Although he’s still a young photographer, at the age of 24 Matt Day has over a decade of experience behind the lens and, besides a couple darkroom classes he took in college, he’s taught himself the craft of photography simply through trial and error. When Matt was 13 years old his older brother, who was 17 at the time, was paralyzed from a bull attack at the local farm where he worked and spent time in a hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Since his immediate family members were in Columbus with his brother, Matt, who was still in school, stayed with different friends and family back in his hometown of Chillicothe. His aunt and uncle gave him a camera to keep his family updated on his life and to document his brother’s recovery. Matt is now a full-time photographer who shoots portraits for a living, while the rest of his work is shot in more of a documentary or storytelling style. Here he shares the inspiring story of his evolution as a photographer, a process he hopes will continue forever.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
A: Photography, to me, means that life matters. No matter how big or small the event, it matters. There’s always a lesson to be learned, a feeling to be shared — it all matters. Being able to have that document verifies that moment for me. Years down the road, when I’m going through old negatives, I may find moments that I completely forgot about. They may no longer hold that same value at that point, but who I was at that time, it mattered. That’s important to me.
Q: “Photography to me means that life matters,” is a simple but profound statement with enormous philosophical and existential implications. The idea that photographs preserve memories is self-evident but that they are a dynamic entity that can be revisited, reinterpreted, and represent one’s consciousness at a particular place and time is fascinating. Can you tell us why this is important to you?
A: I just think it’s important to know who you were, where you came from, where you’ve been, all of it. The good and the bad both work together to shape you into the person you are. So even though some images may not mean anything to you now, at some point, they did. That has a direct effect on who you are today, and it’s an interesting thing to study that.
Q: In what genre or genres, if any, would you place your photos?
A: Because I’m shooting various subjects and working in different fields, it’s a big mix. Portrait work is obviously in there because of my job, but as far as my personal work goes, I’ve never been good at describing what it is. I just photograph my life, the people I meet, things I see and whatever I come across. I’m not good with labels. There are always exceptions, no matter what you do.

Q: What camera equipment do you generally use?
A: I use a lot of different equipment, both film and digital. My main camera, the one I use everyday, is my Leica M6. Aside from that, other cameras include a Pentax 6×7, Nikon D750, Hasselblad 500 C/M, Polaroid SX-70, Fuji Instax Mini 90, Minolta XG-M, and many more. It’s always changing.
Q: What are some of the characteristics and features of the Leica M6 camera that make it especially suitable for this type of photography? Also which lens(es) did you use to capture most of these images?
A: My M6 is my favorite camera I’ve ever owned, hands down. I’ve used it for just about everything, and somehow I’ve been able to work well with it no matter what I’m shooting. For this kind of work, the Leica was an obvious match, in my opinion. I like to shoot quietly and discreetly, and it excels in that regard, as we all know. I also prefer composing with a rangefinder. I’m much more aware when I can see the entire frame in focus and I’m more conscious of things that I want to include and things I don’t want to include. As for the lens, the majority of the book was shot with a 35 mm f/2 Summicron ASPH. and a 35 mm Summicron f/2 Version 4. I tend to change gear up often. I am now shooting with a 50 mm f/2 Summicron Version 4. I wouldn’t be surprised if I go back to the 35 mm f/2 Summicron at some point. That seems to be the perfect lens for an M.

Q: All but one of the cameras you mention using are film cameras. Do you have a personal preference for shooting on film as opposed to shooting digital, and if so what is there about the analog medium that you find so compelling?
A: I do prefer to shoot with film, but I’m not against digital in any way. For me, I love traditional black-and-white film and I love printing in the darkroom, so you could say that I love the process from start to finish. I love that I don’t have the choice to take a look at my image right away and decide if I should shoot the photo a little differently. In some situations, like for my portrait work, that can be an advantage. But for my personal work, I like trusting my instincts and film allows me to do that. It stays out of the way and let’s me focus on just shooting.
Q: What is it that draws you to the black-and-white medium for your type of work, and do you ever shoot on color film? By the way, what film(s) did you use for this project and on what basis did you select them?
A: Every photo was made with Kodak Tri-X. This has been my film of choice for many years. I’ve worked with Fuji films, Ilford films, and plenty of others out there. Tri-X is the one film that has always worked for me. You can easily push it to 3200 or beyond and still have a great negative to work with. I do shoot color film on occasion, but it’s usually just for my portrait work for a client. I prefer B&W to color, so all of my personal work is done with Tri-X. I try to keep things consistent that way. It makes life much easier.

Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?
A: I first heard about Leica cameras through skateboarding. Many of my favorite photographers within skateboarding shoot with Leica cameras — guys like Ed Templeton, Grant Brittain, Joe Brook, Arto Saari, Tobin Yelland, and so on. When someone I respect in skateboarding stands behind a product, I trust their word. After doing some research on Leica it was clear why they vouched for these cameras. Years later, I got my first M, my M6. Now I get it.

Q: There seems to be a special link between photography and skateboarding, especially among the current generation of young photographers, and you were evidently influenced by some of the icons of skateboarding photography to pick up a Leica M6. Why do you think skateboarding and Leica photography seem to go hand in hand and what are some of the things (other than the excellence of the Leica M) that you learned from these guys?
A: A skateboard is incredibly simple in its design. It’s almost primitive. But because of the freedom in skateboarding, it calls for you to do something creative with it and really make it your own. The Leica M is the same way, especially a film M. It’s not the Swiss Army knife that’s loaded with features; it’s the old pocket knife that your grandpa gave you that you use for everything. The work I would see from so many skate photographers using Leica cameras reminded me of the work I love — true, straightforward documentary photography. That’s what made me want an M. I saw that it was obviously a good match for the style of work that I loved.

