a former contributing photographer to Life Magazine, started his career
as a staff photographer at Black Star in 1977. His work has won
numerous awards, including a 1983 photo essay on Nebraska farmers for
Life Magazine that took a first place in the National Press
Photographers Association annual contest. He has participated in 15 of
the Day in the Life book projects. A native of New York, Andy now makes
his home in New Orleans,
where he has devoted himself to documenting and participating in the
city’s reconstruction. His work has appeared in Time, National
Geographic, The New York Times, Newsweek, GQ, Rolling Stone, U.S. News
& World Report, Fortune, Popular Photography, American
Photographer, Paris Match and People. He edits 100 Eyes magazine and leads the 100 Eyes
Wayne: You have said
that your father was an avid photographer who brought people like Weegee, Cartier-Bresson and Paul Schutzer
back to the family home in Long Island. How did your father’s
photographic interests influence your own? What are your memories of
these visits by such well-known photographers?
Andy: My father was a writer, and he was very
passionate about photography. He had a Rollei
and later a Nikon SP, and photographed our family when we lived in
Europe in the ‘50s. I think this made me comfortable with cameras.
Being photographed and photographing people was natural to me. My Dad
made thousands of 4×6 black and white prints that I used to sort
through as a kid, and I was influenced by his 1950s style. A few years
ago I went back through his negatives and printed them, which was quite
interesting, working on those old negatives.
was a close family friend, and his death on an Israeli halftrack in the
Yom Kippur war struck home. It may be the reason I have never been very
interested in war photography, or at least bought into the romanticism
about it that seems pervasive these days.
Wayne: What do you mean by 1950s style?
To me 1950s style is shooting in black and white, using 50mm and 35mm
lenses, and with rangefinder cameras or at least manual focus cameras.
Do you remember your first camera? How much were you shooting when you
were young? What did you do during your formative years to develop your
eye and skills?
Andy: I took pictures with my Dad’s Rollei
when I was six. There were some shots of my grandfather that seemed to
capture his personality, and I got a lot of encouragement from the
family after that, but I wasn’t really all that interested in
photography until my early 20s.
Wayne: Where in Europe did your family live? What was it like
working on the old family negatives?
We lived in Italy, England and Spain. My father was writing for men’s
magazines at the time, so he moved the family over by ship, bought a
car and traveled around. We lived in Positano
when it was still a village, and spent a lot of time with local
families and friends. As I said, I began to print some of the negatives
about 10 years ago as a sort of therapy. Technically some of the “negs”
were very thin so it was tough to get any contrast through them.
Emotionally, as a 50-year-old man printing pictures of myself at five
or six, I had to come to terms with the course of my own life, the
mental illness of my mother, their divorce and the early death of my
Dad. Hopefully, I can put these online as a slideshow at some time in
Wayne: How did the turmoil of your
early life affect and color the way you document life now as an older
We lived in Long Beach, [Long Island], and the beach was always a
sanctuary for me. This was very much on my mind when I spent all that
time at Coney Island and traveled to India to shoot there. My mother
had live-in maids from Jamaica, Trinidad and Alabama, who took care of
me when she was depressed. They were almost part of our family, or at
least it seemed that way to me as a young boy. When she disappeared
emotionally, they helped me. I owe them a great debt for that. I think
living in proximity to these women gave me a familiarity with
African-American culture that shows in my life and my work.
Wayne: Which, if any, of the
photographers to your home were among your influences? Any other favorite photographers?
What did you learn from them?
Andy: I was only three when Weegee
and Cartier-Bresson came around, so I don’t remember them, but the
atmosphere of photography was very much a part of the house. Weegee was in the back of my mind
when I spent all those years in Coney Island. Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, William Klein, Gene Smith,
and, of course, Cartier-Bresson.
My work is very much about rhythm and movement, and about living in the
moment. I started the Coney Island project in the mid-80s when I was
doing a lot of magazine work and needed a personal project that would
allow me to use different voices and experiment with different ways of
framing shots. I bought Gilles Peress
“Telex-Iran: In the Name of Revolution,” thought it was a very
important book, with an ambiguous style that is very truthful, at least
in my opinion. That book began a whole style of photography. Gilles
really began that tilting thing.
