New York-based photographer Dino Kužnik organically finds his visual style through his frequent travels around the West Coast.
Dino Kužnik is no stranger to surprises. In fact, it’s how he describes the day he was born in 1986 when he decided to “show up early to the party” while his family was on holiday on the Croatian island of Mali Losinj. He grew up in the bordering state of Slovenia, which eventually won independence in 1991 when Dino was just a child. Like most new nations, Slovenia had a real lack of national identification at first, and the decade that followed is marked as an era of dramatic change and westernization. “I grew up watching all these Hollywood movies and cartoons, getting my music from MTV, learning about skateboarding and snowboarding,” Dino recalls. “So I can kind of attracted to the American aesthetic by default.”
Beyond the constant bombardment of images of Green Day, Britney Spears and Daft Punk, Dino was also exposed to photography from a very young age. He’s been capturing moments since he was a child on family vacations and flipping through his grandfather’s collection of National Geographic magazines that date back to the 60s. The Slovenian photographer looks back on these times alongside his grandfather with nostalgia, as moments that have stayed with him and really sparked his interest in photography.
Dino didn’t really get serious with photography, however, until his college days when he bought his first-ever DSLR. “I’ve always been a very visual person, so getting a camera felt like an extension of me,” he explains. “It felt natural and super exciting to me, although my roommate at the time hated me because I was photographing everything and everyone, all the time.”
It didn’t take long for Dino to begin working as a journalistic photographer and at first, he was heavily influenced by street photography. “The thrill of shooting something that scared me made me feel really alive and gave me so much satisfaction,” he explains. If you ask Dino, however, his evolution as an artist has simply been an organic progression based on time and place. He points to his time spent as a graphic designer, which made him rethink the way in which he captures his photographs. “I would describe it as ‘OCD compositing’,” says Dino. “I’m super aware of all the things in the photo and I’m really precise with how I position them, but I try not to get to the point of being sterile.”
Whether he’s documenting his personal road trips through the desert in his Arizona Pastels series or taking branded shots for Tesla, Dino likes to think of his photos as a way to immortalize scenes that are aesthetically unique. “I like to imagine that it’s similar to being a painter,” he adds. “It’s just that I position objects in my compositions by moving around, not by actually painting them within the frame.”
Over time, Dino has carved out his own visual language, characterized by sparse composition and muted colours for a soft look and vibe. Coming and going with what life brings, the photographer decided to move to San Francisco. “That really was a stepping stone for my photography,” he recalls. Not only did it fulfill his influence of American culture, but he really fell head over heels in love with the West Coast. “When I moved to California, my friends and I would always go on weekend trips and I always carried a camera,” says Dino. “It started there and sort of progressed naturally.”
Living and travelling through California gave Dino a completely different perspective on life than in Slovenia. He’s always been drawn to the fleeting feeling of freedom that comes with the open road. Naturally, his time spent in San Francisco tremendously shaped his aesthetic vision and it began to seep unconsciously into his photographs. “I never think too much about it,” he explains. “I just do it by feeling.”
His work often feels like a peaceful documentation of the American landscape and feeling, something that greatly reflects his creative process. “I’ve fallen in love with the process,” explains Dino. Being immersed in your environment and alone with your thoughts can be very therapeutic, and Dino’s photos are ultimately a projection of his state of mind at the time. “I really like the feeling of solitude when I’m photographing in the desert or exploring a new place,” he explains. “I get into this weird mode where I see so much stuff that I usually miss. It’s almost like a meditative state.”
While he’s now based out of New York, which has its own kind of beauty and inspiration, Dino finds himself often coming back to the American West, something that’s ingrained into his style forever. In direct contrast to the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, Dino keeps his trips organic with a few markers on Google Maps and a great road trip playlist. “It usually helps if I’m inspired by something,” he adds. “Not necessarily always positive either. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but I try to shape those feelings and inspiration into something good.”
While the solitude and immersion that comes with freely roaming around and photographing along the way is a tranquil and therapeutic process for Dino, it doesn’t mean he’s rigid. In fact, like his decision to move to California, he embraces change. “I don’t like to get stale in life, so I always like to experiment, try new techniques and photograph different things,” he says. “The process of evolving something I love and hold so dearly is something that really makes me feel alive.”