The Meaning of Life in 10 Questions… David Hobby

There are some of truly creative people in this industry. Let’s face it, you’ve got to be constantly concepting, developing, and executing or you get left in the dust. I’m fortunate to work with some really dynamic and inspiring people, ranging from art directors, to producers, to creative directors, photo editors, art buyers, and print producers. Instead of questions about email blasts, printed promos, and portfolio reviews, I think that it’s time that I put some of them on the spot to show us their meaning of Life. “The meaning of Life” may be a little far flung to answer in only ten questions, but hopefully these interviews will serve to distill some of the inspired and intellectual energy of the creatives that we work with.

Chris crisman david hobby interview matt rotthPhoto by Matt Roth

This post we’re featuring none other than the Strobist himself – David Hobby. Between keeping up his world renowned blog, riding around on The Flash Bus with Joe McNally, and freelance shooting, David is certainly a busy guy. He’s been kind enough to feature me on his blog a few times in the past and I thought it was time to return the favor. He’s an very talented guy with a very interesting career story. I’ll let him tell the rest.

1. Name one actor in one movie to represent you as a teenager?

Tough call. My first couple of years in high school, probably half-baked Jonah Hill. But I grew out of that phase by 11th grade and ended up with much more confidence. Possibly too much, at times. So by senior year, figure on Tom Cruise (circa Risky Business) but more for the cockiness than the looks.

2. What is your preferred vehicle or mode of transportation?

Last summer it woulda been my scooter — a Yamaha Vino classic which I love because it looks Italian but runs Japanese. But this summer I have been hiking a lot — 2 to 5 hours a day — to balance the fact that I spend a lot of time on my ass at a computer. So, let’s say my preferred vehicle is now a pair of New Balance 602’s.

3. What is your favorite beverage for creative inspiration?

If caffeine is the drug of choice, make mine a Diet Mtn. Dew. Or, as my wife calls it, radiator fluid. (Whatever. Just make it ice cold, in a can.) But on the downslope, I’ll have a decent single-malt Scotch. I met some very knowledgeable folks in Edinburgh last year who taught me how to drink well without breaking the bank. An afternoon at the Whisky Heritage Museum didn’t hurt either. Right now, I am into 10-yr-old Jura single malt — reasonably priced and wonderful.

4. Name your favorite band/singer and album?

I don’t have a favorite, and my musical tastes are all over the place and constantly changing. I live on Radio Paradise, which I find to be a very eclectic, literate, cultural mix of great music. I have a couple dozen Pandora stations, too. I am trying to get into Spotify, but so far it has not lived up to the hype. Sometimes those sources will lead me to a song that I fall in love with and repeat to death for a while. Most recently, it was Sleep, by The Dandy Warhols.

5. How did you get where you are today?

Curiosity has always been a big thing with me. Being a staffer at a paper was a great fit for that, but that job was also very structured and hierarchical. Any response I give to chain of command is generally in the mode of humoring them. Being self-directed now, with Strobist and the photographic projects I have done, it’s completely unstructured curiosity. It’s exhilarating and scary at the same time — and very fast-paced. I love it.

6. Where do you source your inspiration?

I look at a lot of photos, obviously. But as for specific ideas (how to solve a creative problem, how to get over a hurdle in a project, etc.) nothing beats a hike. I’m hiking between 6-15 miles every day this summer, and that is just fantastic for generating ideas. Trust me, if you walk far enough, it’ll come to you.

Also, all of that walking has led me to find some good listening material for the iPhone while on the trail. I highly recommend the BBC’s A History of the World in a Hundred Objects, a free, 100-segment podcast series (roughly 15 mins each) which will give you an amazing 50,000-foot view of who we are and how we got here. It’ll alter your perspective drastically, always great for a photographer.

7. What is your philosophy on creating?

It has definitely switched from bottom-up to top-down in the last few years. Before, I’d have a picture (subject, location, technique, etc.) in mind and try to create it. Lately I am more results-oriented, deciding first what I want to accomplish with a photo and working backwards from there. That’s obviously easier to do when working on self-generated projects, But I find it also helps when working on assigned photos, too. I have never done well with highly detailed comps that I have to follow to the letter. So I try to get jobs which are more collaborative when possible.

8. Describe a defining moment in your career that has led you to where you are today?

In 1984 I was an engineering major, two classes away from a degree and already working at the job I would cruise into after I graduated. My parents were thrilled. But on the weekends I was stringing for the Leesburg (FL) Commercial, a photo-conscious black-and-white daily. It was a PM daily with a 9:30am photo deadline. Which meant we could shoot high school football and then indulge in all-night, pizza-fueled darkroom sessions.

I would drive home at 4am with my reject prints from the night’s shoot on the passenger seat, looking at them at every red light. That’s when I knew what it was I really wanted to do. When I announced that I was leaving engineering to become a newspaper photographer, my parents … were not thrilled. But I have never regretted it.

9. Name one person you dream of photographing and why?

Oddly, I have never been drawn to photographing famous people — especially if I was a total fanboy. I loved the never-ending smorgasbord of subjects that went along with being a staffer for a metro daily. I like shooting ordinary people much more than shooting famous folks.

10. If the world is ending in 2012, how will you change your life plan?

Well, crap. Then I guess I can stop waiting for Nikon to finally update that D700.

9 replies to “The Meaning of Life in 10 Questions… David Hobby”

  1. Chris and David: I absolutely love this format of short questions prompting detailed (and interesting) responses. I also think that the photo of Dave at the top of this interview is fantastic, and should become — at least for a brief period — his official Strobist profile image.

    Fascinating to know that David was a mechanical engineering major. Myself, I was too. And I know several other photographers who also come from a techie/geekie background.

    The key takeaways from this interview? Be curious. Be wide-ranging in your curiosity. Carve your own path. Humor those in authority. Drink lots of Mountain Dew.

  2. Always love to hear what David says. He’s so accessible and down to earth, yet such a pop-icon at the same time (well…at least in the photography world…my wife surely doesn’t know who he is). The concept of the 10 questions is intriguing, especially since you’re not asking photography-specific questions. It paints these photographers in a different light – one we suspected all along, but wasn’t sure about. These guys are also human? Awesome.

    Great series…looking forward to more.

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