Q: How do you think your profession as a portrait photographer has influenced your personal creative work? In particular, this image is a compelling character study that embodies many elements of classic portraiture despite its informal outdoor setting. Do you agree, and can you tell us the story behind how you shot this engaging portrait?
A: I completely agree. This is a man named George. I met George about 15 minutes before taking his photo. I’m always out wandering around town and I’d seen George a hundred times, but never stopped him. Oddly enough, there was a bat flying around in this parking lot and he made some comment about the bat or taking a photo of the bat. I couldn’t exactly hear him. Regardless, I took the opportunity to start a conversation. We talked for 15 minutes or so and we got onto the topic of photography. I explained to him that I like making photos of our town and the people in it. I asked if I could take a photo of him and George replied with “I don’t care what you do.” Normally I don’t ask for a posed portrait of someone on the street; I take the photo discreetly, smile at them, and keep walking. But with George, we talked and he really opened up to me about things in just a matter of minutes. I wanted to capture a really honest, close portrait of him because of that.

Q: This image is fascinating because it breaks practically all of the rules of classic portraiture. The subject’s face is dramatically cut off, and she’s looking outside the frame, evidently at an unseen person. Nevertheless the picture captures her friendly, forthcoming expression, and conveys a real sense of who she is and everything you need to know about her, from the age lines on her hands and face, her old-fashioned print dress, the wedding ring on her finger and the working class setting with trucks in the background. Why did you frame the picture in this way, and what were you thinking when you pressed the shutter release?
A: To be completely honest, the composition was a total accident. I didn’t put the camera up to my eye when I made it; I just shot from the chest. My goal was to just capture the expression and body language of the woman. That was it. She was looking over some items at an outdoor thrift shop in town and she was talking about so many things that reminded her of when she was young. After developing the film I noticed that I had poorly framed her in the photo, but then it became one of my favorite photos I’ve made. All you have is the expression and body language. That’s it and that’s all that mattered to me at the time.

Q: This image shows a closed entrance ramp with prominent “Road Closed” barriers in the foreground and an industrial or excavating operation in the background with a tall striped chimney, some kind of earth-moving equipment and white amorphous puffs of smoke against a leaden gray sky. It’s a dramatic presentation of something quite ordinary, and yet it somehow makes a powerful but enigmatic statement. What, if anything, were you trying to convey with this image and what do you think it says to those that view it?
A: I’m not sure what it says to the viewers. When I shot the photo, it was just for the sake of the appearance. The paper mill with the dark sky above it and the “Road Closed” sign; I just thought it would make an interesting photo. After studying it later, it does tend to portray the way some view Chillicothe from the outside – just a dark, dull place. That’s quite the opposite of how I see it, even though I made the photo. Photography is interesting like that.

Q: Your outstanding classic image of a retro styled diner reminds me of a B&W version of a famous Edward Hopper painting (which was, of course, in color). Every detail is exquisitely rendered and the image is masterfully composed, including the slight movement in the young man just entering the scene from the left, which adds a dynamic touch. Was there any planning involved in taking this amazing photo? And can you please provide the tech data including camera, lens exposure, film, etc.?
A: Thank you! This was yet another fortunate accident. (There might be a theme here…) This was at Carl’s Townhouse, one of the staples of Chillicothe. While sitting there for lunch, I went to take a photo and this kid came running into the frame as soon as I released the shutter. I laughed and took another photo, the way I originally intended it. Later, when viewing the negatives, I preferred the first photo with the kid coming into the frame. The photo was made with my M6, a 35 mm f/2 Summicron, Tri-X and an exposure of around f/5.6 at 1/125 sec.

Q: There is something very sad about your vertical picture of a scrawny bison with his ribs sticking out standing forlornly in a field. The melancholy feeling captured in this image is heightened by the misty overcast background. Where did you take this picture, what are the circumstances behind it, and why did you include it in this portfolio?
A: This photo was shot at the edge of a local farm. My wife and I like to drive around and just see where we end up. Many of my favorite photos that I’ve taken have been on the side of the road, including this one. We went out early one morning, specifically to shoot in the fog, and we ended up by this farm. We shot some photos of many buffalo that were all together and then I saw this one standing off by itself. With the condition of the buffalo, being alone, and the setting, it all just seemed to fit.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over the next few years and do you intend to explore any other genres?
A: I hope that my work continues to evolve forever. I’m sure I will always take this approach because it’s natural, but I would like to explore other genres. I’m just not sure which ones yet. I try not to force things. You’ve gotta leave just a little room for magic.
Q: Do you have any plans for exhibiting your documentary images other than their being published on the Leica Blog, such as exhibiting prints at galleries or creating a print or online book of your work?
A:  Earlier this year, I started a new YouTube channel to share my passion and education on photography. About a month ago, I self-published my first full-length photo book, Friend of Mine, and that forms the basis of this Leica Blog portfolio. I have several projects in the works including a new website, Flying Strangers, dedicated to giving exposure and inspiration to creative individuals.
Thank you for your time, Matt!
– Leica Internet Team
To see more of Matt’s work, check out his website or connect with him on Instagram and Twitter.