Entering New Worlds Through Photography

Uploaded by vice on 02.11.2012


CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON: I'm still endlessly fascinated by
what is that magic dust that, sprinkled on a certain image,
makes it more powerful than another image?
It goes so far beyond composition and lighting all
those things.
But yet, it's kind of all those things mixed together.
And that's the essence of what is interesting about
photography to me.

Oh man, I love when the city looks like that.

My name is Christopher Anderson,
full member in Magnum.
There was a certain idea, the notion that this camera could
represent for me, especially growing up in a
small town in Texas.
This little machine represented a way out.
So there was that sense of having an idea of wanting to
do something with this.
But what that really meant of being a professional--
When I got out of university, I was
planning to go into academia.
But a friend of my family got me a job in "The Dallas
Morning News" printing pictures and
developing film there.
I did that as a summer job, and I knew then I wanted to be
a photographer somehow.
And I was never going to go back to academia.
I got really lucky.
Someone gave me a job to take pictures before I even really
understood that there was a job description of
professional photographer.
I had no formal training.
I really didn't know how to work a camera.
I certainly had no journalism training.
I became this professional and learned on the job.
And I spent many years just trying to do my job as good as
I could do it before I ever start really thinking about
putting very basic questions to myself, like what is a
And what do I want my photographs to represent?
Those sort of questions came to me much later.

Here's the Haiti boat story--

June 18, 2000.
In Haiti, this writer and I--
Michael Finkel--
met this guy in Haiti who told us an amazing story about
trying to get on a boat and sail to the United States.
We got on one of these boats--
44 Haitians plus myself and the writer.
And we set sail.

And a few days later, we started sinking.
That moment in the boat when we realized
that we were sinking---
up until that point, I hadn't taken many photographs.
And the guy we were with, David, says, Chris, you'd
better start taking pictures now.
We're going to be dead in 45 minutes.
Without thinking too much about it, I begin making
photographs, as we were literally saying goodbye to
each other.

This is the guy, David.
That was the moment we realized we were sinking.
You can see the water coming in from the
inside of the boat there.

And later on, after that, I thought about that moment over
and over again, asking myself the question, why make
photographs that I assumed no one would see?
And the only answer that I could come up with was that
the actual act of making pictures, photography in and
of itself, it had as much to do for me about explaining the
world to myself as it did explaining it to someone else.
The very act of photography was part of how
I understood things.
It crystallized the notion, the idea of what it was I
thought about photography and what I
wanted to do with pictures.
It changed everything.

And from that point, I guess editors thought that I was
looking for danger and was willing to go through some
So I started getting offers to do the obvious thing, which is
go to wars.
And that set about-- the next several years was this kind of
blur from Israel, Palestine to Lebanon to Africa to Iraq,
But with a clear idea of what I wanted the
pictures to be about.
I wanted to find a way for someone to feel what it was
that I experienced--
an emotional quality that cut through all the ideas of facts
and journalism, but went straight to something else,
which is an emotional truth.

I don't know if I made a conscious decision to stop
doing wars or not.
Part of it's I had a child.
One skill set that I had in doing that kind of work was
that I was able to remain relatively calm in those
And now, I felt like I didn't trust how I would react.
But there's also the other side of me, which is that, for
me, there was never this oh, I used to be that and now I've
become this.
It's just we grow and we change as human beings.
So even from a creative standpoint, I'm taken in
different directions now--
portraits, for instance.
And really looking at why I like some portraits--
why some portraiture is compelling and others are not.
And me, not coming from any formal, technical training of
photography, forcing myself to learn some of those things in
order to pull off what it is that I want to photograph.
Yeah, I kind of like those challenges.

