Becoming a photographer was an accident for Bruce Damonte. He had been working as a management consultant, when a friend of a former co-worker asked him to help out on a photo shoot. “That day, it hit me that I might have potential as a photographer and I finally resolved to start taking photos again, this time using the camera as a tool instead of a crutch to better understand the things I was seeing,” says Bruce, who grew up in California. He had previously had his camera stolen in Milan during a year of living in Europe and never replaced it because he felt it was impeding him from experiencing life overseas when his face was always behind a viewfinder. After assisting he enrolled in a photography course and while developing his first roll of film, he realised he was hooked. “I decided at that moment that against the odds - I was about 31 years old - I would push onward unless something were to happen to indicate that a sustainable career was unlikely,” Bruce says. “I haven’t stopped pushing onward since that day.” About five years ago, he decided to set up meetings with large architecture offices and magazines during a trip to New York. “I miraculously managed to set up 20 meetings in three days with some of the best firms in the world,” he says. “I was very surprised that people were interested in hiring a little-known photographer from San Francisco. That was an incredible affirmation of my decision to make photography my career.”
Which five words best describe you? Optimistic, hardworking, adventurous, obsessive, and playful.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? My introduction to photography was also the start of my career. Aaron Deemer - a new friend at the time, who is now an acupuncturist in London - was looking for a cheap assistant for an executive portrait shoot he was doing and called me to see if I was interested. It sounded interesting and fun, so I said yes, cautioning him that I knew absolutely nothing about photography. On that shoot, learning to load a Hasselblad back and standing in for test Polaroids, I decided I was going to pursue photography and see where it took me. I’d long wanted to do something creative, but never felt that I had a natural talent for painting, music composition, etc - somehow, I’d overlooked photography. I bought a Rollei 35 on eBay the next day. I told Aaron I wanted to assist more and he suggested I contact a friend of his whom he’d assisted previously named Catherine Karnow. Catherine is a veteran travel photographer and assisting her sporadically in conjunction with a beginning B&W class through San Francisco City College acted as a sort of photography boot camp for me. I went on to take a few more classes at City College, while assisting various photographers, eventually deciding to give up on my business career and dedicate myself to a career in photography. I figured that if I could do well enough to make ends meet while doing something I loved, it would be a good life.
At some point, during my classes at City College, I began obsessively taking abstract photos of urban scenes. I moved furniture and worked in a home furnishings store to make ends meet. It seemed a natural course to try expanding my view to take in entire buildings, and I decided to target architectural photographers for my assisting efforts. Having worked for some of the best in the San Francisco Bay Area and gotten a number of shoots under my belt while assisting, I went out on my own in 2008 and haven’t looked back. I was hired by then marketing coordinator Alison Garvey at WRNS Studio to shoot a small school in Watsonville. She is now my wife Alison Damonte and has gone on to run her own interior design studio. We still live in San Francisco, a 30-minute drive from where I grew up. I always thought I’d live somewhere else, but I’ve come to appreciate its status as a great city and I travel extensively to other cities and countries.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Don’t let anyone discourage you, put one foot in front of the other, and let your passion/obsession take the reigns. The best thing you can do to advance yourself is to simply put yourself and your work out where people can see you/it. Also, if you’re not occasionally taking jobs that you feel under-qualified for, you’re not pushing yourself enough. Mistakes are inevitable, and that’s not a bad thing.
What’s your proudest career achievement? That I’ve been able to make it as a professional photographer. Considering that I didn’t take a serious interest in photography until I was in my 30s, I consider myself a bit of a Cinderella story. Very lucky, indeed.
What’s been your best decision? Deciding to go on a date with my then-client, now-wife Alison. I didn’t dare ask her out when we first worked together as I thought it would be inappropriate or unprofessional - and potentially jeopardise an early architectural client - but when she later asked me out, I did the right thing: I said “yes!”.
Who inspires you? Hayao Miyazaki. His very distinct world view is expressed in every film without compromise, and it’s a view I feel a strong kinship with. The fact that his films offer as much to adults as to kids make them that much more extraordinary.
What are you passionate about? Architecture, art, furniture design, music, food, travel, and surfing.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? Beethoven. I’m not sure I’d like him, but he’s certainly a fascinating character whose work is of great inspiration to me. I’d also love to have spent some time with Henry Miller in Big Sur. Or Alexander Calder.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? I’d love to become a truly good surfer. I’m getting better, having started just over a year ago, but it will be a lifelong journey.
What are you reading? I’d been reading Snow by Orhan Pamuk but have long since stalled. Once I get into a book, I’ll plow through it, but I’m also easily distracted — by photography, for instance.
images courtesy of bruce damonte