Monday, December 5, 2011

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Blake Andrews. An Interview

Blake Andrews is a great photographer member of In-Public. He lives with his wife and their three sons in Eugene, Oregon. You can find more of his photos in his site You can also find more of his thoughts in his great blog

Please tell us something about yourself. When and how did you start photography? How did you first get started in street photography?

I took a photography class in 1993 and that kindled my interest. From that point I took photos on my own and gradually became more and more enamored. I was living in a city at the time, exploring with a camera, so most of what I shot early on might fall under the "street photography" label. But I didn't consciously set out to shoot that style. I didn't even know what street photography was until I'd been shooting for several years. And even now "street photography" is not a perfect description for what I do.

Which contemporary or emerging photographers impress you?

I've been asked this question a few times so I'l try to pick people I haven't yet mentioned. Matt Eich. Garry Trinh. Thomas Michael Alleman. Jon Lowenstein. Masao Yamamoto. Jason Fulford. Gordon Stettinius. Ron Jude. Michael Ackerman. Vanessa Winship. Simon Kosoff. Caleb Charland. Ed Panar.

Which of the old Masters inspired you the most?

Same logic. Some of these folks are still quite active, so the word "old" doesn't quite apply, but they are all masters: Tony Ray-Jones. Sylvia Plachy. Ed Ruscha. Philip Perkis. Saul Leiter. Paul McDough. Barbara Crane. Louis Faurer. Helen Levitt. Henry Wessel. Charles Traub. Nicholas Nixon. Tom Wood. Mitch Epstein.

What is your favorite project till now and why?

I don't really work in projects but if I'm thinking in that way, I suppose my family photos make a nice body of work. It's probably the only work that I've done that I'm assured will have lasting meaning for someone in the future: my kids. They grow and change so quickly that the photos become historic in a hurry, and I kind of like that.

There are a lot of differing opinions when it comes to defining “street photography.” How would you define it? What is your opinion about street photography without life (not necessarily human). Documentary vs street photography. How close or how far apart do you think they are?

I was asked this question recently by someone else ( and I think my answer then still applies:
"I would define street photography as making unplanned photos in an unpredictable environment. That’s not exactly the same as documentary photography, which basically includes any photograph attempting to depict the world in a direct and real way."
An unpredictable environment can be one with life or without. Usually life adds to the uncertainty, but it's very possible to find chance moments without life.

How do you define “beauty” when it comes to photography?

That's a loaded question because I think beauty is extremely subjective. For me it's often tied to imperfection. I'm not so interested in perfect scenes in the style of Ansel Adams or Edward Weston. I think photos with flaws are more beautiful, because that's what the world looks like. It isn't perfect. It's got buck teeth. People who've had braces having boring teeth.
On one of Dylan's early records there's a song which starts, gets messed up, and then breaks down into him laughing. I think it's great that they left that in the recording, because if it was being recorded today I think that may have been smoothed over or erased in the name of "beauty". I like photos which operate by the same principle. Some of Winogrand's slanting shots feel like that. You're not supposed to hold the camera that way, which makes them appealing for me. After you look at a few of them you forget about the slant. I think this explains also the appeal for me of Holga and Diana work, although much of that work fetishizes the imperfect. But when it's done well it can be really nice.

Do you feel sometimes that your blogging activity maybe competes with your photography? I mean your blog is so successful that when people think of Blake Andrews do they first think of him as a blogger or as photographer?

It depends which audience you're talking about. In the online world I'm probably better known as a blogger because that's where I've put my online energy. I don't post many photos online but I keep the blog fairly active. So if you ask someone in Asia or Europe, or someone who only knowns me online, that's probably who I am to them.
But in the real world I'm known primarily as a photographer. My photographer friends don't pay much attention to my blog. I share photos with them and shoot with them and they know me as someone behind a camera, not necessarily a computer. And that's what I consider myself first and foremost, a shooter.

What is your relation with social networks like Facebook or Flickr, do we live in picture overdose times?

I enjoy Facebook but for me it doesn't have much practical application. It's just a fun amusement to check in on occasionally. It's been interesting to follow FPN on Facebook, not necessarily because the posts always lead to interesting discussions but because they're sort of a temperature check. They show what's on people's minds.
I don't post photos on Flickr so I can't comment on that aspect of it. I drop in occasionally on Flickr chat forums like HCSP. Sometimes they can be interesting.

