Interview by Kazeem Kuteyi, Photography by Kahlil Hernandez
Andi Elloway has a very enviable client list. She has shot for Nike, Adidas, Purple Magazine, Vogue.com, Glamour, i-D and a host of other brands. But before the parties and the glamour that comes along being a successful photographer in New York, Andi was in California assisting for Kenneth Cappello, who is best known for his iconic imagery for street wear brands like Supreme. During her time with Kenneth Cappello, she was able to hone her craft and most importantly learn the business.
We met Andi at Soho House in New York City this past Spring and over drinks. In our conversation with her, we were able to get an insight into her process and learn that it’s really about following your instincts, having a sense of determination and working hard.
What does photography mean to you as an art form?
Whenever I’m taking photos hanging out with friends, it’s about catching moments of us screwing around. Those are the memories I want to have. Those photos sometimes can end up being really cool but when I am planning a specific photo, a lot more goes into it as far as setup and materials. I am a big fan of Toilet Paper Magazine, and the still life by Pierpaolo Ferrari and Maurizio Cattelan. Photography as an art is about capturing something that won’t always exist, whether it’s a real moment or something that you create and destroy.
I have a certain respect for people who have made in it New York. I feel like this city is so saturated compared to a bunch of other cities. How do you survive in a city where there are so many people trying to do the same thing?
I think “making it” means different things to everybody. To me it means surviving comfortably, but I think that’s happened now because I try to be really smart with my accounting. I don’t ball out all the time or anything like that. I didn’t move to New York until I had enough in the bank to be secure for a bit. I knew it was going to be expensive and I probably wouldn’t be making a ton until I established myself, so I planned for that. In LA I assisted Kenneth Cappello for three years. He shot a ton of streetwear, celebrities… etc. He is super cool and one of my best friends now — he shot those iconic shots of Mike Tyson, and Raekwon with Elmo for Supreme. He is sick. I did his retouching and digital tech and that helped me put enough away to live in New York and not be eating ramen noodles. Everything is going well now and I’m very blessed but it was super up and down for a while. When you freelance you have to plan and not go crazy when you get a check. There might be that month where you don’t book any work you know? I think it’s about taking the right projects and knowing that to do them well, it takes a lot of work. Do not put your time and effort into something you are not passionate about unless they pay you. I remember a while ago, I was working on this project that wasn’t going so well, the client was not the best to work with— I called up a friend for advice and he said to me, “there’s a triangle of things you need to think about when you are about to choose a project; money, cool factor, and a fun working experience. If it does not have two of those things, then you are screwed”. I take that piece of advice into everything I do now.
I think that is such a good point. Right now, there is a new crop of photographers, creatives doing cool things— and there are people who want their services but they do not have the budget. So at what point do you say no to free work?
Well, when you are young and you are just starting out, you are going to end up doing some things that in retrospect were maybe not so great. You just kind of have to suck it up because it is experience, it helps you learn, and down the line— you will not have to show anyone those photos if they don’t represent the work you want to make. That being said, you have to stay true to your aesthetic and what you think is cool. I feel like you should always align yourself with others that you think are doing cool things and are talented. As long as you are happy with the crew you are working with at the time, I think it is OK to take some hits with not having a budget if the project is one you love— and you have to have work to show people when you are looking for a paid job. It is good when you can subsidize your lifestyle by assisting. I think a lot of photographers starting out mistake assisting as a thing you do to learn how to take photos. It can be, but it’s mostly about the business and watching interactions and how to problem solve. It’s so smart to find someone you admire and try to work with them.
“Well, when you are young and you are just starting out, you are going to end up doing some things that in retrospect were maybe not so great. You just kind of have to suck it up because it is experience, it helps you learn…”
Was there a strategy to any of this?
No, I did not have a plan. Out of high school, I wanted to be a pro snowboarder. I moved to this small ski town and then I got hurt. My parents were like, “well you can’t snowboard anymore…” It was their chance for them to get me into school. I went to art school and all my connections were in snowboarding so I ended up working with Forum Snowboards. I ended up being an assistant to their snowboard photographer. I was doing in office stuff, retouching etc., it was not like I wanted to be a photographer— I was just happy to have something to do. Eventually I wanted to get out of snowboarding and was introduced to Kenneth by a mutual friend. Meeting him changed my life because I did not know anything about photography at that point. When I interviewed he was asking me about Helmut Newton and Juergen Teller and their work— I had no idea, but I could retouch and that is what he needed. I sort of fell into it and I fell in love with photography the more I was around it.
