Make a Wish
If you’ve spent any time at all looking at the work of the POE team, you’ve seen her work. She describes her shop as Clean, Bold, Simple and Colorful, and that’s a pretty fair description of her work. She doesn’t just take photographs, she creates images. Andrea Despot has been an Etsian for going on 2 years, and during a recent conversation I had an opportunity to get to know a bit more about her.
Steve: When I come across an interesting photograph, one that grabs my attention, I not only want to know more about the photograph, you know, where is it? what is it?, that sort of thing, but I also want to know more about the person behind the image. Who are they? What's their background? What drives them to express themselves photographically? So, Andrea, with that in mind, what can you tell us about yourself, your family, your background, where you come from, you know, who is this Andrea Despot person?
Andrea: Wow, this is a really intimidating question; without getting all deep and philosophical about who I am and how I came to be this way, I'll try to keep it short and sweet.
I was born 23 years ago to an artist mom and a physical therapist dad. I have a twin brother and a younger sister. When I was three we moved from North Carolina to Virginia, where I grew up. We’re a very close family, the kind of that sits down every night to eat dinner together. No craziness, no drama; for the most part we all got along extremely well. We're all fairly quiet; I get my shyness from both my parents, although they say I wasn't nearly as shy as they were at my age. I've struggled with being quiet and shy my whole life; I've definitely opened up more and am loads more confident now than I ever have been.
From a young age my mom encouraged the whole art thing. She didn't push it, but we always had paints, markers, crayons, pencils and scrap paper lying around. I definitely grabbed onto being an artist and always knew that's what I wanted to do. In high school I took a bunch of art classes, and in my freshman year I decided to buy a camera with my babysitting money. I took a lot of pictures of places and things, hardly ever any of people. I hate saying this because it doesn't sound very humble, but I was pretty talented. Composition came very naturally to me; I blame it on my mom: it's in my blood!
Drinks for Two
So I took pictures. I think I enjoyed that more than painting and drawing because if I messed up, I could just take another shot, whereas with pen and paint, if I messed up I'd get frustrated that I'd have to start all over.
Photography definitely suited me and there was no doubt that I wanted to make a living doing it, so I applied to The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Two weeks after graduating high school, I fulfilled two dreams at once: getting far from the small town where I grew up, and pursuing a life in photography.
I spent the next two years in Florida and graduated in 2007 with an Associate's Degree in Photography. I wish I could say I never looked back, but as it happened, what with the economy and all, I ended up back in my hometown, living at home with my parents, looking for a job.
After a few months I got a job assisting a wedding photographer, but I didn’t really want to weddings. I kept looking and found a job as a photographer at a printing company. I've been there for the past two years, working full-time while still living at home, saving money. I do freelance on the side; sell my work on Etsy as well as in local galleries.
I guess that wasn't really short and sweet, was it?!
One in Three
S: I've always liked your work, and looking at it one can see you're putting your training to use. Your use of lighting, focus, composition, perspective, etc. shows you've got a "deep toolbox" and you're not letting your tools get rusty. You said you didn't want to shoot weddings, a sentiment shared by many, but in a small town, if you take weddings off the table, it seems to me there wouldn't be a lot left for a young photographer just starting out to sink her teeth into. There must be established photographers in the area to compete with; are you getting freelance commissions, and if so, what sort of jobs are you getting?
A: Truthfully, you're right. The small town I'm living in isn't the best place to start out as a photographer. I could probably make a lot of money doing weddings, but you know what? I don't want to. I hate doing it. I admit I did do one wedding, after being talked into it by the client, and it reconfirmed for me why I don't want to do them! And who would want to hire someone to do something they blatantly admit hating to do? Unfortunately I don't have much freelance work at the moment. I've done some portraits, some photographs of other artists' exhibits, and that's really about it. I need to look further, find a new job. I've always known I'm not staying here forever. Just for now.
All We Are, Are Shadows
S: If your heart isn't in it, that will definitely come through in your work. I really believe it takes a certain kind of individual to shoot weddings; I'm not one of them either.
