Andrew Kaufman is an artist that doesn’t fit the mold of many of his contemporaries. He produces a tremendous amount of personal work, in every photographic format imaginable, and is really someone impossible to categorize. One day he might be shooting 6×7 for an ad client and the next 4×5 for a personal project. He has worked for magazines, agencies, art directors, ad clients and collectors and has somehow managed to avoid the mass homogenization of imagery that now seems to be prevalent in those fields. Andrew has traveled to literally every corner of the world (more than 40 countries on four continents) producing fascinating portraits, news, features and travel adventure stories along the way.
“Photography is the most permanent, longest lasting proof of street art. There is no way to preserve street art except to photograph it before it fades, is toyed with, buffed or written over. Street art, by its very nature is a fluid art form, constantly evolving because of the landscape, materials, politics, weather etc. It is through photography that street art can be conveyed to the world. Images of the artists and their works are reproduced and disseminated through books, magazines and the Internet,” Andrew Kaufman explains regarding his project photographing street art in the Miami neighborhood, Wynwood.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography?
A: WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). I let the imagery speak for itself. I want to record real life as it happens. I make the content the star of an image, not the technique. Content is king!
Photography is an integral part of my life, and it’s been that way for more than half of my life. It means the world to me. After all it’s the memories that we take with us. What I take from that is that, in the end, it’s all we got. I reminisce over the images that I have made and those images make up the moments of my life.
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: Sensitive, personal, intimate, bold, graphic, colorful, engaged, honest.
Q: What camera equipment have you used and do you use in your work now?
A: In my teens I was introduced to photography through 35 mm SLRs. It was all I knew for the first few years I had a camera in my hands. I even came in contact with Leica then, but had no clue what it was or what it did. A staff photographer at the local newspaper had one and used it daily, but everyone on staff at the newspaper said, “Oh man, that is the hardest camera to use. You better be perfect with an SLR before you even think about using a Leica.” It wasn’t until the end of my college career that I got re-introduced to the Leica and knew that I wanted one.
In my professional work though I use a multitude of cameras from 4×5 to 6×7 cm, 6×6 cm and even panoramic cameras. However, most of my intimate personal work is done with a Leica. I have an M6 and three lenses, a 35 mm, 50 mm and 90 mm, all Summicron. I almost exclusively work with natural light for my personal projects. I want to be unencumbered.
Q: What particular features or characteristics of the Leica M6 did you find especially useful in documenting street art and the process of its creation?
A: I like cameras that are fully manual with no frills. The M6 lets me get right to it. There are no menus or extra steps. I have been photographing for so long that the whole process is second nature to me and instinctual. I am not trying to meddle with that process. Having to look at the back of the camera can get in the way. I want to have a flow when I work and this has worked for me so far.
Q: I assume that you used your Leica M6 to capture the images in the “I’m In Miami Bitch!” portfolio. Is that correct, and which of your three Leica Summicron-M lenses did you find the most useful for this project?
A: Yes, I used the M6. The most used lenses were the 35 mm and 50 mm, in that order.
Q: Which film did you use to capture such vibrant color, one of the distinguishing features of this portfolio on street art? And how did you print or output these images for exhibition or publication?
A: I use Kodak Portra and make C-prints from the negatives.
Q: You stated that you see this street art project as a way of preserving something meaningful that is essentially ephemeral, to photograph it “before it fades, is toyed with, buffed, or written over” and there are a couple of images that just show the art itself. However, most of these images show the artists, the context in which their art is created, and the process of its creation. Why do you think these things are such an important part of telling this story?
A: Every December, Wynwood becomes the Olympics of street art. This is a by-product of Art Basel Miami Beach. Artists come from around the world to remake the neighborhood in their vision. There are no invites or sign up sheets. If you want to paint in Wynwood you have to make it happen. This organic Woodstock type event has made Wynwood one of the hottest art districts in the world. Wynwood’s currency is the street art. My goal is to document these moments before they disappear.
Q: This image shows an amazingly ornamented and vibrantly colored wall and doorway with some people walking by that seem transfixed by the spectacle. Where did you shoot this image, and what were you thinking when you pressed the shutter release?
A: Wynwood; all of the images are from that area. A lot of street art photography deals with the art itself. I am interested in that, but what really interests me is the environment surrounding it. The interaction that people have with the street art is fascinating. There is a culture out there that I am trying to learn about and document. History in Miami is very recent and this is a part of the city’s growth that is widely discussed because of the rampant growth in the area.
Q: One of the most fascinating, haunting, and enigmatic images in this portfolio appears to show an artist at work in a dark place, accompanied by either another artist or his own shadow! It looks as though flash was used to take this picture, which might account for the shadow, but the effect is rather mysterious. Can you tell us anything about this picture?
A: It’s not so easy to just waltz in and start snapping pictures of these artists. I spent time getting to know them and when they were comfortable with me I was able to document their work and their process. I didn’t use a flash. The image was made in pretty low light at night.
Q: I love the picture of the guy in the gray hat sitting in his car looking out over a half-skull mask covering his lower face. It’s ironic and funny in kind of creepy way and presumably this guy is a street artist. Why did you include it in this portfolio, and what do you think it says about the mindset of street artists in general.
A: Many street artists want to remain anonymous and let their work speak for itself. So as a by-product of that they cover their face. This is the environment. It’s how things looked. I couldn’t ignore it.
Q: Do you plan to exhibit or publish these images anywhere other than the Leica Store in Miami or on the Leica Blog?
A: Initially, I created a set of handmade art books with the photographs and text from the project. Then in November of 2013 I published a book “I’M IN MIAMI BITCH!: The Disappearing Street Art of Wynwood.” The book chronicles Wynwood during Art Basel Miami Beach. When the book was published I was invited to speak at the Miami Book Fair International, the book was chosen to be at the Art Basel and Design Miami’s bookstore, and the University of Miami acquired the handmade set for their special collection. At the same time I mounted an exhibition of 14 photographs from the project. The project has grown now. I created a 32-foot installation of my journals and invited artists to collaborate with the installation. Then I worked with another artist to create a 15 x 40-foot mural at a hotel in Miami Beach. Now, it’s a year later and I have just published another book, “BASELGEDDON: A Novela,” and am excited to see what opportunities arise as a by-product of that. I have some other ideas in the works too.
Q: How do you see your photography evolving over, say, the next three years, and do you have any other personal fine art or documentary projects in the works that you can talk about?
A: I am constantly working on projects; I have some that have been life-long, and some are shorter term. When I get the free time I work on those. In addition, I’ve been hired to work on projects for magazines and ad agencies. Recently, I’ve been doing some consulting. I have many interests and practice many disciplines. Photography describes one aspect of what I do, but not everything.
Thank you for your time, Andrew!
– Leica Internet Team
You can connect with Andrew on his website, I’m in Miami Bitch and Instagram. See the full list of Leica Camera and Miami Street Photography Festival events here.