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Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Sun May 23, 2010 5:35 pm
by 7th_son
Massive thanks to David Swanson for taking the time to answer our questions. And without further adieu... enjoy!

Also, feel free to discuss below in this thread.


1. What is your Number 1, all around favorite camera, the one you would pick if you could only use one for the rest of your life?

Leica M6. I love rangefinders. Leica have insane lenses. I would use a 35mm lens.

2. How many cameras do you have, which do you use most? Do you shoot digital or film?

I have around 15 cameras. I use my Canon 5D Mark II the most. Its a digital SLR. It's my camera of choice for shooting any sort of "job". The camera is fast and hi-res. I have a lot of different lenses for this camera. If I'm going to do "snapshots" I bring along my Leica DLUX or just use my Blackberry Bold Camera. I shoot both film and digital. I have to consider what I'm shooting, such as subject, idea, output, turn around time and feel/vibe/energy.

3. What was it really like to be on tour with the white stripes for thier stint in the great white north? The idea I drew from the documentary was the further you all got the more exhausted and burnt out everyone seemed.

Well the travel was a bit difficult on some of those shows. But all in all it was very exciting to see Canada. The fans were fantastic. The shows were emotional. All the b-shows really made the tour different than other tours. The excitement of what was going to happen at a b-show. We also were trying to be as creative as possible with the b-shows. And the 10 year anniversary show was very emotional as well, as you can see from the Film by Emmett. I think we were burnt out on the travel but not the experience.

4. What advice would you give to a photographer trying to break into the music/concert industry? For the twenty-somethings who want to achieve some degree of the artistic success like you have, but have taken the traditional college route instead of the "F*ck it i'ma do what I want" route and are left with a painstakingly general degree (like say English), how would you say is the best way to break in to photography and music as an adult beginner...lessons? moving to a city/far away from home? hanging out in these scenes?

The best way to break into photography and music is to produce. Keep producing music and images. Create Create Create. Always on to the next. Enjoy the moments while they are happening and then on to the next moment. Don't look for overnight success. Look for 10 year success. This will keep you honest with yourself. And you'll learn more from your experiences. Putting yourself into situations in which you have to handle is the best way to learn and overcome anxiety and being a novice. So if this includes moving to a city then so be it. Any and all experiences will help. You have to leave the house. You have surround yourself with changes and opportunities. Create Learn Create Learn!!! Just do it!!

5. I saw a great photo you took.. Jack's airline is on the ground, bits of other things are scattered about... care to set the scene behind the photo?

That photograph is one of my favorites that I have shot. Whirlwind Heat were recording in Jack's attic in Detroit, the original Third Man. This was back in 2000 or 2001, I believe we were recording Decal on My Sticker for the Sympathetic Sounds 12". It just sort of summed up what was happening then. Side note: In the last 3 years I have become a huge fan of William Egglestons photograph. When I first saw his photographs, they reminded me of photographs I love to take. His photograph "the red-ceiling" actually has a similar look/feel. What a coincidence!!

6. Where can I get one of those Terry Richardson t-shirts ?

Very soon on For those of you who don't know the history of the shirt... I was a big fan of Terry's photographs. Whirlwind Heat needed to do some photos for Do Rabbits Wonder? When we played in NYC at the Bowery Ballroom with The White Stripes, I ran into Terry in the audience. I told him we wanted to do some photos. He said call him next time we were in town. In the meantime I had my wife Karleigh draw with Sharpie on 3 white shirts, portraits of Terry. When we went back to New York City we brought them with us. Wore them. Terry loved em. So Terry started to sell them and we wore them on stage.

7. Can you talk a little shop for the shutterbugs? What type of cameras/lenses/film do you like to use for shooting concerts? For portrait work? Do you go into shoots with some ideas in mind or do you just like to interact w/ the subject and environment and just let the magic happen? Or a combination thereof?

I use a Canon 5D Mark II with a 70-200mm lens and a 28mm, 35mm and 50mm for Concerts. Most of the time I will excess the situation and use one or two lenses. When I shoot portraits I use 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. I love to use a Nikon D3X for Portraits. I always have some idea in mind before a shoot. Usually just a feeling or mood but sometimes I have a concept. I make sure to shoot the mood, my ideas, the subjects ideas and anything that just happens. Some things work and somethings don't work.

8. What’s your funniest White Stripes/Racs/DW incident/moment/story?

Wow. A lot of funny memories but sorry gotta keep them for myself!!

