(NSFW) Andi Elloway Interview: Starting Trouble and Shooting Nudes

“Feeding on fever, down on all fours, show you all what a howl is for . . .”

A secret — I’ve only fallen in love with one woman. Although according to some poets, that’s already one third of all the hearts I’ll ever meet. When Hemingway was asked to explain when he wrote his best, he said it was only when he felt love. With love, sex. Sex hits like falling up to your greatest depth. Roberto Bolaño, knowing he’d die in a few years, wrote a story about this, about sex and, of course, love.

He told the story of Mexico City’s mother of all living poets. The sexed-up mother that falls in love, many times, then dies. But before she does, she has a vision of the world. In it, she sees all the dying children of Latin America marching to a great abyss, singing, though quiet and innocent, singing, though maddening and dismal, singing, for the briefest loves they had the chance to experience, all together falling for love.

Starting Trouble and Shooting Nudes

Falling up to your greatest depth, sex has always been the deeper symbol of love to me. It’s not the feeling, the duty held together by two (or more), sex is the friction and the sparks. If love’s the song, sex’s the march. They both go together, but they’re never the same. Sex can exist outside, as a shadow, or as an image, of love. Yet love never promises eternity. Remember Hemingway ended up in Idaho, alone. Sex, great sex, always feels timeless.

And if you’re wondering what I’m getting to, consider this my introduction to one of the most sexually aware photographers we’ve ever featured: Andi Elloway. Having worked with Elle, Rolling Stone, and many others, Elloway makes work so direct, so charged, you’ll feel like reaching out and experiencing it yourself, to fall once more for another note to sing. Enjoying your fall, your lowering, your loosening, because it all feels like flying.

By the way, I’ve embedded a video that you MUST play while reading the interview. It works perfectly with everything here. It’s at the bottom. 

In this interview, Elloway talks about what photography means to her, explains why she’s attracted to sensual imagery, and reveals how she approaches nude shoots.

Andi Elloway

I love how direct you are with sexuality. Does photography come easily to you? How would you describe your work?

I would say it comes very naturally, just in that I’m very impulsive and fearless when it comes to getting what I want. Things don’t fall into your lap as often as most people would like to think. You have to put in a good amount of effort for the best shots most of the time. I trust my instincts and try not to overthink things. My work is a documentation of my life mostly. Even the conceptual stuff I still approach like I would if the models, or whoever, on set were my normal friends and we were just hanging out. Usually, I try to make them fast friends before we start shooting anyway. I take photos every day, because I always see things that are interesting to me, or I’m experiencing something I want to remember. Special moments with special people are happening constantly and photos help me share that energy with other people. When it’s a planned shoot, it’s the same thing. I’m helping people and brands share something important to them, and it’s a great feeling.

great feeling

When did you first start shooting?  

I’ve always taken photos, but when I was younger my photos just went on myspace, or whatever it was at the time. I think I had an early version of whatANDIdoes on some build your own website platform. It was definitely the same concept of putting photos up of my friends and I doing funny shit and goofing off, but just really young. My more conceptual work was starting to shape up about then as well I guess, but it was me taking photos of my friends’ legs in fishnets or we’d be in the hot tub topless holding snowballs in front of our boobs. The trouble came my senior year when the faculty at school found them and were like, “Yo … you’re 17, this is a Christian prep school …” It was strongly frowned upon. I think I’ve always been sort of the unlikely instigator and troublemaker.

instigator and troublemaker

Were you ever unsure of your talents?

I think artists are almost always unsure of their talents. At least partially. I question mine a lot, but I don’t really worry about it too much. If people are into it and giving me opportunities, I ride the wave.

giving me opportunities

About sexuality, at the beginning of your career, you’ve said that you were too shy to ask people to strip. When did this hesitancy disappear? Why do you feel confident now?

At this point I think I’ve just been around enough naked people that it doesn’t get to me. Girls, I’ve mostly been pretty chill with, but asking a boy to get naked just made it seem like I was asking for more than I was, you know? Guys would think it was code for “let’s hook up” when it wasn’t, and I wasn’t trying to lead anyone on. But bodies are bodies and I’ve become pretty disconnected from the shyness I had a couple years ago. Work is very much work and my head is in it’s professional space when I’m shooting. I want to make something that looks and feels cool, but I’m not in the moment any further than that unless I have a personal relationship with whoever it is.

personal relationship

What’s the attraction of making sensual imagery to you? Is it a matter of being upfront with how dominant sexuality figures in American culture?

