Photographer Andrew Burmeister: ” A great image is worth ten thousand words, easy. But every viewer sees a different story!”
15 mai, 2011
Hi to you. It’s nice to speak with you as well. I live in New York now, but I lived in Texas when I started making photos. I was studying architecture in university and took a photo class. One of my first assignments was to make a self portrait. After looking at what other artists had done in terms of self portraiture, and after reflecting a bit on myself, I decided to do something a little unusual: instead of photographing myself, I decided to make a series of photos of other people, people that I wished I looked like.
This allowed me to say something immediate about myself— my self-image and my sense of humor—but it also let me comment about more universal ideas, everything from envy and body-image to gender identity and media. Everyone in my class liked the concept—that was way back in 1995—and I am still shooting the project now whenever I can. I have hundreds of images from the self portrait series now.
The Projects and working with the models: making them famous?
The self portrait project was shown in a few galleries and featured in some fashion magazines, which led to me working with agencies, both scouting and shooting tests. In turn, the agencies introduced me to editors and I started shooting editorial work. I shoot very formally, typically with a large-format camera. But I also shoot quickly. I work a lot with strangers that I meet on the street, and I don’t want to take too much of their time for my project.
So I try to get them loose and comfortable while I set up my equipment and then shoot quickly so they can get back to whatever they were doing. But I am also known for shooting backstage at the menswear shows. For this work, I usually use a 35mm film camera and shoot in a more of a photojournalistic style—I’d rather not pose the models but capture spontaneous moments in the quiet-then-chaos of backstage. Which means my photos tend to be much less about the clothing, and much more about the experience of being backstage at the shows. I am just as happy to shoot the boys in their own clothes as in the designers.
I´m still shooting my original self portrait series. I have also been shooting a series recently that looks at how clothing reveals identity. This work again consists of a series of portraits. In some cases it is a series of images of different people wearing similar clothing, such as surfers in wetsuits or youth attending Oktoberfest celebrations in Germany. But it also consists of multiple images of a single subject dressed differently in every image. I was shooting recently With Eric Anderson, who is with Major in Paris. He was great—very sexy but also very easy-going and super-fun to work with. I love Nicolas Ripoll and Ethan James, Isaac Carew, Nils Butler, Thiago Santos, who is brazilian. All of them friendly, open, sexy.
I am not sure how true that is. There are certainly boys I have shot whose careers have exploded, though I am not sure it was because of me exactly. But I think it goes both ways. I like to work with new faces and my portfolio gains some gravity when those models rise to bigger and better things. Of course, the more we work together as model and subject, the stronger we each get professionally, I think. The life of an exhibitionist would be quite unfulfilled if not for the voyeur, and, of course, vice versa. I think the same holds true for models and photographers. Ideally, it is a happy symbiosis.
Digital X Film
I am pretty old-fashioned, and for me it is really important to have a tangible object as a result of my work, which is why I prefer to shoot with film. Of course, digital cameras keep getting better and better, but I like to be able to hold on to that negative. I process each negative from myself portrait series by hand, and that reinforces the connection between me and the image. With the self portraits, in some ways, the making of the images is the most important part, and the negative is the material record of that moment.
Plus, I find that with film, where each frame costs money and the medium itself limits how much you can shoot, I have to think more about each image. Working with film forces me to focus more on composition as I am shooting.I think digital photography is too easy, too immediate and too accessible. In some ways it has hurt me as a commercial photographer: when it is so easy to take a snapshot with your telephone and post it online immediately, why would an editor want to pay a photographer?
Well, as I said, the transition from analog to digital photography has, I think, devalued photography in some ways. But the same thing is happening with the print media as well. It has become so easy to make images from electronic pixels and post them to a medium that allows you to view them on a glowing screen anywhere in the world, that the idea of an image as an object revealed on a glossy piece of paper in a heavy magazine is becoming obsolete. I hope it doesn’t go away completely. There is something really amazing about holding a magazine in your hand and smelling the ink on the pages and feeling the weight of the page. I hope that doesn’t get lost.
But for sure, fashion photography is in a moment of transition. I think it is mixed news for the industry as a whole, though. For models, for example, with more and more blogs and online magazines, there is more demand for new faces. But at the same time, with so many faces and so many outlets, what little money there is gets spread thinner and thinner.
In terms of portraits, I think it is really important to make a connection with whomever I am working with, which is why I usually prefer to work with individuals or small groups. Making a portrait can be a very intimate thing, and I think the bond between the photographer and the subject is critical. But once you have that bond, I think the very best images come from pushing a subject to the very limits of their comfort zone. Everyone’s limits lie somewhere different, so my job is to seek them out. For my backstage work, though, which is more reportage style, the most important thing is to just keep your eyes open, searching for moments, colors, compositions.
Oh, backstage is always the most wonderful kind of chaos. Between the photographers and the models, and the publicists and the designers and the crew, there is always some madness. When things get crazy at the last minute, the production team often try to expel the photographers.The publicists want us to stay as long as possible, so it is amusing to watch that back and forth,as well as the stealthy actions of the photographers who try to hide or sneak back in. Of course, you never want to walk the runway for Roberto Cavallli in Dolce & Gabbana underwear, so the models often have to change underwear for each show. But they never want to, so they are always telling the dressers and production people that they have changed, even when they haven’t. Sometimes they get away with it, and sometimes they have to do a quick change at the last minute.
And then, after the shows, they change back and leave the show undies lying around. I remember once when a pair of show underwear landed on top of the camera of the somewhat celebrated photographer. He had set it down for a moment and when he saw the briefs touching his equipment he had a minor meltdown, demanding that whoever put them there pick it up. When no one claimed them, he used an empty box to nudge them away. Total silliness.
San Francisco: I love the light here which is soft and diffused. You never have to worry about shadows.
Buenos Aires: The city is really photogenic with amazing graffiti and stencils all over the architecture.
The Southwestern US: The landscape is mesmerizing. In West Texas and New Mexico there is a limitless horizon; in Utah and Arizona, the geology takes center stage.
Huntington Beach, California: There are so many beautiful people to shoot. Like fish in a barrel!
Paris and Milan for the menswear shows: The shows are always held in the most amazing spaces, sometimes old and neglected and sometimes totally modern. It is a privilege to see some of these spaces and even the lowliest is much grander than the dingy tents they use in New York.
One place I hate shooting: Switzerland. The Swiss far too reserved and introverted.
IMAGE worth a THOUSAND WORDS?
A great image is worth ten thousand words, easy. But every viewer sees a different story!
An unforgettable moment at Raf Simons runway show!
Last summer after the Raf Simons show in Paris. It is typical after the show for the models and the production team to applaud the designer as he comes backstage after taking a bow on the catwalk. But on this night, after the show, all of the boys began to chant together ‘Raf! Raf! Raf!’ and on and on. Mr. Simons himself was visibly very moved by this spontaneous ovation, especially after the stress of the show. I have never seen anything like it before. It was really a very human moment for everyone, which seemed magically out of place in the superficial world of fashion.
The upcoming projects
I’ll just keep shooting away. I am really looking forward to continuing my series exploring clothing and identity. So I am, always looking for new subjects and new ideas for that.
Motto: ‘Culture’ is Pop Culture’s last name
Contact info: http://www.andrewburmeister.com