Wayne: How did you use Coney Island to
experiment with “different voices?”
That’s just a way of saying that I wanted freedom. It was personal
work, and I did it for myself. If I wanted to experiment with tilting
the camera, or odd framing, that was the place. I enjoy taking pictures
and interacting with strangers so I would jump on the F train every day
that I could, mostly in the summer, sometimes just to get out of that
summer heat. And I printed all my own work.
to be obsessive, and in retrospect maybe I should have opened up to
other subjects, but I am very proud of that Coney Island work.
Hopefully more people will get a chance to see it now. I still haven’t
had a show in New York.
Wayne: What do you mean by the need to
Andy: I think I had the resources in the late ‘80s to
do more self-assigned work.
Wayne: Can you explain what you mean
by “rhythm and movement?”
I am very interested in music, and in having photographs that work
poly-rhythmically, like Cuban rumba, which I studied up in Spanish
Harlem and played in Tomkins
Square Park with my Puerto Rican friends. I love Gary Winogrand’s stuff from New York. I
find it very musical. I also admire work that has soul. Bruce Davidson’s work had a lot of soul.
Can you talk more about “soul?” Besides Davidson, what other
photographers have it? If you’re willing to name names, which
photographers do not have it?
Andy: As far as soul goes, there is “soul” in a
strictly ethnic sense, and I think of Gordon Parks and Eli Reed and especially Chester Higgins.
And there is “soul” in the sense of a depth of emotion, and perhaps an
inner belief. Stevie Wonder
performed here in New Orleans last week and did a song called “Heaven
hasn’t got a home. Heaven help the girl who walks
the street alone. Heaven help the roses if the bombs begin to fall.
Heaven help us all. Heaven help the boy who won’t live to 21. Heaven
help the man who sold that boy a gun. Heaven help those with their back
against the wall. Heaven help us all.”
soul is about compassion—even for those who oppress us. Anyone with a
camera and a big heart has soul. Gene Smith comes to mind. Who hasn’t
got soul? Bruce Gilden. I
thought his stuff on Haiti was garbage. Either that or they are great
photos, and he is just a disturbed person.
Wayne: How did you end up at Black
Star? What did you learn from your time at the agency? Any good stories about Howard Chapnick?
Andy: Black Star had represented my father for some
pictures he had taken on Jackie Kennedy when he had interviewed her
just after JFK’s election as
president, and the Chapnick
also lived in Long Beach. I worked at the mailroom at Black Star in
1968 when I was just out of high school. In 1973, after I graduated
from college, Howard gave me a job in the library. It paid $70 a week,
and I sublet an apartment from one of the photographer’s girlfriends in
Little Italy. My job was to “key word” the pictures onto index cards
that might read “Vietnam War/Central Park/Demonstrations” or something
like that. I would type in the photographer's name and the folder
number. It gave me a chance to see a lot of great photography,
especially the civil rights pictures of Charles Moore, Flip Schulke and Steve Schapiro. I sometimes think that my
work in New Orleans is a logical extension of that tradition.
a big gambler. He would sit behind his desk in the
old office on Park Avenue South and make his picks for the pro football
games and sing opera. He would tug at his ears. When I arrived at Black
Star they hadn’t brought in any new photographers for a long time.
Howard had been burned a few times, gone out on a limb and was let
down, and the agency was relying on old-timers like Flip Schulke, Charles Moore, Fred Ward,
Dennis Brack and John Launois. Howard took a chance on me,
and my modest success with New York Magazine and Time gave him
confidence, and he started corresponding with a photographer working in
New Mexico who turned out to be Jim Nachtwey.
this time working in the library, with his
girlfriend Jackie, who is now married to Gilles Peress. Nachtwey
was followed by Anthony Suau,
and then the Turnley
brothers, and Joe Rodriguez who also worked in the library.
Unfortunately, the agency was not able to hold on to any of us. It’s
too bad because that was quite a talented group, and I was fortunate to
be a part of that.
people and deserves all the respect he gets. He was
truly one of a kind. I owe him a great deal for giving me that first
chance. I appreciate what he and people like Phil Rosen, Sal Catalano
and Ben Chapnick did for me.
