Business Insights with Le Guide: Christopher Anderson on knowing why you take photographs

Reading through Time: 5 mins

“I finally understood such a picture can be about — and it’s about responding to a moment that’s important to a person. ” Charting his roots in war reporting to his shift into personal work, the well-known Magnum photographer reflects on what drives him to create having a camera

Christopher Anderson provides rarely revisited the images that launched his profession. But the memory of the picture they captured often comes back to him. It was 99, and Anderson was onboard a handmade wooden motorboat named ‘Believe in God’. On assignment for the Nyc Times Magazine , he sat amongst 44 Haitian immigrants because they attempted to cross the Caribbean Sea to America; the journey as dangerous since it was illegal. As the motorboat started to sink, Anderson prepared for the end of his life.

“On that boat, there was a moment when we had been saying goodbye to each other,   because we assumed that will in an hour, or an issue of hours, we were likely to be dead, ” states Anderson, speaking over the cell phone from his home within Paris. “We were literally saying goodbye to each other. And am made photographs. Reflexively, I actually made photographs. ”

Hours later, as they were trying to bail out water, the boat was discovered and saved by a patrolling coast guard. Anderson resided, and his photographs were released to huge acclaim. Soon afterwards, he received the particular Robert Capa Gold Honor for the work.

©Christopher Anderson

“For days after that – and I think it was something to do with post-traumatic stress – but I thought over and over about that; why did I make photographs? ” he says. “Why would I make pictures that I assumed no one would certainly ever see? The only answer I possibly could come up with was: I was trying to explain the world to personally. I wasn’t trying to explain the world to anyone else; only to myself. And I was doing that with photography. ”

“That crystallised what I needed my pictures to be regarding, ” he continues. “I knew from then on what I wanted in a picture. It was not telling a story, or reporting facts. It was not regarding describing something. It was about trying to convey what it felt like to be there. ”

After the boat, Anderson quickly grew to become a go-to photographer for a few of the biggest publications in the world. He was a contract professional photographer for Newsweek and National Geographic for more than a 10 years, covering historic wars, meeting and photographing iconic personas, and documenting the most far-flung places on Earth. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, as he unpacked his studio after moving from New York to Paris, he found himself highlighting on his earlier work.

“I started to look through the Haiti work, and realised We missed all the best images, ” he says. “At the time, We didn’t understand what it was I was looking for in a photograph… I used to be looking for a picture that would impress somebody; that showed our visual expertise. Now, Really dont care about that. I worry about the images that show how I felt at the time. ”

Life during COVID19 confinement – ©Christopher Anderson

Anderson’s photographs appear like those of a natural image-maker. But he was not made to be a professional photographer. He was born in Kelowna, a small town in British Columbia, Canada, in 1970, and then raised in Abilene, Texas. He remembers going to the small library in Abilene and poring over the few photobooks that happened to end up there. But he never set out with a specific ambition to become the new Bill Eggleston. After studying Anthropology at Abilene Christian University, Anderson’s career began humbly, at a small scale. He or she got jobs for nearby newspapers throughout his twenties, covering small events upon assignment, and learning as he went. “I remember obtaining a small assignment and looking to do a good job on it, ” he says. “And then I’d get another, slightly bigger assignment, and try to do a good job on that. That was about the closest thing I had to a strategy. ”

Over the next two decades, Anderson would rise to the status of one from the world’s top war photographers, chronicling Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine. He was one of the early users of VII Photo Company, formed by photographers Adam Nachtwey and (the now disgraced) Antonín Kratochvíl in 2001. He joined Magnum Photo Agency in 2005, before becoming a full associate in 2010. Then, in 2011, he or she became New York Magazine ’s very first photographer in residence. The appointment marked a move into portraiture and fashion that saw Anderson create a few of photography’s most enduringly recognisable portraits: the likes of Barack Obama, Spike Lee and Debby Harry.

Matt Damon — ©Christopher Anderson

Yet today, Anderson is best recognized not for his battle work, nor his portraiture. Rather, his contemporary practice is defined by their intimate documentation of becoming a father. Anderson’s first boy, Atlas, was born in 08 in a loft apartment of the building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, known as the Kibbutz (Anderson identifies it as “one step-up from a squat”). The Kibbutz was known as a haven with regard to artists, “back when Williamsburg was obviously a place where artists could still live. ” His apartment was above a sculptor’s studio, and fellow professional photographers Tim Hetherington, Alex Majoli, Stanley Greene and Thomas Dworzak also spent stints in the building.  

In particular, Anderson struck up a close relationship with Hetherington. They were the same age, covered exactly the same wars, and had started to really feel comparably uncomfortable about the ethics and pursuit of war reporting. When Hetherington died right after being hit by shrapnel from a mortar fired by troops loyal to Colonel Gaddafi in Misrata, Libya, in 2011, it hit Anderson hard. Atlas, at the time, was a vivacious toddler. These double experiences – the required fatherhood coupled with the pain associated with losing a friend to a mindless moment of violence – convinced Anderson to stop photographing conflict zones. He turned his back on the work that made his name, and he turned his lens in order to Atlas. We saw this particular profound change in Anderson’s practice in 2013, whenever he published the photobook SON .

“Everything else My spouse and i photographed up to that point has been just to prepare me to produce these pictures”

– Christopher Anderson

SON is a love notice to Atlas, who was 5 when the book was published; to Atlas’s mother and Anderson’s wife, Marion Durand, who worked at a photograph editor at Newsweek ; and to Anderson’s father, Lynn, who was, at that time, struggling with a cancer diagnosis. Although Anderson himself hardly features, the book is also a self-portrait: a chronicle of a man who constructed an identity around historic war photography, only to really “find” himself in the regular, everyday challenges of being the parent, husband and son.  

“Everything else I had photographed up to that point, ” he says, “was just to prepare me to make these photos. I realised that the littlest gesture from my boy, in the most quiet, nevertheless moments, had the capacity in order to contain more power than everything I had witnessed before. ” 

©Christopher Anderson

The shift in his practice occurred, he says, without him asserting much in the way of conscious thought over it. “I just stopped being interested in reporting, ” he says. “I stopped becoming interested in mannerism and appearance. That suddenly just became like a wrapping for an image. I finally understood such a picture can be about — and it’s about responding to a moment that’s important to you. In my case, I was responding to my experience of becoming a dad; to who my kid was becoming. I wasn’t trying to make a good photo, or tell a story. I was literally communicating how I experienced. ”

After Atlas came to be, Anderson photographed him adoringly and instinctively, as virtually every parent does. It did not occur to him that those photos would become part of his ‘work’. “But my profession since then has become a mission in order to chase that quality, ” he says. “And I noticed everything I had done up to that point, all my work for Magnum, all my work in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, was a preparation to get becoming a father. For finally understanding why I photo, and what I photograph just for. ”


christopherandersonphoto. com


Christopher Anderson is closely involved with the international photography and creative industry publisher LE GUIDE , as well as Connections by LE BOOK , the custom-made trade show for your creative community and its digital presence, Connections Digital.  

Le Guide Connections Digital Europe happens on 10 November 2021. Click here to find our more information about the event

The Fast Track 18 will be presented to the LE GUIDE Connections Europe jury by way of 1854’s ‘Meet the Unsigned’ booth.

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