Blake Andrews is an Oregon based photographer whose blog, B is tops on my list for it’s irreverent and often insightful posts about photography, the internet and just about anything else he can dream up to blog about. Sometimes he’s more recognized for his blog, but his eclectic work is disciplined, funny and thoughtful. We’ve had to privilege to collaborate a few times on LPV, so I’m honored to showcase his some his recent work in the first issue of LPV Magazine.
Your blog is one of the tops on my list. And many others as well. Do you think your work as a blogger overshadows your work as a photographer? And did you really have any ambitions to sit down and seriously write about photography the way you have on the blog?
Yes, people probably think of me more as a blogger than as a photographer. The funny thing is my own photography was the original root of B. I initially envisioned it as a place to show new photos and work through thoughts related to them. But it’s evolved pretty far away from that. It’s become more of a cultural commentary than personal journal.
But photography is still my main passion. It gives me more satisfaction than writing or other creative acts. And the blog follows from that foundation. If you haven’t gone out and made photos I don’t think you can really understand photography. And that’s true about any other discipline. Carpentry, orthopedics, prostitution, blogging, you name it.
And did you really have any ambitions to sit down and seriously write about photography the way you have on the blog?
I think there are enough people writing seriously about photography without me. I like to provide an alternative perspective. Fortunately the field is wide open. There aren’t many others who approach photography with a sense of humor or absurdity. Everyone is so fucking serious and I like playing against that.
But I do take absurdity seriously, and I view the blog as a serious endeavor. I wouldn’t put time into it if I felt it wasn’t meaningful. I enjoy pushing the boundaries of what a blog is supposed to be.
We’ve talked and written about straight photography frequently this last year. I know you don’t really work with a game plan in mind (you are a street photographer!) but what’s your answer when someone asks you what your photography is “about”?
You call me a street photographer and I’m a little uncomfortable with that label. I’m more of a found moments scavenger. I suppose it amounts to nearly the same thing but the word street photographer seems to connote images of strangers in urban settings. I don’t shoot much of that.
Do you try to incorporate that same sense of humor and absurdity into your photography?
I think the photographer’s task is to draw a pointer at things in the world that otherwise wouldn’t be noticed. I love to find little in-between moments and in-between spaces and in-between people that are missed. It’s why I’m entranced by form, pattern, twin shapes. If I don’t capture that stuff it won’t be seen. I’m a walking warm-blooded surveillance apparatus for modern visual quirks.
Although I don’t consciously try to incorporate anything in my photos they wind up showing a sense of absurdity because that’s my worldview. I think the best photos work like a koan, a pinprick to the consciousness. You see it and you can’t understand it at first and it wakes you up. For me, absurdity tends to push this button more than other traits. And like a good song or haiku, you can examine a good photo later after the pinprick and you still can’t understand exactly how it works but you know it does. That’s magic.
Which photographers have influenced your style? I’m sure there are many of course, but can you list a couple that you think have had the most impact on your work? Any younger photographers you’re particularly fond of?
The usual suspects: Kertesz, Cartier-Bresson, Erwitt, Friedlander, Winogrand, Robert Adams, Deerhoof…
I get together regularly with a few local photographers and they’ve also influenced me quite a bit. Chris Rauschenberg, George Kelly, Bryan Wolf, Faulkner Short, Bruce Hall. Some of all their styles has rubbed off on me.
Younger photographers? That’s a tough question. Faulkner Short is probably the most original shooter I know. He’s 35. Does that count as young?
Generally I have old fashioned tastes. My favorite period of photography is that great blossoming that happened between the late 60s and early 80s when a lot of very poetic, visionary work was being made. I look around now and I don’t know of too many young people who see things that way, probably because that style is perceived as dated. There are a lot of people pursuing “street photography” but much of it seems formulaic, shooting to fit some preconceived notion rather than out of any personal imperative.
But I freely admit I don’t really have my finger on the pulse of what’s happening. There may be many young folks out there shooting who I just don’t know about. There is so much material available online that it can be hard to filter.
There does seem to be a generational divide when it comes to the internet. I think for younger photographers sharing and putting stuff up on the internet is apart of the learning process. That’s where they meet their peers and test out ideas. The notion that you need to keep your work locked away and only show your absolute best seems a bit dated.
Yes, the internet is great for the learning process but at this point I’m not so interested in that. Instead I’m curious to see the best work of people who know what they’re doing. I don’t mean to say anyone should keep their non-finished work locked away. I share work in progress with others all the time and I love to see what others are working on. But online there is so much out there that a viewer needs to apply visual triage. So I mostly pay attention to finished projects, and I expect them to reflect a person’s best effort.
The term personal vision is always thrown around and I think it’s kind of a hollow term now. What do you interpret that to mean? Or better yet, what do you mean when say ‘learn to see’?
I don’t think personal vision is a hollow term. On the contrary, it’s the most important element. Photography has a tendency to homogenize expression. A snippet of your handwriting is instantly recognizable as yours, but one of your photos might not be. It might take 10 or 50 or 500 photos to identify someone through their photos, if it can be done at all. That’s why personal vision is so important. It’s the thing that puts a stamp on your work and says “That’s mine!” You look at any Stephen Shore photo or any August Sander photo, and It’s His. And to find that personal vision I think you really have to examine yourself, think about what you see that others don’t, and how to express it.
What goals do you have for your photography and blog this year?
This might sound strange but my main goal this year is to slow down my photography a little bit. For the last 10 years I’ve been shooting like crazy. It’s out of control. I think I need to take a breath and allow myself to catch up on all my photographs from the past few years.
I’d like to spend some time with my images, edit, print, organize, then see what outlets there might be for them. This may involve taking a sabbatical from blogging or new photography. We’ll see. I can’t really see myself giving up either but I may have to.
Photographs ©Blake Andrews