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An Interview with Andy Cotterill

An Interview with Andy Cotterill

London born and bred photographer and TFC long term customer Andrew Cotterill is a photographer with a passion. His love of music started in the 1980's so his passage into music photography was a natural progression. TFC London Manager Louise asks him some questions about his career – Thanks Andrew!

You have been an established music photographer since the 1990’s – what made you want to be a part of the music photography world?

When I assisted photographers, I couldn’t bare how many people were involved to get a shot. It wasn’t for me. But when we photographed musicians, it was more intimate and I appreciated who were shooting, the talent that was involved. It was easy for me to fall into.

When was your lucky break? Or was it a hard graft?

Dazed and Confused. I'd spent a lot of time traveling around the world assisting photographers but didn’t have any of my own pics. I was helping people get where they wanted to be but wasn’t doing what I wanted, so at around 26 I stopped assisting and started over. I owed it to myself to continue in the photography industry. I shot some set pictures of the drum and bass scene and took them to Dazed and Confused, who were still in their early days. They booked me immediately and I was sent to shoot Chuck D from Public Enemy. I hadn’t taken pics like that before but I thought `What do I want to do? How do I see this?` I didn’t think ‘How would this or that photographer shoot them?’ I didn’t look at mags and think `Oh I better shoot like this because that’s what they like now`, I threw off what I had been taught and did it in my own way.

On a job, do you work alone or do you have a team?

It depends on the job but I generally prefer working on my own. It’s more intimate working one on one and you get more from a person. Even when working with a band, it’s still intimate. I’m able to get the people I’m shooting to listen more as my focus is entirely on them and vice versa. As there’s very little time to shoot, you need to command peoples’ attention straight away. Old school photographers would ask people to leave the room, which may seem a bit rude but I understand why they did it.

What is your typical day as a photographer?

Looking for work, updating my website and spending times with my kids. I’m a relatively organized person. I’m a list guy - I love having a list and ticking it off. Being a freelance photographer would be a complete shamble if you weren’t organized, like any other self-employed job. Although it’s impossible to work every-day, I love it. But half the attraction is being able to have freedom to get up and work when I choose to rather than have a set routine.

I notice that your work is both studio and location based. Do you have a preference & why?

I much prefer working on location as there’s character and I like taking portraits in the natural environment rather than one that’s been set up in a studio. I think it’s more of a challenge to incorporate a natural environment, and I’m always up for a challenge. Capturing the essence of a person is more difficult when you’re shooting in a studio as it isn’t as freeing. You lose a person’s essence.

What camera kit do you shoot with? Have you always shoot this way?

It used to all be manual but all the kit has changed. I use a Canon 5D3 and Fuji X Pro 1. They’re the only two cameras I use – with different lenses, of course. I love working with the Elincrom Quadra location kit as it’s so light, portable and versatile.

If you could only take one piece of lighting on a shoot, what would this be and why?

Elinchrom Quadra location kit always.

Do you shoot digitally or do you prefer film? What has changed since digital?

I’m still getting my head around digital. I prefer film. I used to enjoy taking in the film and waiting two hours for the film to be processed. It was exciting; like a kid waiting to unwrap presents at Christmas. Now you don’t wait, you just look at the back of your camera – it’s boring. There are so many lost memories now because people don’t tend to print photos, personal or professional, which I think is quite sad.

You shoot a lot of celebrity work, is there a specific shoot that you really enjoyed?

Oh that’s practically impossible to answer. There’s too many!

Tell us a story of one of your shoots.

I really loved meeting John Peel. I was asked to shoot him for The Big Issue a year to the day after my dad passed away. I wasn’t going to work that day but the job came in and I took it only because it was him. Then the PR stopped the shoot because an interview had taken priority. I spoke to John and told him I didn’t have the shot I needed and explained that I wasn’t planning to work that day because of my dad but had taken the job because I had really wanted to meet and shoot him. As soon as I said that, he dropped his bags and stayed for another half an hour. We had a brilliant chat and I couldn’t get rid of him in the end, ha. There’s a few lovely little stories like that. I’ve been lucky.

Who is your favourite photographer and why?

Oh loads. You go through phases. Helmut Newton and Annie Leibrovitz to name but a couple.

Do you have a favourite style or is it based on who you shoot or editors brief?

I think each photographer has their own style without realising it. You can’t have a formula for photography because you can’t conceptualise someone’s character so it’s impossible to work out how to shoot them before you meet them.If you had not become a photographer, what would you have been?Who knows? I didn’t even know I was going to become a photographer. I didn’t even study photography – it was by chance. I love design and architecture so maybe something along those lines. I was selling classic Italian cars at one point so maybe I would have become a car dealer.

If you started as a photographer all over, would you still shoot music?

Definitely. You get great photo opportunities and I enjoy meeting people in the music industry. I’ve always been into music so have always respected musicians and wanted to capture their essence. It’s interesting because you normally find people aren’t how they’re perceived in the media. For instance, Kanye West is actually really quiet. Most musicians are quite reserved and shy. If it was down to money, I would have tried to get into fashion photography.

Lots of people are looking to get into the photographic industry, as a music photographer, do you have any words of wisdom for them?

Don’t do it, I’ve got enough competition! Haha. It can be emotional at times so be prepared for that. Also, don’t assist photographers for too long as you can wrapped up doing other peoples’ work and forget about what you want. You won’t get any jobs if you don’t have any pics so make sure you always continue to shoot your own photos.

What drives you to carry on as a music photographer – passion or money?

Passion for sure.

In my kit-bag, I always carry…

A toothbrush...

Do you have any last words for our readers?

Remember the essence of what you’re trying to achieve. As long as you can honestly look at your pictures and be happy with them then don’t care what anyone else thinks. I think there’s a proverb `You’re only as good as your last job` which I think is very true.

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