Photographer In Focus: Dan Tamarkin

Dan Tamarkin is a Chicago, Illinois Based Photographer

I have known Dan Tamarkin since well before I purchased my first Leica M camera from Tamarkin Camera many years ago. Dan is a fixture in the Leica community and the Chicago photography community as well. Not only is Dan known as America’s Premier Leica Specialist, he also curates and owns The Rangefinder Gallery based in Chicago. The Rangefinder Gallery has a deep history of years of photographic greats, new comers, and cutting edge shows.

Dan himself is an avid photographer and mixes various genres and styles. He too is the very definition of a Red Dot Blue Dot photographer.

Dan is a great person, and am very proud to call him a friend. In recent years we have teamed up with Complete Cuba to lead photography-based people-to-people trips to Cuba covering all provinces including the Isle of Youth. These trips have become unforgettable experiences for many and have created friendships between our travelers and many of our Cuban friends.

Thank you Dan for taking time to share with RedDotBlueDot readers!

Five Foto Facts

Little Dan Tamarkin

Little Dan Tamarkin

First camera: My first camera was a beat-up Pentax K1000 with a 50mm Super-Takumar lens. Great camera, still.  Now, my very first camera was an old Rectaflex or something-or-other, that my father gave to me from out of some junk bin at a camera show. He gave it to me to knock around. I did – I was three years old and I eventually destroyed it. Later, as adults, my dad jokes about how that camera is now collectible - and worth a mint! 

Favorite camera: Leica M Monochrom (the CCD-sensor M9-type). Her name is Monica. Monica the Monochrom. She’s a sassy, brassy gal. 

Photographer who has most inspired you: André Kertész, hands down. No other photographer has so consistently aligns with my own aesthetics; “Chez MondrianParis, 1926” never ceases to hold wonder for me. 

Favorite travel destination:  Cuba! So far, that Is – and, as always, my native New England.

One place left on your travel bucket list:  Oh, it’s more of a barrel than a bucket – but Greenland it up there, believe it or not. So is Rapa Nui, or Easter Island.  


Photograph by: Dan Tamarkin

The Interview

RDBD: Tell me a little bit about yourself.  What do readers need to know about you to get to know you?  What is your personal, professional, and photography background?

D.T.: I like to tell funny stories and talk to people, laugh, play music, and take pictures. I like coffee, and wine, and potato chips, and good food that’s not too spicy. I’m kinda loud, generally.  

I moved from New Haven, Connecticut to Chicago in November of 1990 to seek my fame and fortune, and I fell madly in love with this town. I’ve worked widely in the theater here in Chicago as lighting- and scenic-designer and whatnot, and as a writer and a teacher, which were both part of my university training. And Linguistic Ethnography, if you can believe that. 

Anyhow, in my twenties, I became increasingly interested in nature and the backcountry, and I remain an avid outdoorsman. 

It was only when I took over the family business, Tamarkin Camera, that I re-discovered my love of photography.

RDBD: What type of photography do you consider your primary genre and why? What does it mean to you?  How did you become focused on this area of photography?

D.T.: My primary genre candid portraiture. The most fulfilling for me is making photographs of people and of life, naturally and spontaneously. I like the notion of candid portraiture rather than street photography, because I find it more descriptive of my style and it seems less limiting in its scope. Natural and spontaneous – and light and fast – is the order of the day. Incidentally, these are also why I use the Leica M camera primarily. 

I also greatly enjoy architecture, and I’m drawn to geometry and textures, all of which lead me to take a lot of photos of buildings and still life images and abstracts.

RDBD: What motivates you as a photographer?  Specifically, why is photography important in your life?  When you are tired of shooting, what gets you out the door anyway?

D.T.: Making art that I’m proud of is the best motivation. Whether it’s in the theater, “on the page” or with my camera – I love to the feeling of producing something that satisfies. It’s incomparable. That’s what I strive for, why I carry a camera. 

For me, there are three classes of photographs: total misses, Photos for Posterity (think selfies, food pics and other vacation-esque snapshots, sunsets, et cetera), and then Photographs with a capital “P.” The first two comprise about 98 percent of the photographs I make. So when I hit on that two percent, it feels wonderful. 

When I’m tired of shooting, motivation is the elephant in the room. A break can be a good thing at times, and creativity ebbs and flows for me. There is a balance to be struck, I believe, between pushing to become better at ones art and craft, and having a hobby or habit. Carrying the camera is the first real step, and once that becomes a matter of course, one will make good photographs. So, I just head out the door with the camera on my shoulder, and more than likely I’ll find something interesting to shoot. 

RDBD: Please tell me why you chose the image to submit as your one image.  What meaning does the image have to you?

D.T.: This image, from a project in process loosely titled, Blue, was made in Havana last year. It’s my most recent best image, I think. It’s all shapes and texture, and while I wish there were gesture or some human element or narrative here, this image makes me happy, plain and simple.

RDBD: In an era where everyone has a smartphone and selfies and micro-blogging daily activities are quickly becoming the norm, why does traditional photography still matter? 

D.T.: Okay, being a camera salesman, I feel like I need to give the requisite nod to “Hey, I also take photos on my phone – all the time – it’s cool!” Well, I do and they stink on ice. They get scrolled past and forgotten. It takes you out of the moment. The camera can accentuate the moment (so long as it remains relatively unobtrusive). I find that phones rarely accentuate anything worthwhile. 

If you can afford it at all, buy a camera. It doesn’t have to be a Leica. Any camera. Get a Holga with a plastic lens, a Fisher-Price, I don’t care, get a fistful of disposable Walgreen’s cameras, anything. People know what you’re doing when you point a camera, and often they like to be photographed, which can lead to some interesting experiences that you might otherwise not have had…smart-phones and our connectedness has gotten so that when you aim your phone at your subject they’ll that you’re documenting a wrongdoing or tweeting them out to the world when they’ve just tucked their shirt into their underwear or whatever. Better to point a camera. I guarantee that it’ll start a conversation, and maybe even lead to an adventure. Or, at least good photograph.

RDBD: What is one thing you think I should ask, but haven’t…and what is your answer?

D.T.: How about asking about this interesting issue you spoke on at your talk – the idea of giving back to subjects, or of how you travel and photograph – something like that…

RDBD: Here Dan is speaking of an artist talk I gave last summer at The Rangefinder Gallery and Tamarkin Camera. Specifically how important it is for travel photographers to give back in some way. Now, I spoke for an hour and won't get into that here. But I will say that Dan exemplified this in our recent trip to Cuba. Dan brought along his Leica Sofort (which in German means essentially “instant”) and gave people small instant photos he took of them. The smiles, joy, and genuine connectedness this act created was amazing to watch. Truly giving back.

RDBD: What photographer would you like to see answer these questions and recommend RDBD contact to be featured?  
Hari Subramanyam, an LHSA member and fantastic photographer!
Brad Nordlof, is also amazing.

Contact Dan Tamarkin:

Tamarkin Camera, Chicago
Instagram: dan_tamarkin
Facebook: Dan Tamarkin
Twitter: LeicaMaven