Any attempt to slap a label on Andrew Thomas Clifton would be an error in opinion or judgement. Yes, he is the man behind the lens. The one who captured this country’s first black president, Barack Obama, during a private session while on the campaign trail. Perhaps there are other high-profile figures in line waiting to be frozen in time by his eye. Maybe even stars and models alike, looking for more than the usual glossy shine that have them perfectly, yet boringly draped across every magazine spread.
Not surprisingly, it doesn’t seem that he’s even taken notice. Clifton isn’t bound by what is visual or the work of his peers. He is a storyteller. A maker of sound. A painter. A hummer of life. Literal facts are not needed here. One only has to peer at the photo.
So, who is Andrew Thomas Clifton? He took a moment to speak with ARTA while grinding it out in his basement for the next KISS issue.
What do you look for in Models when photographing?
I look for an ability to act because modeling is simply acting for still shots. I do a lot of photojournalistic work which requires that models can actually take a simple idea or scene and flow freely with it. I don’t do a whole lot of micromanaging in direction. I need people to come in directly and be able to be magnificent. Or at least try.
Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from life. There are so many beautiful and real and raw things in this world of ours. An active part of being a photographer, for me, is the ability to actually observe and catalog the beauty of the world that I’m in and use pieces of all that in my work. It’s like catch and release. Just without the destructive jars or anything of the like. I’m a fan of all forms of expression and life, and an avid amateur biologist. I have a thing for the way life works. Maybe that’s why I do what I do.
How long have you been a photographer? What avenues did you take to become so good?
I’ve been shooting pictures for the whole of my life, as my father always had an active interest in photography. I’ve been a professional photographer for almost five years now. I would say I was self-taught because I never apprenticed under anyone. The world was my teacher. The avenues… wow. I’ve chosen to live a life filled with seeking up. I always want my work to be wonderful, regardless of what people think. My work is for them but not about them. I just let my heart guide the camera. Everything else is simply not living.
What photographers do you admire the most? I admire Ansel Adams the most. Here is a guy who took landscapes and made them more than just pictures of the earth, but swatches of colorless beauty that confound and consume the senses. His work is the blueprint for rawness because there are no people, no items, no technology or urbanity. There is simply the earth, and the way that he saw it.
If you had the opportunity to photograph anyone in world who would it be and why? The opportunity to photograph my children is the biggest and best achievement of my career. I get to capture tiny slivers of their life in a light that most parents never will. I get to capture their very growth and save those moments for the future days when remembering is a task and gray hairs speckle more than my beard. I get to catalog their LIFE and that’s more important to me than shooting anyone else.
Do you have any other hidden talents?
I guess that’s a misconception. That I’m only a photographer. I’m really not. I’m an ARTIST. My other talents as a writer and musician and designer aren’t hidden at all. For some reason people expect that people are only capable of doing only one great thing at a time. Maybe it’s their need to categorize. Or maybe I’m just feeling argumentative. You’ll never know.
Do you have any designers that you would like to work with?
No one in particular. I really don’t live my life in specifics like that. Call me odd. Every designer I get to work with is a story. A chance to share their work with the world is an honor I do not take lightly. I enjoy the variety of designers talents. It’s always fun to try something new with someone old and someone new.
What advice can you give for upcoming models in the business when working with photographers?
Don’t expect great work for free. Being pretty is not being a model. Reach beyond your limitations, because a bubble works both ways.
Who’s on rotation on your iPod?
Right now I’ve been really heavy into John Coltrane, Frank Ocean, Mariah Carey, Hans Zimmer, and Norah Jones. I’m pretty diverse musically. Especially when it comes to work. I’m in a bit of a rephrasing my visual speaking patterns phase right now. I’m creating a new way to capture my subjects. It requires some interesting places to go musically. My soundtrack is pretty dope.
When you’re not shooting what do you enjoy doing?
My newest relaxation thing is cigars. Drew Estates ACID and JAVA are ruling and ruining my life right now…but they relax me in a way that only they can. Maybe I’m getting sophisticated or maybe I’m just getting old… only time will tell.
Fashion story: “Pandora” By Andrew Thomas Clifton
Photographer: Andrew Thomas Clifton@www.andrewthomasclifton.com
Model: Jewel Thompson
Stylist: Lingkoya Washington
Makeup: Felicia Sorrells