Andy Armstrong, not just a photographer but a true artist behind the lens. We were fortunate to get a chance to peek into the life of this creator and understand his process of conceptualizing, feeling, understanding and executing his masterpieces. A humble creator, Andy Armstrong speaks about the inspiration he draws from his family. Giving his wife the credit where it is due! The artist further speaks of portraiture from a perspective none would have imagined. He also talks about his best works,( or the work that moved him) so far showing his connect and passion towards every still that he captures. Speaking about his favorite muse “Swaggs” he finished his interview on a rather inspirational note creating a mark in the minds of thousands that look up to him for inspiration. Here is the whole interview with Andy Armstrong.
- Was photography always a passion and a career option for you even as a kid?
No, but art always was. From a time I can remember, I’ve always loved drawing. In fact, I was a graphic designer and artist long before I picked up a camera. Decent, affordable digital cameras hit the market when I was running a web design business, so I picked one up and fell in love. Here’s the thing. As an artist, it’s next to impossible to truly convey an idea to an audience. The idea in your head is almost always better than what your hand puts on the paper or canvas. What I found with digital photography was that I could finally convey that idea. I could finally show people what was in my head – more so than I could in a drawing. Couple photography with what I was doing with digital design, and there was just no turning back. It was more gratifying for me than any other medium I’d ever used.
- You come from a different school of thought than a traditional portrait photographer. What made you think of portraiture in this way?
For me, it was about boiling what a portrait was down to its essence. We all grew up getting school photos and sitting at Olan Mills, but what IS a portrait really? Is that it? I don’t think so at all.
I don’t believe that every subject needs to stare at the camera with a big smile. I don’t believe that multiple subjects have to be balanced in triangle formation, and I don’t believe that everyone needs to wear perfectly coordinated outfits. In fact, I believe that there is only one “have to” in making portrait images: The portrait must convey a sense of the subject’s real personality and humanity. That’s all.
I just believe that if I can capture who you truly are at this moment in time, then I’ve done my job. On the other hand, if I’m just throwing your butt in a seat and asking you for a big smile, then the result may capture your appearance, it doesn’t say anything about who you are.
- Many photoshoots that you have done are in or around water bodies. Is that intentional or a coincidence? If intentional then why?
I love shooting sunrises. I like shooting people at sunrise, and in particular I like to shoot strobe against the sun to get the richness of color of that sunrise. I live in a part of the country with some amazing lakes, and I found that if I shot those sunrises in the water, I could completely envelope the subject in the richness of that color. So, I’m not sure that it’s about the water per se. It’s more about how can I show as much of this beauty as possible in one shot. The water lets me do that.
- Who has been that person in your life who inspired you to pursue photography?
In June of this year, I will have been married for 24 years. My wife has always been my biggest support of everything I’ve done since we met, but she’s been extraordinary when it comes to my photography. In fact, I’m always on the lookout for new models, and my wife will be the first to spot someone new and hand them my card.
On the flip side of that, I’m rarely inspired by other photographers. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are truly extraordinary photographers out there, and I love to see their work, but I try so very hard not to fall in love with any single person’s work. I don’t want to be influenced too much by the style they’ve crafted. I
want my work to be my own. So, when it comes to inspiration, I normally turn to music and film to inspire my photography.
For example, the films of director Tony Scott have inspired me many times to get gritty and be creative. To step outside of my normal bounds and try something new.
- Can you pinpoint one shoot which was your best experience so far? and why?
There are two shoots that were pivotal for me. First was a shoot I did with a model in Orlando. Our simple shower concept and my digital tweaking yielded a domestic violence image called “He promised he would change.” That image won WPPI’s Commercial Image of the Year in 2010.
The second shoot was very straightforward. I was hired to shoot the notorious moonshiner, Popcorn Sutton for a company that was using his recipe to create legal moonshine. In 2007, the ATF had arrested Sutton after discovering 850 gallons of moonshine stored on his property. He was convicted on federal charges in 2008 and scheduled to start serving his time in Federal prison the Friday after I photographed him, so this was the new company’s last chance to get images for commercial use. Here’s the thing. Popcorn never reported to Federal Prison. He took his own life the day after our shoot. I was shocked to say the least, but those images are harrowing. You can see the trouble in his eyes.
- You have done a series of shoots with Savannah Swaggerty. What is it that makes her the ideal muse for your shoots?
She’s beautiful, crazy, fun, and she listens and learns. She’s become a good friend of mine, and I love the images we create. I think it’s always good for artists to have a muse – someone that is always willing to shoot. Someone who you can “create” with – Swaggs is that for me and has been for a while now.
- You have won many awards from paramount organizations, which award to date has been the most valuable for you?
Commercial Image of the Year from WPPI for sure. First, it’s a prestigious award that I got to accept on stage in person at the annual convention in Las Vegas. But more than that, it falls into my category of choice. I love editorial and illustrative work – and somehow the award means more to me, because it does fall into what I consider a very “artistic” category.
- What’s your family’s take on your awesome captures?
My wife and daughter have always been super supportive of me. My daughter is 22 now. She’s a better artist than I am honestly, but she grew up in front of my camera and watching me create.
- What would you want to advise the budding photographers that look up to you?
First and foremost, learn your camera – how it works, how it functions, the nuts and bolts, the science of the tool itself. Truly master it, because without that knowledge, your photography will always suffer.
Second, and almost as important if you’re working with people, learn how to communicate and direct. Learn interpersonal skills. Learn how to make people feel comfortable quickly. Learn how to express ideas clearly and concisely. While there are some amazing photography tips in my book, this is largely the bulk of what’s there. Without truly good interpersonal skills, you will never be able to create portraits that go beyond appearance. It’s the interpersonal skills that allow you to get the most out of people.
Third, learn about art and composition. Learn the rules first, and then learn how to break them. Studying light and the how and the why of art will help you with your photography.
And finally, the only other thing I’d say to budding photographers is this. Don’t make this a job until you have to. Learn everything you can before you do and get really good at it before you hang out your shingle.
You can check out the work of Andy Armstrong on his website.