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johnpaddler PRO 8:23pm, 1 December 2016
Hello Blake, and thanks for the instruction! Your blog B has long been a source of inspiration and entertainment, especially the interviews, your zany humour, and the series ‘what was he/she thinking’, which opens a fascinating window on the inner workings of street photographers.

Blake Andrews


In a recent blog post you quipped that street photography was ‘a good walk ruined’. You have a number ways of spoiling walks, I believe. How far ranging are your photographic practices, could you include some examples of the results?

Actually, walking around is one of the best aspects of photography. Even if I don't get any keepers, I've spent a few hours exploring and being outside which for me is a valuable experience in and of itself. It's meditative. I can engage with the world and let my thoughts wander. And, as a byproduct, if I put in the time I almost always wind up with at least a few good photos.

I'm not sure what "far-ranging" means. I carry a camera with me almost always. I'm always looking, and often photographing. I try to get to the darkroom at least one day per week. That's the time I focus on editing and thinking through what I've shot. I've been engaged in these practices fairly regularly for the past 20+ years. Sometimes I plan special trips for photography, but often it happens as part of daily life.

Your grid projects, they’re something else?

Both of the grid projects are finished now. But when they were active they integrated pretty seamlessly with my normal photographic routine. The projects were quite loose, just general geographic rules. But within a certain physical area you could shoot any way you want. Which is what I did. A small selection of my Portland Grid photos are here.

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My main takeaway from the grid projects, which I'd already known on some level, is that you can find good photos anywhere, anytime. The projects sometimes force you to shoot in unfamiliar areas without much obvious visual material. But if I spent a few hours walking around these places, I always found something. Always! It's just a matter of being in the right mind frame and putting the time in.

How do these projects relate to your street photography? A kind of exercise?

I'm not sure if I'm a street photographer.

Do you listen to music while you shoot, loading your device with strangely sequenced playlists?

No. It's too distracting. Usually while seeking photos I need my whole brain available. Same reason I had to give up juggling while photographing.

I enjoyed watching the 2015 Eric Kim Skype interview. There’s a sequence ten minutes in, where you turn the tables on Eric and ask what street photography is for him? It reminds me of when a friend asked me why I read. These activities we invest so much in they become part of our identity, but when asked why we do them, it catches us off balance. It turned out for Eric street photography is a way of studying human behavior. Then you said you were basically making self portraits. Could you elaborate?

I haven't watched that video in a while. I guess the lesson there is that if you don't define your own legacy, someone else (Eric Kim) will step in and do it for you.

When I described photography as "self portraiture" I meant it in a few ways. First, I think your photographs tend to say as much about you as they do about the world. You can imagine that they describe a place or scene, and they do that. But the subtext of every photo is your engagement with the scene, what you're attracted to, and how close you like to get, your visual triggers and relationship with the subjects, etc.

The secondary effect of all this, taken over time, is that your photographs become a sort of visual diary describing your life. If some future historian wants to learn about my worldview seen through my eyes, to see my "self portrait", there's no better evidence than my stream of photographs.


Is this related to developing a style? Is it important to have a style?

I think a style is like handwriting. It's just there. It's recognizable no matter how much or little energy you put into it. You can't adopt someone else's penmanship. Your writing will always be yours and you just have to accept that, and use that as your voice. Is that important? Not necessarily. Maybe the important thing, in a world seemingly bent on homogeneous modes of expression, is to recognize that your handwriting is unique and fully embrace its style, warts and all.

Judging from your blog you appreciate a wide range of photography. Do you often look at other work? Through what channels? What does it do for you?

I look at a wide range of photography most days, mostly online. I live in a small city so I don't have good access to major museums or galleries. I see what I can locally, but it's not a much. I try to keep up with photobooks as best I can. So I see many photos that way too, which are generally in a more polished state of presentation.

I approach photography as primarily a visual process. Most contemporary photography does not carry the same approach. I subscribe to Aperture, and I enjoy reading it. But if you look at the recent few issues, the photography is almost entirely based on thinking before seeing. That's what's currently in vogue. In fact, most of what I see in all these various platforms seems fairly soul-less to me. It looks like a performance conducted for other artists or photographers, or to fulfill some preconceived notion of an idea of how photographs should look. I'm talking mainly about fine art photography but I'd put most street photography in the same category unless it's done at a very high level, in which case it's the most wonderful photography there is. But a lot of it to me looks like it's trying to be "street photography", which I'd consider a negative facet.

Generally the photography that moves me most is photography which seems heartfelt and done from sheer inner drive, and let the chips fall where they may. That's the sort of photography which can't help telling me something about the person making it. In musical terms it might be comparable to Minutemen, Fugs, Zappa or early Bowie. You get the sense when you listen that the material was just exploding out of those people, audience be damned. Folks nearby should watch out for burning soundbites.

