I have been so busy working on Glassbreakers, but I undoubtedly wanted to keep up this blog! Andria Lo is an amazing photographer with a beautiful, open studio based in Oakland. You can enjoy viewing her work on her website, twitter and instagram. Enjoy the interview and please reach out if you have suggestions for interviewees in the Bay or Oakland area. Cheers, Lauren
What projects are you currently working on?
There’s always a bunch of different stuff! I’ve been working on photographic patterns using botanical elements and flowers. I recently did a project with the San Francisco Botanical Gardens where we went out and collected clippings based on the current season and I made collages out of them. I love working with the natural elements.
What is one of your favorite projects from the past?
About a year ago I did a project in SF Chinatown, which is a neighborhood I love. It’s insular and hard to access, but has an amazing energy; it’s its own little bubble in San Francisco.
I did the project with my friend, Valerie Luu. The piece was half street style and half profile of long time residents of SF Chinatown. The photos include portraits of these residents who have a wonderful fashion sensibility. I’m not sure if they are even aware of it, but the project aimed to honor that sensibility.
We were able to connect with these people even though there was a language barrier. We talked with them through translators. I will still see them around, and we’ll wave to one another and shake hands, it’s very sweet. This project was really fun though one of the hardest I’ve done, because getting people to stop and talk to us was challenging. It was so much easier for folks to say no and keep walking, but we were persistent and it ended up working out.
It was also special to me because some of the residents reminded me of my grandma. It was a project I always wanted to do, a senior look book of sorts. Their mix of patterns is so bold and they aren’t afraid of color and pattern. There’s also a lot of layering: a puffy coat with a couple of sweaters. In a way, it appeals to a younger fashion sensibility to because it ends up being artistic and bold.
How did you set up your creative space?
The high ceilings are a great feature because they remind me of possibility. Every time I walk into the studio it’s like a blank canvas, so I feel I could build sets or go big and I don’t feel limited. That’s definitely a privilege of the space. There’s a lot of natural light through skylights. I use production lighting when shooting, but it’s relaxing to work in natural light.
When I was laying it out, I wanted it to be a place I wanted to come to, but that wasn’t too comfortable, like I was working at home. I don’t have a computer set up here. While I’ll bring my laptop in for reference during a shoot, I don’t edit here and I try to minimize distractions.
I share the space with a studiomate who is also an artist, writer and teacher at CCA. It was important to me to set up some different kind of spaces as well. I was a little overwhelmed when I first started renting it because it was so open. I thought about building a loft and having more people share the space, but as I started having shoots here, I decided to keep it simple.
What are your most important items in the space?
Besides the photography gear, I love having the plants in here. It adds a layer of warmth. I’m fascinated by plants because they are so perfect in their forms and I’ll stare at them when I need a break. I collect a lot of papers, colors and textures so when I’m shooting still life I have a rolodex of colors I can work with. Anywhere I go I’m always looking for more background
papers and things I can play with.
How do you choose your subjects?
I love food, and similar to plants, I’m attracted to the color and forms. A lot of it is just fussing until I’m happy with the colors and composition. When I get an inkling of a concept, I’ll go to the market and see what calls out to me. If there’s some crazy produce, I might try to incorporate it. I actually have a bunch of specific ideas for what I want to do, but most of the time it ends up being not so planned out and I just come across the elements; it’s like finding one radish with a perfect cross section, and then you have to use it.
How have you navigated your career to where you are today? Did you always know you wanted to be a photographer? When did you start doing it full time?
I jumped into full time freelancing in 2009. I was working at a San Francisco studio as a staff photographer, before going freelance, but I only decided I wanted to make the leap into photography in 2007. Before that, I was dabbling in design and working at different startups working on websites. Photography was a hobby, but I didn’t know a lot about the technical side. My interest started in college when I took a few photojournalism courses my last year. After I graduated I kept taking classes and I lived near a dark room so I’d go there. I thought I wanted to try working in either food or photography for a living. I worked at some restaurants in front and back of the house for a short while but then got my foot in the door at a studio and worked my way up there. They gave me a lot of responsibility early on and I was able to learn on the job. Then I started freelancing and it became a career.
For so long I was wondering, “What’s my career going to be like?” I kept aspiring and aspiring and just recently I realized “Oh, I’m actually doing it. This is my career.” I still have aspirations, but I feel like I’ve met a lot of goals that I worked towards but hadn’t even formulated.
In 2009, did you already have a list of clients? How did that transition go?
I was still contracting with the studio, so that was a nice baseline for gigs. I was starting to build a client list and working with graphic designers as well. Then it was referrals and word of mouth. I’ve found myself working with a lot of San Francisco art organizations and nonprofits. I can’t say that I had a clear path where one step led to the next, but it all kind of added up.
What other spaces do you find inspiring that recharge you?
I enjoy going out in nature. We’re lucky in the Bay Area that we don’t have to go far. In the East Bay, we can drive to the Redwoods in twenty minutes (Redwood Regional Park). I definitely find this to be a good way to recharge and get some perspective. It’s nice to get out of your head to a place that’s already in its natural order.
Words of wisdom?
It can be hard to make time for personal work, but if you have something to say, make it happen! Hopefully you’ll find those projects that you’re obsessed with and can’t wait to work on. I don’t finish a lot of projects, but I’m learning how to trust my instincts more, and that’s also been valuable for my professional work.