June 10th, 2011

LOOK3 2011: Christopher Anderson On Working Close to Home

Christopher Anderson opened the morning program of Masters Talks today at LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, VA, in front of a packed crowd at the Paramount Theater downtown.

Anderson is exhibiting his latest body of work, “Son,” at the festival. The project focuses on his family as his young son grows from a baby into a toddler and his father battles illness.

During his talk Anderson called the project, which shows his wife and son, his father, and landscapes and cityscapes, “the most important work I’ve ever done,” though it deals with what he called “simple, obvious themes” of life-cycles and the relationships between fathers and sons.

Though he mostly let the work speak for itself, he presented other photographs from throughout his career as a way of telling the story of how he ended up, after living out of a suitcase for seven years, working close to home.

While shooting a group of refugees fleeing Haiti in a wooden boat, Anderson nearly lost his life as the boat sank. He was rescued by the Coast Guard. The experience was transformative, he said, because it made him wonder why, when he thought he was going to die, he chose to make pictures that “no one would ever see.” Photography is “a way of explaining the world to myself,” he said, a “vehicle to process and understand” what he was experiencing. He realized he needed to take pictures that were about more than simply reporting the facts of a situation.

Because editors “decided I would put up with a certain amount of discomfort” he was asked to photograph war and he took those assignments in places like Afghanistan and Lebanon without ever making a conscious decision to become a war photographer. By 2002 he was burned out, though, and bored with the pictures he was making.

He began carrying a Holga around and playing a sort of game where he would take just one frame of a particular subject. The work was turned into a book, Nonfiction, and it also helped him realize he was interested in making pictures that were less technically focused and more emotional and direct.

He funneled that direct approach into his study of Venezuela, Capitolio, which was published as a book and iPad app, and then into his work about his family.

Up until his son was born and he began photographing at home, photography had been a way of escaping Abilene, Texas, where he grew up, and a way of avoiding being “who I was supposed to be.” (When asked during Q&A who he was supposed to be, he said he had long since forgotten.)
–Conor Risch

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