Here we go

They say babies start out life drawn to human faces. I know I certainly am.

As a photographer, faces I see in my daily life haunt me. I think, “How could I convince that person to let me take their picture, without appearing to be a creep?” As an introvert, I find approaching strangers to be daunting. But I do want to connect.

But even if I do get their picture, I fret about what to do with it. I was at the Chilhuly exhibit the other day, and I as interested in watching my fellow shutterbugs as I was in viewing the glass. I enjoyed scoping out the photographic gear, but I kept thinking, “What are these people going to do with all their pictures?” I hadn’t even brought my camera, because I knew having the pictures would just leave me frustrated. Art for art’s sake. Not for me.

So my plan is to carry my camera for 2011 and see what a year brings in portraits of people in Nashville. I hope people will want to download and keep their pictures, but I’m not even really sure about that. I don’t particularly care about having pictures of myself. Hopefully, I’m an outlier.

My larger goal is to document the richness of so many souls who walk beside me every day. Maybe when I’m done with taking portraits for a whole year, I’ll simply be glad to stop lugging my gear around. But I hope I’ll capture some of the magic that is Nashville and bottle it in moments. That, indeed, would make me happy.

Thanks for looking!

Carter Andrews

January 1, 2011

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Artist’s Statement

I have an exhibit at the Nashville airport, and a kind soul suggested I reproduce the artist’s statement here. Here is it:

“I feel like a fisherman,” says Andrews. “When I head out to fish for portraits of strangers in the wild, there’s no telling what I’ll come back with.”

Starting out in 2011, Andrews was determined to shoot everyone he encountered, no matter the circumstance. “I wanted to capture everyone, with no preconceived filter about what would make a great portrait.”

“I learned a lot in those early months. For example, it takes at least as much time to develop and publish shots as it does to take them.”

As time went on, the nature of the light kept becoming more and more important. “By the time I finished the first year of shooting, I had gone from looking for people to hunting for good light, and waiting for people to wander into my light.”

After asking over 7,000 people for permission to shoot, Andrews has learned to be philosophical about the quest. “I’d say 90% of people give me permission. If I get a ‘no,’ I rarely argue. I can only remember once getting someone to change their mind and then getting a great shot.”

A lot of strategy goes into making the ask. “When I see a group, I always start with the person I think is most likely to say ‘yes.’ I never start with the most beautiful or striking. I play like I don’t see them until they come up naturally in the rotation.”

“I try to be totally neutral, but kind and encouraging. I don’t want my energy to influence the shot. If I create expectations, I get poses which look plastic. I try to finish shooting 30 seconds after I ask, so there’s no time to pose,” says Andrews.

“It’s difficult to get girls in high school and college to let me shoot them by themselves. They always want to be in the shot with their friends. When they get to be about 22, things change, and they are all about having their picture made. And then, from about 35 to 55, it gets hard again. Guys, they don’t work like that.”

Andrews shoots with the legendary Canon 85mm 1.2 portrait lens. “The lens isolates the subject from the background by rendering only about three inches deep in focus. I focus on the eyes, knowing the ears will already be blurred. Photographers revere this lens, because it renders out-of focus areas (the ‘bokeh’) beautifully.”

The resulting style is an unusual mix of high definition and blur. “I want viewers to start with a general impression of dignity in the eyes and then be drawn into the detail. But the last impression is hopefully zoomed back out to the overall feel of the picture.”

“People haven’t seen many large scale pictures like this,” says Andrews. “Until around 2006, you had to have a medium format camera to get this much detail; and that was too slow and bulky for street work. When the technology finally arrived, everything had gone to the web, leaving few opportunities to show off the current potential.”

Andrews publishes 100% of the people he shoots at or “Most professional photographers only show you the great stuff. I enjoy the challenge of making every person look good.”

Andrews is a community activist working as executive director of the Nelson Andrews Leadership Lodge, named for his father.

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portraitAfter taking lots of pictures of beautiful women, I’ve learned if someone looks to me like they are a professional model, they probably are. I’m not the one discovering them. The craft behind the model’s art is subtle, but it almost always adds up to more than the average beauty pulls off. I’ve seen Meagan year after year at the Steeplechase, and she’s been in the middle of the Nashville arts scene. She’s moved to Albuquerque, but I’m betting she’ll be back some day. And yes, she is a professional model (and artist on many other levels).

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The Future

portraitThis guy Matt Taylor is a weak signal researcher. He’s always reaching to understand where our world may be headed, way before the rest of us have even a clue. A true Renaissance man, he studied under Frank Lloyd Wright and was good friends with Buckminster Fuller. He invented the world’s most proven, practiced and practical process for large groups of humans to get together to collaboratively design their future. His ambitions are as big as the planet. Good thing for all of us there’s guys like him around.

