Midwestern Relics — A Photo Gallery & Interview

Midwestern Relics — A Photo Gallery & Interview

Midwestern Relics — A Photo Gallery & Interview 1920 1280 Icy Blu Daniel

We are thrilled to interview and feature the photography of Icy Blu Daniel. Follow her on Instagram @ohiorelics.


Barren: You have a very keen eye for what makes for a good shot. The angles, perspectives, and depth that you choose evoke the most out of each photo. Have you had any formal education or training in photography?

IBD: Thank you for asking that. I hear that a lot, actually. I often frame the shot before I even pick up my camera. I started shooting in high school for our yearbook. Our art teacher actually made her living as a wedding photographer, so she kind of created the foundation of how my gears turn. I graduated with an Associate’s in Fine Art Photography from Academy of Art University. I would credit those amazing professors there as to fine-tuning my ‘eye,’ so to speak.

Barren: I have no doubt that many amateur photographers wonder about the equipment you shoot with. What camera(s) and lens(es) do you prefer to use? What’s your dream camera?

IBD: Depending on what I am shooting dictates what I carry in my bag. I am not one of those who carry EVERYTHING. I found that distracting. So, I do as much planning ahead of time as I can. I currently shoot with a Nikon d7100 and usually with my 18 mm, as I tend to shoot wide. Or my Minolta SR – 1, if I am shooting film. I have several cameras, but those are my main go-tos. Otherwise, my studio equipment and camera bag are pretty standard. I do want to add that people will reach out and ask what they should buy or what’s the best lens. While yes, equipment has its benefits, I have always been a strong believer that it’s the person taking the photo, not the camera that makes the picture.

Barren: All of your photos are firmly rooted in a sense of place. Where are photos from this collection from?

IBD: Almost all of my photos are of rural Ohio with emphasis on the southeastern part. In the past year, I have started branching out to nearby states to expand the project. Within the last three months, I’ve hit Mississippi, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Barren: Your photography carries a very specific aesthetic — nostalgic, rich, lonesome. It goes beyond the typical ‘abandoned’ photography that has become popular in recent years. Can you explain why you are drawn to shoot such things? How does it connect with you emotionally?

IBD: I’ve worked hard to distinguish my ‘urbex’ – as it is called – from the craze, and I think I have been successful at this because I was shooting this subject matter long before Instagram was ever thought of. I wasn’t the only one by any means, but this has grown to be a part of me. In high school, after I got my license, my dad would encourage me to drive the country roads to get more drive time under my belt. Every time I went out, I found more and more houses left to rot. As someone who grew up in the heart of downtown Columbus, OH, I didn’t even realize that there were communities struggling to keep afloat. I started carrying my camera. At that time it was just a simple Polaroid. I wanted the loneliness to reach out and touch the viewer even at that age. 

Barren: Many of your fans on Instagram have asked how you find these things in these places. Besides having a constant eye for things to shoot, do you employ any strategy to find things to shoot? Random drives? Tips from friends and fans? Something else?

IBD: Yes! I get messages almost daily about this. I have become notorious in the Urbex community for not sharing locations. I do this because not everyone leaves just footprints. I often talk to the owners and neighbors, and I feel there is a certain unspoken trust between us that I won’t bring them hassles to deal with from my photos. But I will always tell those who ask how to find their own places; that’s half the fun! Google Earth is the cardinal rule for me. Pick a random spot around where you live and start looking. You’ll get good at recognizing overgrown yards and broken roofs. It can be time-consuming, but it’s how I’ve found almost all of the locations. I also recommend random drives. Don’t be afraid to turn off the highway and see where that one-lane road takes you.

Barren: Who are some photographers that you might cite as influences? Why?

IBD: Sally Mann is truly one of the only photographers that I can cite as inspiring to me. That is not to say that no one else does, there are just too many. I often will discover a photographer who doesn’t really shoot the same subject matter as me, but I’ll keep up on them just as inspiration and to see how I can maybe learn something. I don’t paint myself into a corner; I shoot everything.

Barren: Is your love for photography connected with anything in your past? What excites you the most about it?

IBD: Since I was a child, I’ve had a camera. I had toy cameras, then film cameras, then the first digital cameras. Always shooting. But I never looked at it as a career or love. It was just something I did. I documented. I was supposed to study forensics. I set my whole high school career up just to prepare me for that. Then when I started seeing how my photos of people made them react, I decided to take a year off high school and feel that part of me out. And here I am. Every time someone says their portrait makes them feel beautiful, or an old brick house I found reminds them of summers at Grandma’s, I feel complete. That simple. That’s what excites me.

Barren: Do you typically use any image editing software, or is most of your photography natural?

IBD: While I have extensive training in Photoshop and Lightroom, I don’t rely on them. I aim to get it the way I want in camera first. So, sometimes I’ll fudge the white balance or underexpose on purpose to get the effect I want. When I do use software, I’ll start with Lightroom, and then sometimes Presco, to get the look I really want. You can usually tell I’ve altered it for extreme tones.

Barren: If you could give any advice to novice photographers who are looking to improve upon their skills, what might you say?

IBD: Don’t feel intimidated! Don’t base your work on likes! Being a part of a community of like-minded photographers, I hear this, and I wish I didn’t. You don’t need a degree or 100k followers to be great. Find some spare time and go shoot. Take a subject and shoot it in every different way you can. Then review the photos. What works? What doesn’t? What do you like? What didn’t you like? What does your light look like? Is it too harsh? Shadows too dark? Keep those answers tucked in the back of your mind. I taught myself how to shoot waterfalls with slow shutter speed before I ever went to school, just by going out and experimenting. When I was in school, our work would be critiqued. While anxiety-inducing, this helped me view my images in another light. We can always be our own worst critics.

Barren: If anyone would like to purchase prints or digital copies of your photographs, how might they do so?

IBD: Good question! I can be contacted directly on my Instagram or my email: icybludaniel@gmail.com.

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