ANDREW KAUFMAN INTERVIEW: POST INDIA
What follows is an interview between myself and Andrew Kaufman, a photographer I have known for many years. Andrew recently returned from a trip to India and I thought it would be interesting to learn about his voyage. Kaufman is a successful editorial, advertising photographer who doesn’t fit the mold of many of his contemporaries. He produces a tremendous amount of personal work, in every format imaginable, and is really someone who is impossible to categorize. One day he might be shooting 6×7 for a an ad client and the next 4×5 on a personal project. He was worked for newspapers, magazines, agencies, art directors, ad clients and collectors, and has somehow managed to avoid the mass homogenization of imagery that now seems to be prevalent in those fields(no easy task). A few years ago I assisted Kaufman on an advertising shoot, not something I typically do anymore, but was intrigued to find myself loading no less than four different cameras, all within the first hour of the day, something I found refreshing.
This interview took place between Costa Mesa and Miami in October of 2009.
DRM: Besides knowing me, what other positive things can you tell us about your photo-career(kidding of course),. Give us a little background. Who are you? What do you do? Where do you live?
AK: I started making pictures in high school and knew then that I wanted to be a photographer for the rest of my life. Nowadays, I am a based in Miami Beach, Fl. and have been freelancing for more then 20 years for magazines and advertising agencies. I travel extensively for work, it has taken me all over North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. My specialties include Travel/Adventure and Portraiture. During my career I have worked with photo reps, photo agencies and now I am on my own, with an online archive of over 6000 rights managed images.
DRM: Why India? Why now?
AK: I had never been to India and it was on my short list of places to experience. I am not the Disney World vacation kind of guy. I like to get out there and see how other people are doing it. It was daunting. Challenges don’t deter me. I like being half way round the world, it changes your perspective on life.
DRM: Was this trip for both personal and professional reasons, and if so, what percentage of your time in India was for work and what percentage was just for the experience?
AK: The trip was for purely personal reasons. Every summer I like to put myself through a personal boot camp. It’s a chance to think about my life, see the world and make images that I want to make. A recharging of the batteries so to speak. Past trips have been to Indonesia, France, Panama, Australia and the Greek Isles to name a few. Luckily enough when I was little my parents would ship me off to sleep away camp and in a sense this is an extension of that. I look forward to thinking about where in the world I want to go and what I might find. Those moments experienced during these adventures are priceless for me.
DRM: How was the reception to photography? Any issues or positive experiences?
AK: Surprisingly enough the reception to my photography was great. There were no issues to speak of and it was all a positive experience. Actually, I was overwhelmed at one point that nobody was hassling me or turning away from me it was quite the opposite people wanted to know as much about me as I wanted to know about them. It was a pleasure to have so much freedom. I work with a minimum of equipment so I wasn’t sticking big DSLR’s in peoples faces. Smiling a lot when I am working also helps. If someone smiles at you, you’ll get a smile back. So that worked well for me.
DRM: This work has the distinctive look of film. In the digital age, why are you choosing the analog approach? Wasn’t it difficult to travel with film?
AK: Film, film, film, it’s the only way I think about photography. Quite frankly I think digital sucks. Who wants to spend all that time in front of a computer? Film is so easy. I just don’t get all this whining about film and processing. Film is waaay easier. Who wants to be spending tons of money on equipment that will be outdated in a year or two? I would rather spend that money on traveling and film and processing. It is how I learned photography and as the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke why fix it? I didn’t want to be bogged down with gear on the trip. My cameras are mechanical so I didn’t need to be constantly charging batteries etc. I didn’t even bring a computer with me on the trip. Traveling with film is not difficult, I have some x-ray film bags that I keep all the film in. I am used to the security and questions.
DRM: I see you shot color as well, what was the ratio black and white to color and how did you decide?
AK:I did shoot color about an equal amount to the black and white. I was very easy to decide. The things I photographed were either extremely colorful or they weren’t. Although the color was 6×6, so I was going for a different feel with that work.
DRM: I really love the group shot images in front of the Taj Mahal. What is the backstory there?
AK:I went to the Taj Mahal at sunrise. It’s the best time to visit before the crowds are thick and the day hot. The Taj Mahal is a mecca for Indians. It’s like Americans going to visit the Statue of Liberty. They make pilgrimages there. Usually extended families or villages are on the journey. It’s was funny to see a group so big as they toured the grounds together. It’s a status symbol to have your picture made in front of the Taj. As for the group shot of me with the photographers, I was leaving and these guys were all sitting around drinking some tea and I had just made the group shot of the family and lightning struck me that I should have a group shot of the guys who do the group shots. Of course they wanted one with me. They are my brethren. It was a real moment for me to be surrounded by the Taj Mahal photographers.
DRM: Are those jeans your wearing? I’m no meteorologist but isn’t India like 12,000 degrees? Were you making a fashion statement or what?
AK:India is a modest place. Wearing pants was a sign of respect. Since I live in Miami I am used to the heat. Shorts are not practical for many parts of India. They only seemed to be appropriate at the beaches and on the coast.
DRM: What is your mindset when you are wandering and shooting in a place like India? Do you have a daily plan or do you just wander and take chances?
AK:Most days I had a plan. There were many things I wanted to see and experience. Often that would lead me to other places and ideas I wanted to photograph that weren’t planned. It was essential to listen and hangout with the locals, they always know the best spots. Being on the road like that was fascinating to hear, see and smell the Indian culture. I think the whole trip was a chance, one I was willing to take and these pictures will remind me of that for a lifetime. I will cherish them.
DRM: Where do you see these images ending up?
AK: Most likely with a collector. The project will get printed as a portfolio. I have many of my projects printed and they are time capsules of those places and times that I visited. I like to think of my print archive like a wine cellar. When the work has matured and an opportunity arrives it will be enjoyed.
DRM: Considering the current state of the industry, how difficult is it to find a home for images like this and has this reality curbed your enthusiasm towards doing this kind of work?
AK:Finding a home for images like these is always difficult, but I have a need to create this work for myself. I am not always worried about how I will make money with the work. I am more interested in creating something for myself that gives me the opportunity to see and experience the world I live in and my time there. I would prefer to do work like this all the time.
DRM Finally, I know this was a personal trip, but in some ways are these trips better, or just different from being sent to a place like India for an editorial client or commercial client? Is there a freedom you have working alone, and if so, is that freedom more important than getting an assignment?
AK: These trips are better except that I have to pay for them myself. All kidding aside though. Having the freedom to go and see what I want definitely trumps a shot list that I have to fill. So it is definitely a give and take. It is different going somewhere for a client. I make my own schedule, arrangements etc. I have always known that if I wanted go somewhere I would have to make my own way. The freedom that gives me is better then having a shot list and having to put check marks next to all the images a client needs, because there are images that will never been on the list, especially because they would never think what chances or opportunities are out there and not in the guide books. Those are the moments that I am looking for. Now that I have been to India I am actually more likely to get work there. Ironic how that works. Peace, Andrew Kaufman
You can see Andrew’s work here: WWW.ANDREWKAUFMAN.NET