This week we interviewed photographer Andy Donohoe. Andy started out in photgraphy at a very young age and has since travelled all over the world taking photographs of people, places and everything in between.
Q: Have you always taken photos?
AD: Always. My Dad bought me a camera when I was twelve, a Minolta X700, and I still shoot personal work on that camera, it’s still going really strong. I was very fortunate to go a school where I could study it [photography] at GCSE – that’s the key, nice and early. And then I studied a B-Tech at college, at university, then I went away for four years and was taking pictures the whole time. All sorts of little projects and different things.
Q: So you studied photography at University? Which Uni?
AD: The University of Portsmouth. It was a really theory based course, it was basically a fine art degree. Lots of theory, philosophy, psychology.
Q: Was it your time at university or your initial times at school that really made you think ‘I want to do this forever’?
AD: It was college, really. I did a year of sixth form and then left to do this B-Tech, and after about six months I realised that leaving sixth form and going to college was the best decision I’d ever made. And I still stand by that – it was so hands on, you could just make your work…and it still gave me the points I needed to go to University.
Q: Conversely though, you said your time at Portsmouth was very theory based; did you find it hard going from one to the other?
AD: Yeah, studying it properly at uni was quite challenging, the theory stuff, my dissertation was quite hard. But still I feel that the theory stuff gave me a good grounding in art in general, in life. I also feel that uni is much more than what you study anyway. I know that’s going to sound cheesy, but you’re fending for yourself for the first time, you’re away from home, you’re becoming an adult, basically, and I really enjoyed that process.
Q: When I look through your collections, there’s a very distinctive style there. You’re primarily interested in people and places, but you’re also very interesting in the space between those two things; where people sit in places. And in your Japan collection the people almost seem lost in their spaces, eaten up by them. They’re small part of a much bigger thing.
AD: You’re talking about Rokko Island? So the place very much has “eaten up” the people. It was built as a utopian vision of the future in the 80s, then in the 90s it started to collapse, for various reasons there was a big recession in Japan, a huge earthquake, a couple of other things, and people started to move out of the island, and it’s now empty. There’s still a thriving community there, but less than half of the people that could be living there are living there.
Q: I see, because there’s a lot of order in those photos, but a lot of order for no purpose. Everything has been settled and arranged, but it’s not come to anything. I saw something similar in your Kazakhstan collection; there’s all these huge buildings dominating the skyline and other buildings around them, but there’s hardly anyone around them.
AD: It’s interesting you picked up on that. That city that I went to, Almaty…that project is more telling of my eye being drawn to a certain style of architecture, that brutalist, communist-bloc style is very appealing to me.
Q: When do you think your style emerged? Or was [space] always something you were concerned with in a roundabout way?
AD: It’s interesting, I guess it was just part of personal development. As you get older, you learn about different things, you become interested in different things, and this was just something that drew itself out from a variety of different influences…a lot of the art I like and a lot of the music I listen to could be seen as ‘minimal’. I think that comes out in my work a lot, and I think this ‘minimal’ approach has a lot to do with space. I like space, I need space in my life, I like the outdoors and having room.
For example, in any portrait of mine, I want the space to come across. The person needs space to breath in that photo. A lot of the architecture I’m into – brutalism, modernism – there’s comparisons that can be drawn with say, minimal techno, which I love and have done for years and years. So yeah, space and repetition.
Q: There’s a lot of character in the people you choose to photograph. When you see a person, what is it initially that draws you that person?
AD: I guess it starts from that first visual, my first judgement of them. If they look a bit interesting or weird, chances are they will be interesting or weird. And I’m going to want to talk to them, find out what they do and why they do it. Also I think it comes back to my beginnings; my camera has always been my way of interpreting the world…when I see someone interesting, because of my camera I’ll want to talk to them. I want to know their story.
Q: You’ve been all over the world – was there a place you visited that really made you think and perhaps even changed your outlook on photography?
AD: That’s a good one. I lived in Buenos Aires for a year, and that was a real eye-opening experience. I was shooting for an English language newspaper, and they sent me on all these different crazy stories, and that really opened my eyes and made me think that there’s so much going on that I don’t have any clue about. Like in the neighbourhoods you just turn a corner and there’s a crazy market you’ve never heard of or an art gallery with a live performance in it. Yeah, it was an interesting time for me.
Q: What’s inspiring you at the moment?
AD: Architecture. Living in London and the buildings I cycle past on a daily basis. Being freelance has really given me the opportunity to travel everywhere and get drawn in by all these amazing things around me. Being surrounded by creative people and living in one of the greatest cities in the world.
Q: And what can we look forward to from you in the future?
AD: I’m midway through a project at the Dictionary Hostel in Shoreditch, I’ve been staying there for a bit, meeting different people from around the world and taking their portrait. I’m also working on another project around pathways – it’s called ‘pathways of desire’ – those mud tracks in parks where people have taken their own route, that’s going to be a big project about people and why they follow the routes that they do.
Q: Thank you for your time!