Saturday, March 14, 2009

Interview with Mark Dimalanta - Pentaxian Photographer Extraordinaire

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Interview with Pentaxian Photographer Mark Dimalanta
By: Yvon Bourque

Hi Pentaxian friends.

While at the PMA09, I had the chance to meet and talk with all Pentax Representatives, Executives as well as the Official Pentaxian Photographers, Julie Quarry, Mark Dimalanta and the newest Pentaxian Photographer, Charles Waller. All three of them are very knowledgeable and friendly. They all allocated me some of their time for an intimate interview, although each of them had to be on the Pentax stage every half hour or so.

It's taken me a while to put it all together for the blogsite, but I finally completed the editing of my interview with Mark Dimalanta. Mark is such a genuine nice guy. If you watch this
biography video on the Pentaxian site, you will know a bit more about Mark's career change from Medical Doctor to full time Photographer. Mark has such a good view on life and it all transcends to his photographs.

Pentax K20D with the new DA* 55mm f/1.4 - 1/45 sec @ f/1.4, ISO 200, SR on, Aperture Priority, shot in DGN Raw format. The only correction...The White Balance to match the multi lighting sources of the PMA exhibition hall. This lens rocks!

Mark, where is home?

I'm from the Philippine islands, but I was born and raised in California. My family made frequent visits, back and forth, so I'm very comfortable, here and there. Collectively I spend as much as half the year in the Philippines and the other half in Huntington Beach. When I go back to the Philippines, I usually work on travel assignments and media publications for a few months, and then return home to Huntington Beach. On average, I can spend a total of up to six months in the Philippines and the remainder is spent traveling, wherever the surf is.

Who are you as photographer?

It's funny you should ask that question because just the other night, prior to PMA, we were thinking about this when all the Pentaxian Photographers were together, during dinner. For me, it seems that we are exactly what Ned had envisioned, for each of the Pentaxians to be uniquely different. We all shoot a different subject matter. I had never realized that I was a "people" photographer. I never thought of myself as that, I just shot and shot, you know, the things I found interesting, but if you look at all my pictures there are always people in the photo and I think that lends back to my journalism days. In high school, I was the chief photographer for our yearbook; in college I was the fraternity historian and photo editor for the University Paper, all the way into medical school where I was a contributing photographer for the Medical Center's Paper. It was something I always did. But I always looked at it as a hobby, instead of a career. I didn't embrace it fully but always had enough passion for it that maybe; I should have been considering it.

If you could live anywhere on the planet, where would that be?

It would probably be my own island back in the Philippines. We have seven thousands islands, some unexplored and it’s the one place on earth where you can still buy “your own” island. I would just like a beachfront home on an undeveloped island. My own private paradise.

How did you get into photography?

My dad was a photographer, nothing professional, just a decent photographer. He was an officer in the U.S. Navy so he got to travel and he always shot and he brought home these great photos, put them in an album, and as I got older I could see what my Dad experienced in all these beautiful places. I was always amazed with his photography because he could capture something and bring it home to share. Even when I was a kid, we were at Disneyland and my Mom took a family picture with a Polaroid and when that image “popped out” I would say, “how did you do that mom?” From that moment, photography had always fascinated me.

How would you describe your style?

I'm very old school, very into the fundamentals you know? Like the classic rule of thirds, reading the scene and metering with your mind. I still practice all of that, and I find it hard to break away from all of that and do some “new school” stuff...but I like it. The new stuff that's coming out (ie: the “Dave Hill Look” or HDR), I think that's all great. Things like tilted horizons and crazy compositions where you put your subject in a weird unconventional spot are things I would never have done in the past but am more receptive to now. All of it very progressive and effective styles these days.

What made you decide to shoot with Pentax equipment?

My dad brought me to a camera store, he let me touch and feel everything that was there, this was 1983, and the Pentax cameras just felt right. They had better ergonomic design, a better more solid build, all that was out, when I got my Pentax Program Plus, was the Canon AE-1, and I think the Nikon FM and I'm not sure what other cameras were available back then but those options felt “cheap”. I think there was also the very expensive Olympus OM-1, but I favored the Pentax and I've been with the brand ever since. Pentax proved to be such a niche product. I started to realize that I was that “Pentax guy”. I think it was the investment in my gear and the quality of the glass that made me stay loyal. I couldn't ever invest in another system and always felt that other systems didn’t reward me with the color and clarity I obtained from Pentax glass. I just couldn’t let go of my glass investment and patiently waited for Pentax to enter the digital arena. My industry is dominated by another brand, we don't have to name it, but when my images started to come through, Editors couldn't believe the resolution depth. The other brands are great and we saw that predominate for a long time, but that was merely because not many pros in my industry shoot with a Pentax, but when you see a Pentax image you're going to know it was shot with a Pentax. That's another reason I stayed with them. If all goes as planned, I have a feeling we may have a paradigm shift…

What equipment would you like for Pentax to introduce?

