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The Cinematic Photos of Dean West

By Alyssa Coppelman

When is a photo like a film? When it’s part of Dean West’s series 2015–2020. Each image feels like you’ve stumbled onto a movie set where time has momentarily stopped. The scenes evoke a sense of mystery and wonder about what’s going on—and what will happen next.

This cinematic/photographic experience is no accident. West’s photos are in a 16:9 format, similar to the format used in motion pictures. His telling range of influences include Spike Jonze, David Hockney, Wes Anderson, Edward Hopper, the Coen brothers, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Jeff Wall, Michel Gondry, and Alfred Hitchcock.

While it may seem as if he captured the moments as they occurred, the images are in fact composites. “I began compositing scenes because it was too expensive to rent the spaces I liked,” Dean says. “As a photographic artist, I’m driven by the power of aesthetic force. By using methods such as compositing, it’s possible for me to produce the images in my mind.”

Once West comes up with an idea he wants to explore, he might drive around to find the best possible locations—exactly as film location scouts do. I asked West whether he sometimes gets inspired in reverse: whether he sees a place or person he wants to photograph before he develops the overall story. “I’m generally looking for something very specific when it comes to a concept,” he says. “However, there have been many times where a location or event has inspired me to produce something new.” He occasionally uses other people to find places but says, “There’s nothing better than doing it yourself and seeing the location in the flesh. It’s almost impossible to communicate to a scout exactly what’s in your mind.”

COMPOSITING IN PHOTOSHOP

West reviews his shots and narrows his selections in Adobe Bridge CC, then assembles the shots in Adobe Photoshop CC. He says that his compositing process isn’t too difficult, “as long as all of the shots match the necessary perspective and lighting direction.” He captures most necessary elements, such as the shadows, on set. “Bringing the elements together in Photoshop is the easy part when it comes to producing images like these,” he explains.

“When working with photographs in Photoshop,” says West, “we generally use a lot of masks and enhance an image through dodging and burning.” Another one of West’s favorite features is Vanishing Point, which he uses to enlarge backgrounds in the correct perspective: “It’s extremely helpful at times.”

West intends to continue the project until 2020. He’s also working on a new—as yet unannounced—project. Look for it in the future, and until then, follow West on Instagram.