desert harmonies: a photo feature with danny upshaw

Posted on Location: , 4 min read


Photo credit: @insideoutproject

When thinking of cities known for their culture of creativity, Phoenix, Arizona is not often the first one that comes to mind. Unless of course, you’ve lived there. If you lived there, you’d be well-aware of the tight-knit community that is creating, inpsiring, and thriving in the Sonoran Desert.

Danny Upshaw proves just how well Phoenix stands on its own as a creative mecca for artists.  As a motion designer, photographer, and co-host of CreativeMornings Phoenix – a local lecture series for creative individuals – Danny has been involved in various projects throughout the city. Creativity has been an important part of his life from the time he was a kid drawing pictures and riding his skateboard everywhere, something he sees as another form of creative expression.

Danny developed an interest in storm time-lapses after seeing one taken during a particularly intense haboob (a desert dust storm) in 2011. Inspired by what he saw, he began scouting locations throughout the city during Monsoon season to create his own time-lapses, often dedicating long hours to capture incredible footage of the storms.

Using the alias “Unheard Harmony”, Danny photographs Phoenix’s unique beauty: its storms, surrounding deserts, architectural gems, and the people who call it home. We spoke with him to learn more about his work, his passion projects, and what makes the creative community in Phoenix so remarkable.

Is your creative process different for your professional work versus your passion projects?
Professional work has so many stages: preproduction, production and post production. I usually just start when I want to do a passion project and just go with the flow. I try not to put too much stress into my passion projects, but it’s always there… it might be because I want it to be good, and when you’re trying something new you’ll have a lot of fails before you get it right.

How do you stay inspired?
I try to stay around people who are motivated. I love finding inspirations that have nothing to do with my profession. I really enjoy storytelling events, poetry, movies and of course, music. Being open to new experiences is what keep me on my toes.

How did you become involved with Creative Mornings Phoenix? Why do you think it’s so important for creative professionals to have a strong sense of community?
I attended the first one in Phoenix back in 2012 as just a guest. Back then, I brought my camera everywhere and captured everything. Later, I shared the photos I took with the organizer. After that, I kept coming back with my camera and eventually they asked if I’d capture photos from then on. Slowly I found that these are the types of people I like to be around. They’re looking for some sort of inspiration like me, and I wanted to help curate it. Without community I wouldn’t be where I’m at now, both professionally and personally.

When did you start your work with storm time-lapses? How many hours do you typically spend getting the footage?
Back in 2012 is when I started. You can easily spend a few hours getting to a location and setting up for a time-lapse. Then depending on what you’re capturing, it could be a few more hours. Then there is so much post-processing, which will be a few more hours. Without patience, everything I do wouldn’t be as satisfying.

Why do you think you are drawn to photographing these elements of nature? What draws you to the scenic portraits of individuals interacting with their city environment?
Not sure if I’m as drawn to photographing storms as I used to be, but I do enjoy showing off the city I live in. And with so many awesome people leaving to find other opportunities elsewhere, I want to show there can be cool stuff here – we just got to put in some work for it.

Do you have a favorite photograph that you’ve taken?
Just about any photo I take of Westward Ho is my favorite photograph. Back when the storms were shit and I needed a subject to photograph, that was my subject. It stands alone away from other buildings as if it’s looking after all the other younger buildings.

Can you tell us the story behind “unheard harmony”?
In high school I used to do graffiti while my friends and I were out skateboarding, and sometimes I’d bring some spray paint and write Unheard Harmony as my name. I first heard the name from an old mix tape from Bone Thugs N Harmony; it was the title of one of their songs. To me it means “all the wonderful things that go unnoticed”.

Any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
Phoenix Design Week conference – I created an introduction video. This video will be shown at the beginning of the conference, where I show a bunch of clips from around the city. Working on a solo photography show about the Westward Ho; it’ll be sometime in March 2019.

To keep up with Danny and his work, follow his instagram @unhead_harmony.

All photos taken by Danny Upshaw. 


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desert harmonies: a photo feature with danny upshaw