49-minutes with Andreas Laszlo Konrath
& Mo Mfinanga
- Published February 7, 2017
- Portrait by Mo Mfinanga
Driven by the desire to interact with surrounding communities, Andreas Laszlo Konrath nourishes his work with awareness, honesty, and personality. Andreas, a British photographer and cofounder of Pau Wau Publications, utilises these ingredients to mold photos that celebrate the ability to engage with people. For him, it’s not about who he’s shooting, but his response to what he’s shooting. Is it something that ignites his curiosity? Is it something that challenges his creativity? And is it something that strengthens his relationship with photography? These questions are explored in our interview, which you can either read or listen to below.
Listen to the conversation
Andreas: So yeah, this is the space! Brian works here with me when we do the stuff for Pau Wau Publications. I have my little desk set up over there, my archive, and my little editing station where I work on my contact sheets and I print stuff at. So this sort of is my office space, but I don't shoot anything here. This side of the room [motions to where we're sitting] caters more for the Pau Wau stuff. We have our laser printer, xerox printer, cutter, risograph, tape binder, and all the other equipment where we make all this stuff [motions to the printed books beside us].
Mo: I saw a few familiar names like Tyrone Lebon and Daniel Arnold—such a talented group of people in your roster. Do you approach them or do they approach you?
Andreas: We tend to approach people who we want to work with. There's been the rare case where someone submitted work and it's ended up becoming a Pau Wau publication. But it’s rare that we respond or engage in that type of stuff, because we do get a lot of stuff by random people that go, "Here's my pdf of my book! Will you publish it for me?" and it's really not what we're kind of about. We're not a publishing business—just two guys who want to make stuff. It's not like we make any money from this. We lose money or break-even, at best. And if we have ever made a profit, we just sink it back into the next project. It's sustainable, but we both have endeavours outside of Pau Wau.
Andreas: I think people think Brian and I are a publishing company. It's like nah, we're just two guys with a couple of printers, but we've been doing it since 2008 so it's been a long time and we've published over 45 titles now.
Mo: It's contributive, in a way. You mentioned in the Pond magazine interview that you're allowing these artists a bigger microphone, or in some cases just giving them a microphone.
Andreas: I think for Brian and I, it's just, A, exciting to work on this stuff, and, B, it's a chance to engage with other people, create a community, and be part of something bigger than yourself. And to run a business—it's not even a business—but to run an operation of this kind, it's very much about trying to give a platform, as you said, to others.
Andreas: I think, for me, a lot of photographers tend to get so wrapped up in themselves that you become a slave to your own sort of thing where you're suddenly faced with this huge overhead, and you have to start cranking out all this commercial work to be able to afford to keep it running—to keep the machine going. And so I never wanted to be part of that system or that kind of cliché because, A, I'm too scared. And, B, I don't want to work just to make this thing going, and then making compromises and sacrifices. I've seen it happen with other photographers where they're just doing jobs because they need the money, and I've been really weary of that. For me, it would be really detrimental to the way I think and work. Of course I need to make a living—we all have to pay rent, this isn't cheap—but even having this small studio out in Greenpoint is still an expense.
Andreas: But I've managed to keep everything small enough where a few commercial jobs here and there help me do what I need to do to feel satisfied with the work I want to produce as an artist, in my own right. It affords me the time to do that versus if I was trying to run this giant business. I wouldn't have the time and capacity to work on the things I care about. Not to say that I don't care about commercial or editorial projects; I take them very seriously and I really want to do a great job and make great images. But, for me, there’s two paralleled facets to my practice, and I know what the implications of commercial-driven work are. You have to become a part of a bigger conversation and you have to collaborate with creative directors, art directors, and photo editors—there's a team there that you have to become part of. There's something good about working in that way, because it’s a challenge to suddenly be faced with the fact that you can't be totally selfish. But the projects that I'm working on, for me, I only have to answer to myself and therefore it’s up to me to work through that. They feed each other!
Andreas: My commercial work affords me to produce my personal work, which is then reciprocated. And then with Pau Wau, it takes a lot of my time to publish the work of other people, but by engaging with others and putting out other photographer’s and artist’s work I like, gives me the chance to meet them, and to see how they work and operate. It's fascinating to me to be close to another artist. The collaboration with Brian is really valuable to me because he comes from a very strict graphic design background; he's all about the production and that process. We have a conversation, edit their work, and then Brian puts it into a layout. That process helps me with my own work, also, even though in my head I know I have 20 other things I should be doing. But I'm really enjoying these other photographer's work who's never had a book published before and it’s exciting when we're about to publish their first thing. There’s sort of, as you brought up, a part of you that wants to be giving in that way. I think that’s just how things work. You have to sort of not get caught up in yourself. I think you can just drive yourself crazy when you're running around in your head. This affords me a chance to separate myself from my own brain, and then in a weird way, though I'm sacrificing time and energy for something else, it benefits me in the long-term because it's distracting me from a rut of: "I don't know how to figure out this project!" And then, suddenly, while I'm focusing on someone else's work, my responses become a bit more sharpened. It's when you edit someone else's work that you become a bit more ruthless because you're not emotionally attached to it.