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brian-1Our city and our world are in the midst of astonishing change. Old paradigms of leadership are falling away as new leaders grock how much every citizen can influence our future. The cost of invention, dissemination and knowledge is getting close to zero, and everyone can play. This fellow, Brian, runs Hands on Nashville, which is a great democratizing force for Nashville’s future leadership. Forget the command and control mode or even the information age mode. The walls are tumbling down people, and Brian, crazy exuberant wily Brian, is leading the charge.

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Jerrod-1This was not the first time I had been asked to supply a picture for a memorial service, but it was the most poignant. I took this on December 19th, and Jarrod was gone January 31st. Hit a patch of ice on his motorcycle on Belmont Boulevard in the wee hours of the morning.

I often get strong intuitions about people I shoot. It was in Fido, and I felt here was an incredibly earnest and humble fellow, whose real focus was helping others. Sure ’nuff, that’s what his friends said. Life is not fair.


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kroger-1I first saw this guy at the Belle Meade Kroger, pushing carts back into the building. He had an incredibly distinctive look, and I got his picture. The light was midday sun, impossible to get a good shot.

Come to find out, he hangs out at Fido when he’s not working. Took his pic in the back corner of the place, by where people wait in line. Stunning light.

I never was able to strike up much of a conversation with him, but I love how great his picture looks.

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liver-1Downtown at Fan Fair, or whatever they are calling it these days.

Probably a tourist. Never seen a t-shirt match a face so well!

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Mission Accomplished

What a fun year. 5,300 portraits later, the world looks a bit different to me.

The most striking discovery I made was the incredibly dignity each and every person brought to their picture, regardless of their station in life, the circumstance, and, in some cases, their sobriety or sanity. I was consistently taken back by how every single person could project such a calm sense of dignity when asked for their picture.

I learned a lot about light and getting the shot, which makes me happy, too.

Where to go from here? With the wonderful Adrianne Murray’s help, we’ve mounted a huge exhibit at the McCabe Park Community Center.

Misty Adfield, manager of the McCabe Community Center says:
“Music City Faces has transformed the feeling of our space. Being surrounded by such beautiful, dignified faces makes our visitors proud to be engaged in our community and lets them participate in the embrace we extend to everyone. ”

It seems to me that the image of Nashville is ten years behind its reality. I hope our exhibit will help fast forward our city’s self image. We’ll be working on other installations and offshoot projects. I hope to see you on the far side of the lens!

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Zealots, Freeloaders and Dispossessed

December 3

Occupy Wall Street. Legislative Plaza on a pleasant Saturday in December. A mellow, embracing feel reminiscent of communes from the 60’s and 70’s. Some with a sense of destiny, others along for the party, and still others grateful for three hots, a tent and some companionship.

Lots of people with dogs. Many daily drop-ins–nice, clean, sober, earnest. The whole scene is great grist for anthropologists.

Hot organic food, a medic tent, a media tent. Tents for everything. They multiply. Many try occupation for a couple of days and gladly donate their tent to the cause for the next person coming along. Plenty of vacancies. Come on down!

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ghost-1October 31

OK, its Halloween. East Nashville. Took pictures of 445 kids. Loved them all.

This is the very first one I took. It was the best. Go figure.

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The Contributor

 September 28

Went to the monthly meeting of vendors for the homeless newspaper, The Contributor. It was in the sanctuary of the Downtown Presbyterian Church, in all of its Egyptian Revival splendor.

Everyone was completely civil and kind to each other–well-behaved and tuned into the program. The people running the program were straightforward and respectful–not at all paternalistic or solicitous. Everyone acted like they were in church, even though there wasn’t a whisper of religion from the pulpit.

One-third of the vendors have obtained housing since starting their work selling the paper. A great bunch of people trying to get by and not just be on the dole.

I went in a bit burned out with the ubiquity of vendors on every corner, irritated when I have to pretend not to notice them because I cannot support every one. I came out with renewed appreciation for the vendors’ simple, earnest commitment and the wisdom of using the newspaper to improve homeless lives and keep their faces in front of us.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

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Titanic Security

September 18

At the Titans game, Uncle Bud Adams spared no expense to assemble crack police officers from Spring Hill and other areas, spreading the wealth to the hustings.

I had decided to park at a free meter on James Robertson and ride my fat tire unicycle to the tailgaters, because the cruise speed on that sucker is a nice brisk run. Perfect vehicle for threading through crowds rapidly.

