David Urbanke's Minimalist Portraiture

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David Urbanke's Minimalist Portraiture

At what age did you first feel creative?

I started feeling creative when I was really young – around elementary school age I think. I was obsessed with drawing and painting from an early age and then photography took over in my early teens.

Did someone in your life inspire you to be creative?

Definitely my parents. I wouldn’t say they are creative types, but they have always been supportive of me being myself and not trying to conform to a mold. This helped me discover my passions from an early age.

How did you start your creative business?

I never planned on being a professional photographer – it kind of fell into my lap at the beginning. When I was around 14-15 years old, I started taking photos of my friends and uploading them to Flickr. I saw so many images on there that really inspired me. I became curious about fashion photography and filled out a sign-up form of the Ford Models website to check out more photos and get inspiration (this was back in the day when modeling agencies often had private websites). One day when I came home from school, someone who worked at the agency had passed my work around to a few of the different divisions internally. I went in for a meeting and started working with their younger/newer models on weekends, after school, etc. From there, I realized photography had potential to be a career and decided to pursue it.

Do you feel the environment / geographic location where you live affects your work? If so, how does this influence show up in your work?

Absolutely. I live in New York – and while I love it, it’s not my favorite place to shoot outside. It feels a bit overwhelming and chaotic at times. I’ve found that I love shooting studio work here. It’s a way to focus on quiet and intimate moments while escaping the hustle and bustle. When I’m in cities like Los Angeles for example, I love shooting outdoors. You have easy access to nature locations, tons of daylight, quieter streets, etc.

When / where do you think of your best / favorite ideas?

Usually when I am traveling or somewhere new! It can be anywhere from being in a new city to walking down a street I haven’t been on. I also love people watching and going to museums. There is something about seeing work physically hanging on a wall that speaks to me more than a digital screen.

How would you describe your work's palette?

I play with color a lot in my work – especially using color blocking and
creating monochromatic images. I’m big on using warm tones even when
working with cooler colors. I use colors to help set the tone and feeling for a lot of my images.

Do you feel like your ideas are always translated as you planned / expected / imagined?

Honestly no, and that is the fun of it! This is a big part of why I shoot a lot of personal work outside of commissions for clients. I love to have a general direction of where I’m going but leave a lot open to the moment. This is usually how I make ‘happy mistakes’ or discover something I wouldn’t have tried.

Do you have any tools or practices for getting out of a creative "funk"?

I’ve found that doing things outside of my normal routine usually helps. Sometimes I need time away from photography for a bit – and other times taking on odd jobs or projects that wouldn’t normally speak to me can spark something. While it may sound corny, I always say follow your gut and listen to what your mind/body is trying to tell you.

Is there anything you hope a viewer will feel or think of when they experience your work?

I’m big on capturing intimate moments and I hope that my images bring a sense of quietness and peace. One of the goals I have when shooting portraiture is for there to be an emotion conveyed from the person in the image – and that it’s open to interpretation how this makes you feel (or how you perceive them to feel).

What piece stands out to you as a favorite in your body of work right now & why?

One of my most recent favorites that I’ve shot is a portrait project I did in Paris with triplets named Jean-David, Jean-Dieudonne & Jean-Jacques. I met them on the street by chance and we ended up setting up a shoot. A few days later, they came met me where I was staying – we picked outfits their own wardrobe together and walked around taking photos. This shoot was different for me for a lot of reasons: I work a lot with bright colors (these were neutral tones), most of my shoots are in studio (this was outdoors), I’d never shot triplets, and it was my first time in Paris. There was no real plan other than being inspired by them as people and exploring a new city - I absolutely love what came of it.

Was there a turning point in your work where you feel you found your way or style?

I think so – this would probably be around 2017 for me. I joined my first photo studio share with a few other artists. I’d always been someone that shot outdoors more, and not necessarily by choice, but because it was what I had access to. Being in the studio gave me a bit more control over the environment/elements and helped me discover what I wanted my voice to be. Now I equally love shooting indoors and outdoors, but I’d say having access to a studio space even altered how I approach outdoor work.

Do you have any steps, tools or methods in your creative process that you’ve developed in your practice that feel unique to you?

Hmm, I’m not sure if these are unique to me, but they are a big part of my approach and process. It is really important for me to get to know the people I am photographing, even if it is just for a few minutes, before a shoot. This can’t always happen, so I’m always talking to people a lot as I photograph them. Even in a tight shoot frame, I’m still holding down my camera and talking to people so we can build a comfort level with each other (and they can see my face).

I think the way I do post processing is a unique combo – I never had a formal education with photography, so I’ve pieced together different things I’ve learned over the years. My initial coloring is done in Capture One, then I export to Photoshop and do additional edits in Camera Raw. From there I retouch, and will do little final tweaks in Lightroom. It’s not always the most time effective but it works for me.

What is your favorite medium/subject?

I mostly shoot digital photography and my favorite thing to photograph are people.

David Urbanke is a photographer and director based in New York City.

You can view more of his work on his website: davidurbanke.com and Instagram: @davidurbanke

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