Mo: Of course. You're not subjective at all to it.
Andreas: Yeah, you come up with an objective point of view. It’s not romantic or sentimental in any sort of way. You're not seeing what they've seen because they're the ones that have experienced the thing but you haven't.
Mo: There's no reference. It boils down to your interpretation.
Andreas: Exactly! So then I'm looking at it so differently that I can probably make more crude decisions. Maybe that's going to benefit them because I'm cutting out the filler. I'm saying, "This is a great picture. This is a great picture. This is a great picture. But this isn't, so let's remove this." And then I'm looking at my own work and I'm going, "Aw, but I love this picture so much." But no! I've got to cut it because I have to approach my own work with the same kind of [ruthlessness]. It's not an easy thing to do, and I struggle with it still, but that’s why this [publication] is of huge use to me because it gets me in that mode of thinking and your peripheral's become heightened in a sense. That's why the partnership is so useful for Brian and I, because we kind of modulate each other. I'm like, "Here's the pictures I like," but he's like, "Yeah, but you missed out that one and I really like that. Let's bring it back," and then I'm like, "You're right. That kind of works, but I don't think that other one should stay." Therefore, you start to digest all of that. It becomes part of your own practice and before you know it you're becoming much more responsive to stuff and making quicker, better decisions. Producing 45 titles has cost me so much time and energy, but I would never change that.
Mo: It automatically feeds the work that’s paying rent and fuelling you. There's a lot of room to say, "Oh, I'm creating commercial work that has my own flair from personal work," but I feel like it’s hard for those two worlds to be married.
Andreas: They overlap. For me, they run parallel and then there’s times where they merge and then they separate again. At the end of the day, you are who you are and your personality is going to come through no matter what type of image you're making. You can't change your personality. That's just who you are. Well, maybe some people can! I was just thinking of that. [both laughing] But, for me, they converge and then they kind of separate, and sometimes you do a better job of making a "commercial project" more like the way you want to do it if you didn't have constraints where you have to show the shirt, the zipper, or this-or-that. There's a criteria that you have to meet with those kind of jobs. You're being employed by someone who's expecting you to hit those key points of whatever it is, whether it’s an ad campaign or for a clothing brand.
Mo: Do you find that more challenging than when the client is, in a way, yourself?
Andreas: I think that you have to just be very aware—self aware and aware of what you're engaging in. I think I used to become much more frustrated when I was doing commercially led projects, and even I consider that editorial. For me, any time someone’s commissioning me, I don’t call it commercial; let's call it commissioned. Because commercial is...
Andreas: Yeah, and it's a tricky word because a lot of people immediately assume that it’s bad. Commercial equals bad because we've all got this weird thing in our head that we've got to not sell out. So I think saying commercial driven work... Maybe it’s more about being commissioned since it’s being commissioned by a third party. I think it's important to be aware of that kind of conversation, because at the end of the day you have to deliver to a client, and there's nothing wrong with that. I think that's a really healthy practice to have. Just be transparent with yourself. Say I'm working for a client; I'm going to do the best job I can. Just because it’s a "commercial project", it just means that I'm going to have to operate in a slightly different way. And when I'm doing my self-initiated projects, I am investing myself into those with probably more... It’s not better, and it’s not worst. It’s just different.
Mo: It’s personal.
Andreas: Yeah! I'm doing it because it’s something that intrigues me; something that I'm fascinated by, that I'm moved by; something a some subject matter has that totally illuminates me and I want to figure a way to make images that reflect that obsession that I get with a certain subject, person, culture, or whatever you want to call it. I'm trying to notify the viewer that this is something that I really care about. It’s something that fascinates me and interests me and I want to completely submerse myself in. And maybe you're successful in that when someone that looks at the pictures, they can see that emotional connection. Maybe some times you fail. And I think you do, to a certain extent, try to do that with editorial stuff.
The Subjects Influence
Andreas: The same way that I hate to use the word commercial, I hate to use the word celebrity, but the personalities that I get to photograph through the virtue of doing editorial projects. [pauses] The way I see it, it's not necessarily someone that that I've been desperate to photograph. It’s not like I carry a hit list of who I want to photograph. [Mo laughing] I never thought I want to shoot famous people. I just want to take pictures that I care about. It’s just that circumstances led me to that long list of personalities.
Mo: It’s interesting because we only have so much control when we're creating something. You can take a picture of whoever—a personality, influencer, whatever. But because it’s of that person, there's a conception; there's an aura surrounded around them regarding on how much they've influenced our culture. That’s on a higher [social] pedestal than an image that might've taken more work but with someone less noticeable.
