When not playing bass in UK heavy hitters The Flex, Leeds-based photographer Andy Jones captures his adopted city, friends and travels. Here’s his take on the year so far, working on bigger projects and dealing with self-criticism.
Hey Andy. How’re you finding 2016 so far?
Hi, yeah 2016 has been great to me so far, thanks. Rang in the new year playing a set with The Flex at Snugglefest (this mental fest we do in Leeds on NYE every year) and DJ’ing to about 10 people in a warehouse at 4am, and managed 3 weeks visiting my girlfriend in LA/California at the end of February which was incredible. So more recently I’ve just been stuck inside chipping away at what’s now a massive 18 month backlog of scans. Just started shooting the artwork for the ARMS RACE LP this week too, that’s due out soon.
Over time, how do you think your style - if at all - has changed?
I wouldn’t say my style has changed massively, I’m still shooting similar things to what I have been doing for the past however long. But in the last couple of years, I’ve definitely become a lot more conscious in terms of shooting for projects on a wider scale. I’m finding myself choosing photos to fill in gaps in existing (and seemingly everlasting) bodies of work as well as opening new doors into new projects and trying to keep those doors open. I never used to do that really, I’d just take my camera out and see what happens.
You play in a band and shoot photos; how do you find working individually and collaboratively on creative pursuits?
I’d say 90% of my work over the last couple of years has come from touring and playing shows with our band, it has opened my eyes to so many new places, new people, and new experiences while at the same time has really cemented a very close-knit and open friendship with the rest of the guys in the band. On a very simple individual level with these photos I’ve tried to document these relationships and experiences both new and old. I’m absolutely indebted to everyone who’s helped us get to all these places over the past couple of years so I want to make sure the people and experiences are not forgotten.
I would love to collaborate on more creative projects however since finishing university I seem to shoot very individually, though my work is predominately about showing people and personality, it has always seemed to be just me and my camera. However, collaboration with other people in terms of publications and exhibitions is something I love doing. It’s definitely helped me learn more about my own practice over the past couple of years, as well as building real cool relationships with people all over the place.
Do you ever feel constrained by your style or format? How do you challenge yourself?
I love working in 35mm, I always have since I first got handed an old SLR in college, and to be honest I can’t see myself changing anytime soon. There have been times I’ve dabbled with digital and larger format film for various things, however I’ve never been able to get the same results as I have with 35mm film, especially with shooting at gigs and getting impromptu portraits.
In terms of my style, I’m very critical of myself, maybe over critical at times. There are times when I do sit down to review scans and think what am I actually doing in terms of the bigger picture? What makes my work different? Why would anyone care about these photos? But I just grit my teeth through times like that, remind myself of all the cool stuff I’ve been able to do and that I have lasting memories of that through my photos and keep going. I suppose the main thing I challenge myself with is to try and somewhat legitimise ‘punk photography’ and make work that accurately portrays every aspect of what the DIY punk community is actually about.
What do you think of working creatively in photography and music as they become increasingly popular for people to make?
I’ve never really considered myself a musician or a photographer to be honest, I just kind of operate in a limbo trying to bridge the gap between the two. Obviously shooting at gigs is a massive part of my work, but I think through actually playing gigs too I’ve always been a lot more interested in finding out what personalities make up individual bands, and a lot of time this is actually done outside of show time. Obviously shooting live music will always fulfil a need for music magazines/blogs/online articles but I don’t think anyone can actually learn anything from pure live music photography. So rather than shooting 20 photos of a particular band performing, I’d much rather shoot 20 photos of who’s at the show, what’s going on, personalities within the band and at the gig and throw in a couple of shots whichever band is actually playing to contextualise the whole thing. This is obviously a lot easier at DIY punk shows where there’s no backstage, no barriers, and you’re encouraged to break that separation between artist and audience.
I think a great example of this idea is the ‘God Listens to Slayer’ project by Sanna Charles that just came out through Ditto Press. Slayer are obviously a band that has now totally transcended any kind of DIY scene they were once a part of, and while millions of photos have been taken of their live performance on big stages throughout the years, yet this is a project that breaks that separation down again and tells a story of a bond created through generations around a fanatical love for a band.
What effect do you think shooting in Leeds has on your work? Is there a particular part of the city you like to shoot, or where you think you’ll get good shots?
Leeds is now my home. I’ve loved living here for the past 8 years, I’ve considered leaving a couple of times but I can’t. It’s a small city, everyone involved in the art and punk scene lives within just about a fifteen-minute walk of each other. The miles of terraced houses left over from the manufacturing industry are more than affordable, everyone has the time and space to practice so bands come thick and fast. It’s a perfect punk city. I can walk around a two-mile area for just an hour with my camera knowing I will either see someone I know or shoot something worth keeping hold of. To be completely honest though, while I love living here, architecturally I much prefer Sheffield!
What would you most like to shoot that, for whatever reason, you haven’t managed to and why?
I’ve been travelling so much in the past couple of years that I’m starting to feel like I’m actually neglecting Leeds, the city I love so much. There are still so many areas of Leeds that I’ve never been, communities I have no idea about and I think there’s a lot of stories I could be telling from my own doorstep. I want to change that. Obviously, I want to tour, I still want to see as much of the world as I can, I want to play music and meet people from different punk scenes around the world, but I want to balance that out with making new work in a wonderful city I feel like I’m not doing justice.
What projects have you got lined up in the foreseeable? You mentioned a zine for instance
I have a few different ongoing projects, all in different stages of completion. These photos are from a project that will be made into a zine called ‘Loss of Blood’ where I followed a two-week tour of Europe that Leeds hardcore band OBSTRUCT went on during last summer, celebrating the release of their first LP. But that’s just a small facet of a much larger project I’ve recently been pulling together from the last 8 years I’ve been playing in and touring with DIY punk bands around Europe and the USA. I had in mind to release that this summer, but I still feel like there’s some fuel left in the tank to add to it so that’s definitely still ongoing. Maybe once I hit the 10 year mark I’ll think about it again. There’s a few other bits I’m working on too but will keep them under wraps for now just in case I mess them up.
Anyone you’d like to shout out? Thanks
First and foremost, I’d like to thank Ben and Joe at Village Bookstore, Ditto Press, Archer, Ricky Adam, Sam Hutchinson, Jordan Carroll, Nat Wood, Niall O’Reilly, Harry Conway, Chris Nunn, Kris Kerk, Madison East, Leeds Hardcore, The Flex, Red Death, Violent Reaction, Obstruct, Eagulls, Arms Race, Temple of Boom, Judge, and Sky. Thanks!