017 / 10 October 2014 / Features

The New Glory
Photography by Dana Scruggs
In Conversation with Anthony Bryant

Dana Scruggs never saw herself being a photographer – until she moved to NY and made it happen. With a rare amount of determination and perseverance, Dana's aesthetic reflects this unique drive and ambition, highlighting her singular perspective. In an industry marked with cookie cutter images, Dana's captures of the male body's grace, athleticism, and beauty are a welcomed change. Here she tells fellow Chicago native, designer and art director Anthony Bryant, about her humble beginnings and how to balance integrity in the time of Instagram.

 

Anthony Bryant: Are you doing a lot of editorial work?


Dana Scruggs: Right now I’m doing editorial. When I first moved here I was shooting all the time, I was testing constantly. At first that was great, and then I felt like the quality of my work started to decline. I was doing what the agencies wanted—or what I thought they wanted—instead of shooting what I liked. I was trying to get the agencies to pay me. So I thought “if they like it, they’ll pay me - and then I won’t be broke.”

 

AB: That’s that interesting balance in being a creative, where you want to create something that appeals to a market you’re going after, but there’s a line where you’re compromising your creative talent. You have to walk that line where you feel you’re pushing it, but still open it up to a wider audience. 


DS: And you have to trust yourself.
 

A: That’s the biggest thing. When you know you’re doing something amazing, you can feel it. You feel like a little kid, there’s this energy.


D: It’s true. And when I stopped trying to cater to the agencies, just shooting shit I liked...saying to myself “if they like it, they like it, if they don’t, they don’t - because it’s just a test and they’re not paying me for it” - suddenly I started getting so many paid test shoots and I’m just shooting the way I want to shoot. My style. It feels good. And it feels good to finally get paid.
 

A: That’s the hustle.


D: I was super broke. I was crashing with a friend in the Bronx for a minute. I’ve moved 13 times since I moved to NY. I was crashing in Bushwick before that, on a box spring, I didn’t even have a bed. And then I was on a couch for two months with no money, no job, wanting to get paid and I couldn’t get any money from anywhere.
 

A: You have to be able to make money to do the work you love.
 

D: Or even just to survive! At certain points, I was thinking, can I even eat here? I just questioned, "when is this going to end?" Even for dinner or a drink or whatever… I would have to go to a coffee shop...and bring my own tea bag.
 

A: But it’s good now?
 

D: Yes, these past couple months - I feel like I’ve been able to breathe.
 

A: With your photography—this is one thing that I’m fascinated with when it comes to photographs—do you feel like your personal perspective truly shines through with your work? Or do you explore different ideas versus one set aesthetic? There’s some photographers that do one thing and and they do it really well and it captures their persona...
 

D: For me personally, I just want my work to grow. I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. I know I have a style. But, if I see something is becoming redundant - I realize I need to move on. I don’t want to get comfortable with the photography I do. I think the problem with a lot of photographers is that they keep doing the same thing and they don’t grow and it’s not interesting. I get bored very quickly. If I don’t start retouching something right away, at least one image…if I let it go too long, then I’m done with it. I’ve moved on. I’ve shot again and I feel like that’s better than what I’ve done before so - I don’t want to go back. But usually I have to because I owe these people these images. I kind of had an emotional breakdown last summer because I wanted to be so much better. 
 

A: Everyday it’s about progress.
 

D: Absolutely. I want to keep getting better. I don’t have the foundation that a lot of photographers have, such as school…
 

A: That’s important to a point, but i think when you are creative and you have that eye, that’s something education can’t teach you. It’s about hard work and being in that field and doing it. For me, I might be the opposite of you. I have a very specific aesthetic and I use that as a foundation to explore different allies. I studied Black Studies and a lot of what I do is influenced by African spirituality and philosophy. It sounds specific but for it’s so broad. I can
take it and master it.
 

D: It’s specific, but at the same time there is so much to explore. 
 

A: I think it’s good to kind of set that sort of fence and say, “this is where I’m going to make my home and explore…to keep working on making it feel deeper and more contemporary." How do I make this principal stick to someone who isn’t spiritual? And that is fascinating to me. I cherish it, putting these ideas or principles in something. 
 

D: Dropping truth....dropping knowledge? See I just put my own spin on it. I’m not too down with the slang. I see some internet abbreviation and I always have to ask my friends, “what does that mean?” 
 

A: You’re in 2010, this 2014.
 

D: I’ve never been too cool. I’ve always been weird. 
 

A: But I think it’s something that sneaks up on you and you can use it to your advantage. I feel like people who think they are cool…it’s often too much maintenance, to try to have this persona and you become delusional. 

