Industry Insights: David Brandon Geeting on balancing art and advertising

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In collaboration with Direct Digital – the leading international photographic equipment rental service – 1854 Media and British Journal of Photography presents Industry Insights, a series delving into the ins and outs of working in the photography industry.

“Even though it’s extremely capitalist and you’re contributing to a lot of problems and helping corporations sell things, it gets weird imagery to the masses in a way that galleries and more niche circles do not”

The art of David Brandon Geeting isn’t made to be translated into words. “I don’t think ‘meaning’ should ever save the work,” he says, speaking from his home in New York. “I feel like that’s a cop out.” Renowned for his loud and disorderly still life imagery, Geeting’s personal projects are objects of rife contradictions and playful peculiarity: clashing compositions that push the boundaries of colour and form, masterfully reinventing the inanimate objects we think we know. 

With a client list including Nike, Commes des Garçons, Miu Miu, Vogue and TIME, it is in many ways obvious why brands and editors have been drawn to his work. Pearl earrings piercing a banana; Chanel strewn amongst cockroaches and old salad leaves; Marc Jacobs in the fridge. Flipping notions of truth, fiction, taste and worth on their heads, Geeting reassembles our perceived limitations of what product and fashion photography can be. “We all know what a spoon is used for,” he muses, “or the correct way to wear a t-shirt. But imagine being an alien and seeing those objects for the first time. You might do something else with them.”

Now a decade into his career, there is a lot about Geeting’s well-documented ethos as a creator – his messy and non-linear processes; his “Fuck you, I’m going to do it my way” attitude – that leads one to wonder how he fares in the advertising world. His personal still life work is largely constructed during long and experimental solo sessions in his windowless studio; by contrast, his commercial practice sees him collaborate with art directors, set designers and prop stylists to the tune of preconceived creative treatments.

Does he struggle with protecting his artistic authorship? In short: not all that much. “There’s still a way to offer my input. To try to do what I want at first, and see how far I can push it,” he says. Then, if he has to dial it back – and sacrifice control – he does. “If it’s worth it to you to make a bunch of money that you can save or invest into art projects, I think it’s fine to do things that may otherwise be embarrassing. But that’s up to you.” 

© David Brandon Geeting.
© David Brandon Geeting.

“Starting out, I worried too much about the authenticity of the image. As though somehow an image would lose credibility if I constructed it, instead of just stumbling upon it. But now I love manufactured images… Because photography has been used synonymously with ‘truths’ for decades”

© David Brandon Geeting.

Geeting links his early affinity with objects and artefacts to social shyness. During his time at New York’s School of Visual Arts, he would take his camera on solitary strolls around the neighbourhood, curiously observing what the streets offered up. It was a teacher, upon seeing the resulting images, who suggested he experiment with studio still life. “Starting out, I worried too much about the authenticity of the image,” he remembers. “As though somehow an image would lose credibility if I constructed it, instead of just stumbling upon it. But now I love manufactured images. I think it’s maybe the most interesting part of the medium. Because photography has been used synonymously with ‘truths’ for decades — and so straddling that line, and keeping the audience on their toes, is fun.”

His breaking into the commercial sphere wasn’t exactly planned – “I was just posting personal work on my blog very consistently, and it caught the eye of some photo editors” – but it was welcomed. Not only had it rapidly dawned on him that “no one really makes money off their art,” but Geeting was intrigued by the astronomical reach. “Even though it’s extremely capitalist and you’re contributing to a lot of problems and helping corporations sell things, it gets weird imagery to the masses in a way that galleries and more niche circles do not,” he says. “Someone in rural Virginia might see a billboard shot by an interesting photographer, or get an ad on their computer, and be like, ‘what the fuck is that?’” (He means this in a good way.) “Some people don’t have access to some hole-in-the-wall Chinatown gallery.”

© David Brandon Geeting.
© David Brandon Geeting.

“Someone in rural Virginia might see a billboard shot by an interesting photographer, or get an ad on their computer, and be like, ‘what the fuck is that?’ Some people don’t have access to some hole-in-the-wall Chinatown gallery”

© David Brandon Geeting.

While many working photographers might consider marketing to be half of their job, Geeting’s inimitable aesthetics seem to do a lot of the heavy lifting for him. “My main way of marketing is to just keep making and posting my stuff,” he says. With nearly 50,000 Instagram followers, and commission enquiries that seem to regularly appear in his inbox after he taps ‘share’, he clearly plays the social media game well — though, on the topic of the platform, his feelings are mixed. 

While Instagram has democratised the art world in undoubtedly beautiful ways, the impact and nuance of an image are prone to dilution. Creators are rendered content machines, forever treading water to stay visible and relevant in an oversaturated market. “It’s really a generational problem,” he says. “Like, if Ryan McGinely stopped posting on social media forever, he would still get hired to shoot advertising campaigns.” While experimenting for his project Neighbourhood Stroll (2019), Geeting remembers posting dozens of random single images from his walks around Brooklyn, and losing “tons” of Instagram followers as a result. Now, with the platform as his main marketing tool, it’s something he likely wouldn’t do.

“Wouldn’t it be a dream to post whatever I was feeling and have it attract likes?” he muses. But that’s not the world we live in. “Now, when I post things [on Instagram], I’m sharing them with the world, but I’m also in a way asking, ‘can I have some work, please?’” 

He’s not overjoyed about it. But as a modern day image-maker, he accepts it’s the hand he’s been dealt. And ultimately, playing the game of capitalism is what grants him the freedom to do what he wants to do: his art. “That stuff is what keeps pushing me further out of my comfort zone, and expanding what my practice is,” he says. “The personal projects allow me to figure out where I can go next, and do things that I haven’t done yet.” 

That’s still what it’s all about.

dbg.nyc

© David Brandon Geeting.
© David Brandon Geeting.
© David Brandon Geeting.
Flossie Skelton

Flossie Skelton joined British Journal of Photography in 2019, where she is currently Commissioning Editor across awards, Studio and partner content. She does freelance writing, editing and campaign work across arts, culture and feminism; she has worked with BBC Arts, Belfast Photo Festival and Time’s Up. She is also an illustrator, with artwork published in Marie Claire, ES Magazine, Sunday Times Style and the Guardian.