By Polly Gaillard
I believe that to be really good at photography, you have to be obsessed with it. Fueling this obsession is a life-long love affair with curiosity — it is the engine to my creativity. And collaboration is the fuel that brings it all to life. Andy Anderson
With a roster of impressive clients and awards, long-time APA member Andy Anderson is humble about his accolades, probably because he still has goals to reach – a new portfolio of fashion photography, countless places to travel, and so many stories to tell. It's easy to absorb some of Andy's zestful passion for life and photography upon meeting him. Still, something else emanates from the photographer and shapes his vision – a love and respect for humanity.
Andy's portfolios include portraits, lifestyle, outdoors, automotive, environmental, and industrial photography. He's recently added fashion to his repertoire of photographic specialties. Yes, I said fashion photography. Although it’s a fairly new endeavor for the photographer, the photographs are made with an Anderson-esque aesthetic and outdoorsy spin that only he could pull off. "You have to try to reinvent yourself constantly. Right now, I'm pursuing fashion, and I love it. There's a sort of honesty and a common thread to my work – it’s about people and my love of people. Their stories are much more interesting than mine and I love hearing them.”
Andy describes himself as an unlikely photographer with some good fortune. Unlikely because he didn't pick up a camera until he was twenty-eight years old, and while he was a firefighter in the Air Force – a twenty-year career in itself. Andy explains, "The camera, my wife's gift, literally changed my life. I had been a journalism major in junior college but lacked the fortitude to follow it through. I was immature like any other eighteen or nineteen-year-old."
Something pivotal happened in the 90s that shaped Andy's photographic career. In 1993, Terry McDonell, Esquire Sportsman magazine editor, purchased one of Anderson's first photographs and featured it on the cover of the popular men's quarterly publication. Terry contacted Andy again two to three years later, saying, "You know, we're going to do a lot of work together." Although still in the Airforce and traveling to destinations like Kuwait for firefighting, his editor friend saw it as an opportunity to assign Andy stories. Eventually Terry signed Andy as the first staff photographer with what later became Men's Journal. "I was simultaneously on active duty and Men's Journal's staff photographer – either job was like a full-time career. I was literally shooting all the stories on my days off. I managed to make it work for two or three years.”
Andy's first magazine cover with Esquire Sportsman, March 5, 1993
A self-taught photographer, Andy learned the craft on the fly. "I had a costly film habit back then – film developing bills – because I would see my mistakes and think, 'not gonna do that again.' We've all done that. Right? You can't wait to go to the lab and see your work. And at times, it's like, 'Oh no,' like bad drugs. But when you get it right, it's like, 'Oh, those are excellent drugs."
Surprisingly, painting has inspired Andy Anderson as much as photography – realist paintings like those by Wyeth, Homer, and Frederic Remington's Western imagery of horses and cowboys. It’s easy to see the correlation between these esteemed painters and the Idahoan photographer. When pressed on his photography heroes, one can also connect the dots to the likes of William Allard, Richard Phibbs, John Huet, and Kurt Markus, admittedly a few of his favorites.
Andy credits the 10,000-hour rule for sustaining his prolific career – that 10,000 hours of practice help one achieve mastery in a field or over a skill. With his creativity at an all-time high and a newly developed passion for fashion, Andy believes, "The longer you do this, for anyone, it's just inherent that you'll get better.” He’s been in the commercial photography business long enough to remember times before treatments, and the hoops photographers must jump through today to win the bid.
Undoubtedly, the industry has changed dramatically since Andy went to pick up film from the lab. "You must look at jobs carefully and how you approach them – do all the research on the client and the brand. Once you've laid the groundwork, it's relatively easy to do the shoot, but you may be triple-bidding or quadruple-bidding. And sometimes, with clients, it's a chemical thing – a human connection. Fortunately, Andy’s been with his agent, Heather Elder for over twenty years. While she does handle most of his marketing and negotiations, the photographer loves posting to Instagram and LinkedIn to share his work with peers and clients.
After 10,000 hours of honing his craft, Andy has a few stories of his own. "I've been detained by Cuban policeman, had camera gear stolen in Mexico, and lost trucks to floods on photo shoots. He's befriended legends like the late American poet, novelist, and essayist Jim Harrison while photographing him for Town and Country magazine. He's friendly with the actor Michael Keaton as they share a love of bird dogs. Andy hasn't reached all his career goals either, and he still dreams about going to Siberia, Antarctica, Greenland, Mongolia, and Tibet, to name a few. "Sleep when I'm dead," he laughs.
My point is I want to make beautiful photographs. That's what I want to do. I want to work with clients who appreciate beautiful work – fashion satisfies that goal for me. It's a new chapter for me. I'm not going to close the door on everything else, but I want to open this new door too.
Jim Harrison, ©Andy Anderson
Andy's son, Zachary, shares his father's love for photography and has launched a successful commercial career. Beaming, Andy explains, "He went on jobs with me as a very young kid, starting at about ten years old. He is very successful in his career now. He and I are bidding on a job we'll hopefully shoot together." Andy admits one day, he may be bidding on a job against his son and acknowledges he would be delighted if Zach won the bid. I think it'd be foolish to believe there isn't some of my influence in his work, but he has his own DNA and point of view, which is different from mine. Zach marches to his own drum, which I love – there is already one me. We don't need another one." Read On Photography: Andy Anderson's Letter to His Son
When the conversation turns to the state of photography today, Andy expresses a need he’s witnessed within the industry – that we do need to get back to the craft of the business. “Photography's a craft, you know – young photographers are trying to find their way visually. And I understand that experience. With a paternal tone in his voice, he explains that sometimes young photographers need to put down the camera. “To resonate with other people, go live a life outside photography and then come back to it – travel, leave your zip code, and expand your circle of friends beyond photographers. Live a life.”
I think that what's interesting about photography today is how many photographers there are – there's just so much work out there now. So many great photographers that we've never seen. I think that's exciting, but I would suggest young photographers should study the people that came before them. Give the camera a break and read a book. It takes some time to get to the front of the class, maybe 10,000 hours. And you can’t skip school either.
Watch the Yeti and ORVIS video about Andy – “Renowned photographer Andy Anderson has lived a life of passion, traveling the world to shoot outdoor adventures including fly fishing and wing-shooting. He shares his thoughts and philosophies about the art form to which he has dedicated his life.”