Featured Artist Interview

Joseph Dunning

I am pleased to introduce you to our December 2014 Featured Artist, Joseph Dunning. The interview with Joseph was full of surprises, from his love of astronomy and his passion for photographing the stars and planets to how taking classes tends to mess with his creativity. Joseph is a self taught photographer who is trying to navigate the ins and outs of marketing via social media. In this interview you will find a bit of discussion on that point, including some pretty great lessons from our own American Frame expert, Aubrey Koralewski, who assisted me during the call. I’m going to ask all of my readers to visit and like his Facebook page . You’ll enjoy all the beautiful work there and may even want to purchase a piece.

Our talk was long and lively, full of diversions. In this edited version, I did keep most of that conversation intact.

With that, here’s Joseph!

Laura Jajko (LJ): Thank you for your participation with us. We appreciate you agreeing to talk to us a little bit about your work. What we learn about you today will be used to create your own landing page on our website, which will give you a little bit more presence from your art gallery.
Joseph Dunning (JD): Okay. Did you go to my Facebook page?

LJ: I did, I ‘liked’ it today! You have another follower!
JD: Did you see the picture of the studio we’re building?

LJ: Yes! Where are you building it?
JD: It’s going to be built in Alamogordo (NM). It’s going to be 30’ x 40’ for the studio space. The whole building is 40’ x 50’.

LJ: Are you going to co-locate with other artists?
JD: No, it’s going to be my home.

LJ: Even better! So, you received the list of questions we’re going to go through, correct?
JD: yes

I started astronomy back when I was about 13 or 14. I made a 6” reflector telescope. I actually made a camera for that telescope and took pictures of the moon.
Joseph Dunning

LJ: So, are you primarily a photographer or do you do other types of art?
JD: I do photography and astronomy and a few other things.

LJ: Astronomy? How do you get those pictures? Do you take them with a telescope?
JD: I have a big telescope. It is 7” in diameter and has a special camera in it. We take multiple exposures of the same thing and stack them in a program like Photoshop.

About the same time as the telescope, I built a small darkroom and it wasn’t very big, maybe 8’ by 3’ or 4’; just big enough to get in to. It had a counter top and some cabinets. There was no running water or anything.
Joseph Dunning

LJ: Is that how you took ‘Mosaic of the Moon’? That’s amazing!
JD: There’s about 20 pictures there all stacked together.

LJ: Let me see, what do you have here? Looks like the Milky Way? Oh, it says it’s a globular cluster!
JD: It’s a globular cluster of about a half a billion stars.

LJ: So how did you get into astronomy?
JD: I started astronomy back when I was about 13 or 14. I made a 6” reflector telescope. I actually made a camera for that telescope and took pictures of the moon.

LJ: Wow! So you said you’re retired, was that your profession?
JD: Well the last job I had was at an observatory. But there are a lot of people taking these types of pictures. Well maybe not a lot, there’s a few thousand of us.

LJ: This is exactly why I love doing these artist interviews. I learn so much. You’re the 3rd artist I’ve interviewed from the contest, and with each session it’s just so interesting what leads people to their art and their interests and how that all influences each other. On your Facebook page you said that you started producing art when you were 13. Did you have to rebel to make your art or was your family supportive? Tell me what it was like, just pursuing what you wanted to do.
JD: I don’t really remember much about that except that the parents supplied the money. I had to do everything myself but they supplied the materials and money.

LJ: So you built your own darkroom when you were a kid?
JD: About the same time as the telescope, I built a small darkroom and it wasn’t very big, maybe 8’ by 3’ or 4’;just big enough to get in to. It had a counter top and some cabinets. There was no running water or anything. And then I had a little enlarger in there and I don’t really remember much about it but we found some negatives from back then a couple years ago. Mostly just family and pictures of streets and that kind of stuff.

LJ: When I was a kid, a little older, probably, it was college. I think I was 20 when I came home for the summer and took some classes locally. One of them was a dark room photography class down at Bowling Green and again, it was one of those things where I didn’t have my own dark room, but just the thrill of going into a dark room, completely pitched black and unrolling the film and not understanding what you were going to get and then developing it yourself. To me, that process is such a rewarding process, as opposed to digital it’s nice to see what you’re getting right away but there’s just something about that whole dark room experience that is hard to describe.
JD: I remember the first roll of film I developed was a roll of 120, I think. And I did it in a tray because I didn’t have a tank or anything and I did it in my closet in my bedroom.

LJ: Oh that’s funny!
JD: I’m sure my parents really appreciated that…

LJ: Yeah! All the chemicals in your closet! So, Joseph are you a degreed artist or are you self taught?
JD: I’m self taught. There’s so much stuff on the internet now that you can get tutorials on just about anything.