Andreas: I totally agree and that's something I'm always really conscious of. I get people who tell me all the time, "Oh wow, you photographed so-and-so!" and some of those images I look at and I think, "I did not succeed in taking a good picture of them." But because you're looking at a picture of x, y, z people assume it’s a good picture, just because of who's in it—
Mo: —and because of their connection [to that person].
Andreas: They're associating with something else. I don't want to single anyone out, but there are images that I've made of these, as you said, sort of people that are in the popular culture. It doesn't make the picture any better just because it's them. I think I can take a picture of some random skateboarder that I've suddenly become attached to. And I can make an as successful, if not more successful, image than others that can make me engaged and excited.
Andreas: I was in the darkroom yesterday printing a bunch of images of my friend and I'm so excited to suddenly see those images come to life, and to see them as prints, not just as little contact sheets and thumbnails. Finally, the product is coming alive and I'm like, "Wow, this is so exciting. I can't believe I've sat on this work for a few years now." Then today I was at my darkroom and my retouchers scanning pictures of Matthew McConaughey, and I don't think that there's any less value in one or the other. I think that it’s unfortunate that the pictures of a person who's won an Oscar and is in the media becomes, somehow, a higher currency to the outside world because of them being an Oscar-winning actor.
Mo: It's a slippery slope.
Andreas: It is and I question it because I don't want to be known just for that. There's so many things I do, including the publishing and personally initiated projects. Again, I don't want to make any sound better than the other or...
Mo: A higher priority.
Andreas: Yeah, exactly! Again, going back to that idea, they all influence each other. There's a conversation between each one, but it’s just funny seeing how other people respond. Because if I show some random picture of a skater next to Kanye West everyone's going to look at the Kanye photo.
Mo: It's a slippery slope, as I mentioned before, because it's something worth challenging, but I don't think you can kill that beast, even if you slash its head off. I think the only thing that you can challenge it with is your self initiated work. If you're creating work that can stand on its own then that can, at times, override the commissioned work. And it's important to strive for that when you're starting and even until now [in your career].
Andreas: Oh yeah, and I see photographers that I really admired and respected for a long time based off work that they did for themselves, which then brought them the attention to get commissioned work, because that's how we all start. You don't just start by taking pictures for New York Times. You have to make some work to then get the work. But, it’s interesting in seeing people's careers that then become completely dictated by the work.
Andreas: Going back to that idea of once you've started meeting these expectations of what a photographer's practice should look like with the big studio and the blah, blah, blah, all of a sudden the snowball gets so big that you're trying to keep up with it. You're trying to make sure it stays together before it implodes, and then all of a sudden five years goes by and you haven't made a picture for yourself because all you've been doing is: "I gotta get the ad campaign. I gotta shoot the cover of ba-de-blah so that someone sees my work, and then I'm gonna get the ad campaign with [redacted], and then I'm gonna get fifty thousand dollars and then I can pay for this whole thing to keep going," versus stopping and going, "Woah, woah, woah, I'm too busy, I'm focusing too much on this stuff. I need to take a step back and see what's missing right now."
Andreas: It’s hard to use the word balance because saying it and making it happen are two very different things. But right now, part of the culture is talking about balance. People say it all the time and I'm just like, "What does that really mean?" [Mo laughing] How does that actually happen? And for me, it happens by kind of taking a regular inventory of what have I produced, who have I worked for, what has made me really excited, and what hasn't? And what do I need to do to make sure that by the end of the year I've completed a project that I know is going to be part of my archive and seen for the next ten years. I still have projects that I shot ten years ago, or stuff that I've had that exists in a zine or show that people still ask me about. So, when you do those personal projects, their shelf life is far longer than when you shoot a portrait for a magazine that comes out every month.
Mo: To play devil’s advocate, you might have a portrait of a prominent figure that captivates everyone so much that in 40 years we look back and define them from a certain time.
Andreas: Sure, and I've got a lot of respect for the work of photographers that captured periods of time where you can look at and go, it's 1968 and they've been photographed by David Bailey, or whoever, and its immortalised forever.
Mo: You have someone like Henri Cartier-Bresson where his personal and commissioned work will live on for decades, probably centuries. So, it happens in both universes [of work]. But you mentioned something earlier made me think about when we all start off. I could show a picture I took of a friend on a night out and show it to my mum and she might say, "Oh, that's a nice photo." And then I can take a picture of someone she loves and she'll connect with that more. So I think with some photographers, you're kind of achieving this dream within a career that's illusive, in a way: financial stability. I think it’s really important for people to recognise that you have to satisfy yourself before others. Even with the client, it’s a horrible feeling when there's something the client might like that you might hate, and you end up having a horrible resonance with that.
