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StreetPX - A Photography Podcast

Oct 23, 2018

Entering the StreetPX studio today is Bay Area documentary photographer, street photographer and college professor, Dan Fenstermacher.

Early on, Dan chose to pursue a degree at San Jose State and studied in the very same darkroom as his stepfather... continuing the family tradition of photography.

A trip to Ghana on an advertising internship for 8 weeks, set him on a path of travel and expansion of creativity. During which time, he starred in a local television commercial, assisted the head of the advertising agency with location scouting, head shots and even hit the streets with his pocket camera capturing as much of the local life as possible. Thus, solidifying his interest in visual expression.

Living in LA from 2008-2010 and going through multiple jobs in the advertising world, he became jaded on the advertising world and finally found himself by going to school at night at El Camino College, pursuing photography.

I went through a lot of different jobs in the advertising world... But it was not as romantic as I envisioned. Like, I envisioned, 'I'm gonna get into advertising and make these really funny Doritos commercials for the Super Bowl'. Its gonna be creative and fun.... It was not that way... It was filing paperwork and getting copy and delivering mail...

Dan Fenstermacher speaking on his initial experience with pursing an advertising career.

A leap of faith soon set him on a path to teaching and we dive deep into his story of teaching in China. Inspired by his roommate who moved to Seoul, South Korea to teach English and after hearing all the stories of his new life, Dan got decided to do the same.

Finding a website matching teachers with schools in the area, he signed up. Quickly, he got a message from the Xiangfan University in China, which lead to a unique adventure in teaching fine arts and photography to kids and young adults in China.

I had some really sweet students. After each class, they would give me, almost like a gallery, when you have a guest book... they would give me this guest book with a note from all of them and they would bring in a bunch of snacks for all us teachers. They were really sweet kids.

Dan Fenstermacher speaking on how receptive and excited the students were during the classes.

Documented Rick-Shaw drivers in India over the summer, assisted by Whitney Hammel, who he went to undergrad school with and she got him set up.

Further travel included Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, Cambodia, Angkor Wat.... as well as his travels through Puerto Rico following the destruction of Hurricane Maria, where he traveled with past guest, Harvey Castro. From there they documented the strife of the local people as well as community centers where stacks of water is left to rot. A body of work that went viral, leading to great donations and assistance from caring people around the area and abroad. who was in dire straights following the disaster. 

From his travel stories, we pivot to a topic of great inspiration and one very deeply personal to Dan, which was his project on living and dealing with OCD. Or  really any challenging mental health issue such as depression and anxiety. Through this project, he aims to help unlink the stigma and misunderstandings associated with mental health and the issues that one out of every five people in the world deal with every day.

I had a professor tell me just focus on something you care about and that's what I tell my students now, just focus on something that means something to you passionate about.

So, I focused on mental health, because I have OCD myself, so it was very particular to me and something that was part of my life and part of my family's life. Also something that is very misunderstood in media and stigmatized. 

Dan Fenstermacher speaking about his project and how he uses this to inspire others.

Putting out calls through Craigslist, Facebook and word of mouth. People would contact him and together they would collaborate on how to show their story. Showing triumph, or the serious struggle with whatever they are going through.

Through this project, he received a great deal of feedback and many of his subjects reached back out to him to explain how much the experience helped them and inspired them.

Needless to say, Dan is a true inspiration, whose powerful story is a must listen.

Dan's Links

Show Notes