GRAMMY® nominated producer, ZHU & Astralwerks’ Toby Andrews share their artistic vision for their upcoming projects in this new creative partnership with Leica Camera USA. Join us for an Instagram Live interview featuring ZHU on May 23, 2020 at 12 PM PT / 3 PM ET on @LeicaCameraUSA.
Q: Toby, you manage dance/electronic label Astralwerks (a division of Capitol Records) with a strong background in the music industry. What role does storytelling play in the success of a recording artist’s career?
For us, storytelling is everything – that’s the foundation of all the acts that we sign and work with! Every artist has a unique viewpoint and a specific message they’re looking to say, music is definitely one part of that but how they present themselves visually is hugely impactful and something we take very seriously.
Q: How do you build trust with new artists not only through the label, but personally when capturing milestone moments in their careers?
The solidarity of the team, our history of what we’ve worked on and achieved together and the ideas we put in front of them I think are the key. We’re fortunate to have an incredibly talented Creative Director, Joe Mortimer, who works in & around everything that the label touches, so we always know that the finished product will come out as unchanged as the idea that went into it.
Q: ZHU, as an artist who for years shared music anonymously, allowing the art to speak for itself without the distraction of the creator, do you find this approach extends to other areas of your creative expression?
I create clothes, and I am not always the model. I enjoy observing and people watching, even though I understand that all eyes are usually on me these days.
Q: Your photography follows this “no distractions” philosophy, where we see you experiment with light and shadows, depth of field, and a focus on creating art through the everyday scenes of your life. What drives your photographic approach?
I am a big fan of using darkness to drive the narrative. Too much light distracts from the subject.
Q: Toby, you captured ZHU’s signing on with Astralwerks through a Leica M Monochrom (246). Could you share with us the story behind the image? What was the motivation to photograph the moment in black and white?
I’m a big personal fan of black and white photography, especially for close-ups of people and expressions, it’s just a nice way to see a little bit of the magic in the moment. That photo was just a candid snapshot from an armchair of ZHU leaning over to sign the record deal we’d spent months putting together and I think it shows a little bit of an insight into a really big, but largely hidden, milestone for an artist and a label.
Q: How do you encourage recording artists to continue to create content to support an album release at a time when we’re limited by stay at home orders?
Just by thinking outside of the box and by using to the best of their abilities what’s in front of them – whether that’s their sense of humor, their voice, the location that they’re in that may be different to others – you just have to look for the upside to what is a very challenging period in time.
Q: ZHU, as you continue to make photographs during the pandemic, how have you pivoted your approach given location restrictions?
I don’t think the mindset is different, you are still telling a story, even if the subjects don’t get to be as close to each other.
Q: ZHU, Did you have any formal education in photography, with a mentor, or were you self-taught. Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
Self-taught. I love Peter Lindberg, Melanie Pullen, Helmut Newton, and Guy Bourdin.
Q: ZHU, What genre are your photos? (e.g. fine art, photojournalism, portrait, street photography, etc)
I don’t think there is a genre, just like music, it is fluid.
Q: Toby, could you share how Astralwerks uses photography in fostering community with its artists?
I think the photography we have of our artists, from the big expensive photo shoots that we put on the walls of the Capitol Records building, to the intimate disposable camera shots from a studio offsite that we put on our social media – they’re all just good memories and they captured a moment in time of a song being made, or a campaign coming together, or even an idea that never happened. It’s all part of the process!