Behind the Lens: Award-Winning Photographer Dave Tacon

It’s not every day that you get to have a conversation with a photographer whose work has been featured in Vogue.

What about ELLE, Rolling Stone, or Wall Street Journal?

I’m so excited to share an interview I got the opportunity to do with a person who has done all of that and much more. That person is award-winning photographer Dave Tacon.

Dave Tacon photographed by Vanessa Yuan

Q: Tell me a little about yourself in your own words. Include any key points about your career you would like readers to know.

A: “Well, my background is in photojournalism. I moved to Shanghai from Melbourne, Australia in 2012. Prior to that, I’d basically been a freelance foreign correspondent. I moved to Shanghai because I’d worked there a couple of times before and it felt like the center of the world. It had the same kind of energy that I had felt in NYC ten years earlier. Back then I did a lot of magazine and newspaper work for which I’d write the words as well as shoot the pictures. When I was on a stopover in Hong Kong on the way over to Shanghai in 2012, I found out I’d won the Walkley Award for Best Freelance Journalist of the Year. The Walkleys are like Australia’s Pulitzer. That was for a series of feature articles I wrote and shot in Papua New Guiana (on street crime), Indonesia (on rubbish pickers at one of the world’s biggest landfill sites) and in Lebanon (on the hip hop scene and the city’s creative scene). The idea of coming to China was to be able to work for publications of a larger caliber and also write less. I had a kind of love/hate relationship with writing. It was something I did by necessity if I wanted to earn my living traveling. However, you probably want to ask about street style photography. For me, it’s another magazine assignment. I do my best and I’ve improved since I first shot this kind of thing for WWD in Shanghai ten years ago.”

Dave Tacon photographed by Gleb Torubarov at Shanghai Fashion Week recently

Q: Who are some of your idols?

A:”Some of my favourite photographers are Trent Parke, Alex Webb, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Christopher Anderson. Anderson is an interesting one because he’s a war photographer turned fashion photographer. In my opinion, he’s basically just a genius photographer though. I don’t look much at other street-style photographers. I think Kuba Dubrovski, who shoots outside all the shows at the major European fashion weeks for WWD, is very good. I learned a lot watching Bill Cunningham’s “On The Street” in the New York Times. He had a genius eye for fashion – the way he’d pick out trends. And I loved his unbridled enthusiasm for what he did.”

Q: How do you get inspired/what does your creative process look like?

A: “I’m not sure how I get inspired. My creative process is I turn up. And then I improvise. I used to get inspired by travel. I still do, but since the borders closed in China I’ve been getting back into street photography. Shanghai is an amazing place that you can almost see changing before your eyes. Over the last few years, I’ve been shooting a few projects around Shanghai and other parts of China on a panoramic film camera. Shooting film can give me a bit of separation between what I do for work and pleasure, although these things do intersect. I’ll shoot film on jobs from time to time, but most of my workflow is purely digital. Editing and post production are also a big part of my work.”

Q: What is your favorite place in the world to take pictures? It can be a continent, country, city and/or a specific place. From previous answers, I assume it may be Shanghai! Would you like to elaborate more on why you love Shanghai and/or include another place you love?

A: “Expanding on that, I really enjoyed a trip we took to Okinawa, which was the first time in more than a decade that I’d traveled overseas and not worked. Still, I brought a few film cameras and shot a few rolls just for pleasure. I don’t really have a favourite place for photography. I like going to new places and seeing things with fresh eyes though. One place I miss being able to travel to (apart from Australia) is Japan.”

Dave says what he loves the most about his industry is being able to do what he loves and get paid for it.

“I’ve been doing this for a while so it’s hard to imagine having to turn up every day to work in an office.”

Dave Tacon pictured at a Coach fashion show with the team in which he photographed the looks, make-up tests, and hair tests with. Tacon shot the show including backstage, runway, and atmosphere moments for the almighty fashion journal Women’s Wear Daily (WWD).

See some of Dave’s talent in action with a glimpse at his runway photography.

2021, Shanghai, China by Dave Tacon
2021, Shanghai, China by Dave Tacon
2019, Shanghai, China by Dave Tacon
2021 Shanghai, China by Dave Tacon
2012, Shanghai, China by Dave Tacon
2013, Shanghai, China by Dave Tacon
Louis Vuitton
2012, Shanghai, China by Dave Tacon

Dave shared with me some insights on shooting fashion that had a fashion-lover like me absolutely gushing.

“Although street fashion isn’t what I’ll shoot purely for pleasure, shooting it for 8 days straight for Vogue at Shanghai Fashion Week has burnt it into my mind. I’ve dreamt of it twice during the week and I had a really strange dream about shooting a Gucci show in a dry creek bed in the Australian countryside. Shooting general coverage of shows (backstage, front row, runway, and the after-party) is something I often do during SHFW, but this year was just street style. One issue with shooting street style this season was it was really too hot for fashion week. Most days were in the 90s and super humid. That’s hardly ideal for layering an outfit, but people just did it anyway while I just wore a t-shirt. Right now the weather in Shanghai is just right and I’m seeing loads of people who would be worth shooting for street style even when I just walk around my neighborhood in the former French Concession.”

Q: Do you have a favorite time period of fashion?

A: “I do like the rock scene of the late 60s and early 70s. Jimi Hendrix had great original style as did Keith Richards. However, it’s convenient for me that fashion today has turned back to the 1990s as that’s when I grew up.”

Q: What is your favorite photography moment and/or person you’ve photographed?

A: “I don’t know about photography moment, but I enjoy photographing my wife, Vanessa. She’s the person I’ve photographed more than anyone else.”

I asked Dave for any advice he might have for young people who are trying to find their way or career path.

“Learn from people who are doing what you want to be doing and be prepared to help people in turn if you’re able to pursue that same path.”

A humble king. Lastly, Dave shared one piece of fashion advice.

“If you want to be featured in the best-dressed street style at fashion week in Vogue, don’t wear head to toe black. That’s definitely going to make things tougher.”

Iconic. Thank you Dave for sharing some of your creative expertise. Find out more about Dave Tacon and his work here.

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