is or was your greatest mentor?
I have to say, my greatest mentor was Dallas-based (not London-based) photographer Barry Lewis. He was primarily a product photographer who hired me on as an assistant. I worked with him for several years before going out on my own.

Who are some of your greatest past influences?
Early on, I looked mostly at the work of street photographers. Henri Cartier-Bresson had an elegant sense of balance and composition. Robert Frank did as well, but with a grittier view of the world. Diane Arbus seemed fearless and so unapologetically straightforward as to be nearly harsh, and yet she wasn’t. All, in a way, seemed to show the world in a way that you could only see through their eyes.

Who have been some of your favorite people or clients you have worked with?
Oh my. There have been a few stinkers over the years, but there have also been so many people I’ve enjoyed working with. I like the people here at Heritage Auctions, where I have been for the past 15 years. When I first started my own studio, I worked a lot with an art director at Neiman Marcus named Stephen Booty. I liked working with Nancy Raisanen, the creative director at Brown Productions Dallas. Also, I enjoyed working with Holly Haber shooting images for WWD. After closing my studio, I was at Fossil for about three years, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with all the photographers, art directors, stylists, and digital artists when Tim Hale held the creative reins.

Check out Darnell McCown’s website here.

To read the entire interview, preorder Journal #377 here and view the digital edition now.

Author: Graphis