Exclusive Interview with Photographer Dakota Caulfield

Dakota Caulfield is a 22 year-old photographer from New Jersey, making strides in the field of visual art. His images depict the life around him, as it is, uncensored in all its glory. He gives us a taste of east coast living: from his flush, suburban hometown of Hillsborough, and guiding this view from NYC all the way down to Charlotte where he currently studies. Hillsborough is thriving with fans of skate and music culture – a home to aspiring metal, rock, indie, hip-hop or electronic artists trying to make their way up North. Being so close to NYC feeds these interests accordingly, and the influence is strong. Dakota has now worked and collaborated with a number of local artists from Jersey to New York, expanding his portfolio from skate and party life to portraits, music videos, and more. His time spent working for photographer Eric Johnson at his Manhattan studio has granted new opportunities and given him a place to further develop his skills and ideas – with such a diverse world inside those doors, it’s impossible not to. Being away from home while residing in North Carolina has only given Dakota a new platform to work on, and it certainly hasn’t slowed his work down. Recently he picked up the job of directing a music video for NC rapper Duru Tha King. Now entering his senior year at UNC in Charlotte and with opportunities at hand, he’s got a bit to say for himself.

Did photography or videography come first for you?

Video came first for me.  I started skateboarding probably when I was around 7 or 8.  I stuck with it and around middle school, skate videos had an influence on me.  I started filming my friends skating and they would film me.  I’d edit it together.  I began taking photos freshman year of high school, again I started out shooting when we’d go out skating.

It seems like rap/hip hop culture inspires you the most, would you agree? What about skate culture?

I’d definitely agree with that.  I listen to music every day – mostly rap. I love the scene, fashion, everything along with it.  Blasting a song with a dope beat just gets me in the zone. And if I can make a video or shoot photos with someone involved with music that motivates me.  Skate culture definitely had more of an influence on me when I was younger.  I still keep up with it a bit, thinking about it now I need to shoot more skating.

What have you been listening to lately, and who are your dream collabs?

I’m listening to the new A$AP Rocky album right now, been waiting on it for a long time and it definitely was worth the wait. He definitely at the top of my list of people to work with, along with M.I.A.  I usually just lurk on SoundCloud all day and listen whatever but Travi$ Scott, Danny Winter, Kevin Abstract, Yung Lean, Post Malone, Spooky Black, Danny Seth, M.I.A, and Tory Lanez have been in the rotation lately.

I know Eric has shot artists from Biggie to Gaga to Aaliyah, I’d feel so lucky to have him as my mentor. How has your experience working for him been and what has come of it? 

Working with Eric was definitely one of the bigger events in my life.  He opened my eyes to a lot of things that weren’t there; he’s very inspirational also.  I still think its crazy that I got hooked up with him through Craigslist.  He has also been very supportive of my work, critiquing it, giving advice, etc.  He let me use his studio whenever which was awesome. There’s always cool people chillen there, DJ’s, producers, artists, models, creative types in general are always hanging out so its a cool vibe.  I met a lot of cool people there. Eric shot the photo for Rosie Perez’s book cover; I got to help out on that so that was fun.  They are pretty good friends.  We also did a shoot with Dan Finnerty.. He was really funny, he kept flipping off the camera. If you don’t know who Dan is, he always the singer in the band in the movies like The Hangover, Old School, Starsky and Hutch.

How did that all start?

I went to Eric one day like normal.  He’s like, let’s get lunch, work a little, then Artem (Eric’s DJ/Producer friend known as Mess Kid) has this thing later at this hotel that we’re going to go to…  I don’t know why but I was thinking it was like a video interview that we were just gonna go hang out at.  So we take a cab to The Standard, I’m on the guest list, Eric isn’t but we get in.  We get off the elevator to be greeted by attractive women with drinks on a tray, not what I was expecting.  I grab a tequila and OJ and go with Eric to say what’s up to Artem.  Turns out he’s DJing Paper Magazine’s 16th anniversary party.  We got there a little early so I was walking around enjoying the space and the view while knocking back a few more drinks from the open bar. It’s obvious that I’m the youngest one there. If you never been to the Top of the Standard go, it’s a dope spot.  More people start to get there, Eric introduces me to Le1f and some of his other friends, and we dance to Mess Kid’s tunes together; it was a good time. Eric, his friend Kristina, and I stop by Pop Burger on the way back to Eric’s,  Kristina spins some records for us to vibe to back at Eric’s, it gets kinda blurry after that.  That was the first time I’ve ever done something like that and it was one of the best times I ever had, I’ll never forget that.  I’m trying to finish up school ASAP so I can be back there for good and do stuff like that all the time.

Future plans?

I hope to just continue my photography and making music videos, eventually working with bigger artists.  I want to move to NYC after school so hopefully that will happen next summer. I really just want to travel, be doing cool shit, and hanging out with cool people but working at the same time.  The possibilities are endless, I always say we’ll see what happens because literally anything can happen.

How’d you get around to directing Corrupted? How’s it coming along?

I was on Instagram on that search feed page.  I saw this Denzel Curry music video, it was posted by one of the directors. It was the video for “Ultimate”. The video was really sick.  I scrolled through his page and saw a picture of the director, he was wearing a F4mily Matters sweatshirt which is a Charlotte based brand. I dm’d him and asked if he was from Charlotte. He said yeah. We bullshitted for a little telling each other that we fuck with each other’s work.  I told him that I’m still trying to find the right group of people to work with in Charlotte.  He asked me if I knew who Duru Tha King was, I said yeah. He had a song out called ‘New Charlotte’ that blew up. He told me that he manages him and that he needs a video shot for a song called Corrupted, I looked up the song on SoundCloud and it was really dope. I sent him my Vimeo page and he and I met with Duru later that week.  The video is coming along.  I just know a lot of people are going to see it so I’m trying to make it my best yet, taking my time. Its gonna be on all the big music sites and blogs so be on the look out for it.

What’s your favorite piece of work you’ve made so far? How would you describe your style?

My favorite photo I ever shot was of my friend Jerome. In Jersey after prom we go down the shore and stay the weekend. I brought an air mattress and set that up on this little storage hallway by a lowered window. In my opinion I think that was everyone’s favorite spot that weekend because you could just chill, look out the window, see everyone playing pong and hanging out. One night I was chillin, Jerome was below me. I forget if I poured a beer in his mouth or someone else did but I shot the photo. I never put it out because I never got it scanned. I should scan all my old photos, there’s some good ones in there. My style is constantly changing I don’t know if I can describe it. I don’t know if I even found my certain style yet. Artists are always growing and going on to new and different things. Like I first just shot skate photos, then I was mostly documenting parties I went to, then I moved onto more portraits. I’m still new to the video world, I know the style I want but I’m still working on it and learning.

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