Dan Fenstermacher

Full Frontal Flash proudly presents our new California representative. Our former student , the photography teacher from San José with love for the flash. Bay Area shooter – Dan ‘the Professor’ Fenstermacher!

Welcome to Full Frontal (Flash), we’re happy to have you as a member!

Tell us a bit about yourself
After deciding the 9-5 suit and tie office life wasn’t for me, I took the first job offered to me teaching abroad and I got offered to teach fine arts such as drawing, painting, 3D design, and photography. Little did I know much about any of these things, but of course I said. “Yes, no problem, I can teach that.” Fast forward 10 years and I have my dream job teaching at the college level.

I’m an adventurous person and love to travel internationally. I just picked up scuba diving and motorcycle riding in the past 2 years and ran my first half-marathon last week.  This summer I am going to do a cross country motorcycle trip across the US and going to flash all the farmers and diner workers and hitch-hikers I can get my lens on. I also can’t wait to start strobing under the sea. 

When did you start with photography and more importantly when and why did you start to use a flash?
My mother got me a polaroid camera for Christmas as a child and I remember instantly (pun intended) taking to it and being disappointed when I shot all the film. Years later in college I borrowed my step-dad’s camera so much on a vacation that he ended up buying me my first digital camera for my 20th birthday, a Canon Powershot A520 with two AA batteries. After teaching in China I applied to graduate school in the states and got my MFA in photography. What I love about teaching is I always learn from students as well, and it’s exciting to share my passion for photography with young minds who also want to make it a career.

I started using flash in graduate school in 2013 for my thesis project in which my aim was to share authentic stories of people with OCD and combat the stigma in popular culture about the disorder. I found the flash best exemplified the menace of OCD by creating shadows on the wall, as if OCD follows you around constantly, and drawing the attention of the viewer to the main subject.

After school I started using it in the street, and after a trip to Delhi, India in 2017 where I photographed the auto rickshaw drivers for a month straight with flash, I was hooked for good.  The use of flash makes images jump out at the viewer and off the print. I find the use of flash as a tool to shape and bend light to my liking, and love the vibrancy and saturation of colors flash increases.

Could you describe your photographic style?
I have 2 themes in my work. In my everyday style I look for color and humorous moments that capture the joy, craziness, and serendipity of this game we all play called life. The flash really helps to freeze the decisive moment and make those colors pop. I am currently doing a project at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. Whenever I see one I shoot it for fun and have thousands of images of the cones. I like to get in close and create layers with as many different gestures happening in the frame as possible, or show one big wild and intrinsic main character.

My other style is to merge documentary and street photography together to tell important stories. I approach a series by visualizing the project. I set my intention with a story I want to capture, usually overseas, and then let the project evolve with what presents itself in the creating process once I get there. So far I have done this approach in India, Ghana, and Thailand and it has worked well so far. I let the direction of the work present itself through the act of shooting. For example, in the images from my series Food Chain in Ghana, the intention was to tell the story of local fishing communities, but it evolved into something bigger about the lack of fish due to overfishing by foreign countries. Besides the obvious, I get in close and get the small details to tell a story that is well-rounded from all angles. I aim to fill my frames with at least 2 different points of action to create energy and interest, shooting wide with a 28mm lens usually balancing one scene in the foreground with one in the background. I shoot a lot and move my feet around the scene and get my camera low to the ground or close to a limb for unique perspectives. I like to get to know the people I am working with and invite them to collaborate.

Show us five flash photos and tell us something about them

Kids and animals at the petting zoo is always a good idea.
I photographed this image on the Golden Gate Bridge during a protest after the killing of George Floyd. Protesters shut down the entire Bridge demanding justice for Floyd.
A couple kissed at midnight on New year’s eve in Penang Malaysia, while others are more focused on the beers in their hands.
Halloween in the Castro District of San Francisco is a major event each year. The creativity and variety of costumes is a joy to behold.
People play oversized and undersized games at nn outdoor festival at Fishermans Wharf in San Francisco during the Full Frontal Flash workshop in 2019.

Thank you Dan, welcome to the Full Frontal Flash Collective. We’re glad to have you as a member.