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 musiccityfaces.com or facebook.com/musiccityfaces. “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.