Pastel Side of the Lens: Dino Kužnik

Dino Kužnik
Arizona Pastels

You know when you see a photo or an artwork that immediately transports you to another time, another place, some other life that you kind of vaguely, distantly remember even though you've never lived it while at the same time making you feel all the feels? 

Yeah, that's Art---with capital A---we're talking about. Like the writer Rainow Rowell said, » wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.« And (wo)man was she right!

Although Dino Kužnik's photography is pretty, it certainly does make you feel oh so much. His photographs somehow manage being a mix of melancholy, a remembrance and an almost forgotten dream. I mean, check out one of his series like Arizona Pastels or Bleeding Magenta---or to be honest, any of the series---and try not to be wow-ed.

Dino Kužnik/ Bleeding Magenta

I've been lucky to know Dino since college. If my memory was any better, I'd tell you exactly how we met, but it must have been related to our mutual Friday banter place---Orto Bar---where we pretty much spent every Thursday (and Friday and Saturday) night, dancing to 80s music and being completely oblivious to what the future might hold and the challenges that were awaiting us. It's hard to believe how quickly these last 10-ish years flew by and how things changed.

One thing about knowing someone for so long is seeing their evolvement, their growth. When I first met Dino, he was a graphic designer student with a passion for photography. We were still in college when he started his first jobs as a designer and I then followed his journey in the US via Instagram and occasional dinners on his yearly trips back home. And gosh is it amazing to see what journey those sometimes unexplained, painful and at the time seemingly small decisions can take us. Sometimes even all the way to the other side of the world. 

Dino Kužnik/ Shaped by the West

And while unfortunately, Dino is currently nowhere near Slovenia, I'm going to pretend we're having a beer somewhere in Ljubljana while in reality, this conversation is happening via Messenger without any interesting substances involved. 

So, I just wrote some flattering stuff about you (maybe some embarrassing too, ha) that you won't get to see until this is published muahaha. Worried? 
Should I be? :)

Nah, I only got good stuff to teel. Okay, first the big Why. Why photography? Why and how did photography become your medium of expression?
Maybe because I was introduced to photography at a very early age and because I'm a really visual person. You see, my grandad was kind of an amateur photographer so when I was growing up, he had all these bookcases full of photography books and National Geographic magazines all the way from the 1960s and we would spend countless hours browsing all the photos.
But nothing substantial really happened until I actually got my first digital camera when I started college in Ljubljana. I worked in the photography field as a journalistic photographer, studio assistant, and retoucher, so I saw what I like and dislike about doing this in Slovenia. So I pulled back a bit and used it more for my own projects and form of expression, as that is what I really liked about it. It's what gave me the most satisfaction. So that's how it actually became what it is today. It took around 10 years, 3 cities and a 1000 (more or less ) rolls of film for me to figure out in which direction I want to go. 

Dino Kužnik/ Shaped by the West

I didn't want to mention any awards in my pre/post text as there are way too many (you can check them all out here) but care to share which one you're most proud of? 
Well, maybe not an award, but I guess I am most proud of the fact that I had photos exhibited alongside one of my favorite photographers - Martin Parr. In 2017 when I was shortlisted for the Sony World Photography Awards, my photos were exhibited in Somerset House in London with other shortlisted work and Martin Parr. He's a legend ... so yeah that's probably up there. 

Based on your bio, solitude is a driving factor behind your photographs. Your “work reflects a peaceful state of mind, one only attainable after total immersion within the environment he works in.” Total immersion with the environment, peace, presence…seems to me like you’re describing meditation. Would you say photography is your way of meditation? Or am I getting too out there? 
Yeah, you could say that. I mean, it depends on what kind of project I am shooting, but when I go on my road trips, that's exactly what I do. Getting away from it all and sort of meditating for a week or so. It helps me detach from the stress and routine. It's a great feeling when you have no plan, you just wander the plains of the West and find some things to photograph along the way. I remember doing it the first time and being a bit scared of traveling alone but, to be honest, it was the best thing I ever did. I think every person should try traveling alone. It's just an amazing experience and you definitely get to know yourself better.
I did change my process in the recent year though, as I am planning and researching a bit more, as I want to do more specific series, not just wander around brainlessly although I still do that from time to time. Just because it feels good. Some people go to the mountains or the seaside for vacation, but I go to the desert and drive around. Sounds weird, right?

Dino Kužnik/ Impending darkness

To be honest, sounds pretty damn cool.  So when you decide on a new series, what usually comes first: the theme or the photos? Do you normally set out on a trip with a series that you'd like to do in mind or does that come afterwards, after you see all the photos and kind of notice the common thread? 
Like I said earlier I changed my process so nowadays the theme would come first, but I would usually get the photos first and then combine them into a compelling package, but the whole process was the series, so that worked really well in the past.
I want to build on my work and the obvious way to do that right now it to prepare more and be more specific with my projects. Also as I saturated myself with this American aesthetic I am looking outwards of the US for my future work. Asia and South America are on my radar.

