Stormy conditions, highway roads, and dangerous wildlife are all par for the course for photographer Dean West and the idiosyncratic qualities he brings to his work.
“It’s not all glitz and glamour,” he says. “I feel like [my photography] taps a little bit into the dark side of Florida, and that’s not a bad thing.”
Best known for meticulously staged photographs that take everyday moments out of the ordinary realm, the Australian-born West spent most of his early adult life in Toronto and New York creating award-winning imagery for brand partnerships with the likes of Disney, St-Germain, and MTV—companies that tuned into the artist’s atmospheric and cinematic language. Two weeks before the Covid shutdown in 2020, he moved to Miami in search of sunshine, sensing inspiration would follow: “It made sense to me that the weird and the wonderful of Florida was the perfect surrealist canvas.”
He was right. West spent the isolating days of the pandemic alone with his digital camera traveling from Miami to the Panhandle in search of inspiration and subject matter. One byproduct from that period is Palma de la Noche, a photograph of a palm tree that’s an amalgam of composited images captured during his 12-month trek through the state. “The world I created for that shot is not complete reality, but the object that gets shown actually is,” he explains. “You never see a beautiful palm tree alone, but I kept going out in the middle of the night to photograph palm trees that I had scouted all over Florida.”
West’s more orchestrated shoots can take just as long to envision and produce. The vision for Luis (The Wrangler) #1, an image of a bare-chested cowboy staring down an alligator in a Boca Raton pool, took months to finetune, but it was time well spent as it’s become one of West’s most popular shots. Unlike other artists who churn out copious material for exhibition, West is content supplying images at a trickle throughout the year. As of press time in late June, he was working on The Suburbs, which depicts a woman exiting a grocery store as a tornado begins to form nearby, with plans to release it in September. After that, his focus will shift to collecting photos for a Florida-centric book he hopes to publish in about two years.
“I know it takes me a long time to produce my work, so yes, I’m a bit slower than most photographers,” says West. “But you know what? Sometimes the turtle wins the race.”
Text by Riki Altman-Yee