It’s honestly not something that I tried to do consciously. I’ve always just made the photos I’ve wanted to, which are photos that make people feel something. I want whoever’s looking at the photo to feel like they could reach out and touch the model’s skin. I want them to experience the things I’m noticing about the person I’m photographing. Capturing those details makes a photo feel intimate, and I think it’s maybe just that most people are willing to be really open with me when we shoot. We have fun and people tell me I make them comfortable so I guess that helps.

American culture

Your work conveys a thirst for experience, for being fully present. Do you think it’s important for a photographer to explore what’s within them to find their own style? Is being friendly an advantage?

I think a photographer should always shoot what they’re most attracted to. Whether that means food, or dogs, or nature or whatever. Your eye is your eye. Sometimes it changes based on the things you expose yourself to, but a photographer should always try to capture what they personally think is intriguing. Early on, a lot of photographers, myself included, try to shoot everything they’re attracted to and so their style isn’t really present and is kind of all over the place. The more you shoot the more it settles so it’s really just a matter of waiting it out in a lot of cases. Style isn’t something you have after five shoots, it’s something that emerges after a few years of shooting anything and everything. The things you photograph say a lot about who you are as a person I think. As for being friendly, it never hurts, especially when you’re marketing your work, but it’s not going to help you take better photos of trees.

marketing your work

This one is one of my favorites. Her expression is inscrutable, almost wicked. It’s priceless. Could you explain how this image was made from start to finish?

Honestly, no, haha. That’s one of my one off photos from a test shoot years ago and I barely remember taking it. I don’t think it’s so much her expression that’s wicked as it is that she’s just a very striking person. Her coloring makes her photograph dramatically, the pale skin and dark hair and everything. She just came over to my apartment in LA and we hung out and snapped photos in the yard.

photograph dramatically

After your shoot, do you give space between your shoot and your edit? When do you know you captured something special?

I prefer to let a shoot sit for a few days before I pick selects, but that luxury isn’t always there. I usually know pretty instantly when I have what I need, and then move on. I shoot really quickly because I know exactly what I’m looking for and know when I have it. When I work with a client, I make sure to understand fully what they want out of a shot and give them several options of that. I want multiple versions of the money shot if it’s for someone else because special is in the eye of the beholder.

captured something special

I love how you play with gender identities in your fashion work. This is a great example. What’s your aim with showing how fluid identity can be? Is it about widening what’s defined as beautiful?

I’m definitely attracted to androgyny for whatever reason. I’m just into people as people and think that it’s interesting to blur the lines of being able to put someone in a box. I like people that are hard to put a label on; I don’t believe in doing that. Not being able to clearly define someone puts a lot of people outside their comfort zone, and I like igniting curiosity. I love seeing photos of someone I’ve never encountered, so I like to try and create those characters in my own work.

encountered

For Attention Deficit, I read you went around getting students to make out at a MIT frat party. How did you go about making future nuclear physicists and rocket scientists do that, exactly? What did you learn about sexuality from this project?

I had help with that! One of the fraternity brothers was really awesome and enthusiastic about being my liason. He knew everybody and was like “oh, don’t worry she’s cool…” Then I ended up causing a big scandal once the shots went up on my blog. I had a ton of kids emailing me freaking out. Most of it was good freaking out though. I was just doing what I normally do if I’m at a crazy party, I didn’t really think at the time that it might not be a normal thing to do there. Apparently they don’t really let people take photos, but was I unknowingly being sneaky about it? I don’t think I learned anything new about sexuality from that particular party, seemed pretty standard. Everyone has sex, you know? Being really intelligent doesn’t kill your libido. (Editor’s note: I’d have to disagree with this last point. If being really intelligent doesn’t kill your libido, it surely makes you stiff, in the least practical of ways — at least in my case, but I ain’t the sharpest kid.)

Attention Deficit

If you are remembered by one of your images, which one would it be? Has photography affected how you live your life outside of it?

That’s a lot of pressure for one image! I don’t know if I’ve taken a shot yet that I would be happy with giving that responsibility to. Maybe I have but it’s probably a personal one that nobody will find until after I’m dead. Photography and my life are sort of the same thing. I don’t really separate church and state. Even if I was a doctor or lawyer I would probably still take photos like I do. I feel really lucky I can make a living doing something I’m so in love with that’s already such a huge part of my life.

photography affected

Be sure to check out all of Andi’s work on her website!