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Drake’s Folly

by Dan Mariner

Featured today is British documentary photographer Dan Mariner, who is currently living in Bodø, Norway. Dan works as a freelance photographer, spending his time between commissions and refining his practice as a documentary photographer. His main interests photographically lie in anthropology, and he often seeks themes within this subject which explore how humans interact with their surroundings, and how modern infrastructure and ideology coexists with the natural world.

We were introduced to Dan’s featured project Drake’s Folly a long time ago, and were consequently very happy to receive his submission in the “post”. The work inspired us with it’s excellent historical concept, the depth of research and revealing of a history that many do not know about, including ourselves (until we saw this!). It’s a wonderful combination of environmental, landscape and portraiture work put beautifully together – we’re only sad that we didn’t get a copy of the book! Click below to read our interview with Dan.

First things first, please introduce yourself.

Hello, my name is Dan Mariner and I am a British documentary photographer based in Bodø, Norway. My main photographic interest lies in anthropology. Within that I seek out themes which explore how humans interact with their surroundings and how modern infrastructure and ideology coexists with the natural world. I am currently working as a freelance photographer and spend my time working on commissions and refining my practice as a documentary photographer. 

What’s your story?

For me, there is no romantic story of being given a camera by a family member at an early age etc. I have always been a very visually-orientated person and interested in watching how others behave and interact with the world.

I didn’t translate this interest over to photography untilI reached my early 20s at college. I soon became totally immersed in the medium and fascinated by how it gives you the ability to tell a story through a series of pictures. I quickly began to realise that through the power of imagery, I could communicate my thoughts on the world.

Shortly after college I was accepted to study documentary photography at the world-renowned Newport University in Wales. The course was founded by Magnum photographer David Hurn and was a baptism of fire for me. The level of technical teaching really exited me and the tutors pushed us extremely hard to work with a highly developed way of seeing. This gave me an invaluable platform in which to take the first steps towards a career in photography.

Tell us about Drake’s Folly.

The project Drake’s Folly focuses on the town of Titusville in Pennsylvania, where in 1859, a gentleman named Colonel Edwin Drake became the first person to discover and successfully extract crude oil for commercial use, thus kickstarting the biggest industrial revolution our planet has seen. The equipment and techniques employed by Drake’s early operations are still used by oil companies today after being refined and updated over the years.

In the early 1800’s, after the emergence of stories of a black liquid seeping from the ground, the then fledgling Seneca Oil Company sentColonel Edwin Drake, a retired railroad worker from New York, in search of this elusive substance. Selected only because he had a free rail pass and plenty of time on his hands, Drake was tasked with securing a reliable method of crude oil extraction in the hope it could be used for lamp oil.

Little did he know, a long, difficult and frustrating search lay ahead of him. Obstacle after obstacle thwartedDrake’s attempts, including collapsed drilling wells, impenetrable bedrock and abandonment by the very company who sent him in the first place.

As painfully slow and seemingly unproductive progress was being made, many of the local residents would gather to mock and jeer at the operation, dubbing it “Drake’s Folly”.

However, Drake kept faith and a short while later, on the 27th of August 1859 inTitusville, Pennsylvania and at a depth of 69.5 feet, Drake’s drill made a discovery that would change the planet forever. Unbeknown to him, Drake had made a discovery that would not only illuminate peoples’ homes but also radically transform the evolution of human civilisation.


I had wanted to make a project on oil consumption for some time, but wanted to steer away from the usual way many previous oil-related projects have been visually executed.

As I began to research for the project, my attention turned to the origins and history of oil consumption, an I began to focus on where it all began. Further research led me to the town of Titusville and the great story behind its important history.

As my research uncovered more about Titusville and Drake, I felt the urge to visit the town and surrounding area to find out for myself how it had faired since the oil industry had moved onto more lucrative sites in the west of the country.

From the start, I knew I wanted to present the project in book form as I felt the narrative would be better suited in this way, and I shot the series accordingly.

I self-published the book through YONA EDITIONS – a joint publishing platform started between myself and Norwegian photographer Marianne Bjornmyr. I released the book along with an accompanying exhibition, hosting a highly successful book launch at theprintspace Gallery in Shoreditch, London. Details on where to buy the book can be found here.


What inspires you?

I take my inspiration from many sources. I’m a massive fan of Instagram and really value the inspiration I gain from the platform. I use it as a sort of live mood board to inform and inspire me. It’s a great platform to use as a test bed for project ideas while keeping up to date on the photographic scene and of course promoting myself.

The best part of Instagram for me is the sense of community on there. I enjoy engaging with and discovering other photographers. It’s great to be able to encourage and engage with your contemporaries without being on the same room, or country for that matter! You can find me @danmariner.

I am a keen radio listener, primarily BBC Radio 4. I find the programming variety so engaging and often find myself jotting down ideas and topics that I think I can develop into a visual narrative.

I try to attend as many private views as possible and take in a variety of photographic shows, as I feel it is important to keep a finger on the pulse of the ever-changing contemporary photographic scene.

Photographer-wise, I find the following artists extremely engaging:

  • Taryn Simon for her surgical attention to detail and finesse of presentation.
  • Alexander Gronsky for his stunning and precise imagery, colours and technical ability.
  • Alec Soth for his enchanting storytelling and effortless technical ability with both camera and editor’s eye.
  • Nadav Kandar for his beautiful colour palette and the diversity in his practice.
  • Massimo Vitali for his ability to capture fascinating imagery in public spaces. 

Content-wise I recommend the following platforms:

  • Time Lightbox – the way they present their visual content interactively is always a step ahead in the ever-changing world of visual communication.
  • National Geographic Magazine – The name speaks for itself. I have read the magazine from an early age and cannot even begin to explain how much
    of an impact it has had on my practice. I will never forget seeing the work of William Albert Allard for the first time. I had known then that I wanted to be a photographer.
  • And of course, last but not least, the internet! In my eyes, humankind’s greatest achievement. I get my news from it and read photographic articles on
    it. I find it amazing how much inspiration I get from being on the internet. Often small articles or fact sites can trigger an idea for a future project.

As I am influenced by so many outlets, I try not to pigeon-hole my practice too much, as I like the freedom to explore different ways to communicate my ideas and to present them visually; if I want to make a landscape project I do, if I want to make a social documentary I do.

Variety for me is the key to keeping your practice fresh and exciting. I don’t want to be banging out the same type of work for thirty years just because it sells. For me it’s about what excites me, presenting it in the best way in order to engage others around me. 

What are you up to next?

I am currently deep into the research and development phase of a new major long-term project. I’m not going to reveal anything now due to the fact that the concept is subject to change as research deepens. Regarding other works, I have just published a new body of work on my website. The series AntiSocial is an ongoing project that focuses on how the proliferation of portable networked communication devices are beginning to affect our lives. 

An excerpt from my project:

“Our heads bowed, faces fixed in a solemn and slightly concerned expression, we stop what we are doing and turn our attention to the newest notification.”

The images in the series attempt to communicate the sense of loneliness and isolation we find ourselves in when in the limbo of reality and virtual reality.


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