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

Andy Bond grew up in Ottawa and moved to Vancouver after college. For the past 14 years Andy has been working with the PHS Community Services Society helping a wide spectrum of people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood. Though he studied photography for two years in college, he spent ten years away from it and has only been shooting seriously for the past couple of years. Andy has had the opportunity to travel to and shoot in many places throughout the United States and Europe, but has spent surprisingly little time shooting in his hometown of Vancouver. In part one of our interview with Andy we explored his start in photography. In this concluding part of our interview, we delve deeper into his equipment of choice, his images from New York City and his plans for future projects.

Q: You mentioned that you found the Leica M9 and MP more conducive to your style of “street photojournalism” than a “bulky DSLR.” Aside from their handier size, what specific characteristics of Leica M cameras are more suitable for your work, and do you think they have helped you evolve as a photographer?

A: I do primarily use film and digital Leica rangefinders for all of my work. I shoot my street stuff on film with the MP and use the M9 more for contracted work or reportage jobs that require the immediacy of a digital workflow. It’s all about the simplicity, ease of use and the great optical quality of Leica lenses. I think they have helped me evolve by allowing me to focus on taking photos without the camera getting in the way, if that makes any sense.

Q: What are your favorite lenses for street photography? Can you tell us something about why you chose them and whether you’re planning to explore other focal lengths? Also, do shoot more often on film with your MP or digitally with the M9, and what do you feel are the advantages of each capture medium?

A: For the past year I have shot most of my street stuff with the MP and the newest version of the 35mm Summilux. I also have a 21mm Summilux that I use on a regular basis. Before I started shooting with the Leica rangefinders I always liked shooting with wide-angle lenses because it sort creates a fantastical and exaggerated look, but I came to see it as a trick, sort of like when people just shoot everything wide open with a fast lens. I have a 50mm as well, but I mostly use it for portraits and I am considering a 28mm. I use the M9 for most of my color stuff and for the obvious advantages of immediacy related to shooting digitally, but I prefer film. I just enjoy the entire process of shooting film more. I find it easier to edit with some time in between when I shot an image and when I view it. I find all the debates around the aesthetics of film vs. digital kind of boring and I don’t have much to add to it, but I do have more respect for people who are shooting film. With film, somebody who is completely ignorant of the photographic process can’t just press a button and get a decent photo. However, that’s just my personal opinion and at the end of the day content is still the most important thing, regardless of the medium used to capture it.

Q: In your series of New York City images, there is a section on the Occupy Wall Street protests, another on the Times Square area and another series on Chinatown. What motivated you to document these events/locations? How do you think the feelings and emotions conveyed by each are distinctly different and do you believe there an underlying sensibility that unites them all?

A: All of the images taken in that blog post were shot over a four-day period and I didn’t do a lot of editing out for that post. So there are about 125 images shot over four days. I was there for a “Street Is Serious” workshop with Severin Koller and Chris Weeks so there was no real motivation to document each area. It is just the natural order of a street photography workshop to walk the streets and take photos, but each area is different. I think they all feel like New York, but there is a more authentic feel to the photos shot in Chinatown as compared to the more obvious photos of tourists in Times Square, which isn’t my favorite place to shoot.

Q: On your website, you caption some of your images, including one of a man carrying a sign that says, “Make a killing on Wall Street, shoot a stockbroker.” Apart from the obvious irony why did you take this shot, and what do you think it says about the nature of the Occupy Wall Street movement? And why do you caption some images and not others?

A: I only caption some images and not others due to laziness and a sense that, most of the time, the image on its own is enough. As for the guy holding the sign, he was just an interesting character. I don’t think that his sign says much about the Occupy movement, which I believe has already been successful. The whole “99%” slogan has helped to change the national discourse by effectively highlighting the inequities and abuses of corporate capitalism: the contemptible character of purchased elections, the corporate high jinx that led to the current financial crisis, the endless overseas wars and so on. You can’t have meaningful political democracy without functioning economic democracy and that has to be brought to awareness and consciousness before things will really start to change and Occupy movement is doing that.