Also John Loengard at Life
Magazine really helped me out, as well as Karen Mullarkey at New York and later Newsweek.
Wayne: Why were the Black Star civil
rights photographs important to you? Why do you think they most
resonated with you?
Andy: How could they not resonate with me? They are
great photographs. They shocked the world.
need to remember that blacks were lynched in America even after World
War II, and it was less than 50 years ago that our schools were
integrated. Yet we were a “democracy,” and we lived under “the”
Constitution all those years. And if we don’t remember that, it can
happen again. The word “democracy” has little meaning if it is
subverted by special interests and cronyism, and politicians use racism
to polarize us. People will hang from trees again—this time it might be
Arabs, who knows?
need to learn how to get along. That’s why I like New Orleans. It’s a
strange place in that way, because everyone is a mix. New Orleans is
much more integrated than New York. Up North everyone is politically
“correct.” Not so in New Orleans. We talk about race all the time. It’s
an acceptable dinner table conversation. Black men and women have white
Wayne: How did you become involved
with the Day in the Life book projects? Any particular challenges in any of the assignments that
stand out in your memory? How important were the experiences in
your development as a photographer?
Andy: I met Ric
Smolan when Karen Mullarkey was working at New York
Magazine and hired me to work on “A Night in the Life of New York.”
This was just after Ric
produced “A Day in the Life of Australia,” and he and David Cohen
invited me to the Canada project shortly after. I ended up doing the
rest of the series. It was a great experience, and I got to meet a lot
of very talented people like David Harvey, Reza, Abbas, Gerd
Ludwig, John Loengard, Eli
Reed, Alex Webb, Sarah Leen, Misha Erwitt and his sister Jennifer, Ric’s
wife. My style and interest in everyday life was well suited to these
projects, and I was usually well-represented in the books, and this
gave me a lot of self-confidence. Those books were a rolling party
before a day of very hard work. I remember flying to Tokyo non-stop
with about 50 other photographers. Another time we flew from JFK to
London to Bangkok—first class, I might add. Ric didn’t pay much, but we went in style.
is your personal take on why we have seen so many incarnations of Life
Magazine over the years? What will the photo magazine of tomorrow look
defined America with the camera, and America loved the camera. But it
was a different country then; people seemed more tolerant and bit less
polarized, and less emotional about their differences. There isn’t a
Life because that country doesn’t exist any longer. The country has
fragmented, and this is evidenced in the media and on the Internet.
great possibilities for photographers—especially
for the generation before mine. I had the opportunity to do a black and
white story for John Loengard
on the farm crisis in Nebraska in the early ‘80s. They gave me five
weeks to shoot the story,
it was a great luxury… After David Friend took over they put me on the
masthead as a contributing photographer, although in all honesty my
best stuff was invariably not used. But that’s the way the business
thought that no real national picture magazine exists today because our
country is more fragmented than it has ever been has a lot of
resonance. Technology seems to have compounded this fragmentation
(cable TV and its hundreds of channels,
and lower expense of online publications). What does this fragmentation
mean for the future of photo essays?
easy, Wayne, there are not too many photo essays, and precious few
photography books. I am self-driven and actuated. People will catch up
to my work sooner or later or never..
Here is what I do, you either like it or you don’t. But it’s important
to me. That’s all that counts. I met Matt Rose, a Times-Picayune
photographer yesterday, and he remembered my name from a huge group
show on Katrina at the New Orleans Museum of Art. He didn’t know me
from Adam, but the work had an effect on him. That made my day.
attributed your interest in New Orleans to a previous visit when you
worked on A Day in the Life of America. You now make it your home. What
about the city resonated with you?
was attracted to the indigenous African-American culture and the music.
It’s a very visual place, as you know. There is beauty amid great
suffering, and I find that inspiring. The music and food aren’t bad,
too. I had lived in New York for over 30 years, and everything looked
the same to me. Much of the city that I loved was gone, replaced by
something that resembled Disneyland—and then 9/11 happened. So I moved
although I still have a place across from Magnum on 25th, just down the
block from where Gene Smith lived on 6th.
very odd. I was here for one year before the storm. I thought I would
have ten years to work the city, and then we were blown away a little
more than a year later. Many of the people that I photographed are no
longer here. I am afraid some may never come back.
has living there made it both easier and more difficult to cover the
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? What kind of personal, emotional toll
has the tragedy taken on you?
a rather large one. It’s a feeling of great loss. This was a very
special place, but it was a fragile, and often a brutally violent one.
