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Tim Durkan
High above Seattle, photographer Tim Durkan enjoys a view like no other of Elliott Bay and beyond. (Photo courtesy of Tim Durkan)

In this age of mobile photography, you no doubt see plenty of sunset and Space Needle and ferry photos in your social feeds from your Seattle friends. We live in a beautiful place, and people want to capture and share that.

But few people do it quite like Tim Durkan.

Durkan, who is GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week, captures more than just the shining side of the city he grew up in. He also takes great pride in documenting the grit and the struggles, particularly when it comes to homelessness.

Durkan has worked for the City of Seattle for nearly 15 years as an advisor and neighborhood coordinator under three administrations. He currently has what he calls his “dream position” as photographer and social media manager in the city’s IT department. And his family’s connection to the city only became deeper when his sister, Jenny Durkan, was elected mayor last week.

“My favorite part of living in Seattle is probably walking the streets with no particular goals or destination in mind — just me and my camera,” said Durkan, who has lived in the Capitol Hill neighborhood for 25 years. “The city streets have personalities that come alive after dark and that helps me connect to a side of Seattle I find exciting and authentic. It kills me to see so many people homeless, especially friends that are facing severe addiction and mental health issues. I do think we’ve turned a corner though, in a positive way, and I think Seattle has a real chance to make an impact in so many lives.”

Tim Durkan Space Needle
(Tim Durkan Photo)
Tim Durkan Seattle homeless
(Tim Durkan Photo)

Durkan, who is one of eight children raised in a big Irish Catholic family, obviously believes that the new mayor can make a difference.

“Jenny is the warmest, most generous person I know and has always made a point of helping someone in need while sticking up for the underdog,” Durkan said. “She’s aware of what’s at stake and wants to help get people off the streets as fast as she can. As many are aware, though, the problem isn’t just a Seattle one and will require partnering with other entities to tackle some of the more complex issues. She’ll need every ounce of that Irish personality to convince other leaders/legislators this isn’t just a Seattle problem, but a problem worth solving together. She’s up for the challenge and I look forward to helping her in any way I can.”

In rapidly growing and evolving Seattle, Durkan thinks it’s exciting to see some of the changes in real time.

“More people from all over the world living here means a more diverse population impacting everything from art, food and politics, just to name a few — and I love that!” he said. “The downside is that traffic is horrible, housing prices have forced a lot of my friends out of the city and I can’t get a seat at my (once) favorite breakfast joint without a 45-minute wait — the struggle is real!”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Tim Durkan:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “Currently, my official duties here at the City is to help fill the photo, video and social media needs of a large, municipal government. My role is to help document the great work we do as a government entity and then share with the outside world. This includes helping create compelling visuals for the various departments and the different services they provide. Though it can be technically or emotionally challenging to do what I do – I LOVE what I do because it doesn’t necessarily feel like work. Once I’m finished with my official duties, I hit the streets where I live out my ‘secret life’ as a landscape and street photographer documenting the ‘pretty and gritty’ sides of my hometown!”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Photography as a creative outlet is an amazingly rewarding endeavor, especially since it’s easier than ever to share your work and have it admired by people around the world. Making a living from it is a different story all together. You have to be many things to be successful as a pro photographer — smart, capable, creative … but whether you approach it from an artistic or commercial sense, the pros I know are proficient technically speaking but also in standing out among a VERY competitive field. This is where BRAND comes into play. I am not the best photographer in Seattle by any stretch, but what I have been successful at is sharing my own, distinct personality and unique perspectives with the world in a visual language that resonates with a large audience.

“I’m really more of hometown story teller than a photographer but combining the two has made for a very fun way to interact with the world — which suits my extroverted ways just fine!”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “I LOVE new technology and am frequently the first in my circle to update my phones, electronics and CAMERA GEAR! Right now, my iPhone is my connection to the outside world especially as it relates to social media. I am nearing 50k followers around the globe on FB/Tw/IG and absolutely love sharing photo stories with them as well as learning what’s new in their worlds.”

Tim Durkan homeless
Tim Durkan has chronicled the plight of Seattle’s homeless population. (Photo courtesy of Tim Durkan)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “The absolutely best part of my current job is that it changes nearly on a day-to-day basis and includes a lot of outdoor photography. I enjoy (and even need to an extent) the excitement of a changing environment when it comes to work and this job allows for that. This year, some of my best and most important work was done in the various homeless encampments around the city. I’m proud that my documentation of those communities has helped open some eyes and informed policy decisions to better help my friends on the streets. When I am inside, though, I gotta tell you that I’m surrounded by the coolest IT team in the world right here at Seattle IT.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Expect the unexpected and don’t get so caught up trying to achieve perfection that you forget to have a little fun. Before every big shoot when I know people are waiting for me to post ‘the most amazing shot’ I always repeat the mantra “You might not get the shot you wanted but you’ll get the shot you were meant to.” It might sound a little silly, but it helps me stay focused and positive.

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac for photos/video.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Captain Janeway to the bridge!”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Cloaks are cool but transporters for sure!”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Create housing for my friend’s on the street. And get a new Nikon D850 camera.”

I once waited in line for … “a U2 concert in Cork Ireland during their 1987 concert tour for the “Joshua Tree” album. I did it again 30 years later right here in Seattle for their re-release of the same album. AWESOME both times!”

Your role models: “John Lennon and Yoko Ono for their dedication to peace, love and originality. Locally, Art Wolf for his continued dedication in using photography to help further environmental causes. The many people/organizations here and across the country dedicated to helping the homeless. My sister Jenny, who at the time of writing this, is running for Mayor of Seattle!”

Greatest game in history: “Football — Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl win.”

Best gadget ever: “iPhone — hands down.”

First computer: “Pretty sure it was a commodore = fancy!”

Current phone: “iPhone 7 (soon to be X).”

Favorite app: “The Photographer’s Ephemeris (helps me track the sun and moon!)”

Favorite cause: “Helping raise money for Mary’s Place shelter for homeless women! Starbucks is about to unveil a photo of mine to raise awareness through the holidays!”


Twitter: @timdurkan

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