Dan McCormack

Artist Q&A with Dan McCormack

Dan McCormack is a New York-based photographer who uses traditional 8 x 10 black-and-white film in a homemade oatmeal-box pinhole camera to create wide-angle distortions with the cylindrical focal plane. There is a sense of discovery and joy in his process, as the resulting images are unpredictable and surprising. The familiar becomes unfamiliar, the ordinary extraordinary. By then replacing the black-and-white values with subtle hues through successive pulling of curves in Photoshop, he interacts with and interprets the image. The “Nude at Home” is a subset of a larger pinhole-camera project that begun in 1998. In this series, he photographs the model nude in her own home, apartment, or studio, surrounded by her possessions for two-minute exposures. A collaboration between model and photographer, the images attempt to reveal an intimate portrait of the subject. He currently heads the photography program at Marist College.

“Caitlin_F_4-26-15–11AB”,  pinhole camera image, 23 x 20 in | 58 x 51 cm, 2015

Who is your favorite artist of all time?

Photographer Aaron Siskind is my favorite artist of all time. He was my basic photographer teacher, but more importantly he showed me what a personal vision is all about. He also gave me the sense to trust myself. His work speaks to an audience.

How did you become a professional artist?

I was never concerned about being an artist. I was concerned about making better photographs. The more and more that I worked at making more and more successful images I looked back and saw that I had become an artist.

What are the influences and inspirations in your work?

When I was a student, I went to every photography exhibition in a gallery or museum in Chicago where I was studying. I went to every library that I could get to and saw what photography books that I had not known the works of the photographer. Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, Minor White, Wynn Bullock, and Paul Caponigro were my early influences.

Dan McCormack, self-portrait.

How is your work different from everything else out there?

I have been photographing the nude for fifty years. I do not wish to make “pretty pictures.” Harry Callahan and Wynn Bullock are the only photographers who have made photographs of nudes, and that is because their images “say something”.My work has been about sensuality and “saying something”.

When is a piece finished for you?

For me, a piece is finished when I print it. But recently I have been making grids and I find an image appears in a grid with related images that share a moment or an idea or an expression that that single image did not complete.

What’s different about your current body of work?

For almost 20 years I was making a series of pinhole camera nudes at home. With my pinhole camera and a 650-watt studio lamp, I would need a model to hold still for a two-minute exposure. That was from about 2003 to 2019.  About four years ago I began to explore shooting the nude with a cell phone camera. I found that my images were spontaneous. I could be in the moment with the model. Now in a studio shoot, I usually make over 2000 exposures.

“Helen_W-03-04-16 – – 07-AD”,  pinhole camera image, 19 x 20 in | 49 x 51 cm, 2016

Tell us about a few of your career highlights or moments that have greatly affected your career?

I taught my first college photography class at Perdue University while I was in my last semester of studying for my MFA degree in photography. Then for my first year after earning my MFA, I was teaching photography at Pratt Institute in NYC.

I earned a NYSCA-CAPS Photography Fellowship in 1982 with a series of Infrared images of my wife Wendy nude in bed shot over seven or eight years. Next, I earned a fellowship at the Ultimate Eye Foundation, in San Francisco, CA in 2009 with a series of my pinhole camera images of the nude in the landscape and the studio.

I was one of three founders of the Center for Photography in Woodstock. At that time, it was named the Catskill Center for Photography. I served on the original Board of Directors and as Vice President for the first 10 years.

I have had several solo exhibitions but one stands out. In 2010 the Photography Center of the Capitol District in Troy New York, I showed over fifty photographs made from 1990 to 2010. They were works from 10 diverse series that I was working on over that time.

What’s coming up for you?

The dean of the college where I currently teach requires the faculty to report at the end of each academic year on their creative activities. I report that I usually participate in over 60 exhibitions each academic year in local, nation, and international shows.

I currently am printing, mounting, and framing for shows at Queen City 15 Gallery (Poughkeepsie, NY), Woodstock Artists Association (Woodstock, NY), and The Center for Photography at Woodstock (Woodstock, NY).

 What advice would you give to an artist just starting out today?

I would suggest going to see as many local and NYC shows as you can. Go online and looking at work. Be open to what is out there.

“Lenoir_R_03-22-19 – – 07AD”, pinhole camera image, 18 x 20 in | 45 x 51 cm, 2019

To learn more about Dan and his work, please click here.