 

D: And your ego becomes gargantuan.  


A: A lot of times people in NY, who think they have to be so cool, get to the point where they aren’t doing anything. They’re just fighting to project an image that isn’t even real. 


D: And you don’t even know who you are. I feel like that’s part of the problem. They're so afraid to see who they are, they put on these masks…


A: Especially creative people. I feel like you can’t create great work without a sense of self.
 

D: A lot of photography is very redundant, it’s because everyone is trying to copy other people and other styles. Especially the Terry Richardson flash photography…that aesthetic with the white background. And then there's a certain ‘apathetic youth” photography… 
 

A: I think that’s tied to culture because it is perceived as cool by our culture to be apathetic. The culture of “whatever.” 
 

D: But really you care so much about caring. If no one likes your picture on Instagram - then you care. You care so much. But essentially, I feel like when I was first starting out, I was trying to imitate all these aesthetics. I was going through phases trying to find myself. And without being conscious of it, I moved away from that. Then I worried if it was a bad thing that my work didn’t look like other people’s. I worried if it was even good.
 

A: That’s understandable, because with fashion and fashion photography, there is this certain “language.” And if you’re not speaking that “language,” it’s like people aren’t receptive and they are just going to put it aside. And...that shit is crazy! 
 

D: And I feel like fashion photography can be really creative, but there are only a few photographers out there really doing stuff. One thing I’m learning is just to create, put it out there and people will find you
 

A: A part of the creative process is also the ways you can stretch—finding ways beyond your work to make money to you can keep doing your process. 
 

D: NY is one of those places you have to stick it out. I knew, even during one my lowest points here, that I had to ride it out. People stepped up and let me crash on their couch. Any other situation I would have had to go home. But I found support here. And now I consider this home. 
 

A: It makes you take things less for granted and gives you purpose.  
 

D: Intention is key.  
 

A: But it shines through in an artist’s work. 
 

D: Unfortunately, I find a lot of it to be lacking now. Especially with photographs of male models recently. Much of it seems to be gratuitous. Not beautiful or necessary. Merely for shock value or to see some guy’s dick. If there was a purpose behind it, then of course I’m behind it. I’ve shot nudes, full frontal even, but the beauty has to come through. It can’t just be “the dick.” Even if the dick is beautiful. {laughter}  I love shooting men. With women, for me, I feel like they can’t open themselves up to something like that. Most of the women I’ve shot have been afraid of being ugly, afraid of not looking like a model, they don’t want to trust that I can make them look good.
 

A: That might be the standard in fashion where you have editorials that involve women that are typically very stoic, very feminine, very soft, it might just be a standard in fashion where these models feel like they have to be so pretty and reserved.
 

D: They just have....resting bitch face.
 

A: Sometimes that looks good!
 

D: It does, but not for every shot! 
 

A: Not the Zoolander look.
 

D: No, and that goes for guys too. I’m not saying men are so much better, I’m just saying I feel like it’s easier for me to bring it out of men and that’s why I enjoy shooting them more. I enjoy their physicality, their energy, I feel that they trust me more. As women, we don’t want to trust. I’ve had people say to me, you’re not really doing art. But when I look at other work, if someone wants to express themselves, even if I don’t naturally consider it that ‘artistic,’ if that’s their art, that’s their art.  
 

A: One of the things that has become part of my practice is having the audience come to me. It’s like, if you don’t know what my art is about, beyond the ‘face value’ layer, then you have to meet me up here...I’m not gonna come down there. That’s one thing I’ve been experimenting with, if people are willing to be challenged. 
 

D: Not to disparage, because who I am to do that...who is anyone? But I feel that it returns to the roots of cultural celebrity. Actors who become singers, reality TV stars who become famous, people calling paparazzi to follow them to value their lives. 

 

A: Or on a personal level, when people do something in life just to show it on Instagram. 
 

D: It’s a fabricated version of your life that you want people to see. Do I post pictures that show I'm in bed, haven’t
slept or eaten, with stains on my shirt, working for the past 20 hours retouching an image? 
 

A: It’s important to be able to define success on your own terms. 
 

D: Everybody has their own path. 


Dana Scruggs
Portfolio: http://danascruggs.com
Blog: http://danascruggsphoto.tumblr.com
Like: http://facebook.com/danascruggsphoto
Watch: http://vimeo.com/user2618455

 


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Dana Scruggs

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Anthony Bryant

Credits
Styling by: Michael Fusco
Danny Lim (Soul Artist Management)
Devin Alexander (Soul Artist Management)
Sam Worth (DNA Models)
Mark Westinghouse (NY Models)

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