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Industry Person of the Month: November 2014 – Dana (Distortion) Yavin

by Photo of Elizabeth Ramanand

Dana Distortion Yavin is November’s Industry Person of the Month!

Industry Person of the Month: November 2014 – Dana (Distortion) Yavin

[Photo By: David Turcotte]

Filmmaker and photographer Dana Yavin has impacted and influenced many in the arts. Some may know her as Dana "Distortion" from being in photo pits all over the country and around the world. Whether she is working with Rolling Stone, SPIN, Brooklyn Vegan or photographing for herself, visually she brings the force of a live concert experience right to you. Her portraits display the vibrancy of her subjects and her films are a window into her mind. At 5 feet tall, Yavin has the energy and determination of anyone twice her size. While she is from Tel Aviv, Israel she has a love affair with her second home, New York City. Check out our interview with Dana “Distortion” Yavin:

Where did "Distortion" come from?

I was nicknamed “Distortion” by my friend in Israel when I was like 15 or 16-years-old and it just stuck. He started calling me “Distortion’ after the guitar effect and that’s your energy and then when I moved here - I don’t even know how people started calling me that here too. I realized people probably recognize me by that name and it’s easier to pronounce than my real last name. [Laughs] So I just kept it. Now it fits even more with what I do.

How would you describe what you do to people who don’t know?

I’m a photographer and filmmaker. [Laughs] I make films and take photos.

What made you want to go into the fields of film making and photography?

Film making, I always kind of had a visual mind and I always see things in scenes – my life I see in scenes or I’ll hear the soundtrack. I have very vivid images in my head so I just wanted to bring them to life. It was always a part of me and the way I think and then I actually realized I can re-create it, that’s why I started with film first. Photography was always a hobby of mine but professionally I started doing it years later by chance.

Did your family always support this profession for you?

Always. My parents are very big lovers of the arts, any kind of art. I’m pretty much making their dreams come true – my dad’s a business man and my mom makes sculptures, she was always into film and photography. They’re very creative themselves.

Growing up how would you describe your relationship with music and film?

Music has been part of my life since I can remember and also because my parents are very into music. They always played a lot of music when I was a baby and even still in the womb. I played an instrument from a very early age, music was always in the house. Music is the one thing in my life, more than anything else. It puts everything together – everything I do is pretty much music related.

[Courtesy of Lowepro]

Talk about growing up in Tel Aviv and the music scene there.

Tel Aviv is a very unique little place, a little too small for me but it’s a great little place. [Laughs] I was always a part of the music scene over there, hanging out, a lot of songs were written about me as well – you can hear them on the radio until this very day. There are really great musicians in Israel, some of the best, very talented people. It’s like any other small place, it’s hard to break through – maybe Monotonix is the only band that really made it out.

It’s a small scene, people try to sing in English sometimes. It’s a different language but very Americanized culture in Israel. The good thing about the Israeli music scene is that they have a lot of influences from Europe which I don’t find a lot in America. There’s not enough British music in America. Israel takes more from a lot of places that America doesn’t – I like that. You’ll hear a lot of British bands on Israeli radio, here you hear the bigger ones, the ones who’ve made it already. I definitely think I learned more about music when I lived in Israel because on the radio they played more diverse kind of music. Now it’s a bit different, you have Pandora and you actually do have a lot of variety but when I moved here I noticed there wasn't as much variety.

What was one show that you went to in both Israel and in the states that has left a long lasting impact on you?

Well Suede is one of my favorites and I saw a lot of Nick Cave in Israel because he used to come there a lot and still does. But Suede – I saw them twice in Israel and once in America at Coachella. There’re just one of the best live bands out I know. I used to go to a lot of shows in Israel as a teenager – we used to have this club called Roxanne that had live music. All of my girlfriends would lie to their parents saying that they’re sleeping over and we’re going to the movies and we went there.

My parents were the only ones who supported me going to shows at such a young age. When I used to say “I’m going to a live show” they used to be like, “Go” even if it’s a school night, even if I came back at 2 a.m., instead of 11 p.m. They were always supportive of me going to live shows and so I grew up with live music. I didn’t drink or do drugs, I just wanted to see the music and I learned a lot about music from that place. It was a very sad day when it closed, it was a real culture. I think the music scene in Israel died after that placed closed. It was so great, all the young bands used to play there and it was such a great space, it was beautiful. A lot of the music I know and love was from that place.

