Andy Bloxham’s visionary art and techniques has led to his work being featured through CNN International, Digital Photo Pro, at the galleries of prestigious universities and in more than 60 exhibitions. The amount of press that his talent and imagination has generated creates a list so impressive that you’ll just have to head over to his website for more details.
Also a traveling photographer and speaker, Andy educates audiences at universities, conferences and creative meetups around the country while sharing his insights and technical knowledge of the photographic arts.
Read on for an in-depth interview with Andy Bloxham and to see his impeccable ability to meld fiction with reality through photography and image manipulation. You may not be able to make it one of his workshops, but I guarantee you’ll learn something about the craft from our talk and quickly find yourself in admiration of the man behind the camera.
The Andy Bloxham Interview
Hi, Andy! Thanks for taking the time to chat. Could you please share more about yourself?
Thanks for the interview! My name is Andy Bloxham. I’m originally from Louisiana and now reside in DC. I tend to refer to myself as a storyteller. No matter if I’m working with photography, filmmaking, creative writing, whatever… the story is what I’m most passionate about. That conversation. In both professional jobs and with personal projects, the medium I primarily do this through is photography although those other influences pop up in the final work. I’m also an educator in the Young Artist program each summer at Maine Media Workshops, so when you asked about an interesting fact, that’s actually how I have my classes introduce themselves to each other. My interesting fact is I’ve never owned a pet. Well, I take that back… I owned a cactus once. It died. So I guess that means I’m less nurturing than a desert.
I’d love to pick your brain about your creative inspirations. I know that some of your work is film stills but I feel like I’ve entered scenes from movies in every single image.
From what I would call Andy’s version of Jurassic Park, Rapunzel, or even Pulp Fiction, what helps you to tap into this level of detailed imagination? On the other end, how do you tone it down for such simple and elegant portraiture?
I am blessed/cursed with a vivid imagination. I tend to always think in stories or narratives. I’m always scribbling an idea down or building a character sketch. My dreams can be wild, so I will often write those down, too. I have stacks and stacks of short form prose or story synopsizes I’ve written that I use as the groundwork for future imagery. Or, the ideas can come from a totally organic place. For instance, last summer with a workshop class photo, a student bought everyone matching bracelets so that conversation snowballed into an alter ego manifestation scene. I’m inspired by a lot of things… photography with a heavy light or story element, by watching movies, by reading fiction. I just keep this world of storytelling close by.
My most consistent influence or inspiration, surprisingly, is actually standup comedy. You may not see an instant connection there, but I think I’m just fascinated by the way comedians weave their stories and take their audience on this road of mixed emotions before the destination. Sometimes they have to play the good guy, other times they have to be the bad guy. For a joke to really work, the comedian has to make the story hit home for the audience members, whether it’s playing up positive shared experiences or tapping into feelings they may be ashamed to admit. They have to feel the joke on some personal, relatable level. Whatever that might be, comedy is amazing.
So, on the big photo sets. I have this general framework of where I want to take the photograph, but I leave room for creativity and spontaneity in the middle of the shoot. I don’t like to micromanage someone’s actions. It’s a dance. Give them room and an idea of the character and his/her goals, and see where we take the scene. I may end up with 300 frames that are condensed into one final composite image that best summarizes where we arrived in that photo shoot. It can be laborious. It can take hours to do. The post-production is at least double that amount of time.
Portraits are sort of like my chance to slow everything down and just have a conversation with someone. I don’t have a studio, I just pop up a makeshift studio wherever I might be, set up lights, and sit someone in front of the camera. From there, we just chat. I tell jokes and have a few tricks I use to break up the default “camera face” people instinctively give for the camera. There is much less organization in these shoots and rarely a specific goal. It’s just a chance to make an image with someone and have a photographic moment. If the location shoots are stressful, portraits are the calming therapies.
“Interrupted Pleasure.” “Plans Have Changed.” The captions for many of your photographs are very intriguing. How do you come up with them?
For the longest time, I just used numbers for titles. I didn’t want to lead anyone in a certain direction for how to interpret the photo. My feelings are, I have an idea on what the image means, but I have also lived a very specific life with my own sets of experiences. Everyone else will have a different perspective they bring when viewing work, and that will influence how they perceive things. So it’s not important to me that people agree on what an image means. Often, I don’t even like saying what a photograph is about to me. That authority can kill the curiosity. I’d rather have a discussion with people about stories or experiences that the photo makes them think of.
With the new “9Months” project, I decided to actually give titles to the photographs but I wanted to keep my same principles. I made some rules: it can’t explain the story. It can’t be written in first person. And ideally, if the title could be an inside reference to something that may or may not be related. I actually wrote an entire blog post on why I named the image “If You Want To Talk.” It gets into the naming of the new photographs pretty well: http://www.andybloxham.com/words/2015/if-you-want-to-talk/
What equipment do you find yourself using the most?
I own a Canon 5D MarkIII and a 24-105L lens. It’s the only lens I own, and I used it for the majority of the photos on my website. For lighting, I rarely see the trunk of my car because it’s crammed full with a full lighting studio ready to take out on location. I use Paul C. Buff equipment. They’re based out of Nashville. My favorite modifier is their standard stripbox. On set, I usually refer to it as The Roman. Basically, with how I light a photograph, I may have 2 or 3 big lights set up all over for the consistent location light design, but the stripbox is roaming around the set to shine portrait light on whoever is being focused on at that moment.
Do you have any favorite post-processing techniques or software you would recommend for photographers of all skill levels?
