Photographer Andrew Paynter is not content with capturing superficialities. He wants to get under the skin of his subjects and bring their personalities to light. Unimpressed by the rushed, one-dimensional portraits that usually appear in books and magazines, he understands that to reveal the multi-faceted nature of human beings – particularly their creative process – it’s necessary to invest the proper amount of time. With this in mind, Andrew is currently mid-way through two decade-long photographic projects, one with artist Geoff McFetridge and another with the Welsh denim brand Hiut.
Although he rarely gets to spend such a huge amount of time on every project, he shares Huck’s fascination with artists and creative people. But it’s his focus on the character of each person, rather than just the fruits of their labour, that keeps us coming back to work with him. In his Working Artists series he has documented the work, studios and lives of a small group of his close friends, including Thomas Campbell, Evan Hecox and Serena Mitnik-Miller. Hailing from San Francisco, Andrew is currently in Hong Kong to reflect on life and feast on the island’s unique collision of Western and Oriental aesthetics.
Hey Andrew, what brings you to Hong Kong?
“I turned 40 and felt like I needed to go somewhere – alone – to really comprehend this passage of my life, assess where I’ve come from and where I’m going. I just roam the streets shooting photographs and eating food nonstop. My best friend lives here, so I got some quality time with him as well. I love Hong Kong!”
What’s interesting about the place, photographically?
“Hong Kong has such a nice blend of both Chinese and British aesthetics, and I love that interaction. My dear friend, artist Evan Hecox, once described it as an entire city that mimics the intersection where Chinatown, North Beach and the Financial district of San Francisco come together. He was spot on. It’s very graphic in some places; dense with architecture, people and such. I made a small body of work based on the relationships people have to the buildings and the streets. It’s a very inspiring place.”
Why did you start shooting pictures?
“I was primarily influenced by my grandfather, Bertram Payne. He was always shooting photos and bought me my first SLR in high school. He was in the British Army and came back from several years of living in both Asia and Italy with some incredible cameras. As a young boy, I remember always looking at everything of his. I think I inherited his need to sustain moments in life, as shooting photos is both an exercise in visual communication and with human/non-human interaction.”
What’s your connection to skate culture?
“I was involved with photographing the Adidas skateboarding team for about three years, through a small design studio in SF called Juice, who do all of their creative work. I got to travel all over the world and photograph the team alongside Sem Rubio, a proper skateboard photographer who I adore. I’ve skated since I was about 12 but I don’t fancy myself as a ‘skate photographer’. Skating has greatly influenced me as a person, so I felt compelled to contribute to the culture, but from a reportage perspective, rather than the action sports way. I’m less interested in tricks and more interested in the personalities, like what drives these kids to success.”
What inspired your Working Artists series?
“I grew up with a book on Picasso by the American photographer David Duncan Douglas which inspired me in many ways. In an age where information and access was a privilege, he revealed so much about such a private person. There are so many other artists that I love, such as Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, David Hockney and others, whose lives I am very interested in, but there are no books that reveal them. I love the multiple dimensions of human beings, not just the products of their work. So I asked a small group of very close friends if I could begin documenting their work, their studios and their lives. I’ve photographed Geoff McFetrdige, Thomas Campbell, Evan Hecox, Serena Mitnik-Miller and The Mattson 2, among others. I chose these folks because they are all friends, but I also love their work. I hope to be able to expose everything about them that is eventually output through their creative endeavours.”
What are your plans for the future?
“Since day one, I have mainly worked with film and I would love to continue shooting photographs in that way. I bear no grudges against digital, but I’m holding out with film for as long as I can. I just love the look and feel of it, as well as the cameras and lenses. I have also been directing some motion projects for NYC fashion designer Phillip Lim, as well as music videos like Prepare Your Coffin for Chicago-based band Tortoise.
“I feel like there are so many photographers just doing these little, ‘Hey, look who I hung out with for 4 hours,’ books and magazine articles. I’m more interested in the long haul: to see progress, change and growth. I feel like it’s more of a commitment and reveals far more about the subject.
“I’m working on a ten year photographic project with Los Angeles based artist Geoff McFetridge, documenting his art, studio, traveling and family life. We are now in year seven and Geoff continues to blow my mind with his creativity and originality – I’ve seen so much growth in these short years. We will eventually release the project together as a box set of books after 2017.
“I’m doing another ten year photographic project for Welsh denim line Hiut. I fly out to Wales once a year and spend a week on their farm in Cardigan. David and Clare who run the company and their creative director, Nick, have given me a lot of creative freedom and allowed me to shoot exclusively with film. The project has become very dear to me and it has been so rewarding to collaborate with such great intellectuals.”