“One day, someone’s going to look at a photo of Chicago and say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that photo. That’s a Danny Mota photo!’ I don’t know how far I am from that, and I don’t know if I’ll ever achieve that, but I will try everything in my power to reach that achievement one day.”
I work full-time at a creative ad agency called Havas Worldwide in Chicago. I met my boss Jason Peterson, Chief Creative Officer, when we connected over Instagram about a year and a half ago. My start in photography was out of a love for Chicago. At first, I thought Instagram was for the documentation of food and lunch, but when I was going to look for actual pictures, I was blown away by the quality. I started looking at people’s feeds, focusing on shots of the city and architectural stuff, and thought, “Why can’t I do that?” I wanted to know what apps they were using, what they were doing, and I definitely went into everything I could to learn about them.
That was one of my favorite things that I’ve ever done. It was at Rocks Candy factory, which I believe is no longer there, but when a couple friends of mine asked me to go check it out, I said of course. It had basically been converted from a candy factory to a graffiti art gallery. We had gone at the the perfect time: it had just rained, there were puddles all over, and we were playing with the reflections. I think a lot of times, this is when you appreciate that. When you walk into something new or that you’re curious about, you’re already excited, and that excitement carries over to your ability to hopefully create something that looks beautiful in its own right. It doesn’t have to be a skyline or a major sunset. It can be a torn-down white wall, or a wall that’s been graffitied hundreds of times. To me, these types of images are what make up Chicago. I always try to find a balance between what people tend to believe in terms of urban environment and what they forget about or what they tend to under-appreciate. To me, that’s looking down at the ground and finding a puddle, or just looking at the subway system that we have that I love. To me, that’s just being able to appreciate the entire thing, and not just picking and choosing what people like. “I’m just from Chicago.”
I tend to go with a few of my friends to places I see in photos and articles or on my drive to work, but I also enjoy photography as an intimate thing for myself. Sometimes I’ll just grab my phone and go for a 2-hour photo walk. Luckily, I work at a creative place and my boss, Jason Peterson, is a great guy. He’s one of the few people who seriously inspire me to be more creative and to take pictures. Just yesterday we decided to just walk around Chicago and find fun stuff to shoot. And we stumbled across a couple of spots we hadn’t seen before. Jason and I then got to explore an underground paddy and so we went on like an hour-and-a-half exploration like that. Taking these types of walks is a good way to refresh my creativity.
I think that it’s hard to convey Chicago in one image because people only think of its beautiful skyline. You have to realize that there’s so much beauty in the city that’s under-appreciated. Sometimes I’ll tell people, “Get in the back and look out the window, and just see, see it go by! Or sit at the edge of your seat and watch the people waiting for the train.” A photo can’t compare to a video. For me it conveyed a longer scene. You just put your earbuds in and take in the song. I want to give you a mix-byte of something. There’s always a sound track for any moment in your life.
I sometimes like to say that I have photography growing pains, because gaining photography skills is a learning process where you make little tweaks here and there and ask yourself, “What have I learned?” and “How can I do better?” I would be super happy to just look at a shot that I took a year ago, and see that I’ve gotten just 10% better. I grew up with my dad who was a boxer, and a mentality of “It’s never going to be perfect.” That’s my drive – to become perfect.
I think Instagram affects me on a personal level. My main motivation has always been to be able to create stuff that not only I look back on and feel happy about, but also that people who have really supported me along the way really enjoy. People such as my mom, my dad, my girlfriend, and people like Jason, from before I had a following or anything.
For my job, being able to do this type of stuff supplements what I learn at work. They aren’t parallel paths – they’re very unified at times. What I do on my own and what I do at work are very similar. Down the road I want to be a full time director, lead big campaigns, have the ability to speak from wisdom and truth, and I think that at the end of the day that’s my goal. Whether it’s photography or videography, I just want to create work that people are excited to see and can really enjoy. It’s simple.
Don’t be scared and be honest. I think putting work out there on your own is a nerve-wrecking feeling because you put your work out there and people judge you for it. Don’t be scared of that. I always tell people that if anything that you really want comes with hardships, just go out there, do something with what you want, whether that’s shooting a photo, a video, writing something, just do it. You’re never going to know how good it is unless you get out there. Don’t think everyone gets it right on the first try. I don’t think I got it and I’ve posted over a 1,000 photos on Instagram. It’s just about improvement. Whether it’s improvement at the speed of a cheetah or a speed of a turtle, I got to the point where I am now, by doing what I really enjoy, and you’re never going to put the best work out there if you’re not excited and motivated.