I tether my camera into Lightroom when I’m on a big shoot so I can analyze the frames as they’re happening. I don’t use Lightroom for anything beyond that and some occasional cataloging. Just doesn’t work well in my general workflow. Photoshop is my workhorse. It may not be the best solution for some. It’s all about what you need to do. When I make a photograph, not everything literally happened at the same time in the frame, and people and things are being relit different ways. So, I utilize Photoshop due to the compositing abilities and the way it gives me crazy control over the most micro of details I may focus on in the edit. Also, Nik is plug-in software that Google just released for free. I’ve been using it for a few years on certain parts of my images, because it has some specific adjustment that aren’t as easily accessible in Photoshop. It’s definitely an extra tool in my digital toolbag. Everyone should get it. If you’ve used Snapseed on your mobile photos, you’ll be right at home with it.
What’s your favorite image at the moment?
Favorite image of mine? I’ve never answered that question, mainly because I like or dislike them for different reasons. Plus, I don’t want to influence someone’s opinion while looking at my work. In the larger photo world, one of my favorite images is a massive, massive panorama that the duo Kahn and Selesnick made that reads like a story. Back before we put a man on the moon, humans on earth are inquisitive about outer space. So, they launch a rocket into the atmosphere and land on the moon, only to discover that is has already been inhabited by another alien population. The story follows along this trail until the rocket eventually comes crashing back down to earth. This description doesn’t do it justice. It’s really worth it to actually see it in book form. This single photograph is the book, because it folds out like an accordion and shows the first part of the story on one side, then flip it over and you see the conclusion.
Check out the Apollo Prophecy by Kahn and Selesnick .
As an instructor and a speaker, you’re always educating others. I would love to know some of the things you feel that you have learned from your students and audiences.
My biggest takeaway from teaching is to always assume you don’t know everything and that it’s okay to admit this. The next step is the perpetual attempt to correct that. Teaching instills a sense of discovery. If I was just reciting facts, I’d be bored out of my mind. But maintaining inquisitiveness and activity is what motivates me. A student’s creativity, like everyone else’s, comes from their unique experiences and worldview. So when they have an idea, it may be something I never considered, but it’s exciting to see them figure out the steps needed to accomplish the goal. My role is to help facilitate this process and along the way, I’m learning right along side them. Teaching is a collaborative activity. When I give talks, it’s somewhat similar. I prefer to engage the audience with questions, or have them toss questions my way during a talk. I want it to be a discussion. Find some similarities between all of us and see where that takes us. That kind of goes back to the standup comedy inspiration.
I find it very cool that you’re no stranger to couch surfing. How do you feel interacting with strangers in such a personal setting has impacted you as an artist and individual?
Oh, it’s great. I hate staying in hotels. I have to pay a lot of money to be sealed off from everyone and all of the activity. That just seems backwards. It’s boring. I’ve couch surfed across nearly all of America and Canada and parts of Europe. I first started doing it on a few photo road trips I made around the US and Canada, where I spent weeks or months on the road. Not only was I visiting a city for the first time, I was crashing over in a household for a day or two and integrating into their life for a brief moment. This has become my preferred way to travel. I’ve been to birthday parties, I’ve helped babysit, I’ve joined in on cross-city bike rides, slept in a tepee, ran a 10k marathon, performed magic tricks, you name it.
I built amazing friendships out of this. Many of the people you see in my photographs were also the people I crashed over with, but sometimes I’d meet someone in a city, we’d chat, I’d tell them where I’d be in a few weeks and turns out they had friends there who wanted me to crash over. It’s just an amazing experience. All of it. The places I visit. The people I get to meet. I wish more people could travel outside of their comfort zones and find themselves in the living room of someone that defies all of the stereotypes (or for that matter, is a walking embodiment of a stereotype). Either way, you learn really quickly that no matter how much society may try to put people into smaller and smaller categories and labels, we don’t differ that much. Photography is really just my ticket to go and explore the world around me.
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges you face as a traveling speaker?
Scheduling logistics, even though they’re fun to make because it’s like a cross-country game of Tetris. I enjoy speaking and engaging with audiences and classrooms. The only really big tip I’d offer is that, when you’re planning a multi-city tour (be it for speaking or a photo project), actually pay attention to your schedule and the distance away somewhere else is. This hasn’t been a problem most of the time, but I remember that time I gave a talk at a school in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and then was scheduled to speak at a school in Bar Harbor, Maine the next day with a start time around 7:30 AM. I think it’s a 7 or 8 hour drive, which isn’t too bad. But, I didn’t factor in the fact that before I could depart from Martha’s Vineyard, I had to board a ferry back to the mainland, then grab a bus to take me back to where my car was. By the time classes had ended and I’d made it back to my car, it was probably 4 or 5 PM. I still had that drive ahead of me through moose country in the darkness of midnight across inland Maine, and I only got a few hours of sleep before I had to be back up the next day for the talk. Overall, not a horrible experience, and the events at both schools went great. But, I could have done a much better job scheduling that particular travel out.
If someone wanted to share their knowledge and passion as a speaker, how would you suggest they get started?
Just start talking. I was incredibly nervous years ago when I had to speak in front of five people. But as the years have progressed, I get more and more comfortable in front of large crowds. It just takes practice, like anything else. Speak up in class, use those moments during a critique to work on your public speaking, even take a public speaking course. And make sure you have a topic you believe in.
Andy works commercially with both companies and individuals on photography projects and can be contacted through his website (www.andybloxham.com) to discuss any needs and ideas.
He has two workshops coming up in July. They are both at the Maine Media Workshops, as part of their Young Artists program for high school students. Learn more at the links below: