After a short hiatus, I’m so happy to finally announce the return of the installation series. NEST HQ was created with the intention of being a platform aimed at promoting and encouraging the growth of artists of all genres and mediums. While we’ve worked mostly within music up to this point, we are expanding on a new content series that will showcase multimedia artists of various backgrounds including painters, graphic designers, architects, and others of the sort — this is installation. Every two weeks, we’ll post hand-selected pieces from our featured artists via our Instagram @nesthq, along with excerpts from the full interviews.
Dani: How did you fall into photography?
Donslens: It was something I always liked – I used to do a bunch of graphic design and print-making in high school. I always did all kinds of different art, and would choose those classes in school. My mom used to also take all of the family photos, so I would always take her camera and video camera and mess around with them. My next-door neighbor and I growing up would make fake war movies with firecrackers and little army men. They were pretty freaking awesome.
I was always doing that and then went to college and studied film and television. I also minored in studio art so I was doing all kinds of art.
Dani: That’s awesome. When I met you you had just come back from Australia, you were there filming the scene and trying to do a documentary on the dance scene there, right?
Donslens: Yeah, it was on future bass. I’m still in the process of finishing it. It’s crazy now because so many American bedroom producers are future bass producers. That is the new “in” to EDM for people and future bass was just this thing in Australia at the time, and the documentary is about that wave of music. It has sent its influence far and wide: it’s in pop music now, Marshmello was born out of future bass – not that I think it’s the best future bass but yeah haha.
Dani: Yeah, tons of pop records are coming out that are just 100 percent future bass. Zedd had that big record with Aloe Blacc, Louis the Child is producing for huge films like 50 Shades of Grey. How’d the doc turn out?
Donslens: Basically it kind of opened all these doors and I ended up spending a pretty good amount of money and time. I thought I was going to do a small series and then it became pretty daunting because I realized there was something bigger there, and I had never done a documentary before. I didn’t really know what to do, I tried seeking out some help and then I just kept working on it. Now I’m finally at the point where I have some options time and contact wise and much closer to it becoming real.
Dani: I feel like it’s going to be good timing because of where future bass is.
Donslens: Definitely because of where the genre is, but also because of where a lot of those people are. I met Alison Wonderland when I went over to go do that and now we are really good friends. I’ve shot two of her album covers and hopefully soon one of her music videos. I definitely forged life long friends and relationships from that trip.
Half of the documentary is about the new wave of electronic music coming from Australia and now the rest of the world. The other half is about growth, stepping out of your comfort zone, and not being afraid to try things. The worst thing you can do is fail.
I raised a little bit of money, spent a bunch of my own money that I had saved up, and I barely made any money that year. Not trying to be cheesy and inspirational, but if you really put yourself out there and focus on something you can achieve a lot. All the people I work with now are born off of that one decision.
Dani: So coming off the Australia trip, where did things go from there? How did the story go from you taking a risk in Australia to now touring with Halsey, Alison, doing music videos, etc? Obviously, it’s a long road but if you were able to highlight maybe four or five monumental things that happened along the way, what would they be?
Donslens: Before I went there I was in LA for 2 years shooting with this guy Chad Wilson, was basically my mentor. We met on the Vimeo forums and he just brought me on to whatever he was doing. I was working for BET doing award shows with all these hip hop artists, then SBE who own a bunch of nightclubs in LA. We were just shooting nightclubs like 5 to 6 nights a week while in the office during the day, and shooting their restaurants in the rest of our free time among other gigs. At that time I started realizing I didn’t want to mess with the corporate side anymore. I noticed I really liked working with the artists and their management teams much more, so I tried fostering relationships with guys that were playing in those clubs. The first time I went on tour was with DJ Vice, who is an absolutely legend and nicest guy ever. Then I left for Australia, and when I came back everything just started falling into place. I met Slander and we really hit it off. They were still small at the time but they believed in me as I believed in them.
Dani: I feel like it’s always better to work with people who will do best by you, rather than taking the corporate gigs that can offer you more money but don’t fuck with you as an artist or don’t respect you.
Donslens: But also you can’t be a purist and say, “I’m only doing this.” You have to be open to stuff as an entrepreneur and business person, because if you don’t you’re going to wake up one day and not have any cash. There are still some things that I do and I’m not 100% in love with, but it’s not the thing that I do every day. Like when you see dudes in Old Spice commercials, you see some random football player and you think he just paid for a new house with that. As long as it doesn’t define you, and as long as you’re not doing the same thing everyday, that’s what I care about.
Dani: What are some of the things you focus on within your photography? I think with music there are really obvious ways to define yourself, but with visual art, it’s much more difficult to be entirely unique. What are the things you do in photography to stand out? I think that with tour photography, album artwork, etc, people in your market are so repetitive. Everyone is editing the same shit, everyone is doing the same color gradients, but your work stands out a lot, and I think that’s why you’ve been able to breach so many different markets. Whether it’s pop with Halsey, or dance with Alison Wonderland, or even the grimiest underground dance scenes, you’ve done it.
