Top Locations, Interviews & Inspiration
A native Texan with a film degree from UT Austin, David Graham set his sights for New York City in 1990, instantly finding his place, and staying put ever since.
He has visualized ideas, locations and styles, scouting locations for more than two decades. Directors and photographers he has had the privilege of scouting for include Steven Spielberg, Steven Klein, Ang Lee, Peter Lindbergh, Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes. In his own photography, Graham uses a distinctive style that combines the formal eye of a location scout with the connective facility of a street photographer. In 2018, he published his first book, The Last Car, by Kehrer, photographing the nighttime urban core of Mexico City, capturing the vibrant and cruisy underbelly of this dystopian Metropolis. He is a proud member of Teamsters Local 817.
In our December Scout feature, David Graham shares a few of his favorite locations in Upstate NY.
What was your route to becoming a location scout?
I was new to NYC, jumping from department to department, seeing what I really enjoyed. I was introduced to a wonderful Location Manager, Lauri Pitkus, and offered to work for free on an Oprah Winfrey After School Special she was managing. On day 3 she put me on pay roll. And I just kept with it, ultimately jumping from feature films to print and tv commercials.
What have been your career highlights?
I’ve enjoyed so many of my projects, each one being a different and unique challenge, but one highlight is one of the first feature films i scouted for, Ang Lee’s ‘The Ice Storm.’ The art direction and locations were so key to the story set in 1973 suburban Connecticut. I scouted for the characters homes, which were traditional, classic grand estates and the new modern glass homes that were starting to appear, upsetting the neighborhood’s natural architectural order. I loved how architectural design and metaphor played into the story sharing the same dysfunctional relationship as that of its characters. And its just a fantastic film. That and the publishing of my first book last year, was certainly extremely satisfying.
What’s a typical day for a Location Scout and your favorite part of the job?
The days are long, and can be generally drawn into thirds: the first 1/3 of the day being research and calls, sorting out what i can actually clear for any given project; the next 1/3 being the actual scouting and photographing of cleared locations; the final 1/3 is editing my photos and creating a presentable web site so the client can view my location ideas.
I really love diving into a new neighborhood, learning the fabric and style of a new place i’ve never known. New York is such a huge, diverse metropolis, and I still find new places all the time and that excites me.
How long have you lived in Upstate NY and what is it about the community you love?
I purchased my home in Roxbury in the Western Catskills in 2018. I was driven here by the bucolic beauty of the land, where the forested Catskill Mountains blend in with the rolling farmlands beyond it. Its just stunning.
What drew you to the locations you selected?
I wanted to feature a mix of the old (estate brought back to life as an Inn), new eclectic properties, and certainly the pastoral beauty of the rural landscape in Roxbury.
Architecturally what inspires you?
I am a fan of daring new modern architecture. For decades New York City, was not doing so much as far as inspiring new architecture, but there’s an explosion now of new wonderful structures being built, ranging from the new supertalls such as Jean Novel’s 53w53 anchoring MOMA’s expansion, to the new Williamsburg and DUMBO waterfront with SHoP Architect’s Domino Sugar Factory conversion and the wonderful new Domino Park. And pretty much anything Bjarne Ingles is building in the city, which is a lot, such as the sailboat shaped Via 57 West apartment tower.
If you weren’t a Location manager what would you like to do?
Either being with an ad agency shaping the creative and being able to complain about the craft service or having an empanada food truck.