As I See It with Photographer, Randy Dana

In the third grade he won the coloring contest and as they say, “the rest is history.” Or, is it? Bitten by the art bug after winning the coloring contest, Randy Dana continued to pursue art all through public school. In the summer he took art classes at the art museum on Saturdays.

In college he advanced his artistic skills by taking Drawing 1. He enjoyed it so much… he took Drawing 1 at three different colleges. One of the colleges was a community college in Denver; he was considered the third best in the class. Then one day he realized he was a small fish in a large pond where a lot more people were more talented than he was, so he decided his future wasn’t really in the arts after all. He was a waiter during his college years, so he decided to pursue what he considered a more lucrative paying gig in the restaurant business and became relatively successful.

In 1993, one of the waitresses sold him a Pentax k1000 for $50. At the time he spent a lot of time hiking and wanted to take photos of what he saw. The dormant artistic bug came back and niggled at him, pushing him to explore his creative self more.

The Director of Operations for his franchise group was taking some classes at the Photographic Center in Seattle. Randy signed up for classes; black and white 1 and 2, and the Zone system class. The Zone system was a system Adam Ansel came up with for metering, exposing, and processing.

In the Zone system class they had to expose two rolls of film every week for different effects and process it. The idea was to help learn the relationship between the meter, the camera and the film, and the processing and then get it all dialed in.

As part of the class, they were to do film test. Since he was working 60 hours a week as a restaurant manager he didn’t have much time, so he practiced his photography on still life. When time allowed, he would practice on old buildings with lots of texture and plastered walls or abandoned farmhouses with the light streaming in.

He moved up in camera equipment by purchasing a mid-range Nikon and had four lenses; one of his favorites was a 60mm macro lens.

But the artist him still wasn’t quite happy yet, he just knew there was more. He went back to the camera shop and asked his favorite sales person what lens did he need to get him to where he wanted to be. The sales person's response was, “I think you have plenty of equipment, what you probably need is some education.”

Working 60-hour workweeks he found himself running out of juice in the restaurant business. With the artist inside busting lose he found he was getting into the photography more so Randy left the job. He went back to school and took a class in Fine Art Portfolio. The goal in this class was to decide what their creative vision was, what they really wanted to work on, and developing an artistic vision. This was just what the budding artist inside needed.

Randy also signed up for a color printing class and in 1996 he shot his Fine Art Portfolio thesis project in color. In the color class they studied prominent color photographers. One of the photographers he was exposed to was Olivia Parker, a prominent and well-known photographer whose work was featured in Life magazine. Olivia was doing some interesting subjects in still life photography, like taking a delicate orchid and placing it in an industrial-type of container. Randy was intrigued by the juxtaposition of soft and lovely with an industrial non-organic harsh background. He found the subject inspired him. The idea germinated and he started mixing flowers with different backgrounds.

Randy had learned early on in his drawing classes to account for the whole frame, this was true even in photography. In one drawing class his instructor taught them how to ‘destroy’ the page, meaning when you were done with the drawing there should be no remnant of the page left, it should be a drawing, not a drawing on a page. That philosophy made an impression and Randy makes sure you know what is going on in all four corners.

Around 2000 he was playing around with arrangements on glass and noticed the reflections, then he tried putting subjects underneath the glass. One thing led to another.

“I was following visual clues. That is the way a lot of my work comes about,” Randy said.

Bouquet on Glass

His arrangements on glass became his niche, his inner-artist emerged and he found his calling. Incorporating all he had learned over the years Randy started to create stunning works of art with a multi-dimensional effect. The sales person in his favorite camera shop was right; all he needed was some education and some direction to “find” what he was looking for.

Randy started to apply to art festivals, averaging around nine or ten a year. This built up his client and collector base. In 2004 he moved to the Skagit Valley. You can find his work Scott Milo Gallery in Anacortes.

Once he got dialed into what he wanted to shoot, it also dialed down what equipment he needed. “I have one lens, one camera,” he said. “I wasn’t on the constant quest for the next gadget, for me it was more about the creative side, and figuring out what I might try differently, and what I can put in front of the camera.”

Cardoon Flight

Randy uses a 4x5 camera, loaded with about 8-10 sheets of film. He sends out the film for developing, then scans the slides. He uses Photoshop, but mostly for a little editing and then printing. His post-production is very minimal.

When it comes to an arrangement, he will start with an idea, a general direction.

“Most of my subjects are active participants,” he said.

Dahlia Pears

Once an idea forms he starts the set-up, usually the night before, playing around with the arrangement and the background until it feels right. Then early in the morning, he will review the arrangement once more, bring in fresh flowers, and waits for the lighting to be just right. When he thinks the light is just right, he will do an exposure, review his composition and decide what else he can do with it, then goes to work.

Randy uses all natural light. The best light is when the sun is peaking through the cloud cover and hits that sweet spot where it hasn’t quite burned through yet and the sky has a warm glow and shadows form. It gives the image depth and the color has more contrast.

Once the light is just right, the mood is just right, and the arrangement speaks to him… the magic happens. Randy fully engages in the process. When he is engaged, the image works, his clients like it and they sell. Over the years he has discovered that if he doesn’t engage in the process, nothing happens. Randy says his images are a result of good luck, timing, and good lighting, something he can’t reproduce. His prints are limited edition; he does 50 limited edition in the larger size and 200 limited edition for the 16x20 size.

Coral Peonies

Randy grows most of his own flowers, peonies, lilac, wisteria, dahlias, iris, and hydrangeas. When planning an arrangement he tries to think what will be coming up and moves with the season. In the winter, he spends time thinking about backgrounds and arrangements he might use. A lot of thought and planning are part of the process.

Pear Blossom Nest

In the studio is a custom-made table with several levels for different shelves. He uses clear picture glass. A wall was removed and replaced with a greenhouse wall so the natural light can come through. The wall is comprised of corrugated polycarbonate. It is very thin, 97% clear and UV coated. It is his light source. Instead of a tripod he uses a sturdier stand for locking down his camera. When he bought the place it was a former RV and auto shop and he took out over 2000 lbs of auto parts during the cleanup process.

That young boy who won the coloring contest in the third grade became a well-known still life photographer.

The journey may have taken a while, but he followed his passion and his dream of being an artist became reality.

Pomegranate with Green

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Created By
Karla Locke
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