Left: Andrew Shepherd in the Paddington Raincoat and the Striped Yoke Shirt
Brooklyn-based artist Andrew Ryan Shepherd weaves narratives through the creative use of photography, video, graphic design, sound, and even with model airplanes…
Andrew was born in the south just outside Hattiesburg, MS, and spent his childhood in Texas. After a short stint in Arkansas for university, Andrew moved to New York City for music, which somehow threw him into graphic design, and subsequently, photography, and then filmmaking.
When Andrew moved back to Texas in early 2008, the question of New York was not one tied up in an “if” as much as a “when”. On a trip late in 2010, Andrew met who would become his wife, which thankfully and unexpectedly sped up the process. After moving (this time to Brooklyn), he quickly proposed, and they were married a year later, living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn ever since.
BKI: The visual language in your photography and videography is very rich in textures and your compositions are unconventional. What was your background before getting behind the camera?
ARS: I’ve always been drawing and building things (model airplanes) and had sort of a meticulous brain, for better or worse. I started learning to play a few musical instruments in high school, and spent most of my time learning to read, write, and perform music. It literally swallowed me — I couldn’t think about anything else.
After years of playing in bands in high school and college, I started to learn to design t-shirts, album covers, and so on, and I grabbed a copy of Photoshop and started pulling images from stock sites and trying to set type over them. I don’t have a formal education in that stuff, and that really shows in the earlier work.
Fast forward a few years, I started to realize I could probably do this for a living, and I was working with much better photography and textures to form my compositions. I’ve always been inclined to the collage style of work over the illustrative (though there is a place for both) — the organic, the destroyed, the natural, and the use of light in the work.
I bought a cheap DSLR and started walking around Upper Manhattan and photographing everything I saw — Subway mural details, the bricks in the wall surrounding Central Park, the sun coming through my fire escape over 97th Street. I was really terrible, but it stands today that it’s actually difficult for me to say anything more about my work than that I’m more interested in being a student than a teacher. That said, I started setting type/copy over these images and started to discover I actually liked creating those original backgrounds more than I liked buying them from stock sites.
I started to take photography pretty seriously and took pictures everywhere I traveled. I started to meet other photographers who challenged me deeply, not only technically, but in my approach to and interaction with subjects.
A few years after freelancing as a graphic designer, I decided to take the plunge and start freelancing in a wholly new direction — as a photographer. I started shooting editorial stories, portraits, and worked with bands on stage — these were the people I connected with, as a musician myself. I found it was not only a great way to grow in my craft, but to also be living and working within the environments I was naturally drawn to.
I made friends with a bunch of people in the Texas music scene, and as I started to gain more access to their lives, I realized my insecurities and need to give others access to myself. Photography for me was an unfolding, not only on the technical side, but in that it made me grow as a person, and helped me to understand and relate to people.
I’ve always been a writer as well, and photography was always a way to explore stories. One of my interests in starting photography is that it seemed much more narrative than the type of work I was doing as a graphic designer. Creating portraits and documenting scenes seemed to say so much more about the world.
When the 5D Mark II camera came out, like many other photographers, I started shooting video. At the big turn of the responsive and media-rich internet in the late 2000’s, brands were looking for more video content. I was interested in video not necessarily for that reason, but because it felt like the full circle back to why I started taking photos — telling stories — and it was also the culmination of all my different interests to that point. It involved photography, graphic design, my love for music, my dedication to writing, to people, to building things from scratch. It felt like the most natural progression I could make, and it consolidated my skills and desires into one form — filmmaking. And there, the skills serve the video; not any one is the featured. I liked that it brought everything together; I liked the possibilities, and I liked that I knew really nothing about it.
BKI: Aside from your commercial work, it seems like you like to dabble in lots of different formal projects and exercises – anywhere from Super 8 videos to time lapse studies. What inspires you to produce in this wide range?
ARS: I get bored pretty easily. I maintain a pretty steady stream of a few different kinds of work in photography and film, but I have sort of this deep discontent when I’m not trying something new, or learning, or being challenged. I find that my lowest times are the times when I’m not experimenting or trying to grow.
BKI: The Brooklyn landscape, along with other travel destinations seem to play a large character in your work. What do you look for in locations when you shoot?
ARS: I grew up in Texas and travel back frequently. My family is there, I have a lot of friends there, and it’s been a great landscape to learn, grow and get better. Plus, it’s beautiful. In Texas you have such a wide variety of scenes, that if you drive a couple hours in any direction you’ll find something inspiring. My dad taught me at a young age to appreciate nature and to love silence and solitude. I find that when I’m traveling I’m interested in documenting not only a place, but a moment in history, at least my own history; and I hope I always get to do that with friends and family. That’s sort of what I’m thinking most — Where are we? How thankful am I?
Another aspect in my personal projects is bridging the water between a hectic New York life and a more slow, peaceful one that I’ve experienced elsewhere. I love both for different reasons. Agoraphobia is the kind of anxiety that usually results from a fear of crowded places, or a fear of open spaces. Even without the fear — mentally, historically — I have and think I’ll always have my feet in both countries, and I like talking about both experiences equally.
See Andrew’s recent photography for This Built America’s profile on Brooklyn Industries here. Follow Andrew as he takes over our Instagram this week @BrooklynIndustries. Or check out more of Andrew’s work here. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter@andrewshepherd