They really need some newly designed super telephotos (hopefully a DA* 500 or 600mm) made with a lighter materials like that of modern DSLRs, and because of their proprietary optical coating, they can make these lenses smaller than the competition. If you go head to head with other lens makers, Pentax’s offerings are always smaller, often a rival or even outperforming them.

Mark, if you would have to choose only one lens, what would it be and why?

I actually would like to include two lenses for the work I do. I like the fish eye DA 10-17mm, only wishing that it were weather resistant. The new DA* 55mm f/1.4 would probably be my recent choice because it's weather sealed and at f/1.4 it's very fast optically. The bokeh is perfectly round and creamy because of the nine rounded aperture blades. The contrast and clarity are exceptional.

Do you use Pentax lenses only or do you use other brands as well? Why?

At this stage, it's purely Pentax. Before, and this is ironic, I used Tokina because that was the affordable option. If you go back to 1993 ~ 1994, Pentax’s high-end lenses, like the FA* Series, were more expensive than the competition's equivalent. Pentax was the most expensive high-end lens maker back then. I could never afford those during my college days, that is why I chose Tokina. At present, it's kind of funny how Tokina and Pentax have this engineering co-op. It makes me wonder how long this relationship has been there.

Do you have a Website for your photography?

I do have a Website and I actually have to focus more on it. My wife keeps telling me to update it. It looks like I might be loosing business because I'm not updating. It is extremely important because in this digital age, that's where the people go.

(Mark also has a Blog site; Chasing Light. Check it out.)

If you could have dinner with any photographer, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

For me, it would definitely be Gordon Parks! I think because he shot through some difficult times in America. I'd like to hear his experiences and learn what it was like for him. His subjects were influential in my life and his groundbreaking work preserved an important part of our American history.

What one advice do you have for someone that just wants to improve his or her photographic skills?

Well the one thing I could advise is to shoot everyday, and learn from it. Try and avoid being static and unprogressive! Figure out something that you don't understand and play with it, because digital gives you instant gratification and you can correct mistakes “on the fly”, not like during my time when we would shoot, go in the dark room, load the tanks, make sure that your mixing and temperature were right, develop and then print. Two hours later… you finally got a preview, and the moment was kind of… gone. With digital, you can learn instantly. Shoot everyday, emulate until you develop your own style, then make it your own.

Is photography an art?

Of course it is. Photography is definitely an art, and although a lot of what I do is purely editorial, I am a huge fan of the creative aspect. There are pros out there, especially nature photographers that get so “artsy” with composition and post processing to the point that it's so beautiful. One guy who's like that isParker J. Pfister , I think he's one of the best portrait / wedding photographers. Much of what he does is uniquely his own, I can't shoot like him, and he can't just jump in the ocean and shoot like me, but I respect and admire what he does with his camera.

What is your opinion on post-processing?

For me, I believe in getting it right in-camera. I do minimal things like correct for exposure, and simply preserve how the scene was, because that's my style; but I do appreciate some of the oddball stuff like layering and textures, some of it looks great. I don't do it because in editorial photography we are relaying the truth.

One thing that puts me off is the “copycat”. Some "looks" belong to certain people. So many people attempt to copy Manny Librodo or Dave Hill, but those “looks” are uniquely their own and I applaud their originality. Sadly, because of the Internet, "some people straight-up copy and imitate".

Finally,what would you say to other up and coming photographers out there who aspire to what you achieved?

All I would like to say is “make it original”. Do something that's different, that's your own. If you copy someone's style, don't say it's yours. Learn from it and develop your own. Well that's my two cents. I hope it helps out.

Mark, thank you for your time. It's been very rewarding for me. I noticed that all of the Pentaxian photographers have one thing in common. It's the passion for what they do that makes them so good , not so much the equipment. Mark's first love is surfing, but photography pays the bills. Knowing the ins and outs of photography and combining that with his love of surfing, the results couldn't be anything but impressive. Mark, thank you so much for being so candid with me. I learn so much when I chat with other photographers, and I still have a lot to learn. The day I stop learning is the day I'll start pushing daisies!

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque

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