Can there be too many photographs?

No

You don’t post your work on Flickr or Instagram. What happens to your new work, why don’t you share on social media? When you take photographs, who is your audience?

The fact I don't post on Flickr or Instagram is largely circumstantial. I've posted in various places over the years but not those two. Back in 2012 I chose Tumblr as my main platform for photos. For the past few years I've posted new photos there in a carefully cultivated sequence. This (especially the sequencing component) was mostly to entertain myself but I also thought it would be a good way to get some photos out into the world. Turns out it wasn't. Tumblr is probably dying, and relatively few people still browse there. So I'm stuck with a stream of about 2,000 photos and a very small audience. The smart choice would be for me to switch to something popular like IG or FB, but I don't really have the energy to start over on a new platform. I figure they're online already anyway. Why move them somewhere else?

My primary audience is mainly myself and the few local friends I share prints with, just as it's always been. Of course I would love to expand my fan base. Like every other photographer, I want others to see my images. I want them in homes and museums and on walls and basically out there. But I have a hard time with self promotion, so there's some tension in my aims. My main thing is making photographs. I'm basically a photography factory. I pump them out almost mechanically, and production is where most of my photo energy goes. I don't put much energy into other facets. As you can see I'm adept at shoot-myself-in-the-foot career moves.

Do you teach? Your street photography workshops with Matt Stuart, what is the most important message?

I've taught workshops with Matt, but only when someone else (usually him) plans them. My main problem with teaching is that it's uncomfortable for me to tell another person how they should do something. In a workshop environment this style of teaching tends to come off as wishy-washy and uninspiring. Do it this way or maybe that way or the other way…People pay good money and they want clear guidance, and I don't really have the philosophy or personality for that. Even with my kids, who by all rights I should give guidance, I have a hard time prescribing any behavior. Basically I think everyone on the planet needs to find his or her own way. I sincerely believe that, and I guess that would be my "most important message." But the very act of delivering it defies the content. Listen up, don't listen to me — it's like the scene from Life of Brian.

It's not that workshops can't have value. I think they can be helpful for some people. The main value I see is that they get students busy looking and seeing and thinking about photos for a weekend. A large part of street photography is putting in the time. If you devote enough hours looking, you're guaranteed to find things. So by making people spend a weekend on photography, you're helping them down that path. But if you're motivated you're already consumed with those activities anyway, so a workshop is less beneficial.

Have you ever had cause to reassign someone, counsel them to elect a different branch of photography?

No. I try not to counsel anyone about anything.

Blake Andrews love2


Are you optimistic for the future? Donald Trump as president - good or bad for street photography?

Donald Trump is a reckless arrogant prick and a disaster in almost every way for the U.S. But I'm not sure he will have much effect on street photography.


Finally, what is the worst and the best that’s happened to you while out with your camera?

Best thing: The best events happen every time I make a successful image. But I need to wait a year to enjoy them.

Worst thing: I dropped a Nikon F4 off a mountain one time. This was halfway up the Northeast Buttress of Mt. Slesse in BC. It fell off the edge and didn't hit anything for about 3 or 4 seconds. I looked for the parts the next day as we were rapping down. No trace. I've totaled a lot of cameras over the years but for some reason that one always sticks in my mind. It was a horribly helpless feeling watching that camera go over.

Choose five or six photos, give us the back story - and your thinking!


Blake - 158

Trojan, 2002

Trojan Nuclear Plant was an old facility on the Columbia about 40 miles north of Portland. When I heard that it was scheduled to be destroyed I decided to make a photo visit. I was somewhat surprised to see the main gate open, then the one behind that, and the one behind that. I was able to drive all the way to the last fence just in front of the main cooling tower, where I parked and began photographing. This sign immediately caught my eye. It's referring to car headlights but it might also relate to the impending demise of the plant, or to electrical efficiency in general: turn out your lights and we can reduce reliance on Nukes. I was on a big sign kick then but mostly shot them for their face value. But this was one my first sign photos which contained ambiguous subtexts, and helped me kick off on a new direction with that material. Anyway, I got off about 5 photos before a security guard noticed and told me to leave. The plant was dynamited a few weeks later. I think it's a park now. If I was going back now to make the same photo I'd be more careful to crop out the street lamp from the left side.


