Artist Spotlight: Dan Nicoletta
BY Albert Smith
August 07 2010 4:00 AM ET
Harvey Milk and Denton Smith
The Advocate: Why are you a photographer?
Dan Nicoletta: I started as a film student and found filmmaking to be too clunky then and with less promise of fiscal prosperity than still photography, so I segued to stills. Its hugely ironic to me that the language of still photography now includes motion capability, which is great, but I also love what can be conveyed in a single image.
What catches your eye?
I am deeply in love with my fellow human beings. I started from the Arbus tradition of meditating on our foibles, but I have more recently morphed into the romantic tradition of someone like Brassai, who had the wisdom to document the queer life of Paris in the ’30s before it vanished. Like Brassai’s, I want my documentation to be poignant but also stunning and gorgeous to look at, not repellent, though I don’t shy away from exploring most things. There is still a little of what I lovingly call the Arbutic in me.
How do you choose your subjects?
It’s like peeling the onion — I only need to go down one layer to find what is meant to be next. In recent years I have decided to only work within my immediate sphere, friends and soul mates or work colleagues. San Francisco never disappoints, so I am photographing strangers less and less. But occasionally I will also select a challenge and explore outside of my comfort zone, especially if it’s an area of the LGBT community that is underrepresented in my work, which I hope will continue to serve to reflect back the times and inspire positive movement forward.
How do you describe your work?
I often describe myself as a chronicler of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender journey. I have been lucky to call that civil rights movement my beat for the last 36 years since I arrived in S.F. at age 19 in 1974 and stumbled into Harvey Milk’s camera store looking for a place to develop my Super 8 films. There is something wondrous about being an insider documenting any scene, I think that’s an important facet of my work, that I am concentrating on creativity that pertains to my life.
What makes a good photograph to you?
In portraits, when the sitter’s soul comes forward in the photo, and in vérité work when the photo is poetic and brimming with poignant and inspiring symbolism.
Who are your favorite artists? And why?
Lately I have been crazy for Jean-Paul Goude and also Thomas Kelly’s portraits of Indian sadhus. I have always loved Erwin Olaf ... I am constantly looking to see how others handle the challenges of visual colonization and still make good and balanced work. All of those artists have adept curiosity and integrity around those nuances and issues.