LJ: Do you belong to any groups or clubs or organizations?
JD: I’m a member of our astronomy group here at Alamogordo. It’s an outreach program for schools and state parks. We go to the state park once a month and we’re going to do a school here next month for their science night.

LJ: I’m kind of inspired to check out our local planetarium! It sounds like fun. How old are the kids that you’re working with?
JD: I think this group of kids next month is 4th grade.

LJ: Oh fun! When I’m looking at your Facebook page, there are some really interesting images with water. You take everyday subjects from nature and make them sculptural and contemporary. You zero in and capture the detail, and crop them in.
JD: I’ll go find something interesting and take digitals, since is doesn’t cost anything, 20 to 30 images from different angles. And then pick the ones that look good, like this one with the windmill and water tank. I was driving out to the location of where we have our star parties and I had just gotten a new camera, and the composition of this one just happened to come out right with the clouds.

LJ: Did I hear you call those ‘star parties’?
JD: Yes

LJ: That is so cool, I love it! And it has nothing to do with Hollywood - just real stars!
JD: Exactly. This time of year we can look at Jupiter, and Orion nebula and, well there’s a whole bunch of stuff you can look at but Jupiter is the one everyone likes to look at.

LJ: So you’re outside Albuquerque?
JD: I’m in Alamogordo, it’s about 100 miles south of Albuquerque. This is one of the last dark areas in the country.

LJ: How did you photograph that water drop?
JD: Oh I set up a tray with water in it and a little framework to hold a cup of water and I put a pinhole in it so that it would slowly drip. And when I set up the camera, I put a stick where the water was hitting so I knew where to focus. I took the stick out and then I set up a light to reflect off a piece of cardboard that I had painted with blues and reds so the light in the pictures are reflected off the back which gives you the colors. The timing was really critical. I had to keep guessing on the timing.

LJ: Do you sell your work much or is it mostly like a hobby?
JD: Well I’m trying but I haven’t managed to sell anything yet. I gave some away at Christmas. I’m able to print up to 13 x 19. I framed some stuff and gave it away. I created a gallery on your site hoping to sell, but I don’t have the marketing skills I need. I know what needs to be done but I can’t do it.

LJ: We’ve learned some things recently that might be helpful to you in your online marketing. Google has made all kinds of changes recently, which effects search. Because there’s so many people that are proliferating on the internet selling work and what we have learned, and fortunately our website is capable of being compatible with what Google is doing today. Go to your artist profile where you write about yourself, and make sure you write between 300 - 500 words that describe you and your artistic process. They will rate that content higher than your visual content. It’s important to tag your images as well so they don’t get lost in search. That’s one way you can try to increase your visibility. And then it’s helpful that you have your Facebook page. Do you have a gallery relationship yet? Like a physical gallery that you exhibit through?
JD: No, I don’t have that. That’s hard to do too. A couple of years ago I tried to do that, they told me they hadn’t sold a picture in 6 months and that no one is buying.

LJ: When you go into your online art gallery, you can actually use as many keywords as possible that relate to that subject matter. If somebody is searching for an image of a globular cluster, you want to make sure your work will show up in Google search images. So, it’s just a matter of tagging everything as much as possible, and keeping the tags unique. The Google algorithm that has just been released a few months ago, called Hummingbird, has all to do with conversational search. Like how people talk, how they search into their cell phones now by speaking into the cell phone. So these tend to be longer, more conversational search queries and so the content on the website needs to be as robust as the query. I would have to believe there’s a whole world of people that would be totally fascinated with your astronomical photography. That is a real way to approach this. And think about the the paper you print on. I don’t know if you’ve ever printed with us but we have a paper called Slickrock Metallic and if you ever want to test it out, go to the website and order a small proof of it. You can see how the paper may make it very ethereal; out of this world. For these kinds of images I think it would be kind of exciting to test out.
JD: I can add the images I took from Australia to my gallery. They’re large, I don’t know if there are any limits on this.

LJ: You can upload up to 100MB for printing and 50MB to store in the gallery.
JD: Okay. I didn’t put any tags or anything on any of my pictures in my gallery but I suppose I could go in and add tags, that might help.

LJ: Oh yeah, that’ll definitely help. Absolutely it’ll help.
JD: If you could put my Facebook address there on the interview we can get some hits on this.

LJ: Oh, yeah we definitely will
JD: I put the link to my gallery on your site.

LJ: That’s the correct thing to do. Now, there are a lot of artists that don’t get that. So they leave their ‘connect with me’ blank and its like ‘No! You can direct people to your blog, Twitter, Facebook account, or web page.
JD: Did you look at the image of the alligator?

LJ: Yes!
JD: Did you enlarge it?

LJ: He looks like a sculpture
JD: Look in his eye there!

LJ: Yeah it’s creepy! It would scare me to death.
JD: Look in his eye you can see a reflection. You can see reflections of me and a couple other people.

