Andy Bond: A Tourist in His Own Town, Part One

Andy K. Bond is a freelance photographer based in East Vancouver, Canada. After dropping out of high school to work in a record store, Andy went back to finish his diploma and enrolled in a photography course that was offered. Andy went on to pursue further photography courses at his local community college, but wasn’t interested in the hype of the impending digital revolution that was just gaining traction in the late ’90s. Andy soon lost interest in photography, though he picked it up again ten years later. Here is the first part of our interview with Andy about his discovery and rediscovery of the photographic medium.

Q: What camera and equipment do you use?

A: I use a Leica M9 and a Leica MP primarily. For the past year I have almost exclusively been shooting film. I have a 35mm Summilux, a 21mm Summilux and a 50mm Summilux, but the vast majority of my work is shot with the 35mm. I also own a Rolleiflex and a Fuji Polaroid camera, but I don’t use them very often.

Q: Are you a photographer full-time? If so, how did you make that transition? If not, what is your “day job”?

A: I work as a program director with the PHS Community Services Society, a non-profit organization in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which exists due to structural and societal inequality. It is difficult to describe exactly what I do, but the primary focus of my work is to provide safe, supportive housing to individuals who are either homeless or facing homelessness, living in extreme poverty, frequently suffering from mental illness, living with addictions and often facing serious illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, TB and malnutrition. In addition to providing housing, the PHS is involved in a variety of community development projects such as the Interurban Art Gallery, a credit union for low-income residents (Pigeon Park Savings), a free dental clinic and North America’s only supervised injection facility.

So no, I am not a full-time photographer and I am not entirely sure I would want to be. It would really depend on what type of photography. I think it’s tough to find a job as an aspiring street photographer or a photojournalist, and shooting corporate ads, weddings, fashion, architecture, etc. isn’t for me. However, for the past two years I have tried to do some things “professionally” and have had photographs published in a number of Canadian newspapers, shot band related stuff for Sub Pop records, had one of my photos used for the cover of the “This Is East Van” photography book and I’ve sold some prints, so who knows what the future holds.

Q: When did you discover and develop your passion for photography?

A: I dropped out of high school for a year to work at a record store and when I went back to finish my diploma in 1995 one of the courses offered was a photography course. It sounded like something I actually wanted to learn about and my dad had a 35mm Minolta that he gave me so I signed up. It came really naturally to me and I enjoyed every aspect of it. I ended up getting my first A+ and decided to pursue it in college.

After high school I enrolled in a photography program at a local community college in Ottawa. In the first year we focused on black and white photography, but in the second year the focus shifted to color photography, Photoshop and discussions about the coming digital revolution. During that year I started to lose interest in the program. I wasn’t taken by the digital and technological advancements and the job prospects seemed disappointing and didn’t reflect what I had enjoyed about photography. I did come away with a solid understanding of the technical aspects of developing my own film and printing photos, but not much else.

After college I moved from Ottawa to Vancouver and I didn’t take photos for over ten years. Despite my history of formal education I would consider myself to be mostly self-taught. I’ve only been shooting seriously for the last couple of years and I’ve only been shooting street photography for about a year and a half. I have learned a lot by looking through street photography books and surfing the web. I also attended the first “Street Is Serious” workshop in LA with Chris Weeks and Severin Koller in March 2011. When I first started looking through contemporary street photography websites, Sev’s was one of the first sites that really stood out to me. And it seemed ideal to learn from people whose work I respect. I think there are limits to how much you can teach somebody about shooting street, but I do think it’s inspiring to shoot with other people and to see how they work. I have received a lot of feedback from both of them and I went to New York in October to shoot with them again.

Q: Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?

A: Until recently I had been mostly following work produced by my friends – people like Jeremy Jansen, Toby Bannister and Chris Frey – but I wouldn’t say they influenced me. I have always been a fan of the Magnum photographers and their combination of everyday scenes, politics, news events, disasters and conflict. I also really like Fred Herzog’s work, a lot of which was shot in Vancouver in the 1950s and 1960s and focused on ordinary people, the working class and their connections to the city around them. I think the Vivian Maier stuff that’s been discovered is interesting.

Q: How did you first become interested in Leica?

A: When I started shooting again in 2008 I purchased a bulky DSLR that I was never entirely satisfied with. During a casual conversation with my girlfriend about how I wished I could find a camera that was reminiscent of my old film SLR she said, “You should get a Leica. They’re the best. Not that you could ever afford one …” After a lot of research, I sold my bulky DSLR and all of my other camera gear, cashed in some air miles and flew to New York to pick up my first Leica, which was a used M8. Using air miles to fly to New York ended up being cheaper than having it shipped and paying the duties. It also made for a great venue to try out my new camera. I had never shot a rangefinder before, but I took to it instantly and felt like my photos improved in both quality and subject. Before long I moved to the M9 and then the MP for film.

Q: How does photography fit into your life?

A: Well, most photographers that I read about say that they like to carry a camera with them everywhere. This is something I have tried, but frankly doesn’t work for me. My approach tends to be more focused. I shoot obsessively for short periods and then I need to take a break. I find the process very rewarding and exhausting at the same time. I have a lot of different things on the go and I don’t like to treat photography like some kind of extreme sport. However, I have been lucky enough to travel extensively over the past couple of years with a band from Vancouver called Black Mountain and on my own so I have been able to shoot street in a lot of different cities in North America and Europe, which has been a great introduction to street shooting. It’s really difficult to do street photography well and I feel like I’m just getting started. However, I do plan to have my first exhibit in 2012. I’m also planning to shoot more in Vancouver as I really haven’t shot here very much. I’ll be a tourist in my town.

Q: You seem to concentrate on covering specific locations with a series of spur-of-the-moment images that, taken together, convey a sense of being there. Do you agree, is this a conscious decision, and how would you describe what you are trying to achieve?

A: I agree with that to a certain extent. When I go to New York or some other city for a few days and I’m able to just focus on shooting, I’m usually hoping to get one or two really great shots. I have been fortunate enough to travel a bunch over the past few years and I generally just post a bunch of shots from wherever I go. I’ve only been shooting street seriously for a couple years and it takes a lot of time, practice and luck to build up a decent portfolio. It is really hard to have images that stand out these days. I’m currently working on a proper website which will be much more focused and curated than my blog, which I only started as way to share photos with friends and family. I never imagined it would be getting as much traffic as it has. Most of the images on my blog won’t end up on my website, but if people can look at the images together and feel like they were there watching something as it happened then that’s great. At the end of the day, I do it because I enjoy the entire process, but there isn’t a deep philosophy or grand statement I’m trying to convey.

-Leica Internet Team

You can see more of Andy’s images at andykbondphoto.blogspot.comakbondphotograve.blogspot.com and andykbond.tumblr.com.