Dylan Maddux is a man of many talents. Priding himself on knowing how to make his subjects feel comfortable, he is known for capturing genuinely raw, vivid, and powerful shots. Now working in the film realm as well, Dylan has worked with the likes of J Boog, Victor Reyes, and Mister Cartoon. Whilst Dylan definitely oozes that classic Californian feel, he’s also a man of the world having recently been involved with the Tiger Translate Arts and Music Festival in Mongolia, following his move to Cambodia a year ago. Dylan took some time out to chat with us about living outside of the US, shooting hot chicks, and what it’s like to be a white guy in Kingston, Jamaica.
How’s it going?
I’m pretty good, but a little tired. I’ve been on the road for almost a month now and I haven’t had a free day in three weeks so I’m a little burnt out. I’m in San Francisco at the moment. I lived here for almost thirteen years so I come back quite often.
How did you get into photography?
I’ve been taking pictures since 1998. It just started as a hobby but then I did a little bit of schooling. After that I pursued it as a full-time career, about eight or nine years ago. I got into photography because of a stolen camera and auto body plus.
You’ve got a video up on Vimeo called ‘Who is Dylan Maddux?’ where your mates describe you. How would you describe yourself?
Ooh that’s tough. Ah… fuck. I hate talking about myself. I like to be behind the lens. Shit… how would I describe myself? I’m short. I’m a bit funny. I don’t really care about what a lot of people think other than who are close to me and my friends, which I have a lot of, so I guess I do care a little bit.
I take my craft seriously, it’s the only thing I’ll probably ever do in life career-wise. I take my work seriously and my clients seriously, but life in general I just try to enjoy it and have fun. You know, live it up. I love hanging out with my friends and just kicking back.
I’m from California, we have a bit of a laid-back attitude and lifestyle here and I try to take that into my work. I never try to apply too much pressure on anything or stress out too hard about things. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, fuck it and move on.
I hear you moved to Cambodia a little while ago. Can you tell me a bit about your time there?
I left San Francisco two years ago and spent a year in Bangkok working on some fashion stuff and lifestyle photos. I then moved to Cambodia to pursue a book, my first book, which I’m trying to publish now. So I’ve been in Cambodia for a year and with that I’ve opened a photo studio, helped start a small modelling agency, and I’m recently engaged.
Oh congratulations! So how much influence has living in Cambodia had on your work?
Thank you! Well the original intention of going to Bangkok was to do the book, but I spent a year there and I just didn’t find it. It wasn’t what I remembered as a tourist visiting years prior. I was looking for more of a third world wild lifestyle and Bangkok is quite advanced. It’s not third world, it’s actually quite developed.
The thing that attracted me to Cambodia was the beauty and when I went there to visit I was just blown away. The imagery was around me everywhere: the diversity from rich to poor, the extreme situations, the architecture, the deportees that have been sent back from America, ex-gang members, to small criminals.
I’ve always focused a lot on street stuff – hustlers and gang members and so on – and when I came to Cambodia I found that there. It was a new gateway of stuff that I like to shoot. This country to me is only thirty years old, due to the war. There’s so much for it to catch up on and there’s so much of it still stuck in the past. As a photographer it’s beautiful, it’s endless options. It’s the wild, wild East. And it’s hot as shit.
You often get to shoot pictures of babes for a living. How do your mates feel about this? Do you get to brag?
In some situations yeah, but no, not really. I’ve been shooting girls for at least seven or eight years and it’s just a shoot. Most hot girls have boyfriends. There’s usually a makeup artist around too. Previously I used to shoot girls just totally by themselves, have their own hair and makeup done, but as times have gone on, there are more people involved with a lot of shoots. It’s just a job at the end of the day, but it’s a job that most people don’t get to do and I would say I’m definitely lucky.
