Andy Conley is one of the founders of Boston Visual Artists and has been working as a Boston photographer for the past few years.
Is there a unifying theme in your work?
Honestly and Progress. I am still learning A LOT and I meet people every time I am out that teaches me something new. I don’t think their is a unified theme like gender or race. Its more of a personal theme of constantly pushing myself to try something and being as honest in my art as possible.
Is there a personal meaning to any or all of your photographs?
It depends on the shoot. Some are more personal and address something that affects me. I have a lot of anxiety and depression and planning a photograph around that can be very therapeutic.
Other shoots ‘meaning’ is just to bring me happiness and to challenge myself to be better than the last time. I love the act of shooting and lining up an image in camera. Knowing you walked away with a great portrait. Its especially exciting when the model and myself get along well and have good creative chemistry. Thats when Ill shoot like, 500 shots. I also use photography to remind myself I still have a fun imagination lol. Coming up with an idea I know no one else probably has.
How do you plan out a shoot? Are there poses, compositions or scenes you plan out beforehand?
Usually it starts with a theme. I have something I want to say but 9 times out of 10 do not know how I will do it. I sit on that idea for a while and slowly build the “set”. With these types of shoot I will think about it so much that by shooting day I have everything so figured out I can basically take 1 shot and have my image. Images like “Hulk Hands” and “Monkey Nipples” have started that way.
When it comes to just portrait shoots, I am a bit more cavalier. I will just invite someone over and begin shooting. I don’t know what I want but will know the moment I get the shot. Too me, its all in the eyes. I will hold a camera on a posing model, looking through the view finder, and simply sit there, not shooting, until I see the look I am going for. It can take a moment but you can usually notice when a model finally lets their guard down and really LOOKS at the camera. Going into it, maybe I’ll have an idea for one or two poses but then its all shooting from the hip.
How did you start as a photographer? Do you have any specific artists who inspire you?
I started in high school! My familiarity with photography and the art goes back some time. My father was a hobby photographer and we had a dark room and an enlarger when I was really young.
When I finally reached high school I took photography as an elective and fell in love with it. We shot on film so I would get to do the whole process of getting it developed and found I was quite the natural at it. All the people in class would have me roll their film and I would give small instructions to people who weren’t listening while the teacher spoke. I ended up skipping gym class all year and would just go to the dark room to develop. My gym teacher wouldn’t care and would mark me ‘present’. I got a 100 in gym AND photography. Now that I type this answer, I am seeing how weird it is that they grade you in gym…
As for specific artists, I have a few that really spoke to me. Of the greats; Alfred Stieglitz – I mean, The Steerage is considered one of the greatest photographs ever taken, you gotta give him credit obviously. Richard Avedon is another that, in my practice, I discovered and fell in love. He’s one of the greats so I don’t need to say much about him. His portraiture is some of the best taken. He was able to capture his subjects emotions and capture honest images. The piece of his that SPECIFICALLY stood out to me was ‘Dovima with Elephants’. I must have spent hours just staring at that image.
As for new age artists. I really enjoy Nicholas Bruno. He is a current American photographer who is inspired by his night terrors and sleep paralysis. Maison Mètamose. She is a French tattoo artist that does a lot what she calls “organic poetry”. Its a very abstract and cubist form of art. Her ability to put her original pieces together on human skin is really incredible. She has a great use of negative space. I don’t know what it is about it, but I just love the coordinated chaos. Finally, Id say Ed Mason. He does live music photography, all black and white, and his images are more art than documentation. He’s able to create these brilliant images. Live photography is great because your subject is doing their complete own thing, and you have theatric lights that create a new scene every second. I recently got to do it and really enjoyed myself!
Do you consider yourself more of a studio photographer or on-location?
Definitely more of a studio photographer. I enjoy being outside and doing everything there. Its nice, but I find myself almost clueless to what I wanna shoot. In a studio I have complete control and usually have an image already in mind or have an easier time thinking on the spot.
Can you explain the meaning behind one or more of your photos (Monkey Nipples)
Monkey Nipples (MODEL: Leila Magnolia) was in limbo for a long time. That piece discusses censorship. We share 99% of our DNA with Chimpanzees and you can show them, male or female, in all their glory. You cant show ANY of a women’s nipple though. This is not new news to anyone. To me, that is purely the over sexualization of the female form. Everyones got nipples! What makes my nipples any more appropriate than a women’s? Their’s are actually far more useful. Women are told to cover up to protect… I don’t know, something. Young men? themselves? I forget what reason Evangelicals and GOP are telling people these days, but I assure you, its bullshit. My picture is basically a ‘fuck you’ to these censorships and groups demanding it. I don’t know if it means anything coming from me, a white male. BUT if I can bring some type of social questioning to someone that will be enough. It took a long time to get someone to shoot this with me and I am lucky that Leila was so badass and into the idea.
Hulk Hands (MODEL: Victoria Roisman) was another that I am very proud off. This one is supposed to be as random as it appears. A lot of photography today is very premeditated to appear ‘random’ and there are very trendy themes you always see. I was speaking with my friends about it one day and I joked that I might as well ‘have a women in underwear, eating a grapefruit, and wearing hulk hands’. Boom. I did it that next week. I did it to almost mock all those other people who just put someone in a trendy situation for likes. Have more to say than that! Or at least don’t put some inspirational bullshit in the caption, UGH!
Is there an overall theme you try to express in your work, or does it change piece to piece?
It changes piece to piece. I wish I had the attention span to continuously shoot the same theme over and over. I have tried! Prisms. Black and whites. Femme fatales. Noir. Lifestyle. I just cant focus that much on one thing. Im too ‘A.D.D.’. I live a tornado-like life. Everything I own and think are spinning around me in utter chaos. My emotions ARE my sleeves. Everything I wanna say or do spins around me, ripping roofs off other peoples homes and occasionally I reach in and complete a project thats been spinning for a bit.
What is the weirdest thing you’ve done for a photoshoot (Or a good story)
Woooo good questions. I don’t know if I have any good stories. Besides probable trespassing charges that could be brought up with me. Ive covered people in paint and food. The models face when first seeing the backdrop I made for Monkey Nipples was funny. The one I have coming up is honestly probably the weirdest. I cant say much about it but I will say it involves a live duck!