When the levee broke after Katrina, I photographed around the Bayou St.
John where I lived, but after a day or so it was apparent that people
needed help more than I needed to take photos. I pulled a canoe out of
a neighbor’s yard and started helping my actor friend John Grimsley
evacuate the elderly to the places where the helicopters could land. Of
course, I was taking pictures all the time as I did this.
taking survivors to hospitals had been fired
on by roving gangs, I went into a neighbor’s house looking for a weapon
but didn’t find one. I rowed my neighbors three miles in near
100-degree heat to within blocks of the Convention Center. We had to go
around bloated corpses in the streets. My feet were blistered from
being in the dirty floodwater, so I waited for Grimsley
to bring them over there and come back. We had no idea what was going
on in the Convention Center, and of course some great images were made
there a few days later by Dallas newspaper photographers, local
shooters from Baton Rouge, and New Yorkers like my friend Alan Chin.
great job in New Orleans in the short term, and the
photography was both heartbreaking and exemplary. Long term the press
has been disappointing, but that’s another story, isn’t it?
leave New Orleans because the conditions were
deteriorating, drove to New York city with my dog, and then returned
with a press pass just before Hurricane Rita reflooded
parts of the city, Two weeks later I was arrested for going into my
neighbor’s house and was taken to Hunt State Penitentiary for a week.
My picture appeared on the front page of the New York Times when I
stood in handcuffs before a judge at Camp Amtrak, the railroad station
converted into a temporary jail. Time Magazine had called Contact
[Press Images] the evening before and wanted me to shoot for them that
end, I lost the place I was living in, my dog, and I still haven’t got
back my camera equipment and computer, all of which was taken by the
police as “evidence.” The case against me is still pending, along with
6,000 other cases that are backlogged in the courts here. It’s a scary
busy with some assignments, and I did two large
stories for Time that were well received. But now that things have
slowed down, the reality of my situation is creeping back in. And my
consciousness has changed as a result of the events here, especially my
perception of the government. New Orleans will never be the same,
that’s for certain. In some ways I don’t think America will ever be the
what ways, specifically, has the press disappointed you in their
coverage of Katrina? What does this say to you about today’s
photojournalists and photo editor?
at a ceremony at the Lower Ninth Ward the other day, the press
photographers really created an event of their own and I think that
when you have that many cameras things happen for the wrong reason.
There is a lot of pressure on photographers to get “the shot,” as Alan
Chin calls it, the shot being a preconceived notion of what is supposed
to be happening, that will
satisfy an editor back in New York. We need to bury “the shot” once and
for all. “The shot” and “the story” are the anathema of meaningful
journalism. Maybe I will organize a Jazz Funeral for both of them.
reactive. Rather than really dig into the causes of
a problem, they just report on what others say or do. The press should
be all the government for its failures here, investigating instead of
reporting. We need more investigative journalism.
Wayne: Why has your interest in
digital photography waned?
want to get back to that ‘50s thing. Black and white is a mindset, and
it requires those canisters of film and going through the mechanical
have made an effort to explore forms like video. For instance, you
created your video essay “Aftermath,” about the attack on the World
Why did you decide to work with video instead of working in stills? How
well versed in other media do you think photographers should be?
video was a one-time thing for me. It was my way of working through the
emotion of being a New Yorker in months after the attack, at a time
when I was not interested in still images. I learned to edit using
Final Cut Pro, and eventually put the piece together and got it shown
nationally on the anniversary of the attack. I learned a lot about the
power of words, and how words and images can work together to create
something meaningful. It’s a personal decision as to how far one wants
to go in that direction—but I am looking forward to a retro movement in
photography, getting back to film and silver gelatin prints and to
looking at photographs in galleries or books. It happened with music
and vinyl, and I think it will happen in photography too.