LJ: Yes, still creepy. So there’s one more thing, Aubrey I’m going to let you speak to this part of the interview because we’re on the topic but Aubrey is really our social media expert and we just had some capabilities added to our website that I’m not sure that you’re aware of.

AK: Hi Joseph. If you go to your gallery on our website, under the little icon image that you have of yourself, there are some sharing buttons that we’ve added. I know you have a Facebook but do you have a Twitter or a Google + page or anything?
JD: Let me see here; I have a link to your gallery on my website and on my Facebook page. And I have the ‘connect with me’ going back to my Facebook page here.

LJ: So under the icon on your page you’ll see all the social sharing buttons
JD: Okay you’ve got Facebook and Twitter and Pin it.

AK: The third one is Google + which is kind of like a Facebook but it’s powered by Google. They’ll rank that higher because it’s their own social media platform. And what you can do is if you click on the Facebook one, it’ll open up a new window for you, and you’ll have to be logged in but you can then share individual images or your entire gallery right on your Facebook page. And if you share the image it’ll link them right back to where they can buy it.
JD: Okay, I have the balloon picture up here, so if I click on the Facebook thing that picture comes up. Does the actual picture come up?

AK: So you clicked on the balloons one?
JD: Yes and then the Facebook icon and it says ‘say something about this’.

AK: Yep! So then you can type something about it. You could maybe put the price if you want, or maybe say ‘buy this here’, you can say anything at all you want about it; where it was taken, your inspiration behind it, anything like that. And then there should be a button underneath that that says ‘share’. Click that and it should share it to your page.
JD: It says ‘share link’ and shows that picture. Okay, I see how this works.

LJ: So as you gain followers, you know, we can put your interview on our Facebook page and share that. You know, its just fun engagement.
JD: I got a lot of hits on my page from the announcement.

LJ: From the press release? Oh good!
JD: I didn’t get any ‘likes’ but I got a lot of hits on it.

LJ: Well the ‘likes’ will follow. It takes some time at first.
JD: If I could get someone to be my assistant to do all this social media stuff...

LJ: Well, I don’t know your area but there are photography students who might want to learn your techniques and how you approach your art form. Maybe you could work out some kind of internship or some kind of arrangement so while they are learning from you, they can handle your social media. There are so many bright students; this comes natural to them, they’re young, they’re interested and they’re connected. They get it. But they don’t have the experience in the art form that you have.
JD: When I get the studio done we’re going to do something like that.

LJ: It looks like you’ll have a great space for it!
JD: I’m going to start doing some glamour photography and that kind of stuff.

LJ: Ooh that’s nice! So that’s the direction you’re taking your work? Regarding ‘glamour’ photography: Do you mean fashion, portrait photography or objects?
JD: We could do fashion photography and the studio is big enough for larger items. We could actually get a motorcycle in there. It’s all just beginning. I have to get all this built.

LJ: When you look at your life in photography, what do you consider your biggest accomplishment so far?
JD: I guess that my interest in photography has gotten me connected at the observatory. That was the biggest thing. The other big deal is winning your contest

LJ: Honestly, since it sounds like you’re kind of new on social media, I do think it is a big deal! Because it means that people just really liked your work. So why did you choose the swan as opposed to some of the other astronomical photographs?
JD: Well, I didn’t have any of the astronomical work in the gallery. The first one I entered was the car, and the second one I entered the two birds with the drop of water, and then the swan. And I was only a few votes ahead of the second person.

LJ: Well people do love animal images. It seems to put some artists at the top.
JD: The swan was kind of cool because of all the details. I can see down into the feathers and little drops of water

LJ: Sometimes on Facebook the contest images look so small, it’s hard to see.
JD: You can print it 16” x 20” or so and still have a clear image. I printed it about 8” x 10” and matted it with a cherry frame.

LJ: So, how did you originally find us?
JD: I needed a place to buy mats and plexi-glass and I found you on the internet.

LJ: How long ago was that when you discovered us?
JD: Oh, 2 or 3 years ago.

LJ: So we have a track record with you then!
JD: I haven’t ordered anything recently. At one point I thought I had a marketing type of person who was interested in doing the job and then that fell through. So now I’m building a studio so hopefully I can get this going again.

LJ: You’ll have some wall space that’s for sure.
JD: I’m going to use the prize from the contest to do all the framing to put on the walls on the studio.

LJ: How do you keep a fresh perspective, meaning do you ever deal with creative blocks in your work or is that not something that really is an issue for you?
JD: I have that problem sometimes if I take a tutorial or something like that on some kind of technique. That will sometimes cause me to have a block.

LJ: Cause a block??
JD: Instead of inspiring me it usually shuts me down. If I take a tutorial on some technique or something like lighting or something, for some reason it tends to shut down that part of my creativity for 6 months.

