I had the opportunity to chat with Andy Anderson the other day but I’ve been a little hesitant to publish the conversation here because it’s just not fair for anyone to have to follow Chris Buck. It’s rare that a photographer is so self aware and willing to lay it all out there like that. But, the show must go on and these conversation/interviews will happen catch-as-catch-can so he’s next.
Andy’s rise to prominence in the editorial and commercial fields of photography is one of those unlikely combination’s of events that will infuriate photographers because it would be impossible to reproduce. He’s never lived in New York, doesn’t visit New York and when pressed to explain his success in photography tries to cop out of it by claiming he’s an idiot savant. There’s always a little bit of luck involved in making it in this field but Andy still has a seemingly endless passion for taking pictures; he comes from the world where relationships, hard work and professionalism are as important as the images and is a hell of a lot of fun to be around on set.
APE: Your career is very interesting to me because you live in Idaho and you used to shoot a ton of editorial and now you shoot a lot of advertising. Can you tell me how you got started?
I was a journalism major going to school in Florida but I didn’t have the attention span for writing and it just wasn’t working out for me. So, I checked out and spent the next 20 years in the Air Force as a fire fighter. While I was there my wife bought me a camera and because it was more instantaneous, gratifying and in the moment then writing for me I was hooked. I was in Alaska for a year in the mid 90’s when that happened and when I got back I started submitting my pictures to magazines and started getting published.
APE: What were you taking pictures of?
Landscapes and fishing. I made really good friends at the time with Terry McDonald who was the editor of Esquire Sportsman.
APE: How did you become friends with him?
They were buying my images and I sold them their first cover when they launched the magazine. Terry then got the editor job at Men’s Journal and I was sent to Saudi Arabia for five months right after he started, so he said “I want you to shoot a story while you’re gone. I want you to shoot a story about fighter pilots over in Saudi Arabia.” So, I went and shot it and came back to the states on the 23rd of December 1996. He was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming skiing with his family and he said “I want to see you in Jackson Hole the day after new years and I want you to bring your pictures.” I drove over there, met him and he said “I love the pictures we’re going to run this big, it’s going to be a great story. I want to put you on contract with Men’s Journal.”
APE: Ok, you shot that story on spec basically and then he says come to Jackson Hole and show me the pictures and you have to go all the way to Jackson to show him the pictures. Then he gave you a contract. That’s nuts.
Other than getting married and having children that contract changed my life forever.
APE: This is pretty quick after you picked up a camera for the first time. How is that possible?
I don’t know man, maybe it’s because I’m an idiot savant.
APE: Getting a contract, was that common for magazines back then?
I think it was. They tried to tie up the talent. I think it’s kind of unheard of now.
APE: How did the contract work?
I was exclusive to Men’s Journal editorially. I could not shoot for another magazine that was in competition with them. I had to give them 70 days a year and they paid me almost 6 figures and that didn’t include any expenses. Any flight over four hours I flew first class.
APE: It seemed like Men’s Journal was doing very well in the beginning and sounds like they treated their contributors well.
After about 3 years things changed and they ended my contract, but that was good for me because I was set. I had made it.
APE: You went from big time editorial to big time advertising. When did that transition happen?
I got Heather Elder as an agent and she’s done so much to help me market my work and then part of it is just where I live. I don’t have to shoot everything, I can pick in choose what I do, because living in Idaho my overhead is not very much.
APE: What kinds of clients did you get a first?
Fishing and outdoor clients.
APE: Did some of the art directors that you worked with back then move on to bigger accounts?
Yeah, some I’ve been with for 15 years now. It’s important for people to realize that your client is not Verizon it’s the art directors and art buyers that work on that account. Those people will always be your client even when they change jobs.
APE: Tell me about working as a professional photographer in Idaho. How is it that you can be in the middle of nowhere and land all these jobs?
I’ve been in Idaho my whole career. I’m always shooting fresh work and I’m always marketing. That’s the key.
APE: Why don’t you pretend like you live in New York?
Because I don’t think it’s the center of the universe.
APE: How have you marketed so well living in Idaho?
Good art directors, art buyer and photo directors will find people.
APE: Do you go to New York and visit people.
No. My rep will visit and I will call them on the phone but I don’t go visit.
APE: Ok wait this is the complete opposite of how most photographers make it. They don’t get 6 figure contracts several years after picking up a camera and they don’t live out in the middle of nowhere and not visit New York for face time. I’m beginning to believe the idiot savant part. It’s just one of those things huh?
I think my work is good and I always shoot fresh work for my book.
APE: You really do shoot a lot of personal projects. Have you always done all this self financed personal work?
Yes, always. I love to take pictures. I just got back from Cuba where I shot baseball players and transvestites. I also used to shoot a lot of pro bono work back in the day to get into the award books. I have a saying. Musicians don’t just play when they have a gig. Photographer need to do the same so they can evolve and look at things differently. Everyone wants to see new work in your book.
APE: What do you think about the industry now. Is it busted?
At some point photographers have to take some initiative. Right now photographers need to work harder at it and don’t cop an attitude either. I get up every day and think how can I work on taking better pictures, how can I nurture my relationships with my clients and how can I build new ones. Photographers are living a dream and we need to get back to the business that given us an amazing living. You can do that by doing pro bono work. It can’t be all taking you’ve got to give back.
APE: What about the guys at the bottom who are trying to make a living. I feel like there is a group of photographers who are talented but struggling and they may or not make it, it just depends on some luck. Finding an editor, art director or photo editor who can help you take their career to the next level.
They need to partner with good art directors and get in the books and if that means doing a pro bono project so you can provide an amazing service for a client who can’t afford it but it lands you in the award books then Voila, you have an amazing calling card to land jobs with. For example I have a blues festival in Idaho every year that I put on and I gave some images to an agency in Dallas to design the posters and they did it for free and it got into the award books.
APE: So, has it always been the case that commercial work is not going to win awards so you need to do pro bono work.
No, that’s not always the case but the commercial work is not always going to win awards so you need to do other things to supplement it. There’s no excuse for photographers not shooting all the time
APE: Tell me about your stock site (here), when did you start it?
About 2 years ago. Built it from scratch.
APE: How much money does it make?
Over six figures. A couple big ticket items in there were used as national advertising.
APE: Was it expensive to build?
Yeah, but it’s my annuity for the rest of my life.
APE: I feel like there are two camps in commercial photography. There are photographers who have very strong point of view or a technique and then there are photographers who work really well with art directors. You would fall in the latter camp.
Yes, I would agree. I’m a people person. I do think that having a strong point of view is good but you need to be able to collaborate with art directors because once the thing you’re doing falls out of favor you’re done.
If you have any questions for Andy leave them in the comments and he will try and answer as many as he can.