2011 NVA Winner: Sean Desmond

By the Print staff

Title/Type of Work: Photographer, Filmmaker
From: San Anselmo, CA
Lives in: San Francisco, CA
Age: 27
Education: BS, Television, Film and New Media, San Diego State University

Sean Desmond is not smug when it comes to his art. “We’ve reached a point in media where anyone can be a photographer if they want to, which is great. Access to the arts is so important and something that I advocate.” However, the downside of this accessibility is not lost on Desmond. “With so much access how do I as a young photographer and filmmaker separate myself from the masses?” he asks. “I think my work stands apart because I don’t depend on shock for my images to be successful. I try to depict ignored elements of society in a human way.”

Flash, from the Tenderloin Project.

Desmond’s work proves as much; his photographs range from seemingly forgotten city landmarks to tattooed bicyclists. He says he draws inspiration from two artists who examine these particularities of human existence: “Robert Frank has had the biggest influence on my practice. Working in an entirely different medium, David Foster Wallace’s investigations of what it means to be human has had the most long-lasting impact on my day-today existence. That alone is a reminder to keep creating.”

Desmond channeled these small-scale human studies into a project called The Tenderloin Project, a series of photographs, videos, and a website that sheds light on a marginalized district of San Francisco that shares the same name. “The project has taught me firsthand the power of art, and the way that it can make changes that are personal, local and even global.”

Mike Giant, photographed for Tott Global.

Desmond donated the proceeds from the exhibition to members of the community, a gesture that represents the essence of not only his work but himself. “Hopefully my work helps to illuminate dark places that are often ignored. I embrace change but I also have a profound respect for tradition, and don’t see myself ever getting too far away from who I currently am as an artist.”

I think my work stands apart because I don’t depend on shock for my images to be successful. I try to depict ignored elements of society in a human way.

Click here to learn more about Sean and to see more of his work.

One thought on “2011 NVA Winner: Sean Desmond

  1. Judi Desmond

    Sean Desmond moves us with his photography by capturing the uniqueness of his subjects, reminding us of both the strength of individuality and spirit of human experience. Sean is an artist with sensitive vision, and your article is a wonderful tribute to him.  

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