The Daily Edit – Gdje Su Svi Dobrodošli (Where Everyone Is Welcome) : Andrew Burton


This post is by Paula Goldberg from A Photo Editor


Patagonia Cleanest Line

Photographer: Andrew Burton
Activist: Denis Tuzinovic

Heidi: How much time did you spend with Denis before taking out the camera for this portrait?
Andrew: Denis was very generous with his time with me, for which I am forever grateful. Broadly speaking our time together was split into two portions – the first portion was a traditional reportage / documentary photo shoot while Denis volunteered at SR3 (a marine wildlife response, rehabilitation, and research nonprofit vet clinic just outside Seattle). The second portion was the portrait session at a variety of locations. The first portion, at SR3, was relatively quick and immediate, I probably spent about 15 minutes photographing while he fed a few different groups of seals. We probably had 5-10 minutes to “get to know each other” and build a rapport before he started the volunteer work. The second portion – the portrait shoot – was rather long and organic, lasting a few hours at 5-6 different locations. The vision I had been given by the photo director was to use natural light in a variety of locations around Seattle to show Denis, and specifically a jacket he frequently wears, to show him proud and empowered in an urban environment. During the portrait portion of the shoot we had a lot of down time without cameras, driving between locations and walking the streets of Seattle, getting to know each other and learning more about each other. Even when I was making portraits of him, Denis’ story is so powerful and compelling that I found myself setting down my cameras to talk more and continue the conversation throughout the portrait session.


Do you have any type of process for your portrait work before meeting subjects?

I come from a strict photojournalism and documentary background, which is to say that when I make portraits I usually approach the assignment from a reportage lineage – environmental portraiture using a majority natural light – occasionally one strobe or a reflector to help a bit . Before the assignment I research the subject  as thoroughly as possible so that I know as much about the person as possible and I use online tools (google street view, etc) to research the location as much as possible so as not to be surprised by what the location is offering. Once on the scene I try to let things unfold organically, relying on conversation and collaboration with the subject to achieve a finished photo. This process can be trickier with subjects who don’t have much time to give or aren’t interested in collaboration, but in this specific case, with Denis, the system worked quite well.

Avedon famously said in his book The American West “A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” At Patagonia, we look for, “an honest shot, real people doing real things.”  How are you creating an environment for this moment or emotion to unfold?
I’ve worked as a professional photojournalist and documentary filmmaker for the past 14 years and the deeper I get into my career, the more I think about this line of thought – is the photo or film I create “honest and accurate?” How do you define truth, objectivity, accuracy? Is the photo both factually and emotionally accurate?  Am I manipulating the scene to achieve my own vision but at the cost of what the feeling on the scene really was? Coming from a journalism and documentary background, where “truth” (whatever that is) is paramount, I’m frequently hesitant to use my camera to manipulate a scene or subject to achieve my own goals or vision (whatever they maybe). That said, I’m of the opinion that the deeper into the rabbit hole you go in a search for capital-T “Truth,” the more you realize it’s impossible to achieve and a bit of a fool’s errand- the very nature of a camera being in a room – another person observing something – undeniably shapes and shifts the scene. And yet. I believe intention matters, that as a journalist and photographer you can aim be as unobtrusive as possible and visualize a scene relatively undisturbed – or in the case of a portrait – that you can attempt to document the essence of a person in an honest manner that doesn’t manipulate them or visualize them as something they aren’t. To that end, that’s why I try to be as collaborative, open and communicative with a portrait subject – so that I can get to know them as much as possible in the time given and try to make a portrait that feels relatively “accurate.”

I see an honest, brave moment of self reflection and courage, what do you hope to capture in this portrait?
More than anything I hope the portrait accurately reflects who Denis is and compels the audience to read Denis’ story and get to know more about him – he’s an amazing man who lives by his values, is actionable about his convictions and who has been shaped by harrowing backstory. I won’t attempt to summarize Denis’ story for him but suffice to say I was deeply moved by the time I was able to spend with him and hope readers are moved by his story, as well.

What can you share about working with film and digital for our assignment?
I would simply say, it was a joy mixing the mediums of reportage and environmental portraiture. Denis and I had the opportunity to walk the streets of Seattle for an hour or two, chasing the light and location, chatting and finding unexpected scenes and environments. Ultimately the final photo is a clean, powerful portrait of Denis but there were dozens of other options that leaned into the visuals of Seattle and the mix of urban landscape amidst the beautiful Pacific Northwest. It felt like a rare and special assignment – most portraits don’t have that sort of latitude and flexibility. I”m very grateful to both the photo director and to Denis for the opportunity.

Film is often more intentional, anything that is analog slows us down, tell us about shooting both mediums.
Yes, I shot both digital and film on this assignment. I’ve been working more in film photography for the past few years which has been a total joy. I spent the first eight years of my career in the daily news and wire photography business – on the best days I was on the front lines of history documenting the most incredible moments of the human experience. But the turnover of work is incredibly quick – deadline is always 5 minutes ago and there’s always another assignment. Some days I might have four assignments. Modern digital cameras are made for this work – a photographer can make thousands of photographs with little effort. But the overall effect of that lifestyle, at least on me, was to water down the value of the photos I was making – it increasingly felt like “quantity over quality.” This may be trite and obvious, but working with film cameras slows a photographer down. It makes a photographer more intentional. It demands a photographer to ask themself what they’re trying to say by releasing the shutter. It has made me fall in love with the medium of photography again – the physicality of slower cameras, the limited number of frames – it makes me appreciate the medium. I would say it’s akin to digital music (Spotify etc) versus listening to a record. It forces you to be more present minded and appreciate scarcity.  All that said: I worked in both mediums for this assignment a bit out of fear – I wanted the digital cameras on the scene as a safety net in case anything went wrong with the film cameras. Ultimately it was an unfounded fear and the film photos were the ones I was most proud of.

Thank you to both you and Denis for working with us, I’m so grateful to have crossed paths on this special assignment. Read the full story here.

Original article: The Daily Edit – Gdje Su Svi Dobrodošli (Where Everyone Is Welcome) : Andrew Burton.