As part of our series focusing on new creative graduates, we celebrate Daniel Dayment, a documentary photographer from South West England who lives in a van. Here, he chats to us about being off-grid, capturing landscapes, and meeting extraordinary people.
Daniel Dayment is a photographer who's just completed a BA in Photography at Arts University Plymouth. His final-year project, Natural Progress, explores people who live outside of bricks and mortar, in dwellings with a much smaller ecological and financial footprint. And Daniel isn't just documenting this approach; he's been living it himself!
Last year, Daniel moved into a converted Citreon Van for his final year of study. As well as giving him an insight into alternative lifestyles, he aimed to keep his living costs to a minimum, allowing him to focus fully on his practice and his studies.
Daniel's work captures meditated states, moments of silence in the landscape, and the lives of people connected to the land. Through immersion and experiences, he photographs the intertwining relationship between humanity and nature. Here, we chat to him about building his own home, the intoxicating power of nature, and why alternative ways of living are well worth investigating.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Totnes, Devon. A beautiful town situated in between the wonders of Dartmoor and the dramatic South West coast. I was never inside: a wild child who loved their hands in the dirt, come wind, rain or sun. There were always endless possibilities for adventures, as much of my childhood was spent on walks with my family and climbing trees with my brother.
School was never my favourite thing. Being a young musician, I found escape in the school band. And later on in my school time, I'd be found in the art department editing my photographs.
How did you get into photography?
My introduction to photography was a classic one: my grandad had a camera that I loved to play with. Endless hours were spent in the garden, photographing flowers. I then decided to study photography, and during my A-levels, I truly found my love for the art. I spent my weekends walking across the moors with my friends, camera on my hip, and I became fascinated with documenting our human relationship with the land.
What was your uni experience like?
The three years of my degree were definitely a rollercoaster. I don't want to focus on the negatives, as I think we've all had enough of hearing about COVID now. It was unavoidable, and it most definitely influenced my work as a photographer. Access to people was almost impossible, so I focused on documenting my time with the land.
What can you tell us about your final-year project?
Natural Progress describes the journey you can make to start to find happiness, connection and your place in the natural world.
In September 2021, I finished building my first home. A home on wheels that sits on the chassis of a 2007 Citroen Relay, once used by an electrical company. I find great peace when I'm fully immersed in a landscape, not participating in what is considered a 'normal' lifestyle. And I wanted to find other people who felt the same. Having fostered relationships with communities which live 'off grid' since I was 18, I wanted to learn more, engage in conversations and honestly tell the story of those who've chosen to live differently.
Over the winter and spring of 2021-22, I embarked on a journey that took me around the UK and into the dwellings of those who invited me in. From Cornwall to Kent, I met individuals and communities that live on the move, as well as those on settled land. The photographs I captured are an insight into the people I met and my experiences while living on the road.
It's a highly competitive world, and I think it's important that you stay an individual. Don't try to be anyone else, and stay strong with your ideas.
Can you describe your style in your own words?
I'd say my style is unsurprisingly earthy and organic. When capturing landscapes, people and finer details, I like whatever I'm looking at to be unchanged, not posed, just as it is. I chase beautiful light when taking photographs but keep my editing very natural. Having worked with medium format film a great deal at university, I love the colour tonality it produces, and this is something that I carry into my edits when working digitally.
Who or what inspires you?
So many people and things inspire me. In terms of people, I'd have to say all the wonderful people I have met. They're all leading such extraordinary lives, off the beaten track, with a sense of activism. Achieving incredible things using natural resources.
These people were so kind in welcoming me into their homes, and I knew I had to tell their stories properly. The landscapes I've found myself in also massively inspire me. Humanity is completely at the mercy of the elements and the natural world. It's a power greater than ourselves and an incredibly inspiring place to find yourself.
What do you hope to do with your career?
This is always an odd question for me. I very much see my lifestyle as my career. I've been living in a van for the past year and plan to enjoy the lifestyle that it gives me for much more time to come. I will continue working on my project Natural Progress, and I hope it will gain more traction over the coming years.
My nomadic lifestyle means that digital work is the way forward so that I can be anywhere in the world. I have started documenting my life on my YouTube channel, Life Is A Project, and I hope this will also gain some traction.
A creative career is not black and white; you need many income streams to support you. I hope my photography will always be able to support me and gift me opportunities to meet new people and learn new things.
How do you feel about graduating in 2022?
I'm most definitely glad to be out of the world of education and the constraints it places on your creative practice. The reality of the real world is on my shoulders, and I look forward to seeing where I can place myself. I hope to be able to support myself through commercial work and with the low cost of living in a van to continue working on passion projects.
I've had a few moments of stress and anxiety over what I should do with myself next. But I think that's pretty natural when a new chapter of your life begins. I'm spending the summer with one of the off-grid communities I've been photographing over the past year. I hope to deepen my project Natural Progress and thicken the narrative of the work. It is something that university does not give you the time to do.
What are your fears?
My biggest fear is that I will struggle to financially support myself through photography. But I'm just at the beginning of a career that will probably last longer than the amount of time I've been alive for. If I put my mind to what I want and work hard enough, then trusting that process should get me to where I want to be.
What advice would you give to others following in your footsteps?
You have to be prepared to work incredibly hard if you want to make something out of yourself in the creative industry. It's a highly competitive world, and I think it's important that you stay an individual. Don't try to be anyone else, and stay strong with your ideas.
Nothing happens overnight, and at times you may begin to think, 'What is the point?' But if you just trust your process and continue to make work, then opportunities will come your way from places you probably didn't know existed.