Focus On Photographers: The Tension At The Heart Of Jordana Dale's Portraits
I recently got the chance to catch up with Jordana Dale, an Atlanta-based film photographer who specializes in commercial and portrait work. If you're in the know, you may recognize her from the Studio C-41 podcast, a show focusing on all things film photography, which she co-hosts.The photographer, Jordana Dale. Photo by Steven Wallace.
Jordana's portraiture is impressive and the fact that she exclusively works with film contributes to her compelling visual style. I wanted to talk to her a little bit about her background, methods and reasoning behind her work.
First off, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up in a small town in South Georgia and was given my first camera at age 12. It was like a low resolution digital without an LCD screen. I took photos of everything with that little camera and a few years later, I bought myself a Polaroid OneStep 600 camera with my Christmas money. This really started my love of photography—especially analog.
Then, at age 15, I enrolled in the New York Institute of Photography’s correspondence course. I had purchased a 35mm Minolta Maxxum SLR from my art teacher, and used that for all my assignments. I would mail in the 4x6 prints and they would return them with a cassette tape of critiques. I was always so nervous to listen, but my family would gather around and we all heard the feedback together. They’ve always been super supportive.
After getting my certificate of completion and graduating high school, I decided to take some time off before college. During this time, I reached out to a celebrity wedding photographer in Chicago and asked if they were in need of an intern. Three weeks later, I was on my way to Chicago for a few months to work for them. I learned so much about off-camera lighting, and it was a great experience overall. After that, I decided to attend UGA, and in 2014, I received a BFA in Photography. That fall, I moved to Atlanta where I still reside and work as a commercial and portrait photographer.
How did you decide to get into portrait photography?
I’ve always been a highly relational person. In my opinion, relationships are the most important thing in life. When I started getting into photography, I realized that I was only inspired when I had a person in front of my lens. I need that human connection to convey my concepts.
What qualities make great portraits stand out to you?
This is a tough one. Sometimes it can be an interesting pose or facial expression, but to me great portraits should contain an element of tension in order to provoke thought in the viewer.
Speaking of that, are there specific techniques you use to create tension in sessions where perhaps it’s lacking or not coming through?
If it’s lacking, I think it can somewhat be created visually through compositional devices. However, I believe great portraits have tension that’s created through the connection between subject and artist.
You exclusively shoot film—is that an aesthetic choice or is it something about the process that appeals to you?
Back when I started, digital wasn’t the best quality, so the Minolta I bought was the best camera I had at the time. It wasn’t until I began shooting weddings that I went digital. When I went to UGA, I decided that I wanted to set myself apart from the crowd by shooting film again. That’s when I realized the process of shooting film strangely made me more calm and trust myself more. I wasn’t glued to the LCD screen and overthinking everything. My work really went to the next level when I went back to film. I’ve never looked back.
What film camera gear are you currently using? Do you have a favorite film format or stock?
Currently I use a Pentax PZ1P, Olympus OM-1, Kiev 88 and Polaroid Job Pro 600. I usually shoot 35mm because I get on a roll (no pun intended) and forget to switch. But I’m going to try to shoot more medium format on my next shoots. Favorite stock is Kodak Portra 160, no question!
Can you walk us through your preparation before a shoot?
I don’t think I do the same thing every time [laughs]. I’ve normally been in contact with the team for several weeks discussing concepts and sharing inspiration images, so I’ve been mentally preparing for a while. The night before the shoot, I get my gear in order, charge batteries and make sure my bag is packed and then I’m good to go!
How much do you discuss your concept with the model beforehand, or do you prefer to direct in the moment?
It depends on the type of shoot, but usually we go back and forth several times and create a mood board together. There are shoots where I like to just wing it though—call a model up and plan to just freestyle something just for the sake of creating.
The pandemic has affected many photographers’ ability to work—how have you been dealing with that?
Honestly, it’s been rough. All of my shoots and events were canceled, and I struggled to know what to do. Back in May, I actually found an amazing location that I decided to rent with some other creatives as a studio space. So, I switched gears and have been focusing on that. We move in on August 1st and I cannot wait to start creating again. Last weekend, I had my first shoot back on location so I am hopeful things will start to pick up again soon.
What part of yourself do you see in your work?
Every part of me, I think. I don’t know that it’s possible to separate the artist from the art, so I think different sides of me come out in each image I make. They’re all some form of self portraiture, in a way.
Who are the photographers you look up to, and whose career path would you most like to follow?
I really love Jeurgen Teller, Emily Soto, Ryan McGinely, Gregory Crewdson and Jimmy Marble. If I could blend elements from each of their careers into mine, I would be thrilled!
How has social media affected your work?
I think it’s affected my process more than my work—my own social media, that is. I find myself overthinking how I’m going to share my work instead of just putting myself out there. As far as social media as a consumer, especially Instagram, it’s certainly affected my work by simultaneously inspiring and overwhelming me. There’s so much amazing content being created everyday by artists around the world. In order to benefit from social media, I just have to monitor the ratio of time spent consuming as opposed to creating.
Any word of advice for people who want to get into portraiture but feel apprehensive? How should they get started?
The best way to start is by photographing your friends. When I was just getting started, my friend and I would dress up and photograph each other. Make an outing out of it, and don’t stress. If you have fun you’ll shoot often, and if you shoot often, you’ll be great!
Thanks to Jordana for sharing her photographs, and letting us get some insight into her work.
All photos by Jordana Dale, unless otherwise noted.