9. What was your favourite b-side show to the UGWNL film?

My favorite B-Show would have to be the public bus ride. It was the most intense. We didn't know if we'd be able to pull it off or not. It was hard timing. We had to get on the bus at a different stop and come around to pick up the fans. Then the fans got so loud while singing along to Wheels on the Bus!!! It was very exciting. Blackwell was sweating it! haha. Really sporadic. No one knew how it was going to pan out. I loved it.

10. Do you have any rules you follow when composing a shoot with a band?

Not really rules. I have guidelines in my head. I want music playing while I'm shooting, I wanna shoot my ideas, their ideas and anything that just happens. Over all I want the photographs to be real. Authentic. I don't like it if "I phone it in" or the subject "phones it in."

11. Lightning-ish Round!

a. Favorite F-stop? 2.8
b. Favorite time of day for photos? Depends on what I'm shooting. If its a daylight shoot. then 9am-11am. 3pm-7pm. If I'm using a flash for pop, then anytime. I love nighttime flash. Late night is always good. Especially with a band.
c. Favorite fill light? none. I adjust to the daylight. white flexfill or flash if need be.
d. If you were to ask a question on a forum that involved a prize what would it be? haha Probably not that question. haha Do you look through viewfinder with your right eye or left eye?
e. Please answer that said question here: Right Eye.

12. If you had the ability to teleport to other country's just by thinking of it where would you spend your morning, afternoon, evenings?

Morning: Michigan (with my wife and daughter)
Afternoon: New York City or LA or Nashville.
Evenings: Michigan (with my wife and daughter)

13. So, will you be taking photos in Dead Weather shows, now that the US tour starts?

Probably not this year. I went on tour with them last year. We are planning on doing something with all the photographs I've taken; album, press, candid' and live.

14. Do you have a favorite memory of the early days in Detroit?

I have a bunch. But some of the highlights are, the Gold Dollar shows, Rock n Roll Baseball and house parties at Dave Buicks.

15. If you had to choose just one profession to have & it was btw music & you think you could choose, and which would it be?

That would be very difficult. I started with photography then music, then both and now mostly photography. I've thought about doing a solo album or putting out another Whirlwind Heat album. but If I could only do one, I'd do photography. I feel like music and photography go hand in hand. When I write music a lot of my inspiration are visual and its translated into music. When I create a photograph a lot of my inspiration are from the energy of music.

16. When did you develop an interest for photography?

When I was a kid, my dad took a ton of photographs. He was in the military and he learned photography as part of his skills. My mother took a lot of photographs as well. I've always been around it. I didn't really shoot regularly until I meet my wife in 1997, when I bought a disposable camera to shoot some portraits of her. Ever since then I've always had a camera.

17. Coats constrict, skinny jeans stiffen legs. Comfort in the photography department is a bare bones necessity. You must have some fashion tips for those seeking out the ultimate comfort level and limberness when taking photographs. What are they?

I wear Levis 501 Shrink to Fits. I love these. Standard straight jeans. Not tight not skinny not baggy not husky. White tube socks. Help absorb sweat. New Balance 547 Grey Made in USA. Only sneakers I love nowadays. They are the sneakers from the old Calvin Klein ads. They are great while standing on your feet on a white cyc, or on a concrete concert floor. And a White Pocket T shirt that is one size bigger than usual. This is airy for sweat plus the pocket helps always.

18. When you first started creating, were you ever overwhelmed by so many different artistic urges instead of excited? Did you ever want to throw in the towel and go for one of the many careers you can basically "sign up" for? If so, how did you shush these thoughts and continue to hunt down your passions?

If you want security, then don't do anything freelance, because you wont have it. It does get tough at times. You don't make money one month and the next you do. It can be stressful if you let it, but my best advice is to keep expenses very low. I've never thought to throw in the towel. I know I'll be miserable if I were too. Plus I don't want to have my daughter see that as an example of how to live. I believe you have to follow your passions and everything will fall into place. Maybe not overnight, like a "sign up" job. But you'll be a lot happier when you are doing the thing you love.

19. Did you ever take voice lessons or has your voice always just been well-buttered? What made you want to sing lead early on?

Ha. My voice is not well buttered. Ha. Thanks though. I never took lessons. I should have. I just mainly like to talk instead of sing. I've never been much of a singer. Its always been about mood, energy and feel of the instrumentation. Its only as I get older do I really enjoy singing and the meaning behind the lyrics.