Blake - W 10th and Burnside
Portland, 2003

When I first started shooting with a swing-lens panoramic camera I treated it just like my other cameras. But as I went through my first winter with it and began using slower and slower shutter speeds to catch less and less light, I began to notice wrappings across the film plane as in this image. The wobbles are caused by natural movement of a handheld camera as the swing-lens takes a few seconds to rotate across the film plane. At first I treated these effects as mistakes. But then I grew to like them. Gradually I found myself trying to make them on purpose by using very slow shutter speeds on dim days (not rare in Portland). I made a whole series of this work or which this photo is still one of my favorites. I like the spacing and the dreamy quality. But mostly I like the mood of the image imbued with Portland's old gritty wet rag feeling from not very long ago. The city has now morphed into a sort of rich hipster playground. It's eating itself block by block. New construction is everywhere, and this particular corner (W 10th and Burnside) quite different now.


Blake - 6
California 2007

I guess I'm known as a film guy, and people sometimes ask me if I ever shoot digital photos. The truth is I've experimented a lot with digital. Before phones became cameras, I used to carry a small digital point-and-shoot on my hip for quick snapshots. I used it to make this photo while visiting my parents about ten years ago at their home in Northern California. This is the house I grew up in, built in the 1970s by my folks. That's the same stove and fridge and table from when I was a kid. It was fun to bring my own children there, and show them that life was indeed possible without internet, not to mention electricity, water, sewer, radio, or mail service. I've always had a thing for multiple light sources and blurry mistake photos. Emmett's maybe two years old here. Damn they grow up quick.

Blake - 5
Springfield 2011

I shot this in Springfield a few years ago while photographing my Eugene Grid Project. I remember shooting the dog with my flash-equipped Holga, just a quick grab shot in passing. I have no idea what happened to the resulting negative. Some dust appears to have gotten into the development, and/or maybe a lightleak from the flash. Whatever combination of things it was, I like the effect. Photos like this are a reminder for me to remain open to chance and serendipity, not just while shooting but while viewing negatives. And also while eating, dancing, having intercourse, drinking, whatever. Life is not a straight line. Move forward in the turn lane. Pay attention to the offramps.



Blake - 845
Lost Angeles 2015

This photo is a good example of why I don't enjoy teaching workshops. I saw this woman on Hollywood Boulevard last winter and immediately sensed the possibilities with her stockings and the sidewalk. The problem was I was teaching a workshop at the time, so I had a few students hanging around nearby. If I was a good instructor I would've used this as a teachable moment, showed them what I was looking at and had some of them go at it. But I'm selfish. I care more about making photographs than teaching. Compounding the problem is that workshops tend to be in large fun cities with lots of photographic possibilities like the one above. When I go to a place like that I want to be 100% focused on making photos. Also, I'm 100% possessive about my photo ops, and I don't like to share them others. That's not a good recipe for being an instructor. But whatever. The scene was mine. I ignored the students, followed this woman for a few minutes, and got this shot. With this caption I've probably killed any hope of teaching another workshop.



Blake - eaa
New York 2015

This is one I just printed this week so it's fresh in my mind. It's from film I shot last October in New York. The backstory is that I shoot anything transitional as a matter of instinct. Birds flying, leaves falling, weird postures, yawns, anything with a short temporal window I shoot it automatically. So I shot this guy in passing as I walked by in Manhattan, then didn't think anything of it until I looked closely at the negative a few days ago. Holy Crap! It's AD Coleman wide open and ready to receive! What a bizarre coincidence. Of all the people in New York, to walk by him and make a quick grab-shot, what are the odds? Or maybe that stuff happens all the time in New York, I don't know. As an image I don't like this photo very much. Actually I'm not a huge fan of Coleman's writing either, but I respect his place in history. For me this photo is more of a general reminder that weird shit is always afoot. Tune in and sometimes you can tap into it. Not that it will make any sense.
chrisowenrichards Posted 2 years ago. Edited by chrisowenrichards (member) 2 years ago
Thanks for this - seems like a relaxed way to approach (street) photography - accepting the unexpected and the unintended. But dropping cameras off mountains doesn't sound like fun!
dasilke 2 years ago
Packed with information. An enjoyable read and view. Thank you both, John and Blake!
admin
Great interview. New York 2015... That's A.D. Colleman allright... :-) Unlike Blake I actually like his writing a lot. But must confess I have only followed his blog (www.nearbycafe.com/artandphoto/photocritic/) in the last couple of years and should probably get my eyes on some of his critic work.
Mike_McCawley 2 years ago
Really enjoyed this one. Especially like the pics from the PacNW (The Dalles, Springfield, etc) as I grew up in Pasco, WA and know that area well.
mark_walch1968 PRO 2 years ago
Thank you Blake, for the instruction and the mind eyes into your life. The mind mapping is good as everyone must of sometime been there when they were out shooting with there camera. Cheers.
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