SVCreates Content Emerging Artist 2023
Such is Life
A wheat-pasted poster on a San Francisco sidewalk may be commonplace for 99 percent of passersby. For photographer Dan Fenstermacher, the details caught his eye from across the street: an ambiguous lower body clothed in shorts and walking shoes—leg tattoos exposed—standing on a trail with marketing copy that read “on the path to zero impact.” Dan also noticed a burly, shirtless man thirty feet away walking towards the poster; he had patchy body hair on his chest that shared an uncanny resemblance to a smiley face. Dan hurried across the street to catch the convergence of the two. The photo he captured juxtaposes a hipster on a hike with a shirtless man on a city street—both of whom are uniquely getting in touch with nature—and puts a humorous spin on the sustainability marketing technique of showing people experiencing the outdoors. The composition plays with body level, placing the lower body on the poster in line with the man’s upper half. While any similarity between those two figures could be viewed as an abstract coincidence, Dan sees potential in layering and capturing dissimilar details with eye-catching composition to create something new, authentic, and often funny.
Dan Fenstermacher is a burgeoning photographer with internationally recognized work. He’s also a professor and chair of the West Valley College photography program, a contributor to The San Francisco Standard, and a volunteer photographer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Dan’s projects blend street photography and photojournalism with clever juxtaposition; his photos are most known for their vibrant colors, use of flash, and humorous composition.
Originally from Seattle, Washington, Dan obtained a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Idaho before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in marketing. While there, he realized that advertising has less to do with creative ad concepts and more with market research, data analysis, and spreadsheets. Dan recalls, “I hated it. I started taking photography classes at night through a local community college while doing those advertising jobs. I had a roommate at the time who went off to Korea to teach English, so I figured I could do the same thing.” Dan went on to use his community college photo credits to teach fine art in China, aided by student translators. Later, he enrolled in a graduate photography program at San Jose State University.
“Traveling makes me feel alive. When you experience a new culture, it’s like getting to experience life again for the first time.”
Dan’s photography is rooted in detail and captures reality at the core of often misunderstood situations. “I have always been an observer,” he says. “I tend to notice things that most people wouldn’t consider. I like to combine street photography with journalistic documentary themes.” Each of Dan’s projects captures a range of topics and manages to juxtapose conception with reality. His project documenting seniors in Costa Rica contrasts American society’s fear of aging with the joy and experience seen on the faces of the elderly. His “Streets to the Dirt” project documents Black cowboys in Richmond, California, and shows that cowboys are not just White men in movies. Dan continues to broaden his photo expeditions, explaining that “traveling makes me feel alive. When you experience a new culture, it’s like getting to experience life again for the first time.” Dan’s career as a photography professor allows him to embrace his passion while surrounded by inspiring up-and-coming student artists. Dan aligns his trips with his school schedule and plans to travel to Guadalajara, Mexico, to document mariachi culture. His next goal is to produce his first self-published photo book.