Dustin Chambers likes to take his time.
We’re sitting on the front porch of the Atlanta home he shares with some of his best friends, and he’s entertaining my line of questioning like an excited student in a literature seminar: eager to jump in, but still cautious enough to be thoughtful and brutally honest.
These days I’m amazed Dustin has time for anything. As a photo editor for Creative Loafing, “media guy” for Living Walls and a damn-good filmmaker, Dustin, the soft-spoken product of Atlanta’s Morningside neighborhood and Paideia School, has become one of the young voices of the city whether he meant to or not.
Dustin’s work has shown up everywhere from Adult Swim and The New York Times to gloATL and CNN, and he’s constantly working with compatriots to build and push Atlanta creatively. Having moved back home a few years ago after going to school at Appalachian State University, Dustin has hit the ground running.
In the edited interview below, Dustin tells us why he finds Atlanta so inspiring, and his hopes for the city he loves so damn much.
Can you remember the first time you picked up a camera?
I did a black-and-white class in ninth grade with the craziest teacher I’ve ever had. And I went on some family trip to Charleston and I had to take some photos, and I remember just getting so psyched. It’s a beautiful city to shoot, interesting folks. I will always remember that as being my first time really getting into it.
And have you always had a genuine appreciation for visual arts?
I grew up around it. My dad’s an advertising photographer and my mom manages his studio, so I was always around sets and creative stuff. When we ‘d watch TV, we’d pick apart the commercials.
What was the grind like first starting out as a photographer in Atlanta? I feel like you were literally everywhere because you had to eat…
Right when you get out of school you don’t really have any connects. I had connects from Paideia and Creative Loafing. I’d meet a bunch of people from Creative Loafing and if they liked my stuff they’d ask me to go shoot their thing. One of the people I worked the hardest for was SMKA. I did a lot of videos for them, shot their live shows. That’s when I was grinding a lot, figuring how to turn videos around quickly and cheaply.
Do you feel an obligation to be a producer and curator of visual art in your hometown?
About a year ago I realized that I’m really documenting a lot of the arts scene on a pretty broad scale in Atlanta. So it’s not just murals, it’s music and there’s a lot of good dance stuff happening here too. I’m just shooting what happens, it wasn’t necessarily my goal. As much as I love shooting for other people and helping them establish themselves, I’m still waiting on that personal project that really fascinates me.
You work in both indie and corporate realms. Does it get hard balancing the two and maintaining your free spirit creatively?
It’s so weird because there was a period where it was Living Walls, Creative Loafing and CNN and they all felt like almost full-time jobs. They were just big responsibilities in some way or the other. I think the biggest thing is just learning how to say “no,” or else you’ll go crazy.
“Dustin Chambers,” you’re becoming a household/brand name! How do you go about protecting that and maintaining your artistry/sanity?
It kind of freaks me out to think about that (laughs). I just don’t want to do anything that’s bad. I like working with talented people and incredibly hard-working people. Photography’s a very solo gig. I’m so thankful to work with teams of people like Living Walls, places where I can trust them and they trust me, and it’s not just me going, “I hope this is OK.”
You could have moved on from Atlanta with your talent — why stay?
I grew up here and I’ve got really strong friendships from high school. Beyond that, it’s a city in such transition, and I’ve been able to see it since I was little. In the past four years and in the next 10 years – it seems like it’s exponentially growing culturally, and I think that’s a really special thing to be able to observe. I think there’s also this struggle in Atlanta for us to be accepted, for us to be cool. We’re never going to be LA or New York or whatever, but I think we’ve got something to prove.
What stands out about Atlanta’s culture, that to you makes it unique?
The thing that’s exciting about here [artistically] is that it’s not really established, so a lot of people are coming in and feeling a little more freedom. In LA, if you want to be in the film scene, there’s a very strict set of rules; you either know someone or you start from the very bottom. Here, since there’s less of an established scene or steps to take to do whatever you want, I think people feel pretty free here, which is exciting.
Photography by Kelsey Ryan