If you live in New York City, there’s a decent chance your image, bleary-eyed and unprepared, is preserved on one of Daniel Arnold‘s massive stockpile of film rolls.
The Brooklyn-based photographer spends eight to 12 hours a day snapping photos of people and speed-walking away before they can harass him. Much of his time is spent piercing New Yorkers’ illusion of privacy, but he takes pictures wherever he goes. When he’s done “wandering around alone feeling weird,” Arnold sifts through the chaff to find golden, uniquely human moments impossible to reproduce in a studio. As Bill Cunningham ruthlessly hunted unique fashion assemblages, Arnold hunts for the serendipitous moments human interaction that happen a million times a day—just out the corner of the eye.
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Arnold’s photography is about a lot of things—chaos, attention, human connections—and while it’s displayed primarily on Instagram, it’s not about the social media platform. So why, when perusing Arnold’s entry on the New York Times, is he labeled an “Instagram Photographer”? Why did Vogue, when commissioning him to document the US Open, mark the series as “From Instagram Photographer Daniel Arnold”? In a time when plenty of photographers distribute their work through the image sharing platform, what does it even mean to be an “Instagram Photographer?”
Not much, according to Arnold. Despite the fact that the platform played a big role in his career when he made $15,000 by making a post advertising $150 prints for one day only, he doesn’t identify as an Instagram Photographer any more than he does a Street Photographer. “The idea of me being a street photographer is technically justifiable, but it’s more circumstantial than definitive,” he told i-D in 2015. “What I am is just a junkie.”
“Instagram Photographer” is just as inaccurate. Using the term, “Is like selling loafers at a wine shop after discovering via YouTube that they can be used to uncork a bottle,” he tells Creators. “It means as much as calling that blonde actress ‘Stifler’s mom.'”
When we asked him why the moniker continues to stick, he says, “Human nature. It’s too overwhelming to process every person as the center of a full blown universe of their own invention, so we just give them a nickname-y specialty store in our own secret universes and keep them there. If not for Instagram I’d be Johnny Eyebrows, which would tell my story just as completely.”
For those hoping to understand the his craft, he says that visiting “a rural Utah Wal-Mart at noon on Super Bowl Sunday,” was one of the most fertile experiences for finding weird human moments in recent memory. If you’re not a photographer but want to emulate his no-fucks-given attitude, here are the items currently on Arnold’s to-do list: “Lose 10 pounds, marry rich, pay attention.”
Creators met with Arnold to learn about the process that yields his unique images and test our photo skills against his. Watch the video below.
See more of Daniel Arnold’s work on Instagram. Watch more Like Art videos here.
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