Dan Burn-Forti talks Glorious through his photography series showcasing the athletes competing at the World Pole Sports Championships
Photography by Dan Burn-Forti
Dan Burn-Forti is a London based photographer and director, whose diverse work spans the fields of advertising, fine art and editorial, but it’s all united by a love of the odd and incongruous and the chaos of modern life. With his juxtaposition of the mundane and everyday captured in lavish colour combined with cinematic compositions, his images portray the absurd and quirky side of modern life. Dan’s work has been seen in numerous magazine features and advertising campaigns along with inclusion in many photographic awards such as The Creative Review Annual, AOP Awards and Taylor Wessing Prize. Here he talks about the day he spent photographing the competitors at The World Pole Sports Championships.
Glorious: Can you tell our Glorious audience about yourself and your work?
Dan Burn-Forti: I’m a diehard West Londoner, having spent all my life there or thereabouts. Ever since failing in my dreams of becoming an astronaut or Evil Knievel, I’ve been a photographer, but I’ve been pretty pleased with how it’s gone, all things considered. I have always specialised in editorial and advertising photography, but with a healthy sideline in personal projects that both feed my work, along with my creative juices. My subject matter has always been extremely varied but is hopefully united by my love of the peculiar, eccentric and often baffling world of us human beings.
Glorious: How did you find out and get involved with the World Pole Sports Championships?
Dan Burn-Forti: I must admit, I knew barely anything of it as a sport. As I expect along with many others, I thought it to be an impressive, if slightly tawdry, aspect of the adult entertainer’s skillset. I was aware that it had become popular as a workout activity but had no idea that it had reached the point of having its own world championships. So, when Stella Magazine asked me to photograph it, I was pretty ignorant but jolly interested.
Glorious: Do you have a specific direction in mind for your photoshoots, such as this one, or do you enter into the shoot with a brief idea and let the action unfold?
Dan Burn-Forti: With something like this, I try as much as possible to keep an open mind. I’ll do a little research beforehand to attempt to avoid making any dreadful faux pas, but I think if you enter an unknown world like this, having too much of a preconceived agenda can only be to the detriment of the work. With all my pictures, I try as much as possible to react to the scene in front of me, rather than shoe horning events to my pre-planned ideas. Quite often there is a brief of sorts, more so with commercial work than editorial, but I always try to stay open to how things pan out on the day as I think that is how you get the best pictures.
Glorious: What was it about the pole competition that made you want to do a photo series?
Dan Burn-Forti: Well, I was asked! But having been commissioned, I was immediately curious and, as soon as I got there, I realised everything I’d thought before was wrong and that it was quite an amazing spectacle.
Glorious: Some of the shots show the determination and focus the pole dancers have. Did you get a chance to speak to them and get a feel for their perspective on the sport?
Dan Burn-Forti: Initially, the dancers were a little reticent in coming forth and probably dubious as to the magazine’s intentions with the story as they were quite clearly aware of the mainstream perception of their sport and its origins. But once they saw my amazement and interest in what they were up to, they were happy enough to share some of their thoughts. However, this was very much only when they had the time to spare, as they were properly focused on the demands of the competition and were not prepared to have some idiot with a camera distract them from their training and performance. But they all clearly loved what they did and were as focused as any group of athletes I’ve encountered.
Glorious: Did you ever have a go at the pole whilst you were there?
Dan Burn-Forti: Oh, dear me, sort of but no! I mean, I did put my camera down for a moment and attempted just to raise myself up on a pole, but it was basically impossible and I’ve absolutely no idea how they do it.
Glorious: You and your camera have travelled all over the world; what role does location have in your work?
Dan Burn-Forti: Location is just about the most important thing for me. My ideal assignment is to go somewhere new, to photograph something I’ve never seen. I always liken it to being an alien that’s just landed on planet Earth for a well-deserved vacation and is wandering around with their camera, taking pictures of the crazy things they’ve seen to show the alien folks back home. Although the familiar can also have its charms, there’s nothing more inspiring for me than the thrill of the unknown.
Glorious: There’s a ‘fly on the wall’ approach to your photography series. What equipment do you use? Does this decide the direction you take your work?
Dan Burn-Forti: Although I like to try to blend in where possible, my technique, particularly with a story like this, is slightly hard to disguise. I shoot with an Alpa medium format camera, which is not in itself intrusive, but I also have an assistant wielding a flash and umbrella to illuminate the scenes for me. They’re not quite as easy to disguise! But with this series, as with many others, once people are used to us being there, they quickly forget us. Then we can get on with the business of capturing those little moments that tell the tale.
Glorious: Your work varies between subtle ‘of the moment’ shots and glossy high production art-directed shoots. Do you prefer one of these approaches, or do you try to find a middle ground?
Dan Burn-Forti: Ever since I started taking pictures there has been this split in my work. It has always veered between either candid, stolen reportage moments or set up, choreographed scenes. But in a strange way, I have always viewed them as part of the same whole. My reportage work tends to be quite still and composed whilst I always try to capture random moments within my staged, set-piece work. So, whilst the art directed work is obviously all manufactured, I try to capture a sense of a moment from the performances of the subjects, to break the line of the overly staged scene. And with the un-staged work, I like to compose the shots neatly and light them a little to take them somewhere different to just normal reportage pictures. But in answer to your question, no, I love them both and yes, I tend to look for some sort of a middle ground.
Glorious: Besides your photography, do you take part in any sports?
Dan Burn-Forti: Does table tennis count?
Glorious: Would you say this influences your work?
Dan Burn-Forti: Definitely not!
Glorious: Are there any more sporting competitions or teams that have caught your eye that you would like to do a series with?
Dan Burn-Forti: All and every one of them. I’m fairly useless at generating non-commissioned stories of that sort as my personal work tends to be much vaguer and less focused. But waiting for a magazine to send me to cover the next World Pole Sports type of fascinating event is a bit of a fool’s game, so if any of your readers see this and think, “He should come and see what we’re up to”, please do get in contact. I’m all ears!
Glorious: Where can we find more of your work?
Dan Burn-Forti: The best place would be my website http://www.danburnforti.com/ or come have a peruse of my Instagram feed. You can find me posting under the slightly embarrassing moniker of burn4t.