The first time we saw Daniel Schaefer, it was with an extraordinarily simple image — a neon sign reflected in a puddle in Little Tokyo. The type of thing most of us would overlook, or consider “too easy.” But it worked, and since then, it’s been a pleasure to watch the 18-year-old grow as a photographer, creating images that are consistently striking and ever more complex. You could say it’s in his blood, with both a father and an uncle as professional photographers, but no amount of talent can compensate for the simple act of getting out there and making images.
Sadly, this is also somewhat of a goodbye to Daniel, since he’s leaving us to attend college in New York. We’ll miss him as a contributor, but we wish him the best of luck and look forward to seeing what he produces in New York as he continues to grow.
1) How and why did you get into photography?
I was always surrounded by cameras growing up. My father and my uncle both had careers as professional photographers, so even before I took up photography, I was familiar with the equipment and the process. My photography, though, stemmed from another passion altogether. I was a drama major at CHAMPS Charter High school in Van Nuys, and during my 11th grade year, I was spending four to five hours a day preparing for the winter production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” At some point, the director was looking for someone to take pictures of the rehearsals for the school newsletter, and I came forward with a “I think my dad has a camera I can borrow!” So the next day I came in and shot 50 or 60 shots of rehearsal and really found that I was enjoying myself. The next day, when I did not bring the camera to school with me, I found myself thinking, ‘Wow, that would have been a great shot!” or “I missed that!?” So the next day, I brought my camera back with me, and it has not left my side since.
2) Where and what do you like to photograph?
I live in Studio City, which has the fantastic attribute that it’s the same distance to everywhere, so whether I want to go to Van Nuys for a few hours, or into Hollywood, or take the train downtown, I’m not limited by time or distance. I consider myself a street photographer, and a portraitist. Ultimately, a career in photojournalism would be the goal. I try to tell a true story through my images, not contrive one with my own.
Lately, in addition to a number of assignments with groups I work with, I have spent a good deal of time shooting on Hollywood Boulevard, where my father and I manage the 4th Floor Gallery, in the Hollywood building on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga Boulevard.
3) Who or what are your inspirations?
Photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Mary Ellen Mark, Eliot Erwitt, but in addition to photographers, men such as Martin Scorcese, Teller, Gene Kelly – people with a vision who are willing to get their hands dirty to fulfill it.
4) What do you photograph with?
I’m a Nikon fanboy through and through. I shoot with a Nikon D7000, D70, Nikon Fm2, N90s and recently, my iPhone 4. (Camera+ is every photographer’s dream app.)
5) What’s one of your favorite images, and why?
Of mine, it’s really hard to say. I’m my worst critic, I could sit and insult my own work for hours.
If I had to pick two, they would be my image “Lone Love,” of a young woman sitting sullenly in a downtown diner under twinkling Christmas lights, or “Trouble Makers,” which is actually an image of my younger brother, running away from security in the underground mall in Little Tokyo
If I was to choose another photographer’s work however, my two all-time favorite images are the image of the bicyclist by Henri Cartier Bresson or this image by Mary Ellen Mark.
6) Anything else you’d like to add?
I work closely with organizations such as Get Lit Words Ignite ( a youth poetry movement) and the Magic Castle (where I have worked as a performer since I was 13), and even though I graduated in June, CHAMPS Charter High School for the performing arts and sciences, truly one of the best schools in the city. Sadly also, I will be leaving Los Angeles to attend Parsons the New School for Design in New York City, working toward a dual major in photography and creative writing, as well as a double minor in photojournalism and cinematography.