What did you have?
What did I have?
What do you mean, what did I have?
No, a present.
A present?
If I have a present?
The son project--
the photographs of my son and my father--
really happened quite organically in the sense that
I had a kid.
It started like any father taking pictures of their kid.
At about the same time, my father became ill.
And so I was thinking about very obvious themes of the
cycles of life and death.
And that's the weird thing about parenthood--
is completely universal and mundane.
And at the same time, it's completely unique and intimate
and special.
And so I began photographing my father and my son, and at
the beginning, just without thinking about it.
And it started to dawn on me that what I was seeing in the
pictures was that quality that I felt like I'd been on a
search for since I first started using a camera.
And that everything that I had photographed up until that
point was as if it were just some sort of preparation to
bring me to that point, to provide me with the tools or
the insight or whatever it was in order
to make those pictures.
And that that was my life's work.
It was very quick, also, because that particular set of
pictures loses its magic the moment that it becomes a
conscious work.
Flash card, camera, lenses, extra battery.

See, I always want to take a picture right here.
And I can't.
I'd have to park my car.

The work I'm doing now with "New York Magazine," it's a
big change for me, because I'm staying mostly at home to do
it after years of having worked mostly in strange
places around the world.
Check this out, this old Bronx courthouse that's just bricked
up and empty.

And also, for me, it is an extension of what
the son work was.
The son photographs are this first time where I look at my
own world, at this city in which I live, and the people
that I live with in this city.
And so in that sense, the work retains this personal edge to
it, this personal connection--
my world of New York and my friendships with other
photographers and artists and writers.
And it's part of this collective experience that
we're having now that I'm privileged enough to get to
photograph in a concentrated way.

Yeah, I don't know Spanish Harlem as well as
I would like to.
I would like to really explore it more.
Wow, there is a--
I'm going to try to stop here, because there's a great shot.
And these aren't really the projects that we're looking
at, but I see a great shot here.

I go out, and I think of it as I start turning over rocks and
see what I find underneath.
And sometimes, you find the most interesting
things under a rock.

And sometimes, you find nothing.

But a lot of it is just about going out and meeting people
and seeing where that leads to.
Are you Ms. [INAUDIBLE]?
Is she--
She's not here.
She's not here.
I heard she takes care of the gardens.
Is that right?
What's that?
She went to the store.
They said she'd be back in a little bit.
There she is right there.
But that's my garden right there.
Oh, you have a garden here, too?
Oh, great.
We met a couple of women who have tended
gardens outside of projects.
They were a connection into this world.

You never know what that leads to.
You never know when you get invited in for tea or
whatever, and all of sudden, this other world opens up to
you that you would have never known just by walking by or
just by showing up.

There's no winners and there's no losers out here.
Everybody wins.
I want ya'll to understand that.
Nobody loses.
Everybody wins in this tournament.
If there's one word that I hope describes my pictures--
the gist of my pictures-- it's intimacy.
And that requires an interaction with people, to
some extent.
I want the pictures to feel more than just this shadow
that passes by and stops a scene.
I want it to feel engaged and connected.

New York is one of the strange places to photograph, because
first of all, it's terribly photogenic.
There are pictures-- there are cliches everywhere.
But there's this light bouncing around.
There's this, graphically, these big buildings and
canyons of the streets and these characters
all over the place.
And also, it's overwhelming.
It's daunting--
this idea of photographing New York, because it is a genre in
and of itself.
It's a photographic cliche.

You feel overwhelmed by this idea.
How can I ever attempt to do that?
It's all been done before.
At the same time, it hasn't been done, I feel, from my
point of view right now in this year, this week, today.

As I'm working, I'm thinking of these images that I make on
the street today, what that picture will mean
10 years from now.
I think sometimes pictures age well in the sense that today,
it's a picture that doesn't look like much or it
doesn't mean much.
But can you imagine this thing 10 years from now, 20 years
from now, 50 years from now?
That's how photography, to me, is interesting.
It's not just that moment.
It's not just today.
It's something that's a longer thing.
So yeah, I'm aware of the assignment today, and I go out
and I do that, do my work, and do it correctly.
But really, as I'm doing an assignment, it's about the
longer view, the bigger picture, and how this thing
becomes a piece of a much larger puzzle.