I think both males and females love seeing a beautiful woman so it’s an easy sell, and it’s beauty, and it’s fun to capture. Now I shoot more fashion stuff, so it’s not as much of the ‘risqué girl next door on her bed’ but that’s just me moving forward, pushing styles and pushing myself creatively. I just find fashion and couture more challenging and I needed to challenge myself. I could shoot the same stuff over and over but I wanted to up it. Plus it pays.
Your work stretches across both film and photography and many different styles within those. Do you approach both mediums in the same way?
No, I’d say that I have two styles that I focus on. One which is still shot with film, both medium format and 35mm, and that’s what I’m focusing on in Cambodia for my book. I’m just staying away from digital for the moment. My other style is digital, which is used more for my fashion and commercial work, to pay for my personal work.
Many of the photos from your American Dream series seem so natural and authentic, as though you’ve just paused real life. How much construction goes into your work?
Well some stuff from that series is shot on the fly, and some is somewhat composed. However, it’s composed from things I’ve already seen. A lot of the way I work is like this. I don’t just run around with my camera 24/7 and just capture it all. I’ll meet people, hang out with them, get comfortable with them, share an idea that I’ve seen either with them or from something else that I think they’ll be comfortable with, and then we pursue it from that point. I create a comfort and wait to discuss it until after we’ve established some trust and then I’ll go into pursuing the natural shoot.
You’ve collaborated with a variety of people from Mister Cartoon, to Victor Reyes, to J Boog – what do you enjoy most about doing this?
The best part of collaboration is working with other artists that just kind of get the program. If they like what you’re doing, when you speak to them creatively they completely understand, compared to speaking with someone who’s corporate and has this set idea.
When you work directly with artists it’s just fun, it’s a lot less time and a lot less discussion, and it’s more trust, willingness, and understanding and you just go with it. Artists generally tend to just move forward, run twenty minutes late but then work four hours later that night, and it’s really not a problem. Whereas with corporate and commercial work, everything’s so set and if you step out of that it kind of rattles people.
It’s always fun working with artists but you just have to be flexible because everybody’s got their own thing. To me that’s the most exciting thing. It’s like “Oh he’s running late but maybe he’ll fulfil it with something else” or “Oh I’m running late but I owe you this so I’ll take care of this” or “This other guy’s coming, I think he’d be good for you”. People make it up in different ways.
Tell me about your favourite shoot so far.
I would definitely say video-wise one of the best times was in Kingston, Jamaica shooting the first J Boog video, which was actually the first video I’d ever shot. I bought the camera and we just went for it. It was scary, exciting, intimidating, but beautiful. I’m a big fan of reggae; I listen to it 70% of the time.
There’s just a beauty amongst the grime in Kingston where the music, the culture, and the people take over. But in a place like that you have to be with the right people, you can’t just walk around. I’m white so it’s not like a little white guy walking around Kingston taking pictures. You have to be with the right people, but with that comes amazing access and interesting situations.
Was it all shot in Kingston?
Nah, it was shot in Kingston and in Compton, California – where J Boog is from. That’s another famous hood that most people don’t get access to. I’ve been very lucky to meet the right people to get access to these situations and whilst obviously my work got me there, for the most part it was more the friendships I built and the relationships that I built with them.
One of the biggest things people don’t really realise about photography or video is that it’s one thing to be technical but really it’s about the relationships you make and the trust. With digital cameras nowadays, shit’s easy, or at least easier, but it’s creating trust in a relationship where you get the quality and more interesting environments, situations, people, or all the shit I get to see. I wish I documented most of the stuff I see but I don’t, I keep it to myself, I’m a little selfish.
You were recently involved with the Tiger Translate Arts & Music Festival in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Can you tell me about your involvement in the event and your experience there?
Kult from Singapore first hit me up to be a part of an event in Phnom Penh but I was on a different job and therefore wasn’t available. However, we really wanted to pursue something more so when the Mongolia trip came up I was up in arms, I was like “Yes please”!