Andreas: That happens. I think it’s learning to detach yourself a little bit from certain projects when that's starting to happen, and you realise what you're there for, and sometimes you're just there to be a camera operator. Your personal kind of take, or what you're trying to bring to the table, [suddenly] becomes clear that's not really what you're there for. And that happens, and I think it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have those experiences, because then you can decide the next time that happens, you’ll say, “I don't want to do the job,” or you can say, “You know what. I don't really care that much. The money is good and I would like to buy a new computer or spend this much money making my next book." Sometimes you can afford yourself to make a bit of a sacrifice. Again, it goes back to this idea that things kind of blend together. Sometimes you see yourself get really far from what you're original intentions are; sometimes they come back together. Sometimes you feel really satisfied with an editorial piece with a personality you got five minutes to shoot in a hotel room. Sometimes it really works; sometimes you're like, "Aw, man. I didn't really get it." And it's the same with advertising stuff. Sometimes you get a really great opportunity and people really want you to influence the image with your personality. Sometimes it becomes apparent that they say they want that but then while you're doing it, it suddenly becomes something different. It's about being able to be malleable enough to absorb all those changes and to be able to negotiate that, and find a way to meander around it, through it, or confront it. I think every experience is different and unique.
Being Honest With Yourself
Mo: What encouraged your self awareness? Because it’s important to have that in any career, especially a creatively focused one.
Andreas: I think, again, it's being able to assess situations quickly. It's being able to be honest with yourself in knowing what you're kind of getting yourself into. And I think it takes time and experience to get there. I got my first commissions in 2007 when I was 25 or 26. I'd been out of art school for three years or something.
Mo: What were you doing in that three year period, if you don't mind me asking?
Andreas: I was in London, I graduated, and then I was in a skate shop working for a while, not really knowing how the fuck to do anything, because I got an art degree and was like, "Now what?" [Mo laughing] So I was just filling in the time and then people started suggesting that I looked at doing internships and assisting and just sort of reaching out to photographers that I liked. I used to go to Borders, which is the bookshop that used to be on Charing Cross Rd, and they had a magazine section and I'd go in with a pad, and look through the magazines and made lists of the photographers that I thought did good work, and then I'd email them. I did a lot of internships at photo agencies who would have a roster of 20 photographers.
Mo: I'm curious about how you approached them.
Andreas: I guess there's just timing and luck. I'd write an email, be sincere, be really polite, and I would always reference something that's specific to them. Like, "Dear so-and-so, I saw your shoot of so-and-so in this publication,” or “I bought your book in this bookshop." I mean, that speaks highly of the person that's writing to you, because that means that they've done the research, versus when you can tell that someone's sent the same email to 50 guys and they're looking for work. They're sending the same bullshit and you can see through it.
Mo: It's important to show that personality, and if that means sending emails to less people then so be it.
Andreas: Yeah, I think less is more in that case. You can tell when someone's sent out a blanket email to a 100 people versus if you send ten uniquely written individual emails that cater for that specific person that you're really interested in. They're going to know.
Mo: I know that you know how important this is, but for the readers reading or listening to this, I can’t emphasis how important it is to keep that in mind. The amount of people that I contacted to interview in New York is ten, and I think I'm interviewing five or six people. It's a good ratio, but the thing is, it's something you learn. I hope people will get to realise that if you're able to do that at an early point in your career, then you can apply that idea to so many other things.
Andreas: Definitely, it really opens doors. It's just really good to get a broad range of experiences. For me, I did internships at photo agencies and then I did production stuff. I was just doing whatever I could to get into photoshoots, to be around sets, and to start learning the etiquettes; to start learning how it worked. And also figuring out what interested me and what didn't. It's valuable to work for someone who's a real arsehole—who you hate—because then you start to develop a moral sense of how you want to behave and how you want to operate in that world. There's a few photographers with bad reputations that I've been around, and it made me realise that that's not who I want to be; that's not the kind of photographs that I want to take; it's not the kind of team I want to have around me; it's not the type of employers that I want; it's not the type of studio I want to be running. Seeing those giant studios with 20 photo assistants running around... I mean, it's glamorous and all that...
Mo: But how many people are learning something there? A past Viewfinder guest talked to me about how you'd see all these assistants for Mark Seliger and you're wondering what the fuck is everybody learning, really?
Andreas: Well, you only learn as much as you're willing to learn anyway. I've done jobs where I'm sweeping up the floor and I'm in the basement and someone's telling me to clean up the shelves or whatever. Like, pick up the dry cleaning. But I think I still got an experience from that, because at the end of the day, it's just valuable to have any type of experience, even the shitty ones.
Andreas: This is a problem that I think the photographic industry influences, which I really despise, but people would be treated badly and then when they get to the next step, they think that they can behave like that to the next person down. I really dislike that approach. You could tell when someone would treat you like shit because, hey, they were treated like shit, and it trickles down! But again, I don't want to focus on those aspects of the photographic industry, because for me, again, I think I've always tried to stay away from those kind of expectations. For a long time, there’s been the established idea of how the way things are done, and how it works, and how you're out there and it's a cut-throat industry! [laughing] The whole reason I started Pau Wau was to completely go against that. We knew that a publisher wasn't going to come to us and be like, "Hey, you want to make some books?" For all the people that we've met through this, and the friendships and collaborations... It's made me realise that the photographic industry in a commercial context is not that collaborative.