Do you think that social networks can help a photographer by making him popular - well known - or is there a danger of making him after the "likes" of public and not really express himself.

I think it's very valuable to find colleagues who can give feedback and whose opinion you trust. Whether you find this online or in the real world doesn't matter, but I think that sort of feedback is vital, because otherwise photography can be quite isolating. For myself I rely mostly on real-world feedback. I have 4 or 5 friends who I meet with regularly to share work. I value their comments, and I think they value mine.
I think one potential pitfall of online feedback is that it's hard to know how to value it. If a photo gets 10 "likes" from strangers, that doesn't tell you very much. But one "like" from a trusted friend can be very informative. So if you can cultivate trusted colleagues online, that's valuable.
But in the end, feedback is feedback. The only judge that really matters is yourself. It sounds like a cliche but it's true.

Street photography has become wildly popular, What do you think the future is? What is the role of groups like inPublic or HCSP?

I'm not sure I agree with the premise. Everyone says street photography is popular but I think that depends where you look. Walk down the street and ask the first person you run into to name any street photographer. Or any photographer period. Street photography is an incredibly small niche in the grand scheme of things. Even in the photography world, which I think is what your question refers to, street photography is a minor footnote. Most fine art photography doesn't treat it seriously.
I think where it is popular, especially among beginners, is on the internet, simply because street is the most accessible form of photography, and the internet is the most accessible forum. All you need is a camera and walking shoes, and at the end of the day, a computer to post images. On the one hand this is great. It's never been easier to share work, and perhaps it's easier for street photographers to find and develop their voice now. I think street photography more than most other photographic forms has boomed online. But I think there's a risk of mistaking all of that online energy for real-world impact. At the end of the day, how many world class street photographers are there now compared to 30 years ago? My guess is roughly the same number.
A good example of online energy is the Street Photography Now book, which I think attempted to encapsulate the contemporary street photography zeitgeist. It did that to an extent, but I think what it did even better is give written form to the online street photo scene. To me the book seemed built around the internet, and sort of confirmed my view that the online world dominates street photography.
As for the future, I'm not sure. Things are changing quickly, but I suspect that in 30 years there will probably be roughly the same number of world class street photographers around as there are now.

Street Photography Now project was a great success last year. This year the community continues the project by self organizing. You are one of this year's instructors. What is your advice to the community?

Even though I submitted an instruction, I am rather dubious about learning via instruction. I've never had training in photography or taught it. I'm a great believer in practical experience. So my advice would be to treat these instructions as a fun activity but not with the expectation that they'll lead to anything. The path that leads forward is daily practice. Thousands of hours.


 Form, content, candid moment, the transformation of reality, all of these should be balanced in a good street photo, but what do you enjoy the most in good street photography?

I like photos which make you ask yourself, "How did they see that?" Those are the ones I enjoy most. Most photographs are fairly simple to decode. It's the ones which aren't which I find entertaining.

Living in a smaller town (Eugene, Oregon) like you have done in last few years, how has that influenced your work?

I've slowed my shooting since moving to Eugene. In some ways this has been a good thing. Living in a larger city I was a bit out of control. Although I learned quite a bit by constantly photographing, it was unmanageable. I never could've started my blog in Portland, for example. There just wasn't time. So the move to a community where shooting isn't a continual temptation has been a relief in some ways. Now I time my outings for certain places or certain events. The parade on Saturday or the tailgate scene or whatever. When I want a dose of urban life I go to Portland or plan strictly photographic outings to distant cities. I still have my camera with me between those times but the shooting isn't as constant. As I alluded to in my definition above, street photography can happen anywhere. It's "making unplanned photos in an unpredictable environment."

I know you are a film supporter. As they say there is no point in changing a winning team. When do you expect that digital will offer you something more than convenience (as you mention in another interview).

I'm not necessarily a film supporter. I shoot film but I'm happy for others to choose whatever format works for them. It's a personal decision. At this point I don't envision switching to digital, at least not for black and white. If I run out of things to say with b/w I might switch to color, at which point I'd look hard at digital. But for now I'm glad to do what I do. I've never taken a b/w film image and thought, "Darn, I wish I'd shot that in color digital." Instead it's been the other way. In those rare times I've been without my film camera I've regretted it.

Blake thank you very much for this interesting interview.

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