Daniel Arnold is one of the most popular and active street photographers shooting today. Unlike previous generations of street photographers, his cult following on Instagram and Tumblr makes him feel like an active participant in the New York community, not just a passive observer. We asked him what drives him to shoot his photos and how his internet celebrity has influenced his style.
How often do you shoot? Do you have a schedule or a routine?
I shoot all day everyday. It's not really a calculated thing so much as an illness. I'm just obsessed. Before I quit my job I'd shoot meetings, lunch lines, my commute, everything. Now that I'm in a less structured world, I spend most days walking, not necessarily for the sake of photography or even with a goal in mind, but just getting deep enough in my head that I can come out the other side and see things a little differently, like they're new. Carrying a camera makes all that wandering feel productive.
How do you interact with people when you're shooting — is your approach more "fast and sneaky" or do you let people know you're taking their picture?
It depends on the situation. First of all, there are degrees of sneakiness. For me, nothing ruins a photo like a camera. For quiet shots, with people feeling safe and private in public, it's a slow, sneaky game. I shoot low, looking in every other direction. At the beginning, that was pretty much the only kind of stranger photo I could pull off. By now I feel pretty comfortable sticking my camera in anybody's face, and taking an active role in the tone of what comes out. But they still don't know they're having their picture taken until it's already happening.When you're supplying the energy and emotion, everybody is at least as interesting as you are. But the quiet ones are still my favorites. Either way, I try to be respectful and positive.
How much are you able to control framing and composition during the moment when you're taking a photo?
I have a good sense of my cameras. I know basically how to hold them and where, in order to get things to be how I want them. But I wouldn't call it "control". There's loads of messed up photos for every decent one. It's emotional more than technical, so the mistakes and surprises do more than I could do on purpose.
How do you think Tumblr and Instagram have influenced street photography? Do you feel any pressure to post photos regularly or do you just end up with tons of photos you love?
The pressure is totally self-imposed. I do end up with tons of photos I love, but I also just like the discipline and it's a place to learn. It's exercise. More than anything, I've learned photography by being compulsive and obsessed. I have 50,000 photos on Flickr, not counting my phone photos (of which I must have 200,000 by now). When you're super prolific like that, it takes your brain out of the job. It lets you care less about how it looks than about how it feels. Eventually you're telling a story that's only yours. So in that way, I think the internet and phones have given everybody a huge nudge toward pure, personal, creative communication. You get hooked and it just happens when you're not even paying attention. And to me, that makes a boom in street photography infinitely more interesting. You get chance choreography and candid beauty every day, but you also get the masses flirting, venting and telling their secrets using strangers' faces. On a grand scale, that's a new language.