Mo: I think that idea is supported by the notion that the industry is so small.
Andreas: Yeah, and people get jealous very quickly and then people are going, "Why am I not getting that job?"
Mo: Or, "I could've done that better."
Andreas: Yeah, and at the end of the day, you didn't get that job because you didn't the job. It doesn't matter. Move on. But we all get categorised. I mean, I hear it all the time from my agent where it's like, "You've been put up for this job and it’s you and so-and-so and so-and-so," and it's always the same five names. You suddenly get plunked in with them.
Mo: And everyone [bidding] knows. [laughing]
Andreas: Yeah! And when I hear, "Oh, you didn't get it. So-and-so got it," I'm like, "Oh, then they're the right person for the job. I wasn't." Or you could very easily go down the road of, "How did they get the job? I can take a better picture. Is it because they're fucking friends with so-and-so? Is there a nepotistic aspect to it?" You can run circles in your own mind about why and how and what, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter because it didn't work out. I'm like, "Okay, it's unfortunate, but now I can spend a whole day in my darkroom printing these pictures that I've wanted to print for two years." So, for me, it's really important to be committed to my own practice as much as being committed to a commissioned piece. One can't exist without the other. I would never have gotten a job if I hadn't have produced work that I wanted to produce. The first jobs I ever got were because I was working on projects—I had a darkroom on Canal St.—and I was printing every night while I was assisted during the day. At night I'd print, and then I'd make a portfolio and show people the work; then your name gets around, one person gives you a commission, you do a good job, and it starts to happen like that. You can't get anywhere, whether that's getting in an art show or having work published in a book, unless you've produced something.
Mo: And if you're patient. That can take years.
Andreas: Yeah! It takes a long time and a lot of work. I tell students when I do lectures at SVA, FIT, and places like that, that you have to fucking work. You have to take this seriously and willing to invest everything into making your picture. The worst thing I see in schools, here, is when a student would show me their portfolio and it's like, "Here's a picture I made because I want to get a job." For me, that's the wrong kind of story; it's the wrong way to looking at what photography should be, I think. First and foremost, you should make the picture that you want to make for you, and you keep doing that, and then someone will take notice. And I know it sounds—
Mo: —it sounds like too much work for some people.
Andreas: Yeah, but I've done workshops where people will think that they'll produce work that they can put in their portfolio that'll get them a job. And I'm like, this workshop is not about that. This workshop is about thinking; this workshop is about getting ideas; it's about inspiring yourself around other people. And it's about provoking something. To think that you're going to take a picture in this workshop that then... I mean, it doesn't mean anything. The picture you take in a class, for instance, your teacher says, "Here's a studio assignment." You then have to use a light and you have to use this kind of camera... I mean, there's assignments like that. And then all of a sudden that picture that you've done for an assignment is in the end of your portfolio. For me, that's kind of risky because yeah, you have to apply yourself to the assignment and get it done, but then figure out how you can apply what you've learned from that into the work that you really want to make. Just having your book filled with assignments, I mean... [spreading his arms wide]
Mo: You can have a meeting with GQ, Rolling Stone, and whoever the hell else, but not get a phone call the next day. And guess what? You still have to continue working.
Andreas: I remember I had other friends of mine when we were starting out—we were assisting together—and we'd meet up and try to create a little community of assistants that would not be isolated and alone. There were some other guys that I knew that had a portfolio and they went and had a meeting with someone from a magazine or ad agency or something. They'd come back and say, "Well, they told me to take out this, this, and this." And the first thing my friends would do is start taking out those things. In my head, I would go in these meetings and keep in every photo they told me to take out, and I'd take out the photos that they didn't say anything about. I was like, "No. I'm gonna keep in the photos that they told me that shouldn't be in my portfolio because they're the pictures I care most about." I was much more defiant, going, "This is my personality. This is what I care about."
Andreas: I would drive out to New Jersey, shoot pictures of kids in Asbury Park on the boardwalk going to these punk and hardcore shows, and meet some young skater that I thought looked interesting, and I'd develop some relationship with them and meet them on the weekends to photograph them. For me, that is what photography is about: The things that interest me. And why would I come to a meeting at say, for example, GQ, with images that images cater for GQ? That's pointless. I'm going to go to GQ and go, "I know that this is the kind of work that you do at GQ, but this is the work that I do and I think it's more interesting." And I've had that criticism many times where they'd go, "Well, this doesn't really fit in with our aesthetic," and I'm like, "Maybe that's good." Because maybe if I was trying to fit in with your aesthetic...
Mo: Your work would be diluted.
Andreas: Yeah, and you wouldn't have a point of view.
Mo: There's so many opinions. Some agency might say this, some might say that, but the one opinion that’s the most consistent is the one within—yours.