20. What's your favorite guilty

PBJ. Anytime anywhere. Classic Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich on white bread.

21. Who inspires you (In music/photography, etc.)?

Beck and Leonard Cohen in music. Beck for his flow. He has always had flow. He has been a stream of feeling, thoughts and emotion without being too literal. Leonard just has always struck a chord with me. I can listen to him and get every inspiration. William Eggleston gets me motivated. I feel closest to him in flow of shooting. I can look at one of his books and be inspired in everything I do. People and places and anything visual inspire me in everything. I love when people are authentic and are true to themselves. These people motivate me to be myself and express myself.

22. What do you recommend green photographers start out on film-wise?

I've always felt that the idea and moment is so much more important than the equipment you use. When I started I used a disposable camera to get me excited about shooting and creating more ideas from a very snapshot look. I then went to a Canon AE-1 Program. Its an SLR, so this is where I learned about what manual focus, shutter speeds and f/stops can do to an image. These three factors help me then come up with more ideas involving these esthetics. I would recommend, if using film to purchase a Yashica T4 or Olympus Infinity Stylus (NO ZOOM) to carry everywhere. And get an old Nikon or Canon SLR to learn more technique. I love rangefinders though. Leica or a Contax G2.

23. What's one of your favorite songs for each of the following emotional states: angry, blue, giddy, and happy?

Way too many songs for this. But here are some off hand....
ANGRY: Pink Noise (Rock Me Amadeus) - BECK
BLUE: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes- THE PLATTERS

24. If you weren't doing what you love, what 9-5 career do you think you might've entered?

Well I've had a few of them in the past. Washing dishes, line cook at Mr.Burger, One Hour Photo Lab, Screen Printing, installing office furniture and installing fire-protection sprinkler systems. If I were to do one of these again as a 9-5 I would do Screen Printing. But that was a love as well. So its hard to answer this question. Perhaps I would like to be a man who sat in a cubicle in a suit and typed from 9-5. If I just had to type something. I could do that. I would do the extreme opposite of what I do now, and just look forward to clocking out so I could enjoy my night and weekends. What job would that be? Does that exists?

25. Are you reading anything currently? If so, what?

Yes I am. I am reading A Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins and also reading The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.

26. What's one of the most bizarre things you've either done or that has happened to you while working (playing music/shooting photos, etc)?

Whirlwind Heat got shut down in Cleveland. We were playing our set, opening for a local band. We were passing through back to Michigan from a show in New York City. We play the show because we needed some gas money to get us home. The audience started to come up and try to shut the amps off and grab Brad's sticks. We then realized it was a Christian rock show. We had no idea. They hated us. Then we had to convince the club to pay us. We sold $0 in merch. Then on the drive home our van kept breaking down if we let the speedometer fall below 50 mph.

27. Gonna go deep here...With the multitude of unique experiences you've had, what do you consider to be more important, the work you do and gratification you receive from your creative endeavors, or the relationships you've established and the people you've met? Artists can be both a selfish yet extremely compassionate bunch of people...with your success, what do you value the most at the end of the day?

I don't think you can separate the two. If it weren't for the relationships I've established or the people I've met then I would have never had the work and gratification I've received from my creative endeavors. You go into the situation with an open mind. You can't expect the subject to be your best friend after the shoot, they have a life apart from the reason they are getting photographed. But if this happens then that can be a wonderful relationship. If there is no relationship after that moment, then you enjoy and appreciate the time you had with someone and that brief affect in their lives and yours. Also, on the other end, you want the work to be a success. Generations later will know your work. They won't have a relationship with you but your work. And thats something to think about as well.

28. What's one of your favorite hobbies or activities you love to do just for kicks?

I box at the Golden Gloves gym, same gym that Floyd Mayweather Jr boxed at when he was younger. I play wiffle ball. And I almost went pro as a bowler.

29. Big city or a small town? Why?

Both. I live in New York City and Michigan. I love New York. The energy of the city is insane. I like to compare it to driving on an interstate. I feel like my body is a vehicle and I just keep moving through NYC. Opportunities pass me and I can take the exit and experience it or I can keep moving till the next exit. I can pull off and rest for the night and then back at it. Sometimes it gets congested and you can't think, sometimes your full throttle and you just don't stop. A small town, like in Michigan where I am, is like take a pit stop to tune up your vehicle. You rejuvenate and come up with new plans goals and ideas. Then get back on that interstate. I think everyone needs to experience both in their life.

