Updated: Feb 1, 2020
Words By Carly Trinier
Introducing the woke Annie Leibovitz: Danyal Barden. He is the new, new age portrait photographer out of Brampton. With only a couple years of portrait photography under his belt he has become the go-to for unique headshots. He has recently added videography to his repertoire and spent much of 2018 travelling through the States to shoot music videos for notable American musicians. How, barely into the first couple years of his career, has he become so successful? Laughing, he gives us his frank, no-bullshit answer.
“It’s so shit, but I think what really worked for me… I had no experience doing anything, but I would say I knew how to do something and just figure it out. I’ve been really blessed to get the opportunities I do, and I try to do my best with them.”
You would never guess his work came from an unexperienced photographer, but fresh eyes may be what makes his work so unique. Barden comes from a social work background, working with disenfranchised kids, so he didn’t have the OCAD molded idea of what photography should be; leaving him to make it what he wanted it to be. With a ten-year-old Cannon T and a couple film cameras, he photographs his models in handpicked locations around the city.
It is urban romanticism that is the foundation for Barden’s work: location, location, location. Driving for hours around new and old city blocks, inside and outside of the city he looks for spaces that move him, geotags them, and comes back to shoot the site with a model that fits the aesthetic. Location first may seem like a backwards plan for a portrait photographer, but the work speaks for itself. Backlogging dozens of locations that fit every vibe allow him to match his models - which are often his closest friends - with the most fitting spaces and come up with more in sync pieces.
“I think that’s why every picture looks like its own world, its own image. It doesn’t seem like a series or seem like it follows a style because every location kind of changes that.” Danyal says, sitting on the ground, laid back on his hands, looking around at the passersby in Trinity Bellwoods park - he didn’t want to miss the beautiful day.
Barden has another seemingly backward approach to his work.
“It’s not photography first” he explains, “It’s about building great relationships with people. Actual relationships, not just working relationships, but actual ‘how are you doing?’ ‘how is your day going?’ relationships. That’s what works for me.”
There is no strategic claw-my-way-to-the-top mentality for Barden. He met his mentor at a barbecue, one of his most frequent collaborators by offering him a drive home and wins clients by striking up conversations with strangers. His whole modus operandi is building relationships. Before, during, and after a shoot, Barden socializes with his team getting to know them on a more personal level. No individual is too big or too little to get Barden’s time.
This connection may be what makes his work so compellingly human. The backdrops are places we see every day and the people, so comfortable with Barden, look like everyday people, but the whole scene seems to be caught in a magical moment.
“I try and shoot what I have in mind first and if that works, I explore different things. It’s fun; it’s always just fun. I always work with friends and shit so it’s always like we’re having a good time, hanging out.”
With a career skyrocketing and endless possibilities ahead of him, when asked what’s next, what’s the goal, his answer was classic Danyal Barden.
“Its hard to make a goal. In 2017 I never would have thought I’d be where I am in 2018 and in 2018 I got to travel to LA for photography and I’ve just come back from shooting a music video. It’s hard to predict where anything is going to go.” He pauses for a second, smiles, and continues, “One of the goals I have is to get my friends into it more… Have them on set, have them learn something. You won’t get that experience or knowledge anywhere else. A lot of [where I am] was people believing in me, so I want to help kind of pay it forward. That’s kind of it really.”