So, what DO you like to photograph? Do you put a lot of planning into your shoots, or do you take it as it comes? Structure or serendipity, which do you prefer?
A: Structure, structure, structure! I love working in the studio where I can control everything! I love making everything perfect, controlling everything from the lighting to choosing the pretty objects to the color and scale and depth-of-field. If you look at the product section on my website, you'll see what I mean. That said, I've also been shooting a lot of "pretty" pictures lately and that usually involves chance; I'm loving photographs that have an extremely shallow depth-of-field.
S: Somehow I thought you were going to say that! Most of the images of yours that I've seen seem to be studio shots, and the fact that you like studio work comes through. This studio you use, is it yours, or do you have access to one belonging to someone else? What's the setup like; what resources do you have at your disposal?
Study in Blue
A: I don't own my own studio but I still have access to the wedding photographer’s studio where I used to work. He let's me use it whenever I want, but that won’t last much longer; he’s going out of business and moving, so I will have to use the studio where I work during the day.
It has an infinitely better setup, except since it's basically warehouse-style at the printing company, the ambient lighting isn’t the best, but I try to make do. I have a LOT of equipment at my disposal: strobe lights, large and small soft-boxes, grids, barn doors, booms, knuckles, snoots, seamless paper, etc. I shoot stuff during my lunch break or when I have nothing else to do at work. But now I'll have to look into getting a key for after hours.
S: Wow! That’s pretty cool! If I had access to that kind of set up, I'd shoot more in the studio too!
Let's talk about your equipment for a moment; what's in your bag? And if money weren't a concern, what would you like to add to it?
A: I don't have a lot of camera equipment, just a Canon 30D, a Canon 28-135mm lens, a Sigma 17-70mm lens, and my absolute favorite: a Canon 100mm f2.8 macro lens. I also have a Canon 580 EX II flash and a Sekonic light meter, both of which I barely use. I would love to own the Canon 50mm f/1.2 lens, but it's extremely expensive. Other than that, there's nothing I can think of that I'm dying to have. I really just want a room in my house with my own studio equipment!
S: Yeah, finding that "extra" room for your work can be a problem!
I'm sure you look at the work of other photographers; we all do, don't we? What images do you like to look at; what attracts you, what draws you in? Are there any photographers that have inspired you or influenced your work? And regarding your work, is there an underlying message or theme...what draws you to take the photographs you do?
A: I always hate this question because I never have an answer! I love so many photographers from Man Ray to Annie Liebovitz to Mario Testino to Sally Mann to all the professional photographers whose names I don't know and all the talented photographers on flickr and Etsy whose names aren't known yet to the world. There are so many talented people out there; it can be overwhelming to choose a favorite photographer or even favorite photograph. I love dark black & white, grainy nude portraits, and I love fresh, clean, new, colorful magazine advertisements! I love mysterious, strange photographs as well as ones that are just pretty to look at! It really depends on the photograph: if the colors and composition are attractive to me, or if I get a wonderful feeling from them.
I feel like my work hasn't evolved to the point of having any message other than just looking good. I hope someday I can take such photographs, but it's no use in forcing it right now.
S: That's not the kind of thing you can force anyway. It either is or it is not. Gosh, that sounds almost Yodda-esque!
Toward the beginning of our conversation, you talked about moving back home after college, "but not forever, just for now". Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? You're 23, the road to your entire career is at your feet and every step you take is a step in that direction; where do you see this photography thing taking you, or where will you take it? Where does that road go?
A: Honestly, I don't really know! It might take me an hour away to North Carolina; it might take me to California. It depends on where I apply and where I get a job. Though, I personally hope it's California or somewhere far away from here! I don't really care about becoming an incredibly famous, well-known photographer who lands the magazine covers. I just want to have an honest job, doing the kind of work I love to do, working with talented and passionate people. I just want to be happy. If that means living in a small, cozy apartment instead of a large mansion, I'd still be just as happy as long as I was proud of my photography.
S: That sounds like a fine plan to me; focus on the journey and the destination will reveal itself. I like it. Andrea, thank you for this opportunity to get to know you better; I wish you nothing but success.
A: And thank you! I really appreciate your interest in me and my photography!