Andreas: Exactly, and all those other opinions are going to convolute what you do and if you can stay resilient to that... I know that at the end of the day it's really hard to become a working artist, working photographer, or whatever you want to call it. You can say the same about artists that get represented by galleries. It's like, "How do you do it?" And I think, even though it sounds corny, if you are true to yourself and you're enthusiastic about what you do, there's no limits to what or where you can end up. That enthusiasm about what you care about is really infectious. When I go and sit and talk to people about a project in a way that expresses how much I care about it, that person can never take that away from me. They might not like the work. They might think, "These pictures suck," but they can never take away the fact that I believe in it. That's the most valuable aspect to me about photography.
Mo: If they take it away, then maybe you weren't attached to it as much as you believed you were.
Andreas: And that's okay, too. When I was younger, I was a lot more determined to be that. Now, with a bit of time, age, and being around it longer, I think I'm a little easier on myself and with my ideas. I'm not so dogmatic in my approach, but initially when I was 25-years-old, I was like, "This is what I do. This is the type of subject matter that I'm interested in, and fuck you! If you don't like it, good!" [Mo chuckles] I was like that, which I think works for a while, and it can be really beneficial. But it can also be a real pain in the ass because I would get commissioned jobs and then I would do it the way I wanted and then they'd say, "Oh, where's the colour picture? Why didn't you shoot full-length?" And I'd be like, "I didn't feel like it!" People would then get mad because you're not giving them a sort of variety that they expected. So, you start to become a little bit more loose with the way you do stuff and not so rigid, but also, I think you then get looser and more rigid again; it just comes in cycles. It's weird because sometimes I can be, "Cool, I'll shoot a full-length," even though I hate shooting full-length pictures. And then there are times where I'm like, "No, I'm not doing that,” and I could be really obnoxious, because they've hired me and this is what they're gonna get. I think everything shifts, though.
Mo: Do you challenge the periods where negativity affects your work, or is it more so, "Come right in. Here's some tea." [laughing]
Andreas: Yeah, the door's wide open! And that’s for every state that I'm in. The problem is that we're in a culture where when you're working as a photographer or as an artist—no matter who's part of that conversation, whether it's a magazine or creative director—people get attached to things that you've done and they want you to become something specific. They think, "Oh, Andreas. He does portraits; he takes pictures of young punk kids for his personal work,” and blah, blah, blah. They kind of start to categorise you in these ways. You might have a couple of categories, but they want to limit you. And for me, I've definitely played into that, because at the end of the day, yeah, these are the kind of pictures I like to make, but I also take other pictures that are not part of those specific roles, and I want to explore that and give it space.
Andreas: If all of a sudden I'm interested in taking pictures of plants, which I've done, then I'm gonna just go with that. Sometimes these little projects that I do are a response to how I feel or it's a response to, "Oh, I did a commercial project that I felt really disillusioned by, so now I'm gonna go and photograph this stuff because it's the polar opposite and will get me enthused about photography again." Because sometimes, especially when you're catering for outside influence, you can get a little bit disheartened because you're like, "Oh, man. I wanted to take these kind of pictures but I couldn't."
Mo: And people can feed into it. People could go, "Andreas, oh my god, these are amazing." And you'll go, "They love that? Let me give them a little more."
Andreas: Then I have to challenge myself by saying, "Oh, no. I've suddenly got this thing with this subject matter. I'm gonna go and do that." And again, your feelings are your feelings, so I really want to be receptive and responsive to whatever the thoughts I'm having or feelings I'm having are, and if that can reflect in the work, great. Sometimes I'd shoot something that I've had an obsession of, and then I look at it all and go, "Ah, this isn't that good. I don't know what the point of that was." At the time it was something that I felt like I really wanted to do, and that work might never see the light of day, but then in ten years I might revisit it and go, "You know, there's actually something in this."
Andreas: I just want to be a photographer, and I'm interested in taking pictures, whether thats of a person, tree, building, my breakfast, or whatever. There's value in it all and it's just knowing when you can start to connect the dots. And sometimes you just need to take pictures, and it might be of something that doesn't really connect to any of your other work, but it felt like something you needed to do. With the benefit of hindsight, maturity, and growth, maybe you can get something out of it. For me, the important thing is when you're in it; when you're in the act of taking pictures, you're not really thinking of why or what—it's really just a feeling. It's all about the experience for me. If that means riding my bike around at night, looking at stuff to take pictures of, so be it. Or if it means calling up someone I want to take a picture of and spend the afternoon with, then it might be that. It's about engaging in those experiences.
Andreas: It's kind of like the conversation that we're having right now. We haven't really prepared for this and we don't really know where it's going to go, but we might listen to it later on, and you then start to see the pattern or picture that's being conveyed. It's the same with the work. But I do worry that sometimes you do start to manufacture ideas when you looking at it a year later—you'll start to make stuff up. But maybe there's nothing wrong with that; maybe that's how you work. For me, it works that way, but there are people who practice photography where it's all preparation, and they're in a way constructing images and then making them, and that's really interesting.
