Exposing Hidden Light, Hidden Stories
For an inquisitive photographer, Norway offers dramatic landscapes and unique social and geopolitical dynamics—something documentary and editorial photographer Dan Mariner is making the most of to advance his thriving career.
Having traveled extensively, Mariner now lives in the north Norwegian city of Bodø, 125 miles (200 km) inside the Arctic Circle. In such northern latitudes, the seasons are pronounced, so each time of year brings a different quality of light.
“Norway provides an incredible arena in which to pursue my interest in landscapes,” Mariner says. “I’m drawn to the vast and visceral nature of the land and the changeability of the light conditions. With almost total darkness in winter and 24-hour sunlight in summer, you can imagine the unique conditions these scenarios present.”
In 2016, Mariner’s first major body of work, Drake’s Folly, received a good deal of exposure. Editors began to call, and he has worked as a freelance photographer ever since.
A Particular Point of View
Mariner’s interest in anthropology and society naturally focuses his work on people, places, and subjects that are sometimes hidden from view. For example, Drake’s Folly focused on a particular turning point in the oil and energy industry and its critical role in shaping our planet. Other projects also bring to light largely unseen lands and lifestyles.
From his years of experience, Mariner offers several tips for anyone interested in pursuing a career in photography:
1. Stay true to yourself and your values as an image maker. Develop your own style and approach if you want to become recognized.
2. Get a camera setup that works for you and get to know it inside and out. Once you master the technical side of your practice, you don’t have to think about it in a high-pressure environment.
3. For documentary photography, you must master several elements to be successful:
- Understanding the lighting conditions is crucial. The difference that a well-lit set of images makes to a project is invaluable.
- Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone and engage not only with your subjects but also with people you need help from—such as with contacts and other arrangements.
- Practice patience. You’ll always run into challenges; having the patience to reshoot and pursue a difficult subject is critical.
Uncovering Hidden Stories
The relevance of Mariner’s advice is evident in his own work—such as his photos for a recent series, Frontier Food, commissioned by Norwegian Airlines magazine to document the high-end food scene on the archipelago of Svalbard, Norway. The series illustrates the challenges chefs face—from simply operating in such a harsh environment to the logistics of gathering, preserving, and storing food (including seal, whale, eider duck, cod, trout, berries, mushrooms, reindeer, and moss).
One of Mariner’s favorite images from this series is a photo of a dish of cheese and moss balls.
This series also demonstrates the importance of understanding light conditions.
“I took many of the images near midnight during the summer months—to take advantage of a very particular soft, warm light,” Mariner explains.
Key Workflow Elements
Mariner uses a combination of analog and digital equipment. For a documentary project, he typically uses a Toyo 5x4 Super field camera with Kodak Portra 400 film stock—switching between a 90mm Schneider Kreuznach lens for landscapes and a 210mm Schneider Kreuznach lens for portraiture.
For magazine assignments, he shoots digital, due to the time and financial constraints that come with the fast-paced nature of that work. His digital setup includes a Canon Eos 5DSR and a combination of fast prime Sigma Art lenses—usually 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm.
“Although I shoot a combination of analog and digital formats, one element of my workflow stays constant: I’ve always used Adobe Creative Suite for all my editing,” he says.
Moving the Field Forward
Mariner may seek out subjects that are hidden from view, but when it comes to shedding light on the craft of photography, he gives it as much exposure and support as possible. In fact, he and his fiancée, fellow photographer Marianne Bjørnmyr, run a small photographic institution, Atelier NŌUA, in Bodø.
“It operates as an academic and social venue, acting as a meeting point for both national and international artists,” Mariner says.
The Norwegian Arts Council recently awarded NŌUA a €100,000 grant for the next three years.