Daniel Arnold tirelessly captures and catalogs the serendipity and the strange goings-on in and around New York City’s streets every day. Roaming the landscape so we don’t have to, Arnold presents these images to the world in a constant live stream of photographs from his brain to your eyes, via his website and popular Instagram account. He works so determinedly and creates so much great work that he’s become somewhat of a New York City fixture himself, not just documenting the fabric of the city, but becoming part of it. So, what happens when he’s dropped into the middle of another city for six short days and tasked with making the same magic happen there too? From the looks of Arnold’s new show, Six Days in San Francisco, now on view at Wolfe Contemporary, the same amazing things. Shot, processed, printed, framed, and hung all in less than a week, the show highlights the similar trappings of oddness, sadness, humor, and beauty that his New York work does, while exposing new ideas about the city and about documenting the unexpected and unknown. I hunted down Daniel for some insights into the whole process.
Christian Storm: How did the whole show in San Francisco come about?
Daniel Arnold: I was in a group show at the Wolfe Contemporary Gallery about a year ago, which was kind of an anomaly for them. They usually show painters but the guy who runs it has an assistant who, because it’s a smaller operation, is more involved than most, and she was following me on Instagram and recommended me for the show. So, some time went by and they had an opening out of nowhere and they offered me a solo show. It was very short notice and I could have taken an easy route, but it happened that I was going be in LA around that time. I went out to San Francisco ten days before the show and I figured I’d make it interesting and try to shoot the whole thing there.
That’s crazy. What was that pressure like to shoot a whole show in such a short amount of time? It’s definitely different than the way you work normally, I assume.
It was really hard. I guess I didn’t really understand what high stakes I was setting for myself. I’ve been in a rhythm of producing so much work on a regular basis, basically every day, that I felt fairly confident that I could just show up and make it happen. But the combination of being a stranger in town and sleeping on assorted couches and going three days at a time without being able to change my clothes and just walking all day, every day- I have a pedometer on my phone and by the end, I had walked 100 miles- was tough. It was a huge physical exertion and a bit of a psychological trial too, but it ultimately ended up being so much more rewarding for that. I think my outsider take on such recent times made for a more interesting, engaging show. I’ve always been a big fan of San Francisco but I’ve never had a real proper look around and it was a great way to experience the city.
You talk about viewing San Francisco from a fresh viewpoint. When you’re photographing in a city, how much about the work is about the specific city itself, and how much of is it about humans in general?
For the most part, the differences between cities in my photos are pretty subtle. It didn’t feel like a gimmicky change of pace for me, like I was finding people in Giants hats or eating sourdough bread. A lot of the New York stuff, pretty much the whole past few years, has been a product of loneliness and walking around, feeling kind of bummed, tuning out my own life and getting tuned into my surroundings. San Francisco provided plenty of loneliness. That downtrodden feeling wasn’t hard to come by in a place where I was disoriented and walking uphill all day. I found San Francisco to be much wilder and more threatening than New York, and I think that came through in some of it. The spirit there is much closer to surface than in New York, where people are much more calculated and manicured. But for the most part, the experience was very similar. It was just fresher because it was new; I could see things a little more clearly.