Dennis Church: "Street photography? A Jam Session..."

Nov 5, 2018 9:59AM

An interview for IMAGE IN PROGRESS magazine with the American photographer, who compared shooting street photography to a Jam Session...

Dennis Church
Public Attire Series 285, Naples, Florida, 2010
Dennis Church
Public Attire Series 374, Naples, Florida, 2010
Dennis Church
Public Attire Series 586, Naples, Florida, 2010


Dennis Church (American, b. 1949) spent his formative years working on his parent's Iowa farm driving tractors, trucks, and other heavy machinery. Driving these vehicles from a young age, Dennis was always in motion and the scenery was the open spaces and roads of the rural landscape. From the beginning, Dennis saw the world while in motion.

After graduation from college while working in a variety of government bureaus, Dennis sought a graduate degree in psychology. In 1975 in the midst of work and study, Dennis spontaneously bought a camera from a catalog and started making photographs. He soon realized that making photographs held a mysteriously powerful force so he left both his secure government job and graduate school to explore this inexplicable energy and has been deeply committed to exploring the medium and his personal vision ever since.

Dennis’ father died in 2000, leading him to an introspective and life changing period out of which came his decision to re-commit himself to pursuing personal work full time, photographing not the images others wanted but his own. Making purely personal photographs became an even deeper calling. This important event led Dennis to turn his attention to street photography full time, all of the time.

Dennis lives in New York City and South Florida.

Street Photography? A Jam Session...

PH.: Dennis Church T: Emanuele Cucuzza

You compared your recent project Public Attire to a Jam Session… can you explain it better?

"This series of pictures felt like an improvised jazz composition. The pictures were made at a farmer’s market on two separate days, each being a period of about two hours. Moving through a crowd I responded to changing light, color and form and I could sense them as sounds."

Is there any chance you also create on purpose these apparently invisible connections between lines and colors etc in your images...

“Many years ago I started seeing connections between lines and colors in my pictures. I realized that I had sensed them unconsciously and could then use them on purpose to make new pictures. I call these pictorial devices. Fortunately there are always new devices, visual ideas if you will, to discover then explore, making the creative process always fresh.”

I guess the value of your research can be understood only after studying your images altogether, but an important name of Street Photography noticed your skills…

“A few years ago Joel Meyerowitz contacted me and asked if he could use some of my photographs in a new edition of his book, “Bystander, A History of Street Photography” after seeing my work online. He wanted to show my work in a chapter featuring contemporary street photographers and the new directions that they are taking the genre. I was honored to see my pictures prominently placed when the book was published in late 2017 by Laurence King Publishers, London, co-authored with Colin Westerbeck, renowned photo historian.”

How important is spontaneity in your Photography and in the society nowadays?

“Extremely important! My belief is that the genre of Street photography is best practiced with spontaneity, producing new forms, new cultural associations that neither society nor even the photographer is aware of until the pictures are viewed. Vital street photography can be of service to society in general, showing new information discovered by the photographer’s spontaneous exploration.”

How (art) photography changed your life? Your family and studies roots were in completely different field…

“The rural midwestern USA society I was raised in did not place much emphasis on visual arts. When I moved to larger cities my natural visual inclinations were nurtured. I acquired a camera in 1975 with no intent of doing anything other than family pictures. This changed the course of my life. I was suddenly fascinated by a mysterious force, a powerful attraction to the medium of photography, so much so that I left psychology graduate studies to become a photographer.”

What are your next projects?

“I recently moved to live in New York City part time. I am exploring further the sense of organization I picture from the urban landscape using my strong attraction to color, and adding more people than ever before. It’s my belief that this sense of organization is what Joel Meyerowitz responded to when he asked to use my pictures in his book.”