30. When’s the Whirlwind Heat LP coming out on Cass?

Soon. I hope. They have been sitting in my closet for 2 years now. We need to screenprint the covers. Once we do that. They will be sold on Cass. Maybe I need to outsource the screen-printing? Because I haven't had time to do it myself.

31. How did the relationship between WWH and Jack come about?

Whirlwind Heat played a show at the Gold Dollar. Dave Buick of Italy Records came up to us and said, I want to release a single and my friend Jack will record you. The next time we played at The Magic Stick. Jack came up to me and said Dave Buick told me to come down and see you guys. Lets go back to my attic and record some songs. I said we have to go because we have school the next day. He said next time. Gave me his number and the next time we called him and recorded. We've been great friends ever since.

32. What is a trash bag helmet?

It is what it says it is. Actually there was a photograph of a soldier I had pinned to my wall. The Soldiers helmet looked like he wrapped it in a trash bag. Thats where the words come from. But the meaning goes along with the lyrics of the song. But I can't give that away. I've always been very secretive of the meaning of most my lyrics. I like for people to come up with their own ideas of what it means.

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Sun May 23, 2010 6:42 pm
by Grimtale
Very nice!

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Sun May 23, 2010 7:18 pm
by kevron6
I would like to give a big thank you to David Swanson for taking time out to do this for the members.

I also want to thank Adam for putting together a great interview. If you have not figured it out yet he is the undisputed Barbara Walters of White Swirl when it comes to putting together questions and answers in a great reader friendly format. Great job Adam!

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Tue May 25, 2010 7:15 am
by jastro
This was really interesting to read. A great interview.
Thanks guys!

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Tue May 25, 2010 3:26 pm
by harvestgirl

thanks A & D <3

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Thu May 27, 2010 10:14 pm
by JohnC
Ha ! I didn't think my question (No.6) would be ask !

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Thu May 27, 2010 11:34 pm
by love_islander
I didn't think mine would be answered (#8), but thought I'd try :D

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Fri May 28, 2010 4:07 am
by BigRed
You asked the wrong Terry Richardson question. Maybe you should have asked why he continues to work with a guy like Terry or what he thinks about all the recent allegations against him. ... otographer ... e=true&s=i ... %5Bnsfw%5D ... otographer

It especially would have been an interesting question since apparently his photo assistants like to join in on the "fun". David is one of his photo assistants.

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Mon May 31, 2010 10:58 pm
by BoKnows
Wow, you answered all 13 questions of mine! How sweeeet! Thanks David for giving such great insight in to the artists' life and taking the time to write some genuinely helpful words of wisdom. Your advice to keep fighting the good fight in the arts is truly what's important at the end of the day, so one is always progressing even if fame and all that hoopla is never attained. It's all about staying true to yourself and producing creatively even if times get hard or people tell you you can't do it and should sit in a cubicle :geek: . And I completely agree, a pair of newbies is always dessert for your feet, especially when you're standing on concrete for hours. Your song choices rule too, nice variety there! I'm going to have fun re-reading these solid bits of advice a couple times over. Grazie my friend!

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Tue Jun 01, 2010 7:00 pm
by harvestgirl
holy shit!

BigRed wrote:You asked the wrong Terry Richardson question. Maybe you should have asked why he continues to work with a guy like Terry or what he thinks about all the recent allegations against him. ... otographer ... e=true&s=i ... %5Bnsfw%5D ... otographer

It especially would have been an interesting question since apparently his photo assistants like to join in on the "fun". David is one of his photo assistants.

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Wed Jun 02, 2010 6:25 am
by candycaneboy03
:shock: :x :shock:

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Mon Jun 21, 2010 3:57 pm
by mkuborn
Been going on for years, he has always been the guy that bangs the models while he shoots them, guys and girls. I dont even think he is talented, he has that horrible Vice magazine vintage hipster feel...

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Thu Jul 08, 2010 4:26 am
by harvestgirl
i've read bits here & there...yeah fucking freak. sorry. :geek:

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Thu Jul 08, 2010 5:52 am
by orangeshoeskid
Kinda sad that the awesome interview with David Swanson turned into Terry Richardson hate. I know they work together, but still..

Re: Full Q&A with David Swanson

Posted: Fri Jul 09, 2010 4:20 am
by harvestgirl
orangeshoeskid wrote:Kinda sad that the awesome interview with David Swanson turned into Terry Richardson hate. I know they work together, but still..
well, it is part of the interview, it should be able to be discussed.