What's your next trip (no, not that kind of trip) going to be? Got anything planned yet? 
I wanted to go to Asia this year, but some things that were out of my hands happened, which changed my plans. Hopefully, I will still make it by the end of the year, but I'll just have to wait and see how things go. Otherwise, I am always returning to the West side of the US, as I have projects there this year that I will be working on, some personal and a few commissions.

When you first moved to the US you lived in San Francisco but have since moved to NYC where you've been living for the past few years. What do you prefer: the East or the West coast? Why?
I prefer the West coast, but if we are talking about cities I do prefer New York to San Francisco. San Francisco is a tech mecca and New York is just way more diverse in terms of industries and it offers a lot more things that I am interested in, especially if we are talking about the art world. Also, there's always something interesting happening in New York, gallery opening, concerts and events, while in SF, it was way more tailored to people who work in tech. But I do miss the nature and how easy it was to get out of the city back in SF. I do think that if I have the chance, I may move back to California in the future but definitely not SF. If I would move it would have to be Los Angeles, definitely southern California.

Dino Kužnik/ Shaped by the West

What have you found to be the hardests part of living abroad? If you don't say your friends, I'm gonna be a bit offended, I've got to say. ;) Also, what's the biggest difference between trying to make a living as an artist in the US compared to Europe?
Of course  Friends and family. When you move into a new city you are stripped of that, which is quite interesting actually. You start at 0. Although I knew a lot of Slovenians and a few Americans when I first moved here, I was basically without any other friends when moving to San Francisco and then again when moving to New York. That can be a bit of a shock to somebody that is a very social person. But I found my crowd of people, so I am quite content in New York at this moment. But I really do like coming back to Slovenia in the summer, and if everything works in my favor, I will start spending more time there in the summer. Two months in the summer would be perfect, so you have time for your friends, family, a few seaside trips and to enjoy Ljubljana. That is the biggest part that's missing in my life right now.
I am not sure about Europe but I can tell you about Slovenia. When I was working as a student photographer in Ljubljana, I worked my ass off and was barely able to pay my rent and expenses. Also, there is a mentality---mostly in older generations---that photography or any other creative profession isn't really a proper profession so people aren't prepared to pay a lot of money for something like that. If you aren't really working for other European clients, I think it's hard to get by. But you also have to know I haven't been working there for 6 years now, so things may have changed.
In the US there is a total opposite though. Brands put creatives in front and they know that a good campaign or brand identity will sell their products or elevate the brand so creatives can make a really nice living in a city like New York. The market is also way bigger and people are actually buying art, and willing to pay more for it, especially if you are an established artist.
I hear Paris, Berlin, and London are quite good for creative people in Europe, but I can't really say how it compares in detail.

Dino Kužnik/ Louisiana

Two random questions for the (almost) end: The album you've had on repeat for the last few months and best book you've read lately? We'll also need the whys on that.  
I have been listening to a lot of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and all the albums they released in 2017. I listen to a lot of different music, so there is no one album that I am obsessed with right now. I am (at this moment) listening to Ty Segall's - Fudge Sandwich, King Tuff's - The Other and am super excited for the new release from Black Mountain - Destroyer, which is coming out end of May. Why? Because it's good music.
The last book I read and it wasn't a photo book was Sapiens - A Brief History of Humankind from Yuval Noah Harari. It's a great read, you should read it. It's a really engaging look at early human history and the shaping of society - it definitely challenged some of my beliefs.

Oh cool, I've had that on my to-read list for a while now, I guess I'll really have to read it. You know we can't end this without a question about your future plans. So, what does the future hold for you? And when can we expect another solo show? Also, will it be in Ljubljana or will we have to come all the way to NYC to see it? 
Well as it stands right now, I would like to stay in NYC for a while and work as a photographer. I am having some visa troubles at the moment, so I’m figuring some stuff out. Hopefully, it all works out and I can stay here for a while longer. Other that that I will always be coming back to Slovenia as I love seeing and spending time with my friends and family. Not sure about the distant future thought. I try not to plan too far ahead. I hope to have a solo show in Slovenia sometime in the future, but so far not a lot of people showed any interest and I haven't really worked on that as I am in the US most of the time. I will probably be in Slovenia in 2019 for a longer period of time, so I might make something happen. Let's see.
Other than that, I am exhibiting in Paris and New York this year in a couple of group exhibitions, but some new notable things are opening up. It's a bit too early to talk about them. When I will have more news, I will definitely share.

Dino Kužnik/ Shaped by the West

Follow Dino on Instagram to follow his journey or contact him via his website for 2019 prints catalogue or collaborations. You can also just say hi, recommend a good book or photo book, or let him know about that back alley muscle car in your neighborhood. 

Dino Kužnik by Jean Pierrot