Zeb Andrews is not your typical photographer. He is not some run-off-the-mill artist. Zeb is one of those people who lives and breathes photography and accepts it in all its forms. He practices it as a discipline, works it like an art form, and lives by it as a personal creed.
It is rare to meet someone as passionate as Zeb is when it comes to photography so we wouldn’t dare miss the chance to get to know more about him. Hopefully as you read through this insightful interview, you may get to understand how he keeps his passion going. We all know we need that kind of fire in our lives when creativity stops flowing and the ideas are far from present.
Hello, Zeb! Welcome back to the Lomography Magazine. How would you define photography? What's your favorite thing about it?
This is always a fun question for me to answer. I work 45-50 hours a week in a camera store and then I also teach photography in the evenings. On top of that I am an active photographer myself. So photography must be something important to me to remain as immersed in it as I am month by month, year after year. I would say that my definition of photography for myself is more of a philosophy or a way of life. I love that photography teaches me to see and encourages me to pay attention, not just to light and color but also details, patterns, moments and time. Photography has increased my appreciation for so many little things and moments that I am incredibly grateful to be aware of.
Let's talk a bit about your work — how would you describe your photographic style/approach?
Impassioned and curious, methodical and self-assured. In truth I have long struggled to define my photographic style so I eventually solved the problem by just not thinking about it anymore. It is a funny thing because people tell me often that they could tell a photo they saw on-line was mine even before seeing my name attributed to it, but I honestly struggle to describe just what my style is and that is largely because I just don't think about it that much. I go out and do my thing and what photos happen, happen.
In terms of my approach, it is one fueled by curiosity. I love being curious and then answering that curiosity with photos. I am also very passionate and enthusiastic about being a photographer. I genuinely enjoy doing it and I try to only do it in ways that I will continue to have fun doing so. Methodical in the sense that while the process relies heavily on intuition for me, I still take my time. I will fidget one step left or one step back just to fine tune a composition, or stare through a viewfinder for several seconds thinking about while I am doing before making that exposure. And last I would say that my approach is self-assured because ultimately I am photographing for myself, and that is an audience I feel comfortable working with.
Who or what would you say was the biggest influence in your work?
I have a voracious appetite for photography, so I am often pulling in new inspirations but here are the one's that have stuck with me:
Galen Rowell - particularly his book Mountain Light. Not for his photography, though he made lovely images. Mainly Galen's inspiration is how prolifically and generously he wrote about his thoughts and philosophies on photography. The man was incredibly eloquent and generous with his words.
Michael Kenna - For his photography. Beautiful work. I especially love the sense of stillness or quiet in so many of his photos.
Elliott Erwitt and Josef Koudelka - Their street work is some of my favorite. I love Erwitt's sly humor and I love Koudelka's ability to find the slightly surreal moments in the world around him.
Radiolab - Yes, a podcast that only rarely deals with photography but they do constantly give me new ways to think or look at the world, stoking that inner curiosity.
We see in you a very passionate photographer and image maker. What made you pursue photography as a career?
Complete happenstance. Growing up I never thought I had an artistic bone in my body, even if my life depended on it. I went to school and got my degree in history, intending to teach. I had just graduated and was in a bit of a transitional period of my life when a small camera shop opened up in my neighborhood, just a few minutes' walk from where I lived. Long story short, I went in one day and came out with a Nikon FM2n film SLR.
Somewhere in that span of time I got bit hard by the photography bug and started making photos. Not long after that, this new camera shop offered me a job because they needed some help. They promised long hours, low pay, no benefits but the opportunity to work more closely with something I was fast becoming very enthusiastic about. I thought about it a couple of days and then took the job and haven't looked back since. That was a bit over 15 years ago now.
We learned that you also manage a film camera store in Oregon. Could you tell us a bit about the work you do there?
I do indeed, the aforementioned shop from the previous answer. The store is Blue Moon Camera and Machine. It is a film-dedicated store, carrying a large inventory of used film cameras and offering developing of basically every type and format of film out there. Over the years I have done a bit of all of it. I started off printing, spent some time doing sales, helped set up the scanning production line, helped set up the E-6 production line, machine maintenance and so forth. Slowly as the company got bigger my job did as well. Today I basically manage the store under the owner but I also oversee the sales staff and inventory side of things and am working on expanding our social media empire via our Instagram feed featuring the cool film cameras we get in.
What makes you stick with film photography? What does it mean to you?
It is passion. I love doing it and so I keep doing it. Despite working long weeks and getting home tired, I will instead grab my camera to head out and make a few images. It is exhausting at times, at other times it is difficult, or it is frustrating, or tedious. But despite those times, I always enjoy it and that passion gets me through the rough patches and makes the good patches all the more rewarding.
What makes photography satisfying for you?
The satisfaction for me is in the process of photography, not the results. I enjoy the walking around with a camera thinking about the world as photography encourages me to do. I love the finding and noticing of things that will make good photos. I love the translation of thoughts or emotions in my head into physical images that others can interpret. Then again, maybe I could say the most satisfying part is feeling and hearing my Hasselblad when it fires.
We love how you can switch from one genre and camera to another. The variety in your portfolio is just amazing. IF you could pick just one area of photography, what would it be and why?
This is kind of a variant of the "desert island" question, if you were stuck on a desert island with just one camera... IF I had to pick? Ugh. I am not sure I could and still be satisfied. I spent a whole year doing a project photographing the bridges of Portland. It was the longest I had ever focused on a single subject and it produced a body of work I am still very fond of and return to now and again to add to. I am proud of the work that came from that year, but I tell you, I was pretty enthusiastic to finish that year up and when I did I avoided photographing bridges for about three years afterward. Being limited to one subject or genre was difficult for me. The situation would have to be pretty drastic to get me to do only one area of photography at the exclusion of all the others I like and I would not do so happily, which would kind of defeat the reason for why I do photography so avidly.
