GUSTO35 ARTIST SPOTLIGHT
WRITTEN BY: MEGAN ARMSTRONG
The first trip from his hometown Petaluma, California, to Europe that Dan Franco can remember happened when he was 13 years old. His parents, both immigrants from Bogota, Colombia, had family in Lago Maggiore, Italy. His parents gave him a disposable camera for the trip.
"When we got back, I really treasured those photographs. Being able to see a photo I took in Italy, I was like, this isn't something I see every day. That was mind-blowing to me. Like, oh man, this is beautiful. I'm literally capturing these vivid memories from my life, and I can almost remember the memory better. And then I realized, whoa, I live 40 minutes away from San Francisco. One of the most beautiful cities in the world. My dad works there. I just started sneaking out behind their backs when I was 13, 14. I would take the bus that's a block away from my house for an hour and a half long to go to the city, and I would tell them I was at a friend's house, but I was really shooting photos because I was obsessed with it."
His parents' love for traveling, and how much he traveled in his childhood as a result, gave him a deeper appreciation for what was out there. He borrowed his cousin's Canon T1i to learn how to capture it all. "I borrowed it for so long that, at a certain point, it was just my camera. That was the same camera that initially got me paid for the first time, and I ended up saving up for my own camera from that."
Dan enjoyed "the joy of being new at something" and labor of learning, of getting better with the camera, experimenting with different exposures and lenses. His parents were strict, but they relaxed when they saw their son doing something he loved that was turning into something bigger. "It came to the point where I started skating, and I realized that there was a lot more to the world than the suburbs and sports. I just was lucky from my parents' perspective, knowing they had been all over. I was just curious, and I guess photography and that curiosity merged together."
The biggest obstacle came from within, though. He struggled to "find a voice through art" and realizes looking back now that he went through several phases before he finally discovered his distinctive style two or three years into shooting.
"Once I found what really spoke to me, then I was able to make the most of that. The biggest struggle was constantly doubting myself, but at least now I have a foundation of what I like. The hardest part was just figuring out what made my stuff, my stuff. What gave it that authenticity?"
He found that his style was in how he colored his images. "I always liked dark nostalgia but with a lot of vibrances. I know those two are kind of juxtapositions of each other, but ... I think something about that contrast, it just gives it a whole different deal."
After settling into a style and finding his creative groove, which he presents through photography and a clothing line named Never Lose Your Aura, the external validation naturally followed. "It's hard for me to consistently remind myself that a number on an app is real people. It's crazy when I meet people or when I'd get people reaching out, like, 'Man, I love this. I made this [photo] my background.' Seeing people, actually, even at school, wearing my stuff, seeing it in physical form, I think that was like, and to this day, it makes my day if I see anybody wearing my stuff. ... These people actually care, and it inspires them, and they want to go out and make something similar. It's that never-ending cycle I'm implementing an idea into someone else's mind, and then they might do that for 10 other people."
He believes he was meant to do this. Give people an escape, even if it's just to get lost in one of his photos for five or 10 seconds. But he is aware of the realities that come with making art and inspiring people for a living. "Finding the balance between staying true to yourself creatively and making a living and being an adult. It's very easy to say stay true to art, but a lot of times, you have to find a nice middle." And he's putting that into practice. "I'm creative directing for this data privacy company, and that's not necessarily my forte, but I think what's cool about it is they're giving me full creative control. Having a job where you can meet in the middle, and you might not love whatever they're selling personally, but being able to brand it in a way where I might love it is the challenge, and I think that's what makes it special. Being able to add a twist to something, finding a balance between work and play and being able to enjoy play more."
There's perhaps nothing he loves more than playing with film, and the process is just as precious as the final product. "I love my relationship with film. Over the years, it's just progressed a lot from going with a 35mm to now shooting a lot of medium format. It comes in waves. Super 8, Super 16, that sort of aesthetic is something you can't buy. It's just something you have to learn how to do. ... The way it looks is just as important as the way it feels when you're shooting it. It's like when you go to get coffee. I think it's just as important going to get coffee as the coffee itself."