Landscape Stories: You are so remarkable for your sharp, creative imagery and for your distinctly English wit. Specializing you work in shooting portraits, animals, and landscapes. How did you start your artistic career?
Dan Burn-Forti: I started taking pictures when I was about 15 or 16 as I thought I wanted to be a film director and was told that it was good to have a portfolio of photographs to help get into film school. But I found that I loved the photography and have done it ever since.
Landscape Stories: What do you like about animals?
Dan Burn-Forti: I've had cats and dogs for most of my life and have always considered them as full members of the family. There's a tendency for we humans to think of animals as inferior to us, but I can't see why. You don't see rabbits starting wars or horses getting drunk on a Saturday night and getting into fights! We are part of the food chain, which I think is natural and unavoidable, (if unfortunate for the other animals), but it doesn't make us better than them, just more efficient. Far from being better than the animals, I find their honesty and straightness a vast improvement on much of human behaviour and I'd take my dog as a friend over most of the people I've ever met!
Landscape Stories: Is it true that you began your series with the animals, about fifteen years ago, with an assignment for Esquire UK?
Dan Burn-Forti: Yes, it was an assignment called "Pedigree Chums" and it was a series of portraits of the greatest animals at that time – the fastest ferret, the most awards winning pig etc. The pigeon was particularly tricky!
Landscape Stories: It's so funny to capture each animal's individual personality. Well is it difficult?
Dan Burn-Forti: When I first got into it, I felt that a lot of the animal photography that was being done was very much about the animals as examples of the breeds, rather than as portraits of the animals as individuals. So I set out to try to capture something of the individual animals, as they have personalities just as humans do. Animals don't have anything self-conscious about them so their personalities come through quite clearly. If they're happy their ears prick up, if they're scared they lie low, etc. I like their honesty. I don't find it too difficult, I just try to get the shot quickly as animals tend to be best when first put in front of the camera. After a short time they figure out that they don't really like it and spend their time trying to figure out how to get away. So speed is of the essence.
Landscape Stories: Your vision of the surreal is so personal and rare; what do you like about Surrealism?
Dan Burn-Forti: As a child, I was fairly obsessed with music and would spend hours looking at the album covers of my favourite musicians. I think my love of the un-real, or surreal started there. I also remember really liking the work of René Magritte as well and loved his unsettling take on the ordinary as well as his clean, graphic style. As I got older, I found myself very affected by the films of David Lynch and the photography of William Eggleston, amongst many others, and began trying to capture something of the absurdity of human life in my own work.
Landscape Stories: How do you describe your signature style?
Dan Burn-Forti: Well, I don't really! It's a difficult thing to try to summarise and, as with all visual arts, is difficult to put into words. I suppose I'm trying to capture the feeling of how things would look if you'd never seen that thing before, as if an alien had landed on the planet and was taking snapshots of the world around it. But I also like things clear and simple. So my signature style, well if I ever get it right, would be a polished celebration of the oddness and absurdity of the world around us.
Landscape Stories: When I see your works I think that the British people are a mix of Mick Jagger and Mister Bean, well a complex mix of strong sensuality and bungling ways – What do you think ?
Dan Burn-Forti: Yes, I like that! Although I'd throw in a bit of David Bowie (much cooler and more brilliant than Mick) along with Peter Sellers and John Cleese as they've got that British bungling thing but are much funnier.
Landscape Stories: Tell me about a day's work to create a photo. Exactly a photo with animals.
Dan Burn-Forti: One of the things I love about my job is that no 2 days are the same, so a typical day is hard to describe, but I guess animal shoots tend to have certain similarities. Quite often I'll be going to the animals rather than them to me, so the boring bit will be setting up a makeshift studio somewhere on location. Once this has been erected, lit and tested, we'll get the animal in and try to get them used to the flashes and the sounds before starting the pictures. Depending on the relationship between them, I'll often get the owners to help as this can help to settle the animals, although sometimes it's better to take control as the owners can be more trouble than their pets. I then try to take the pictures as soon as possible, before the animal get bored and figure out how to escape!
Landscape Stories: You have also realised some eclectic portraits: to Vincent Cassel, James Mccavoy to Maggy Thatcher and Gordon Brown for The Sunday Telegraph Magazine, Esquire and The Creative Review. Can you describe some of these photos?
Dan Burn-Forti: I really enjoy doing celebrity portraits although I do sometimes wonder if, given the choice, the celebrities would want me to be photographing them. When I encounter an inflated ego or a pompous ass (and inevitably the world of celebrities has more than it's fair share of these) I can't resist doing my little bit to deflate them and sometimes when I look at what I've done afterwards I can't help thinking that the subject wouldn't like it very much. But often the shoots are so quick that you have no time to really think about what you're doing and I love this guerrilla type of portraiture. I think you can over analyze these things and, as with the animals, it's better to do it quickly before everyone starts to get bored and looks for the exit!
Landscape Stories: Tell me about your next projects.
Dan Burn-Forti: I've a few different projects coming up. I'm hopefully shooting the actor Rhys Iffans next week as well as a series of portraits of couples who met through niche, on line dating agencies (and there are some weird, obscure ones). I'm also shooting an art collective who create 'happenings' dressed as badgers! Then I'm doing some ads for a drinks company. After that, a series of studio portraits of sun drenched holidaymakers where we're setting up a studio next to a beach. And then a series of rare breed animals shot on location in the countryside. Well, that's the plan anyway....
Interview curated by Camilla Boemio