LJ: Do you get bogged down with the detail of the new thing you’re trying to integrate and that maybe interferes with the creative process?
JD: I want to learn how to do it but I don’t want to be told about composition or that type of thing.

LJ: So maybe other people’s ideas simply get your way?
JD: Yeah, I’ll have to go do something else, like make something on my lathe and not think about photography at all until whatever it is goes away.

LJ: What’s your favorite camera?
JD: My favorite one is the Hasselblad H3D. That’s my favorite camera.

LJ: How do you decide what to charge for your work?
JD: I have no idea –laughs- I put $25 but I don’t know if that’s too much or what.

LJ: Well, it’s an open question with a lot of different answers.
JD: There’s no way for me to figure it out.

LJ: Some of the artists we’ve interviewed and some of the people that I’ve just known over the years say that they try to go and look at what others in their genre are charging and then try to charge what they see is comparable quality or comparable work.
JD: Well it has to be priced high enough that people think its worth it but not so high that they don’t have enough money to do it.

LJ: And then to compensate you for your time…
JD: I’m not sure exactly where to price that. Like on your gallery, most of the money goes to the frame and mat and stuff. The one on the gallery called “pub” I think the total cost of that printed out at 13” x 19” with a frame and everything is over $200…I can’t remember exactly. I had someone looking at it at some point and we went through the entire process and it was really expensive.

LJ: So if I go to configure package, I’m just going to try something here, I’m going to look into that. I can see if you put UV plex and acid free mat boards and all that that you might get up around the couple hundred dollar range but generally speaking it should be a lot less. What we’re showing with just basic, a 13” x 10” framed print is $74.30. So you should be able to price economically with us. A 13” x 20” is $118. On a 30” x 20” the outside dimension is almost 37” x 27” and that package cost is $172.
JD: Yeah, see it’s starting to get pricey.

LJ: True, but that’s making it really big. So, just so you know I do the pricing. And I try to keep everything so that we’re half of what you would pay elsewhere for custom framing and printing. I do try to keep that in mind because we have so many artists who are working and selling and trying to make a living. We try to make our money through volume and keeping the prices low. Hopefully that’s helpful.
JD: One of the other interviews I read, she had you guys frame it and she was selling it in her booth or whatever. That was one of the plans I had. We have some art fairs around here and I was thinking about setting up a booth and trying to sell some stuff there. I wanted to have some better landscape type stuff to do that with.

LJ: For something like that I just recommend doing a couple pieces framed, just for show. Then prepare the majority of your work simply matted and ready to go. That way people can put the frame on it that they want to and you don’t have to incur that cost. Before we wrap up, do you have any questions for me?
JD: I don’t know…. - laughs-

LJ: Well, if you think of anything just shoot me a note or give us a call. I don’t know if you know this but we’re a family business. My dad started this in our garage when I was a kid, like we’ve been in business, this will be our 42nd year. He’s still involved; he’ll be 82 this year. He still comes to work when he can, well actually he’s been here a lot. We’re expanding and we’re creating a state of the art gallery space and meeting space for our local community. There’s a lot of galleries in the Toledo/Maumee area, Northwestern Ohio that are closing shop, which is hard on the artists, so we’re going to be providing free space for artists to show their work
JD: Free space will be nice!

LJ: And then we can sell it and whatever commission the artist wants we will collect that money. But we’re trying to do some events here and get some real excitement in the art community here. I really think that if you can be really diligent about tagging your work and doing a more robust profile on your gallery page and really talk about some of the things we’ve spoken about here… you have a lot of space here to fill in, I would take advantage of that. Talk about your background and your fascination with the universe and how that’s informed your work, fascination with nature and where you’re taking your art now. You could even put a plug in for your studio and what your current business is and what you’re trying to do.

AK: I think it would be cool if you put some of your astronomy photos in your gallery as well.
JD: I’ll look at putting some of those up, but I’ll have to make sure they’re ready to print. It’s not something you can just throw up there. I’ll have to make sure they look good to print because you guys don’t do any processing of the images.

LJ: True, but we will help you with the proofing process if you want to test some things out on different papers.
JD: All the ones I did before I tried to make sure they could be printed larger.

LJ: One more thing, I just want to comment, I’m looking at the gallery at your fruit stand picture. It looks like a painting to me with how it’s lit, and it’s very soft and a little bucolic. It’s a beautiful photograph. You might want to try some higher price points on some of your work.
JD: Thank you.

LJ: Well Joseph, this has been a real pleasure speaking with you today and I really appreciate your time, I’m glad to make this connection with you. We’ll be writing up our interview and send you a link when it’s ready. If you have any more questions about gallery set up or anything we can do for you just give us a call.
JD: Okay

LJ: Good luck with your new studio! Thank you again!
JD: Thank you!