Andrew Gold is a San Francisco based photographer with experience in digital and traditional methods of photography. He is a master at capturing spectacular and magnificent images of the ocean, which inspires him to wake at sunrise to witness. Andrew’s works have been exhibited at Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco and may also be found in residential high-rises around town. He teaches darkroom photography and printing at Rayko and also serves as mentor at First Exposures, a local, nationally-recognized youth mentoring program that makes a difference in the lives of underserved Bay Area youth. This week Andrew speaks to atlas about how he got his start in photography, his deep passion for the ocean, and how photography changed his perspective on what is important in life.
The majority of your photography involves the ocean. What about the ocean appeals to you?
Andrew Gold: On a more superficial level, the ocean is beautiful. It morphs into formidable shapes and textures and reflects light in ways that respond amazingly to photography. That is the answer I tell people I don’t know that well or are satisfied with a light but tangible answer.
The truth is that at my core, I am a scared, nervous, and anxious person. But when I’m in or around large bodies of water (this doesn’t work in a sink or tub), I feel a range of emotions that immediately snap me out of my fearful state. I feel free. I feel spacious. I feel connected to something greater than me. And being in San Francisco where the swell can get to be 20-25 ft, I am constantly in awe and humbled by its power. It is something so amazing to me that I would cancel any and all plans to wake up at sunrise and go witness time and time again.
The ocean can often be unpredictable and challenging to photograph. What is your approach to shooting the ocean?
It is definitely true — the ocean can be very unpredictable. I first found it to be quite challenging. But, over time, I started to realize its consistent inconsistency. Instead of projecting what I wanted to happen on any given day I began to leave all expectations at the door and simply be open to what ways I can make compelling image. I think a lot of the images I make that fall flat are ones I made on days where I had plan for how a certain day of shooting was supposed to go.
Some of your ocean photography was recently exhibited at Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco. What did you want your viewers would take away from your work?
Ultimately, through the images I show, I hope to recreate the sense of awe and wonder I experienced as I originally made the image. Some of the moments I have witnessed as I have been photographing have been truly extraordinary. To be able to capture them and bring to the attention of people who may not have experienced something like that is truly an honor.
Additionally, all of my work is analog. I use a manual film camera and make my prints in a color darkroom. So, even though there is an intensity and power to some my images, making them required an incredible amount of patience, timing, and stillness. I hope that viewers of my work find that same sense of quiet that I needed to evoke during my process.
Tell us a bit more about these gorgeous ocean images here.
The top image is great example of the unpredictability of the photographing the ocean. The majority of film I have from that day is not particularly visually stimulating. But, two consecutive frames on one roll of film, capture this five minute period where the tide was just right, the wind was blowing steadily offshore, and the light was hitting the water just beautifully. This particular image does not really show the scale, but this was not a small wave by any means. It always amazes me gentle and soft something with so much power and ferocity can have.
About the second image above, as I mentioned before, there are many images of mine that have a certain intensity to them, through the power of the wave, the vibrancy of color, etc. But, I have also been experimenting with creating images that still have enough umph on their own, but evoke a greater sense of quiet in the viewer. I find these images have their own power through subtlety. The second image above is inspired by a painter Claudio Bravo. He paints objects like tissue paper or wrapping paper that appear almost three dimensional. I like the play of navigating between 2-D and 3-D in a 2-D image.
This image above and the one directly below are similar to one another in that they both highlight this really unique, fleeting moment that happens as waves break during sunset (or sunrise depending on the coast). For only a second or two water will reflect the rays of the sun with this bright, vividly golden color. It happens so quickly that it is only through a still image that we can see and appreciate the beauty of the moment. It’s just too fast to register in our system. Personally, I love the idea of taking a moment that holds little importance in reality and giving it a new level of significance as an image.
Finally, the last image at the end is probably the most significant in terms of the origin of this project. Prior to that day, I had been photographing the ocean with some frequency but in a different way. It was really the first day I started to separate from a more traditional landscape to just focus on the texture, movement and light reflecting on the ocean. As I peered into the viewfinder I felt as if I was onto something, but it did not sink in until I received the film back. This particular roll was shot on slide film. Seeing the entire roll of film illuminate on the light table was a truly magical experience. After seeing the results of shooting that day (two years ago now), I felt a fire in me to experiment with capturing the ocean in as many ways and at as many places I could.
How did you get started in photography?
For me, there really was not anything initially cathartic about picking up a camera. Since as young as I can remember, I loved messing around with point and shoots and disposable cameras. I liked documenting places I’d go to, liked having photos of friends, girlfriends, pets etc. I would take way more pictures than other people I knew, but never really thought much of it.
My apathy had little to do with photography, though. Until a few years ago, I was pretty much completely consumed by my image, status, materialism and ways to get ahead in life. Basically, I thought more money equaled more happiness and was always focused on the next thing I needed to do achieve that. It is ironic the one thing I’d naturally do without thinking or analyzing was capture a moment to savor an experience. It is like my upbringing, surroundings, conditioning were all telling me to act a certain way but my subconscious kept alive how I really wanted to exist.
If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (living or deceased), who would it be?
Growing up, Andreas Gursky was one of the first photographers whose work I really resonated with. As I look at his pieces now at SFMOMA, I am still inspired by them. It would be great to see him at work.
You are actively involved with an organization called First Exposures in San Francisco. Can you tell us about First Exposures and how you got involved?
First Exposures is great. It is a one-on-one photo mentoring program that teaches at risk youth both analog and digital photography. It is a great opportunity to give back and also get more connected into the photo scene in San Francisco. I originally got involved through my neighbor who is also a photographer.
Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Andrew!
For more information about Andrew, visit his website. All images © Andrew Gold.