Mo: But if a client tells you: “You have this one subject, you have this many minutes, and it's in this specific place,” and whatever else, then there's a sense of preparation there already. Are you preparing for that or are you creating an environment that'll allow whatever or whoever to do what you want?
Andreas: I try to do as little preparation as possible. I try to not read anything about the person. I mean, of course you can't help but know who they are. But I try to do as little research as possible, because I kind of want to go in there with a clean mind, and try not to have any preconception. It's really important to me also to respond to the environment on the day, so when people ask me, "Do you want to do a location scout?" Generally, I say no, because I know the circumstances that I'm getting myself into is going to be problematic in some way or another. Because sometimes people will go, "You’ve got to meet this guy at this time at this place, and you've got 15-minutes," and you're like, "Fuck, really? That sucks. How am I going to work like that?" But for me, weirdly, the more intuitive I am to the moment, the better the picture.
Mo: How often does that come across in your career? Does it happen more times than less?
Andreas: Definitely more. I recently got a little bit annoyed with it because I started to feel like, aw man, I'm the guy that can go in, get the picture, and get out quickly while getting a good image without having ten bags of equipment and 15 assistants. I do feed off that energy and I do like to be more reactive to the situation that I'm put in. I mean, sometimes I'm a little bit more clear about what I want. I think sometimes the circumstances are so out of your hands. Say you're doing a fashion shoot; that's different because you're working with subject matter that has to be there for a day, and there's going to be several outfit changes, and they know what they're getting into is a story that you need to spend ten hours on. But when it's just a portrait and so-and-so is doing ten of them that week because they're promoting some movie, you're getting 15-minutes, and you have to be wherever is convenient for them. So, you have to work within those constraints and sometimes the more limitations there are the better, in a sense, because you're having to work within a really strict box. Sometimes, if it’s whatever you want, whenever you want, and for however long you want...
Mo: That box becomes so wide that you're not going to be able to cover everything.
Andreas: Yeah! I don't know what the answer for that is, because sometimes I think, "Man, I wish I had more control of the situation. I wish I had more influence over it. I wish I could tell them, 'No, I need to shoot them here and I need two hours, and it's going to be this, this, and this.'” And then sometimes they'll tell me where I need to be and I'm like, “Fuck this is a nightmare." But then I go and do it and have a really good time and know I have good pictures, and I worked within all these tricky parameters.
Mo: How do you calm yourself down before a shoot?
Andreas: I don't think you do. I think the biggest fear is what they're going to be like.
Mo: Especially when you're shooting on film.
Andreas: Yeah, and I think you can get wrapped up in this idea of, "Oh, they're a famous person, and they've got all these people around them; their handlers, their publicists, and this-and-that." But more times than none, it ends up being better than what's being promoted, in the sense that you hear stories about the publicist making this really difficult. However, on the day of the shoot the subject is really mellow and not hard work at all, but someone else has made it more problematic. You'll hear someone go, "Ah, they need this and that on set," but this becomes an illusion because actually that was someone trying to justify their job.
Andreas: It's not a bad thing to have a healthy amount of nerves. And I hate for this to sound pretentious, but I kind of just not that impressed by the idea of celebrity, either. At the end of the day, they're just a person. What's the worst that's going to happen? They could be a complete prick, really demeaning, and you know what? If that starts happening, generally, I try to get to the job over and done with. I don't spend that much time shooting, and just say, "Cool. Thank you very much." Generally, that throws people off because they think that they're going to be there for an hour.
Andreas: If I feel like, "Why am I here? This person is acting like a complete arsehole,” then I don't want to be there because I'm not enjoying this. I would make the shoot happen quicker and get what I need. Ten minutes go by and they're like, "You're finished?" It's not my job to tell them how they're acting. I'm not going to tell them they're an arsehole. But sometimes I stick it out. If someone is being hard work but I'm challenged by it and going, "I'm gonna fucking find a way," I'll keep going until I get there. But sometimes I've shot four or five rolls of film and knew that I'm not getting anything else, because this person is not allowing me. I mean, it's a conversation—it's totally fifty-fifty. It's not just about me taking their picture; it's about them and me having this experience and conversation, and the camera's just there as a [diary]. There's a give and take; sometimes that's very exciting; sometimes it's awkward, tense, and uncomfortable. All those feelings create interesting pictures. But then there's a difference between them just being hard work and them being a complete prick. If it gets to that point, I just try to make it as quick and painless as possible.
Andreas: I think, for me, I don't get nervous because of who the subject is. It's more about the expectation the client has. I still need to deliver something. Sometimes you freak yourself out a little bit, but you need a small dose of that to challenge the situation and yourself.