Mongolia’s one of those places you hear about, you think about, you’d love to go, but it’s not very convenient, so I jumped on that as soon as I could and I was blown away. Mongolia was beautiful, the people there were amazing, and the artists were all very, very genuine and nice, fun to photograph. I wish we had more time. With these jobs there’s so much going on and I would have liked to spend more time but I think anyone would say that.
Is it something you’d do again?
I think the Tiger Translate project they’ve been putting together is really great. Collaborating with international artists and locals, the vibe overall was impressive. Tiger Beer was a great client to be working with. They like you to drink their beer and I like drinking beer so I can’t argue with that. The music and the party were good; the whole thing was just really well produced. They’ve done it now for around six years and to be successful with it is quite an accomplishment. I was happy to be a part of it and hopefully can look forward to doing more projects with them in the future.
Highlight of the event?
The highlight for me, on a photography end, was doing the portrait series. The capital, Ulan Bator, had endless environments to be shooting in backdrop-wise. The ruggedness, the dustiness of the city, it’s a place I could have spent two weeks shooting portraits and made something really huge out of it. It’s a place I would definitely go back to. You drive twenty minutes out of the side of the city and it’s what you picture of Mongolia – barren, beautiful, mountains, rugged.
The best part though to be honest was just at the end of the day, partying and hanging out with everyone when everyone was done working, and just interacting with the artists. Even with the language barrier, you have this vibe of the excitement and these constant high fives, hugs and comfort after a few days.
Everyone was really happy during the event, but the night before, when everyone was just hanging out, we all had such a great relationship and a good time. That’s where you really saw the effect of this program that Tiger’s put together. Telmen, the tattoo artist, was quite emotional with everyone at the end of it all. He had his views on foreigners and anything outside of Mongolia completely changed and this event really broke a lot of walls down. He hugged me and there were tears in his eyes and I was just like, “All I take is pictures and that’s what it makes? Wow”. You can’t ask for much more than that. It was pretty amazing, it was definitely something to check off the bucket list and I would go back any time.
The idea of the event is to bring artists from different cultures together and to help uncover emerging artists from these somewhat hidden parts of the world. Were there any artists that particularly stood out to you?
Their collaborations were a little different from their personal work so I didn’t get to really dive into a lot of the personal work. I like Quiccs from the Philippines a lot. There was one female artist from Mongolia, I viewed some of her work online once I got home and I was really blown away. It was cool, it just caught me off guard, I had no idea what her style strictly was outside of the event and the collaboration, and I was quite impressed.
I think Kult really does a good job of picking and choosing who they want to work with. Matt Stewart, another Aussie, his stuff was cool, he had a cool style and he’s just a really cool person, so easy to hang out with. I’ve been around a lot of artists throughout the years, and most of them are great, but there’s definitely a handful that have big egos. I didn’t get an ego moment on the whole trip and that is just such a breath of fresh air because artists are artists. They have their own way of thinking and processing and in this group there were no egos, it was just, “lets have fun, lets do this, and lets make the best of it”.
Lastly, what are you’re your thoughts on the growing use of social media platforms like Instagram? Do you use them?
It’s a pure love/hate relationship. I don’t use Instagram because I have a beat up iPhone and I refuse to take a picture with it but I do use my fiancé’s sometimes so I am semi-guilty. But I think it’s like anything in that it’s a trend, something else will come in. But it’s cool, it’s just a platform to get shit out there and it’s nice because someone can tweet a little photoshopped fun. It’s a good system.
Do I think it’s amazing or anything? Nah. I think a real photo is… wait… what’s a real photo? An image is an image. I don’t know, it’s like I said, it’s a love/hate relationship. I don’t get excited when someone wants to show me their Instagram portfolio, I hate that part of it, but then I love checking out and seeing where my friends are at instead of looking at them on Facebook or some other shit. It’s like, “Oh cool he’s there. She’s there. Oh he’s with him”. I like that, it cuts out a lot of the bullshit of a lot of the other social networks and that I can respect. It’s just photography, so I guess that’s the ‘love’ part.