We had the good fortune of connecting with Damon Jones and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Damon, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
‘Survival through Design’ started life as a hobby rather than a business. I was researching mid-century architecture in Los Angeles, California in 2016 where I had just relocated to from England and every weekend I would go for an exploratory hike with a list of houses and their addresses. I would hike to each of them, enjoy them and take a few photographs of them on my trusty iphone! True story to this day my most sold photograph was actually taken with a mobile phone!
Things started to evolve, my research grew much deeper, my love for photography and architecture and their architects soared, and in parallel I started to receive lots of nice compliments about the homes I was photographing. A few photographers even asked me what camera I was shooting with!
People started requesting prints of my photographs and quite a few owners started inviting me to photograph their own properties! It was time to buy a camera! I was adamant that I wanted to shoot these mid-century buildings with a film camera. Shoot them in the present day, but show their beauty through an old lens, back to the time when they were created! I purchased a 1979 Medium Format Hasselblad 500c/m camera which captures 6×6 square images on 120 roll film. Side note, I’d never used a film camera ever before, let alone one with a waist level viewfinder and one in which you must compose a shot in reverse!
I called my company ‘Mad for Mid’ initially which seemed appropriate! Focused on revisiting architectural masterpieces from the mid-century era with a spin on it – Show how they look today but through my eyes and style of photography coupled with some bonus historical photographs and backstory. Everyone loves a before and after shot! I set up a print lab, started selling framed photographs of my work, even collaborated with an artist on a soft enamel pin which sold out the day I launched it and I started photographing properties for their owners and some realtors. It’s important to say at this point that as part of the process of starting this business I did consider the idea that monetizing a hobby could potentially take the enjoyment out of it. You’re not shooting for yourself at your own leisure anymore, you have a paying client who wants results! That said I genuinely think the more you do something the better you get, and I was pleased with my results at this time, but you can always improve. Practice makes perfect I think the saying goes! I also think it was important that I laid out the ground rules to how this company would operate long before it became monetized. I will always be fussy and selective and only photograph noteworthy houses I have an interest in and am passionate about. This way each shoot will always be exciting, an adrenaline rush and normally is a good recipe for arriving at a nice set of photographs.
As opportunities continued to grow it quickly became apparent that limiting myself to just the 1950’s and 1960’s wasn’t necessarily the best decision I ever made when setting up this account, despite my fond affection for midcentury modern architecture. But in hindsight I never knew this would become more than a hobby! I decided to change my company’s name to ‘Survival Through Design’ Today I still shoot my beloved mid-century architecture but can still shoot everything else from the past too which I deem as having a good design and be a remarkable experience.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
There’s taking a photograph and there’s taking an artsy photograph. Whilst I’m a technical person, with an engineering degree I think it is possible to learn how to technically take a better photograph and also master your equipment. However, I don’t necessarily believe the same is possible in becoming an artist. For me and I’m truly blessed this is the case I don’t think you can learn or buy style. Inspiration is everywhere but you still have to find it, and utilize it in your own special way. I used to spend hours studying Julius Shulman’s photography of a house before I shot it. But then I stopped. I didn’t want him to influence my own photography. It’s not unusual for me to visit a property 2-3 times before I eventually photograph it. It’s important to understand the best time of day to capture the best light and really understand the property to bring out it’s beauty in your photography. You need to absorb yourself in it and it’s design and really see it through your own eyes first! The main thing I like most about my Hasselblad 500c/m is I have 12 photographs per filmback. Each photograph can take me almost ten minutes each time. But I like this, you are creating art here! Each photo should be an event and whenever I revisit an old photograph I remember it every time! The excited, anticipation of waiting for your photographs to be developed is a feeling like none other too!
It hasn’t been easy! Most people started with a film camera and migrated to a much more user friendly digital camera. I went the opposite way. It’s all on the user, but again I feel this is where the artistry becomes apparent and there’s more movement in this world to create your own personality with your work given there are so many choices when it comes to film choice etc. As I self taught myself I would write down notes for every photograph I ever took. Recording what the subject was, the aperture, the shutter speed, the ISO, whether it was inside or outside, the time of the day and the light exposure. When the photographs were developed I would then review them against these notes and try to understand where I could improve.
I’m a humble person but seeing my photographs in galleries, reposted by architectural institutions like the ‘Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’ and others, it’s hard not to be proud and get excited!
Lessons Learnt. Remember to see whatever you’re shooting with your own eyes first. For me this is important. One day a long time ago I realized that almost everything we see today is through an iPhone and not our own eyes. Once you’ve absorbed yourself in your subject you can then go about capturing it’s beauty through your own eyes. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…
I started ‘Survival Through Design’ for a few reasons. It gave me a subject to focus my photography on and after shooting a house I used to really enjoying reading about it’s architect, it’s design and the person(s) who commissioned it. But most importantly it gave me a way of sharing historical landmarks with people who could enjoy them, and share them with their future generations and ensure that they would be protected long after myself and their custodians are gone! I’ve seen too many beautifully designed houses be destroyed and their stories and history be lost and be replaced by huge, ugly mansions!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
From my own experience you must visit the Arizona Biltmore Hotel! The whole place is an EVENT! I’ve included a few photographs from our visit in this interview. Be sure to have a cocktail too! True story the ‘Tequila Sunrise’ was first created here by Gene Sulit! There’s a fabulous tribute to Gene on the cocktail menu! If you have wheels I’d strongly recommend a drive to look at the beautiful architecture that Arizona has to offer. Start with the architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Al Beadle. I know someone who can point you in the right direction too!
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is an absolute must visit and the highlight of my trip! I still have goosebumps! I really enjoyed my trip to Cosanti in Paradise Valley – the studio and gallery of the late architect, sculptor, wind chime designer Paolo Soleri and I plan to visit his Arcosanti complex in Mayer, AZ next. Make sure you grab a coffee at the really hip, rustic cafe ‘Lux Central’ in Phoenix too.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Inspiration is everywhere and for many years I’ve been inspired by the work of the great Julius Shulman and Marvin Rand, I’ve never taken a photography lesson in my life and am self taught. But I should mention the book ‘The Hasselblad Manual’ by Ernst Wildi. It’s a comprehensive guide to my iconic camera and I strongly recommend it to anybody attempting to master the Hasselblad 500 Series and use it to it’s full potential. I would like to give a special mention to my friend Brian C, who I met during his time working at ‘Freestyle Photo & Imaging Supplies’ in Los Angeles, California. I bought my very first film from him and it turned out he had exactly the same camera as me and has been very supportive in my growth as a photographer, most notably supporting me with my choice of film and answering my amateur questions. I would also like to personally thank everybody who has followed my ‘Survival Through Design’, and supported my photography work, purchased a print, or a brand who has utilized me for a photoshoot, or an owner(s) who let me photograph their property. Film doesn’t pay for itself and without you none of this would be possible! Thankyou