How does one develop their own style? I look at your photos and I feel if I see your photo outside on a billboard, I know it is yours.
My look comes from a certain post style and a certain relaxed way of shooting— I like it to be easy. I love point and shoot cameras. I have a Leica X2 that I really like shoot with, I like a Canon G16 that I like to shoot with. Also when you are shooting, people tend to react differently to a smaller camera. With a smaller camera, you can get away with snapping photos without the subject paying attention. That is why I feel like a lot of my photos have a candid feeling, because a lot of people know I am taking pictures but are not really paying attention. Retouching is also important to me. I don’t want it perfect, but I don’t want it messy if that makes sense. I have been using Photoshop since I was 12 years old. My dad bought the first version and I thought “cool this is a more advanced version of Paint”. Color is really important. It is playing with little details like color correction, having certain levels of red or certain levels of blues— people pick up on those small details.
Would you learn your craft before you network? Or both at the same time?
Both at the same time. I never really looked at networking as networking. It’s always been, “I want to go to that party, I think it would be really fun, I think that person I want to work with is going to be there”. Whenever you hang out with people that you like and you enjoy, you end up making stuff together. I would not recommend looking at it as “networking”. Whenever someone makes it this ambitious thing it doesn’t feel organic and the relationship becomes flawed. People pick up on that. Trust that you will work with the people you are meant to work with. You never want to be that thirsty creep, Things should happen naturally if you are in the right place and hanging out with the people that make you happy. I’ve become friends with creative people I work with but it’s because we genuinely have things in common and love each other.
Photography by Andi Elloway
Yeah, us to, we have become friends with some people we have interviewed for this magazine.
For sure. The way you meet and find people is through things you are interested in. I think it is not worrying about the networking too much— let things happen naturally. That being said, have your ducks in a row as far as having something online to show. Be prepared for opportunities. Have a website to show. Reach out to people you want to shoot for, however many people will not respond to you — maybe 1 in 20 will write you back. You can’t just send one email and be like “that person did not like my work”. People are busy. They probably saw your email and then someone gave them coffee, then caught up with a friend and never looked at it again. You cannot take things personally— you just have to be persistent. If you email someone once and they do not get back to you, wait two weeks and write them again. After a third email, I tend to put them on a “do not bother” list. On the third email, a lot of people tend to write back apologizing saying it was a holiday season or fashion week. You kind of just have to give people the benefit of the doubt and understand people are busy. So don’t get discouraged so easily and keep doing what you love.
Are you content with where you’re at right now?
Super content. I am at point where I just worked a lot. I had a month of hell working everyday where it was all sleepless nights, I am kind of having a down time so right now it is about pushing the new work. I am also waiting for stuff to come out. For one of my clients we shoot 2 years in advance! It’s so hard to wait for new work you like to come out. After I shoot a big job, I chill and let myself enjoy personal projects until the next thing rolls in. The personal projects get other people excited about you and your vision though so it’s still helpful. It is important to let people see your personal aesthetic.
What is success to you?
Being able to eat at Whole Foods every day! Being able to pay my rent, travel when I want to, etc. But really, I think it’s having the freedom to say no to certain jobs. I think success is having enough work coming in to be comfortable and be creative and not have to take things that aren’t fun for you. It is okay to take small jobs, but preferably it’s not something you hate doing.
What do you think about this whole Instagram age?
I think at this point, it is become so saturated that no one really cares anymore. I know brands that will not hire models if they have a certain amount of followers because they do not want someone who is blown out. I think personally— brands are trying to find people who are under the radar, brands want to be the ones to discover you. Realistically, what happens if Instagram crashed. To base your value on a social media following… if the platform disappeared tomorrow, what would your talent be? You can take a selfie and use FaceTune? You are fucked in real life. Instagram is cool because you can meet a lot of cool people. I have met a lot of cool people on that platform and I guess you guys found me on there. I think it is a good asset for getting your work out there.
But real world connections have more value right?
Yeah, you have to have a real skill to be marketable. There should be something that you are running alongside being an Instagram influencer.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you say to your younger self?
I’d probably point out the people not to date haha.
Haha, That’s real