Daniel Thomas Smith and Chris Read are a London based film-making duo. When I ask them how they first met or if they were already friends, Daniel jokes: “We’re still not friends now!” They’ve met not even an year ago, introduced by a common friend. Daniel is a former research scientist and photographer, Chris a Film graduate. This nine months collaboration -or better ‘marriage‘ as Dan calls it- has been really successful and fertile so far. They’ve produced short films for Dazed and i-D, just to name a few of their projects. Livincool has met them in a bar in Shoteditch.
What was your very first approach to a camera like?
C I think I was 10 years old, and I was given a camera by my parents for Christmas. I don’t know why but they thought camera could be my thing. That camera was not even that expensive, just a simple point and shoot but it was a really valuable object in my eyes. I think from then on I’ve always had an obsession with cameras.
D I didn’t see nor have a proper camera until around 22 years old. Before that I just had those shitty little disposable cameras that your mum gives you at birthday parties, it was all I had access to. Then me and a friend of mine found a video camera at his house, so I started filming my mates. It wasn’t until turning 24 and turning my back on science that I realized you could make a living by using your camera. I had been only documenting my friends before and it didn’t ever crossed my mind that you might take a photo for art purposes.
Being your backgrounds really different, how do they merge in your work?
D Our roles kind of overlap actually. We fill each others gaps. I am the one paranoid about planning everything, there’s no really room for error when I organise a project. I think its my scientific, analytical background which gives me this approach; science is all about experimenting too though, it’s about finding out new things. Photography and film are quite technical, its science and art combined.
C We complement each other quite well. If you have someone on your side, you can bounce ideas off each other and of course enthusiasm is very contagious. For me, having a documentary background, there has to be a story to be told. The film needs to have pretty images and be shot nicely but there has to be a general narrative, you need to watch it and not get bored.
Chris, why do you feel there’s more in film than in photography and what do you think film does that photography doesn’t?
C Well although I’d never call myself a photographer I really love still photography. However, I’ve always just been more drawn to moving image. Our generation grew up with so much moving image and I can’t help but be fascinated by it. I like all the elements that go into films: you can have sound on moving image which adds important elements to the story. When you film, it’s not just what you see, it’s everything around it. It involves all your senses, it’s absorbing.
Dan, why did you move from still photography to video making?
D Well, if I’m taking a photo of you for example, I can only capture a single frame, in which I have to show everything I want to say. Instead in a film I can take a wide shot of you, a close up for your ring, your watch, the place and show it all in 2-3 seconds. It is difficult, but in film you can really have everything.
Watching your films for ID and Dazed and Confused, I noticed that music plays a crucial role. What would you say comes first, the inspiration from music or the concept behind the video?
D Music is definitely important and I think it’s music first, it dictates the flow, the pace, the feel and mood. Instead it can be hard to find the music that fits the film perfectly.
C Well I was lucky enough to share a studio for a short time with the guys behind boilerroom.tv and I was constantly exposed new and innovative music. To be honest I’d say I’d spend 70% of my time awake listening to music and if you’re travelling around the city, and you listen to music in different contexts, it gives you different ideas and inspiration. For i-D we got a general idea of what we wanted, but it was when listening to music on the tube that I suddenly visualized the piece.
Do you reckon you have a favourite subject to film?
D I guess it’s beauty in whatever form. Fashion has a lot of beauty, but is not the actual fashion I’m interested to, its more the visual impact of the model and the clothes. And there’s got to be movement, at least for now. I think especially with a photography background when you have one frame and you wish you could stretch that one frame across time to capture more. With film you can. Theres more life in it.
C I think energy as well. The film has to be an expression of energy. We like to see how the body moves and how materials move around it.
Besides music, what kind of influences do you have? What does inspire you?
D I think science and philosophy. But we have the same agreement that we like everything which is genuine, energetic, fresh.
C For me is history. I have always been drawn by history and documentaries. I find interesting know how people lived, what people did and wore years ago. But also freshness, we look for freshness in everything we do. Bit of a contradiction there but oh well.
Would you say there is a particular message in what you do? What do you want to express?
D I want complete inclusion of the audience. I want the viewer to be involved. If you go down to the molecular level, everything is singular and non-separate, Id like to create films that make us more aware of that. A lot of art is about escapism, we want the exact opposite. We want to show there is nothing to escape, beauty is where ever and everywhere you are.
C I think it’s about celebrating beauty, finding a balance so your audience don’t feel alienated by it, but be involved instead.
Are you keen on something in particular at the moment? What’s next?
C We are being fascinated by dance especially any kind of religious dance, that kind of dance that makes you loose yourself.
D My greatest ambition is to create a video so beautiful that you don’t even breath any more. So stunning that life need not to continue, a visual crescendo that leaves you in a state of bliss. Like the Start Gate scene in 2001: Space Odyssey or the Love Hotel scene in Entering the void.
Interview by Gaia De SienaWritten by Gaia De Siena on 11.23.11