I’ve read that you have gone through “Multiple physical injuries, violent ejection from music venues” – care to elaborate?

[Laughs] Well I think the most violent ejection was Paul Simon in D.C. believe it or not. They didn’t let me shoot from the front and I didn’t know that and I drove six hours to D.C. just for that show. I got such a good spot and then they were like “No, you have to go to the back of house’ and I was really pissed about it. I took some photos and I kept taking photos and security came and literally threw me out and put an “X” on my hands, I have a photo of that too. [Laughs] They put an “X” on my hands so I wouldn’t be able to go back. I got hit at some punk shows, you know, the crowd can be rowdy and that leads to multiple injuries but nothing more than that. Sometimes it just gets crazy and you’re in the middle of it.

Stepstools, we both use them because of our height in the photo pit – do you think being short is an advantage or disadvantage in what you do?

Most of the time it’s not an advantage and I want 10 more inches of height – stages are high, most of the time you can’t even get photos of the drummer. Sometimes it’s good if you need to maneuver quickly or go under places or sneak so people don’t see you. Most of the time it’s awful, it’s a struggle but you work with what you got and you have to make it work.

[Photo By: Liz Ramanand]

What is your favorite band/musician you have ever photographed or worked with? Why?

The best night of my life was shooting Paul McCartney, it wasn’t necessarily my best shoot and it was pretty much when I started so it’s definitely not my best shoot. I just couldn’t believe it was happening to me, it was so exciting. He’s my favorite, the Beatles are my favorite. It was such a huge night for me and it happened early in my career so I was nervous. The high and the rush of it - I almost had a heart attack before and after. [Laughs] It was so exciting for me, I just couldn’t believe it.

The best band I’ve worked with I think, would be Foo Fighters. That was a great band to work with, their energy is just amazing. When you get to shoot the whole show there’s just so much that’s happening. They really are one of the best band’s I’ve ever shot. They’re the nicest people too, so down to earth. I don’t really recall bands I didn’t like shooting. Every show is so different and exciting. I definitely think seeing Paul McCartney was the best night of my life and it will never repeat itself.

Name one musician or band out there you would love to photograph live that you haven’t yet?

Jimi Hendrix! [Laughs] I’m kidding. I haven’t shot U2 which I’m dying to shoot. I’m waiting for them to announce a tour. I would love to take shots of Jimi Page. I never got the chance to do that. Definitely U2, I have to shoot U2 even if it’s the last thing I do. I’ve seen U2 a bunch of times, I hung out with Bono twice back in the day but I wasn’t a music photographer back then.

Can you elaborate on the Bono experience?

The Bono experience was awesome. I used to go to this place called Sway on Hudson St. Every Wednesday they had a rock night and one night I was hanging out and people started saying “Bono’s coming, Bono’s coming.” There were lounge tables and of course I crashed his table and started talking to him. We took cigarettes from him, he used to smoke back in the day and we just hung out. He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. A few days later I went to another place and he was there too! In one week I hung out with him twice.

You just see people hanging out, one of my first shows I got to shoot was Sonic Youth and I saw Thurston Moore hanging out and I was like “Hey can I shoot Sonic Youth?” and he gave me an all access pass. [Laughs] I shot the whole show. It’s New York, where else would you see Thurston Moore hanging out a week before Sonic Youth’s show?

[Self Portrait]

Any future projects coming up?

Oh always. I’m doing a lot of portraits these days, I’m working on a new merch line, I’m working on a new documentary film that I want to do. There’s a TV Show that I want to do, I want to do a lot of things at the same time and trying to shoot as much as possible.

Besides photography and film what are your other passions?

Nothing. [Laughs] Oh wow, what else do I like to do? I like so many things, I like everything. Everything fascinates me. I don’t think I’ve ever said in my life, “I’m bored.” I like to do so many things.

What’s your advice for other young creative people that want to get into this industry?

Just f---in’ do it. Get health insurance and just f---in’ do it. [Laughs]

[Author’s Note: Dana Yavin has also been DJing since she was a teenager and you can catch her playing tunes around Brooklyn on an off night]

Check Out a Video Compilation of Dana Yavin's work below:

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