Q: Can you tell us something about your image of the woman in the sequin dress posing on the police car in the middle of Times Square? Was this pure luck and happenstance or did you ask her to pose? By the way, do you think that engaging your subjects or encouraging them to do something is legitimate in street photography or photojournalism?

A: No, I didn’t ask her to pose. I pretty much never ask anybody to pose or ask anybody’s permission. That shot was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. It looked like she was there doing some kind of professional shoot right in the middle of Times Square and she asked the cop if he would turn on the lights for a minute which he did. I shot about five frames and by the time I turned around there was about 30 tourists taking photos of her.

As for the second part of the question, I think if you start encouraging people to do things or pose for you then your photos will not have the authenticity of observed life. I mean, regardless of how you approach it, you are really only able to show a fragment of reality from a very specific perspective, but in a street photography context, I think that what you find naturally occurring is more interesting than what you can stage. So I try not to influence things, but I don’t try to be hidden or sneaky and people often see me. Sometimes I see a shot and then wait for the person to look at the camera and then click the shutter before they have had time to react or realize I’m taking their picture, but if I had approached the person and asked to take their photo I would end up with an entirely different image.

Q: Your surreal street shot of a man in a gorilla costume holding a small man in a cage is amusing and disturbing. Can you tell use something about it, and what it means to you?

A: This is another shot from NYC. I just walked out of the subway and that’s what I saw. I liked the juxtaposition of the woman pushing the wheelchair connecting with the guy in the cage being held by the gorilla, even though it’s a bit of a one-liner.

Q: Your picture of a bare-breasted middle-aged woman with an SLR around her neck standing in between a policeman and an EMT is described as a protester. Did you ever find out what she was protesting or what happened to her afterward? What do you think the image says about life in New York?

A: It was hard to gauge what she was doing. I didn’t stick around to see what happened, but I did hear the police tell the buildings security guards that there really wasn’t much they could do. I’m not sure if that image says anything about life in New York besides “who knows what you’ll see…”

Q: There is something compelling about your image of an attractive woman with an enigmatic expression on her face that is wedged in a group of Toronto police officers. What’s going on here and what are your feelings about this image?

A: I have strong feelings about that image. I was in Toronto covering the resistance to the G8/G20 meetings and the police were completely out of control at that point. The photo was taken right in the middle of the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. The police grabbed her, basically because she was wearing black and were really intimidating her. I walked in close and took a few shots. As I was doing it I was grabbed from behind, dragged off to the side, searched, arrested and then released without charge, as were many other independent journalists. I’m not sure what happened to the woman in the photo.

Q: Your portrait series for PHS is very moving, and stylistically somewhat different than your slice of life street images. Can you tell us what motivated you to create this series, and what you think it conveys to the viewer?

A: Those photos are part of a long-term project for the PHS Community Services Society, a non-profit organization in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that provides 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. I have worked for the PHS for the past 14 years and I have known the people in those photos for a very long time. I have hardly published any of those photos on my blog, but they have been featured in several Canadian newspapers, online articles, as well as grants and proposals to secure more funding for programs that will benefit the people in the photos. I also give prints to the residents to send to their families, give to their friends, etc.

Q: How do you see your photography evolving over the next few years and do you plan to cover any specific locations or events in the near future?

A: One of the main things for this year is to finish a proper website, as my blog isn’t a proper representation of my work. I will also have about ten photos featured in the second edition of the “This Is East Van” photography book. In October, I am planning to attend a workshop in Beirut with the Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos, as well as doing a reportage project on the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. I also plan to keep working away at building a decent street portfolio and trying to find the time to shoot more at home in Vancouver. As long as I enjoy it I’ll keep working away at it!

-Leica Internet Team

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