Any dream collaborations with artists/photographers/art collectives? Please share them with our readers.
Sure. I'd love to work with Vik Muniz. After seeing the project he did in the documentary Waste Land, I would love to be a part of something like that, using my abilities as a photographer to enact change of that scale. I really enjoyed the work of Pete Souza when he was the White House photographer and it would be super cool to work as a second camera to the White House photographer for a couple of months. A friend of mine, Zach Kramer, recently took a trip to Columbia where he hiked up into the jungle mountains with a portable darkroom and made wet plate collodion portraits of FARC guerrillas and their weapons. If he does something like that again, I want in on that.
Who are the artists that you follow on a regular basis? (If there's any.)
I don't consume a ton of photography on-line, largely just because I never feel like I have quite enough time to do so. I always prefer sitting with photo books quietly in a comfortable chair to flipping through internet galleries. But I do try to follow the work of many of the customers I know through Blue Moon Camera and Machine. It is always nice to stay up to date on the work they are doing so that I feel better connected with them when I see them in the shop. And I do see a lot of great work that way. We have some really creative customers, so it is fun to see what they are doing and then be able to chat with them about it when they come by for more film or such.
What was the most memorable advice you've been given in your career as an artist?
The best line I have been given that has stuck with me was, "Do your work the way you want to and then go find the audience that will appreciate it." I think it is easy these days with all the attention gained from social media platforms to be unduly influenced by one's audience and what they want to see you post. This is a dangerous thing to let happen. So this advice has always been a good reminder for me.
What advice would you give to beginner photographers and budding creatives?
It is all about desire. Keep the desire in your approach to photography and everything else will follow. You have to be passionate about it otherwise you won't stick with it long enough to do much. So nurture your passion, protect and promote it. Do it in a way that makes you want to keep doing it.
Does gear matter when it comes to putting out creative content?
Oh, most definitely. Can one be a photographer without a camera? But sometimes we do place more importance on the cameras in our hands than we should. The most important things in photography happen in front of and behind the camera. The camera is just a means of translating and recording that for others to see. Cameras don't have imaginations or emotions, they don't sit enthralled by light or feel wonder. But our gear does have influence on the creative process. Cameras are tools and tools are made to do different jobs differently. The types of paints and brushes one uses in painting influences what kinds of paintings one creates. I definitely work differently depending on which camera I am using. Moreover, I SEE differently depending on which camera I am using. At the end of the day though, I can be creative with any camera in my hands, it is just a matter of learning how to use it and what it can be used for and finding creative ways to apply that knowledge.
What's your favorite song/movie/book? Why?
If you want to keep this photography related I would say the book Art & Fear by Ted Orland and David Bayles. It addresses the fears commonly faced by artists in their creative process. Super insightful and liberating. In fact, it has been a few years since I last read it so it is time to re-read that book. I love photo documentaries and I already mentioned Waste Land about Vik Muniz. It is amazing on many different levels. Song-wise...hmmm. I love the music by Of Monsters and Men both for the imagination inherit in their lyrics but also for the emotion conveyed by their music. I spend a lot of time along the Oregon coast, which can be a bit bleak and very moody much of the year, the music of OMAM complements that perfectly.
How does a perfect day look like for Zeb Andrews?
It takes place at one of three places: deep in a dense, quiet forest redolent with the smell of moss and wood, along a stretch of coastal beach, preferably quiet and secluded - weather is unimportant - where I can walk and think amidst the constant crash of ocean surf with the smell of salt, or up on the shoulders of a snowy mountain listening to that distinct crunch that fresh snow makes under boots and feeling the tips of my nose and ears slowly go numb from cold. Any of those are pretty much perfect days. Oh yeah, and I'll have a camera in hand. That's bonus but not absolutely necessary.
--- I built a really complex sentence in this paragraph, so trying to adjust it a bit so that it reads a little cleaner.
What's next for you? Do you have upcoming projects?
I don't really know, honestly. I have been thinking about this. I would definitely like to put together another book or books of my photography. I have self-published four or five books over the last ten years and I find the process very satisfying. It is nice knowing a collection of my images exists in a cohesive and coherent - and most importantly, tangible - form. So I would like to assemble and publish another book soon. I always carry the vague notion that I would like to travel more. I love traveling and I love the cities of the world. Tokyo is next on my list but probably not until the spring cherry blossoms next year. But you are right, I should be thinking about these questions a lot more.
Any last words for our readers?
One of the most appreciated aspects of my job at the camera store is every time a nice old lady or old man comes in with an envelope of 70 year old negatives containing pictures of their parents or grandparents or great-grandparents. It is in those moments I am reminded of just how much value a photograph can have. Then I go home and look at my photos of my son as a baby and remember when he was small enough to fall asleep on my chest and I am so thankful to have been a photographer and to have made those records of his life.
There is a lot of photography in the world today, a seemingly endless ocean of it, but that doesn't change the fact that the photos we make of our lives or life in general can have great value. And sometimes it is easy to take that value for granted. So I would say, value the photographs you make. You are in them. Your life is in them. The lives of those around you are in them. Cherish your ability to record moments in time and appreciate what you have. And by all means, keep making photos.
We are truly grateful for Zeb for letting us into his creative process and letting us feature his beautiful work and words. If you're interested in Zeb's work, you may head over to his website and Instagram for more.