Donslens: The only thing for me is that it’s always been, and will always be about the story. To me, none of the other stuff matters when you really boil it down. Everyone connects with the story. Whether they can relate to it or not should not be the main focus. People have been telling stories since MFers were cavemen! Storytelling goes as far back as our history does. I always want to tell a story, and even if it is in a club and they have an LED wall with some graphics, I still want to try and tell a story. To me that trumps everything.
The other thing that is super important to me is the editing and the delivery. This is what separates the men from the boys, women from the girls. It’s the same thing if you film an amazing movie but the editor is not good. If you don’t deliver it in the right way, no one is going to care and it’s not gonna have the same message or tell the same story. Lastly, it’s about time and training too. I studied art history, Freudian film theory, the theory of color, etc. in college, which I think helped me a lot. Now you can get a camera for $1,000 that’s producing similar or just as good stuff as some pros produce, but what they don’t have behind it is the theory. That can work to a degree, but you end up telling the same story as everyone else. It’s just about cultivating your own style which takes a lot of time.
Dani: I feel that! Even with music, I feel like the same thing is happening where you can now buy templates for how an artist structures his music, and buy that artist’s sound and drum pack, and you can make it a little bit different but at the end of the day the product isn’t born out of anywhere special. I’m a huge advocate for making your own presets, designing your own artisanal tool set.
Donslens: There is still something in that for people to learn from. In the beginning, I would copy peoples videos and just try to practice and make stuff. When you are a painter, sometimes you want to re-make that favorite painting of yours to and figure out how the hell they made that painting. For a lot of people they don’t move on from that and they get stuck there. They just want to copy and do that similar things, and just cookie cut and that’s what they think will make them successful. Having access to all those things to learn can be an amazing tool. As long as your grow out of that phase.
Dani: Speaking back on the story aspects of your work for a little bit, what’s one of your favorite stories you’ve told? Whether it’s a picture, a documentary, a tour recap, when you think about your approach to storytelling, have you created anything so far that is of the caliber that you’ve been looking for?
Donslens: I think everything you make, for the time in which you make them, tell the story the best way you could at that time. I don’t look back and say “aw that sucks.” It might not be as good as what I’m making now, but I don’t have that thing were people despise what they made before. One thing I learned in school is the ability to remove yourself as a viewer from your own body, ego, and experiences and then try look at your work objectively.
Dani: I struggle with that a lot with my own art. I think there are two sides to it. One is being able to look back at your old work and understand what it was, why it was, and not hate it, which I think a lot of people struggle with. The other side of it is having an objective understanding of what you make. What do you do to pull yourself outside your own head and look at things objectively? Do you have any techniques?
Donslens: One of them is when you are pouring over things and you’re so immersed in them, just walk away… even for a whole day! I’ll finish a video, watch it 10 times, send it to a couple friends and then I’ll go back and watch the next day. I think as a creative, having a trusted pool or sample pool is super important. Especially people who you know aren’t afraid to tell you what they think, and having a blend of people who are invested in it and people who don’t even care. I think that’s lost in a lot of people. They just go to their manager or one person they know. I think a lot of people could benefit from just asking more people.
Dani: What are some of your favorite and least favorite trends that are happening in the film and photography community right now? What are some things that are happening that you think are gonna help change the game or push it forward?
Donslens: What you can do now with limited amounts of money is crazy. The potential for creativity is through the roof. People have the power right now it’s just up to them to take the time to learn and hone their craft. People don’t have an excuse to not be doing shit right now. You could literally film and edit on an iPhone right now if you wanted to. It’s just frustrating when people message you and say “how do you even start? I can’t afford a camera.” I used to rent cameras from the school library all the time. I didn’t have a good camera once I wanted to make the jump to a DSLR, I had to work and save up for one. There are so many options but people don’t want to seek them out or they are afraid to.
There’s this trend of really young people having all this anxiety because they don’t know what they are doing, but that’s fine, you’re not supposed to, just go try things.
As far as industry trends, I really try to not pay attention. I guess the one thing I’d like to see is more people willing to step out of their comfort zone. I think in a creative job, getting comfortable is really bad. Like some people say, “I’m an EDM photographer.” What the fuck is that? Why limit yourself? Maybe you are a photographer, and you really love photos and EDM, that’s cool. But you shouldn’t be closed off from trying new experiences. I’ve shot sports, hip-hop, pop music, corporate events, a pyramid scheme once (they paid me cash haha). People put themselves in a box and if you are in one box, that box is going to get recycled one day.
It’s not about money or power it’s just about exploring the potential of yourself. That’s one thing I’d like to see.
Dani: Ending on that note, what is on the table for the Donslens project for 2018?
Donslens: I’m trying to finish this documentary, and I’m just trying to do more shit that I like and less shit that I don’t like. That’s all I try to do every day. Definitely going to do more music videos for 2018.
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