In Conversation with Tynan DeBold
We talk with Tynan DeBold about his travels, why he brings a camera with him, and what inspires him to make pictures. We met a while back when he was an engineer at The Wall Street Journal and since then he’s lived in Hong Kong, New York, and Copenhagen. His photos are intuitive and melodic documents of the places he’s been.
Transcript, edited for length and clarity
Ioana: Set the scene. How did you get started shooting?
Tynan: Initially, photography had always been background noise for me. I remember growing up, there was a camera or two around my house, but it was never anything fancy. In the ’90s it was probably a Polaroid, or even a disposable, or a simple point-and-shoot film camera. And I remember fiddling with them. Then when I was twelve or thirteen, I went on a trip with my dad to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Yellowstone and I brought a camera along. I had a great time taking pictures. I shot with film, so I couldn’t see any images obviously, but I remember enjoying thinking about what was going on and trying to capture little moments. It wasn’t until I took a black and white film photography class my senior year of high school that I thought “Okay. This is something that I really enjoy doing,” and it blossomed from there.
Ioana: What were you shooting for that class?
Tynan: We would play with light and shadow, or long exposures to either blur the background or hold it in focus and blur a subject, that type of stuff. So it went through the basics of ISO, shutter speed, aperture, focus. It was rudimentary, but necessary because it laid the technical foundation. We developed our film in the darkroom, and when shooting, I learned that there was a formula to it and to be mindful of the light. So it was very instructive and informative.
Ioana: You almost always have a camera with you. What’s your favorite one for travel?
Tynan: For years, I brought a Nikon DSLR around. I do have a couple of film Nikons as well, but for travel, I like to be able to blast away. So digital was, I thought, a better choice. Recently, I’ve had a Fuji X-T1 with me. It’s one of these little mirrorless cameras, but it takes nice images. I have a couple of excellent lenses for it, and it was gifted to me by my girlfriend’s father when we moved to Copenhagen, where I live now. I’ve been shooting with it more than with anything else because it’s very light. It’s small. It doesn’t feel obtrusive in any way.
Ioana: Unobtrusive is the perfect word for your work because it feels very off-the-cuff and organic. Even quite melodic and lyrical. Would you say that music plays a role and how you think about things and how you see the world?
Tynan: Definitely in how I see the world. It might not even be on a conscious level. When I am walking around with a camera, I often pick up on repetition, or patterns, or what you could describe in music as a rhythm or a beat. So sometimes I like to sit on a stoop, or a bench and observe for a little bit.
If I’m sitting at a cafe, drinking coffee or something, I’ll have my camera and watch what’s going on, and then I integrate into the rhythm of the scene. When I bring the camera up to my face and take a photo, I do try to time it, depending on whatever it is that I’m shooting. So in that way, yeah, it’s very musical or at least rhythmic.
Ioana: Do you ever have a project in mind as you’re shooting, or do your stories come to fruition as organically as you being in a coffee shop and looking around? How does that work for you?
Tynan: Yeah, I think it’s the latter. It’s much more organic, and photography has always been that for me, which is why I never really describe myself as a photographer. I enjoy taking photos. So when it comes to formal projects, there are few and far between.
I have series that I’ve shot that are of one subject or subject matter. And when I do have an idea, I try to go out and execute it as quickly as I can because I want that inspiration to remain at the fore of my mind. I think if I let it linger, it might dissipate to the point where maybe I won’t want to do it anymore. But most often, the flow comes when I’m traveling, or when I’m with friends or family, and I have a camera on me. I want to pick it up and capture whatever I find worth documenting at that moment in time.
Ioana: You’re a constant traveler. You have been to over 30 countries. In how many countries have you lived?
Tynan: I have lived in four countries for longer than just a few months.
Ioana: As you travel, what are the things that you’re curious about right now?
Tynan: People and how they interact with other people. Whether it’s friends, or family, or even individuals they only see a few times a week when they go into a shop.
What comes to mind quickly, is when I was in Cuba last year it struck me how the men interacted with their children. It was so wholesome and loving and an open and symbiotic relationship, more so than I had seen anywhere else. I still don’t know why, but that was just something beautiful. So that type of relationship or interaction between people is what interests me the most.
Ioana: You say that like a real observer. It doesn’t sound like you went in expecting something. You watched, and this story came forth for you.
Tynan: That’s exactly right. The things in the fore of my mind about Cuba before the trip were old cars, dilapidated buildings, bright colors. But then, of course, it turned out to be completely different than I would have ever thought, had I not traveled there.
Ioana: It comes across in your work because none of the images feel pre-planned or forced.
Tynan: Yeah, that’s how I feel about it too. I talk about this with my girlfriend or close friends who know that I’ve been taking photos forever. It’s never been a serious thing, but it’s always been serious. You know what I mean? I think you describe it perfectly as off-the-cuff and organic. It’s just something that I love.
And I never want to think about it too much, because when I start thinking about it, I may emulate someone or try to do something that isn’t natural and then what ends up coming out does not feel like me. So I try to stay true to myself as much as I can.
Ioana: What inspires you daily? What books and shows are you checking out to fuel your creative juices?
Tynan: A show that I’ve been watching is one that my girlfriend turned me on to called Killing Eve. There have been times where we’ve been watching an episode, and I’ll blurt out “Oh my God, look at the tones of the scene!” because the cinematography and editing have been striking. The lighting is ethereal, and that’s been inspiring to me lately.
And I just read a book called The Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche. It’s about the shipping industry and piracy, but he beautifully described this beach in India where they run ships aground and then break them down for the steel. This novel led me back to Sebastião Salgado’s book Workers, which has been inspiring and just as recently as last night I looked at it. It’s brilliant on a level I can only ever hope to emulate — you know, once every 5,000 photos.
Ioana: You’re also a front-end engineer. Let’s talk about that because what you just described is so deep into the arts and has an appreciation for humanity in a way that maybe engineering doesn’t come across as much. Has tech shaped your view in any way? What is that like for you?
Tynan: If anything, working in tech has pushed me back quicker into photography when I’m falling out of favor with it. And I think that’s great because when I may get fed up with that work, or feel like it’s not as meaningful as I would like it to be, then I find some personal salvation when I take a photo or travel. So in this way, tech has influenced my photography.
I also think about photography like an aesthetic escape because being a front-end developer and coding all day or talking about requirements and wireframes can often be dry. Problem-solving is there with engineering, but it’s not the same as putting pen to paper so to speak with the camera to explore an idea. So tech has driven me back into the world of art and creation maybe more so than I would have ever expected it to do. I think it’s great because it’s cross-pollinating naturally.
Ioana: Where’s your next trip?
Tynan: Potentially doing some hiking in Northern Italy next month. I will have a camera around my neck when we do that.