So I park my unicycle and lock it to a tree next to some tailgaters.

Come back a few hours later, unicycle gone. Talk to the cops. They had confiscated it. Told me the tires could have been loaded with C-4 explosive. They weren’t too worried, I have to say, because they were merrily riding all over the stadium in their golf cart with the unicycle perched in the back.

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August 26

Today was a happy day attending the groundbreaking for Nashville’s new Leadership Center being built by the YMCA at their Camp Widjiwagan. It will be a place apart, creatively shaping leaders and transforming our community–a magnificent facility housing important conversations for our fair city’s nonprofits, schools and corporations.

The reason it’s being built is this fellow here, Nashville’s leading philanthropist, Cal Turner. It was his idea, and he made it happen. I can’t say how many millions of dollars he’s given to the YMCA, because I don’t know, and you wouldn’t believe me even if I did.

This is a pretty accurate representation of Cal. You might think his power and accomplishments would translate into a sense of self-importance, but you’d be dead wrong. Cal is the most impish, joyful, and fun loving fellow you’ll ever meet.

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Nashville Schools

 August 26

Last week, I went to the football game at MBA. This week, I went to Whites Creek Pike, where their Cobras were struck by the mighty Spartans from Stratford.

As I took the pictures, I was reflecting on a recent Chamber of Commerce report on education. On page 13, it shows a graph showing 10% of the Cobra and 6% of the Spartan class of 2010 scored a 21 or better composite on their ACT… the minimum necessary for a lottery scholarship.

And yet as I saw the pride in their bands and their ROTC (pictured here) and their football teams, I knew these kids were no less deserving of success in life than their more fortunate brethren across town. It crushes me to look at these aspiring faces and know what an uphill battle they face without probability of college success.

Why aren’t they angrier? Why aren’t they taking over their lunchrooms and demanding a better education? How can we be incapable to empower their future?

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Squinty Eyes

August 20

As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes people ask me what they should do to look good for their portrait. Generally, I tell them it’s their picture, so they should do whatever they want.

But, after taking about 3,500 portraits, I can say the one piece of advice I’d give anyone is to avoid the squinty eyes. See the peepers on the girl in this picture? Big eyes are best.

Mostly, people squint their eyes when they are producing a big grin. I’m certainly not against big grins, but, if you can grin big AND keep the eyes big, like this girl does, you’re really gonna rock your pic.

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Monkey Business

August 20

This guy had a booth at the hunter’s expo in the fairgrounds. He paid his booth fee and settled in to sell people on buying a picture of themselves with the monkey for only five bucks.

I felt a little guilty getting him to pose with the monkey for free, so I gotta give him some free publicity here.

If you hurry, you can get your pic with the monkey before he’s gone. What are you waiting for? GO!!!


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Brady Behind Bars

August 19

Brady, the domesticated grizzly bear, was the big hit at the hunter’s expo today. He’s real good natured and sweet. So when I saw the bar he’s leaning on in this pic all bent out of shape, I had to ask how in the world he managed to bend that bar.

Turns out the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency requires Brady to be in a locked cage the whole time he’s on view. So his pal, the trainer, has to squeeze through the bars to get in and out. And as the years went by, the trainer stopped fitting between the bars, so he used a monster pry bar to make the gap a bit wider so he could still squeeze through.

Don’t worry, no way Brady’s ever gonna slip through.

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Forever Young

August 19, 2011

Went to Shakespeare in the park last night. Very mellow crowd and a bit sophisticated as well. I mean, Shakespeare is kinda for grown ups with good taste, right?

Well, this guy was the youngest in the crowd. Bopping to the opening music act, he was there to have a good time as a kid, and he wasn’t about to put on any airs. He would have fit in perfectly with the rowdies in the original Stratford-upon-Avon crowds.

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Life is not fair

August 12

Sixty six years ago, this fellow, Hank McCall, was on a destroyer in the Pacific in late July, when his ship was called to conduct rescue operations for sailors from the USS Indianapolis. A Japanese sub had sunk that ship, and it had taken the navy four days to discover the ship had been lost. By then, the almost 900 sailors who had jumped into the water were winnowed down to 316 still alive, who had somehow survived those days surrounded by voracious sharks and without food or water.

So Hank had the duty of fishing torsos of dead shark-eaten sailors from the ocean and trying to find their dog tag for identification.

Sometimes the enemy gets lucky, and good men die. We lost 30 Americans in Afghanistan this week when a Taliban insurgent got off a lucky shot with a rocket propelled grenade and took down a Chinook helicopter. If life were fair, our boys wouldn’t get shot down and torpedoed. But, as any warrior can tell you, life is not fair.

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