Mo: Before I forget to mention this, when you mentioned about starting off as a photographer, how did you not let yourself not become pigeonholed? It's really easy to be categorised at a formative point in your career.
Andreas: I think you picked up on a really salient point there because, for me, when you start out you do have to narrow a sort of repertoire, in a sense. People's attention spans aren't that great and you do need to create a solid foundation of what you're capable of doing and be a little bit more specific. You do tend to simplify things because people don't have time to digest everything you're capable of doing.
Mo: What did you tell people at the time?
Andreas: I think I went in with a box of prints or a portfolio and it was very deliberate. It was like, "This is one project I did with one teenage kid. This is a project I did with some skateboarders. These are black and white portraits I did of my friends." There were maybe three or five projects that were very specific and I showed maybe six to ten images from each project, and they all connected to each other, even though they were different projects. And I think I used the word "portrait photographer" as a vehicle to get people's attention in a sense. It simplified things even though I knew I had a wider net within my photographic practice.
Andreas: I was showing people that I respected the opinion of my work, and they alluded to the idea that I shouldn't stop taking the kind of pictures I liked, but that to move forward as a career I might need to tighten everything up. I took that seriously and put together a smaller range of work that's focused on people. And then you start working, and hopefully people are employing you based off what they know you're capable of.
Andreas: It's almost like you bottleneck a little bit and you make your work more specific and then, at a certain point when you've done that for a few years, you can start widening it a little to then go: "Well, I also take these types of pictures and I also this, and here's a little book I did of this type of work," and people are like, "That's fascinating." They've already gained your trust because they've employed you to work on, say, a portrait project, but they're like, "Oh, you also do that. Well, on the next shoot, when you do some portraits, can you also shoot some still life or shoot some images of their space?"
Andreas: I just worked with one of David Zwirner's artists, Carol Bove, and they hired me to shoot all her work. So I went to her studio and I photographed the space, materials, and sculptures. And I'm not that type of photographer in the sense of photographers that shoot art; they shoot the artwork and they make it perfectly aligned and all. I went in there and I kind of shot her sculptures like I would shoot a person. It was really exciting because I'm shooting these objects that don't move, that don't speak, that don't change, but it was really exciting for me to do that because I was in her studio by myself and I would respond to the work and I would shoot the things that I was drawn to. A lot of it is quite abstract and it's just about texture. I'm just shooting parts, corners, and details and things are horribly out of focus and it's not so about the piece; it's more an interpretation; it's more like my impression of her work. It's not an informative depiction of the work. It's sort of just like, "Here's a sort of corner of the sculpture that I thought was fascinating."
Mo: Like, "Hey guys, check this out!"
Andreas: Yeah, and all those things that I was drawn to. Again, going back to how I was experiencing the work, hopefully there's an emotion that comes across the pictures. But, you know, that's so far from the work that people know me for, and I’m sure if someone sees my name written in the back, they're going to be like, "What? I know him for doing portraits for fashion clients!" When you sit them side-by-side, is there any connection? [shrugs shoulders] Yes and no. To an extent, no, the pictures look quite different, but they're still taken by me. So hopefully you see a bit of Andreas in those pictures, even though taking those types of images are a totally different experience. Of course in my head I think that's obvious, but it might not be to the viewer. But does that matter? I don't know.
Andreas: That's what being a photographer means to me; it's being able to try things out, to take risks, not be trapped by what others want you to be. You just become a caricature of yourself, don't you? You repeat the same thing, you know what works, someone employs you and says, "We want that. We want Andreas' picture." There's only a couple of ways I know how to take pictures, but you kind of get a little bit trapped. It starts to become too easy and you don't want it to become a mechanical thing. You don't want to just show up, put your camera on the tripod, set up the light like this, and boom, take a picture. That’s kind of not what photography should be about, at least that's not what it's about for me.
Thanks for reading
- Big thanks to Andreas for spending his evening with me in his Greenpoint studio. He was unwaveringly accommodating, and I can’t thank him enough for his honest advice and insights. Even after I photographed and talked with him for nearly two hours, we had the chance to talk about the fashion industry's cultural and political effects for another hour, which I wish I had recorded, but hey, some moments are best left savoured.
Where can we follow you?
- Website, Instagram, and agency profile
Last thing you googled?
- How to delete my Uber account
I’m a quasi vege/vegan type so I mostly eat grains, salads and vegetables. I also have an insatiable appetite for cashew butter.
What have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been re-listening to a lot of old metal and hardcore bands from the 90s that I listened to as a teenager. I listen to the NPR One podcast, the Radiolab podcast, and most recently the Here We Are podcast, as well.
What are your hotspots?
Iceland. I first went there about 13 years ago and love it. I also regularly go hiking in Northern California, too.
What gear do you like using?
I’ve been using my new Plaubel Makina 67 a lot and I’m really happy with it.
Currently reading The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett, The Vegetarian by Han Kang, and I blitzed through all of the My Struggle series by Karl Ove Knausgaard.
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