Domonique Swanson: Photographing for Joy, Not Money

Our modern world sometimes makes us believe that success must be measured with fame. However, there are many people for whom success is quantified with a happy life. For today's interview, we want to highlight a photographer from San Diego, California. Domonique Swanson, a mother of three with a career in healthcare, shares her story of perseverance and believing in her dream.

Keeping your photographic dreams alive, even if it isn't your main career, can be an incredibly meaningful creative outlet. Photographing for the joy that it gives you and no other reason is perhaps the most authentic way to be a true artist, free from concepts of market and business, but driven by pure passion.

Picture courtesy of © Domonique Swanson

Domonique, welcome to Lomography Magazine. What is your background and what got you started with photography?

I am a 35-year-old photographer residing in San Diego, CA. While I work a normal 9-5 job, I use photography to express all of my creative thoughts and feelings, even if I don’t understand them at the moment.

I first became interested in photography around the 6th grade. My mother had given me one of her old Fuji cameras, back when film would cost you around a dollar and change. So everyday when my mother would give me lunch money, I would save it and use it to buy or develop film. My favorite part of a school day was getting home and running across the street to the Navy Exchange to drop off or pick up film.

Why do you choose to shoot film?

Maybe it’s my age, but film has always appealed to me. Digital gives you a safety net but it also opens you up to being less intentional with your images. Film requires you to take your time, to pay attention, to work with purpose.

Do you have a favorite film camera or film stock?

I love just about any camera that I have in my hand at any given moment. But the Polaroid Land Camera is my absolute love. The first time I saw this camera was watching the moving Crazy/Beautiful starring Kirsten Dunst. There's a scene where she’s recently run away from home and is staying in some run down hotel with her boyfriend. She pulls her land camera out and snaps a picture of her love interest.

She then pulls the film apart, throws the positive image to the side while placing the negative into her journal using her knuckles to rub the chemistry in. She peels the negative off and it was a wrap for me. Something that I just did casually became something I loved. So it goes without saying that my favorite film stock is the extinct Fuji FP-100C film. I’ve always said that if I ever won the lotto, I would hunt down the owners of this film and beg for reproduction.

Picture courtesy of © Domonique Swanson

Do you have a favorite photo? Can you tell us the story behind it?

The first image that comes to mind is of my daughter Drew. She’s my middle child, my only girl. She is full of this electric personality and you can see it in her face when a camera is pointed her way. One day she wanted to play in my make-up and I agreed. But of course she wasn’t interested in the cheap drug store stuff. No, she wanted the bright red MAC lipstick. So I let her play and then we sat outside our apartment and I took a few pictures on my Nikon F5.

I was really excited about these images so I sent them to a lab for processing. I didn’t want to risk messing up the development. When the images finally came back, I smiled from ear to ear. Drew on the other hand, she hated it. She told her dad that she didn’t like the picture because she smeared her lipstick. Drew is still learning to appreciate the happy accidents.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

My favorite photographer is David LaChapelle. Like most Americans, I was unknowingly familiar with his work. I remember being in middle school and all the commotion around the Britney Spears Rolling Stones cover. I remember seeing Lil Kim as a blow up doll and Tupac in a tub of gold jewellery. But it wasn’t till I saw his documentary Rize in high school that I learned of who he was, the images he made famous and the genius that was his creativity.

It was at that same time that I had joined the yearbook club as a photographer and had decided to pursue it as a career after high school. I loved watching LaChapelle create these sets and make his own fantasy world. That's the kind of photography I wanted to make. He was doing some commercial work but I could always find the art in it.

Picture courtesy of © Domonique Swanson

Regarding film soup, what are the techniques that you are currently using?

Film soup is something I just did to find new ways of being creative with my photography. It's easy to get caught up in wanting technically perfect images. And to be honest, I’ve never had the desire to study every single technical detail. In college I’m sure my professors were beyond annoyed because I was always focused on just getting the shot and composition I wanted. But they would fuss at me about dodging and burning my prints, using the right filter on the enlarger. Asking me why I still wasn’t following the technical expectations. And the truth is that I never really cared, I just wanted to see my picture and was too impatient to learn the technical stuff.

They were great instructors, I was just hard-headed. Dropping my film in a glass of bleach strips that need for control away. You get what you get and you don’t make a fit. Bleach is the only method I’ve used with film soup but I’m interested in trying other liquids like rubbing alcohol.

What's coming up for you in the future?

The future is pretty unplanned for me. Most of my days are spent pouring into my children’s interest while balancing my career in healthcare. The best advice I ever got was from one of my professors, Suda House. She told the class that she didn’t feel accomplished just because she ran into a former student who worked as a professional photographer but rather when she ran into the ones who worked normal 9-to-5’s and still found a way to create art with their cameras. When I heard her say this, it was like she had lifted a weight off my chest. See at the time, I had just had my first child, I was young, no money and so very worried about how photography would be able to provide for him. I didn’t want to shoot weddings and parties to make a living. But I didn’t want to give up on something I loved.

I loved photography for the art and creative process. In that moment, Ms. Suda gave me permission to keep photography close to my heart as a real passion. I didn’t have to stress about turning it into a profitable career. I could just love it and have fun. So that's what I do. I shoot rolls and rolls of film and collect them in a box until I feel compelled to pull out my darkroom supplies. I teach my three children how to use my film or instant cameras in hopes that they will find a love for it as well.

You can follow Domonique on Instagram.

written by eparrino on 2023-03-29 #culture #people #ca #film-soup #david-lachapelle #family-life #women-photographs #fuji-fp-100c-film #photographer-san-diego

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