April 1st, 2018
Hi Andrew, could you introduce yourself, your background, and what you do as a profession?
“Hey, thanks for featuring me. My name’s Andrew Emond. I’m a Canadian photographer living in Toronto and working as a User Experience Designer.”
Are you a full-time UX Designer? Do you do photography as a hobby?
“It’s a full-time job. I’m not sure I’d have it in me to try and make a living exclusively from photography. I see what professional photographers often have to do to make ends meet and it seems exhausting. At the same time, I don’t really think of my photography as a hobby. For better or worse, I tend to take it more seriously than that.”
How did you get into photography? How long have you been practicing photography?
“I wouldn’t say my photographer origin story is all that interesting or unique. It’s just a medium that’s always felt natural to me from an early age. Filmmaking, painting, music and writing never quite worked for me. Photographs have always been the easiest way to express my own point of view and perspective. I first picked up a camera in the 90s through the encouragement of my Father, but only started taking it more seriously about 15 years ago.”
I enjoy the challenge of finding places that offer something new and interesting.
Your gallery particularly consists of vacant homes or what some may appear to be motels in urban areas, talk about why you venture out to these places and is it a way of escapism for you?
“Yeah, I tend to shoot interiors that are either vacant or that have a very limited human presence. I used to only want to photograph particular types of places like inactive factories, power plants. These days I don’t discriminate as much. I’m pretty happy with anything I come across. Vacant houses, condos in the middle of construction, strip malls under demolition.
If it has four walls, decent light and a bit of disruption then I’m likely interested. Not every space is going to be worth photographing. Sometimes the light isn’t good or it’s the type of scene that I’ve photographed dozens of times before. I enjoy the challenge of finding places that offer something new and interesting. I’ve never sought permission to photograph any of the places I’ve visited.
As a result, I’m often there alone. Depending on the type of location this can either be exhilarating, peaceful or somewhere in the middle. It’s a feeling I rarely encounter anywhere else.
I don’t know if it’s escapism that drives what I do. It’s not as though I find day-to-day life banal. I just enjoy engaging with the built environment, challenging its constraints and exploring possibilities—whatever you want to call it. There’s some degree of empowerment that comes with what I do, especially when it involves crossing barriers, whether they’re physical or mental.”
Where do you normally go to shoot your photographs? And curious to know, how do you come across them, when you’re going to work, on an assignment perhaps?
“ I have a three-year-old daughter so my photo excursions tend to involve places I can travel to without too much effort. Sometimes that involves driving out to the edges of the city or to surrounding rural areas. Expropriation of properties by developers is pretty common around there. I’m also always on the lookout for places worth photographing. On the way to work, when running errands, etc.
Sometimes the news is a good source for finding places, but really, if you drive around long enough and know what signs to look for, you’re bound to come across something left unlocked or opened. A lot of the places I shoot don’t stay accessible for long so it’s often a matter of being at the right place at the right time. I also shoot everything using my phone so it’s easier to be stealthy if necessary.”
Do you shoot with just your phone or what cameras do you normally shoot?
“I’ve been shooting with a phone exclusively for the past two years. I’ve used cameras of all types in the past, both film and digital, but for the type of work I’m currently doing, my Samsung Galaxy S8 is just about perfect. I’ll worry about print size limitations later.”
How long do you usually stay in these places and shoot? Do you give yourself a time before having to leave?
“I rarely have more than a six-hour window for shooting and that time often involves finding a place and figuring out how to get inside. Those are the time constraints I tend to work within, but I find constraints often produce better results so I can’t complain.”
What are some signs for you to let you know a place is vacant and ready for you to explore? Do you do any research beforehand?
Places that have long been abandoned are pretty easy to spot. Boarded windows, overgrown vegetation, peeling paint, etc. The places that are a bit harder to pick out are the ones that haven’t been empty for too long. The power’s still on, but piles of mail on the porch, unraked leaves or cobwebs tell another story.
If I’m uncertain about a particular place, I’ll often google the address in search of a phone number. “Sorry, the number you’re trying to reach is no longer in service” is usually a good confirmation that something’s amiss.
I also pay attention to what’s happening in the news, driving or walking around, Googling certain terms or phrases, having like-minded friends who share locations. Other times, finding places is much simpler. I recently photographed a 50-storey condo under construction directly across the street from where I work. Sometimes opportunities present themselves right in front of you.”
I noticed some of the rooms you’ve taken still have things it, signs of what use to be there. Has any of them impacted you emotionally? Any photos you can pick out and talk about?
I try to be empathetic to the fact that a lot of the places I visit are the result of personal or economic misfortune. It’s difficult not to be conscientious of that when the signs are right in front of you. Some scenes hit home hard– especially kids’ rooms that are still full of toys and personal belongings.
I try not to let those backstories influence how I shoot though. Something approximating sentimentality creeps into my photos now and again, but I try to avoid it. I’m interested in the more peculiar or subtle aspects of interiors.”
Are there any photographers your work is inspired by? Or just photographers you’re inspired by in general?
“Lynne Cohen’s body of work has probably been more influential than I’d want to admit. There’s a peacefulness and strangeness in her photos that speaks to my own sensibilities. You could also find a good amount of Walker Evans’ influence in my photos as well, especially his work involving interiors.
These days though, I actually draw more influence from paintings created during the Modern era and installation art. So many of the places I visit contain unintentional arrangements resembling something you might encounter at a place like MOMA. It was inevitable that I’d start looking beyond photography for inspiration.”
Andrew, thank you for letting us talk to you. Hope to see more work from you and stay safe out there!