Searching For Ghosts With Milk Photographer Andy Boyle
Photographer Andrew Boyle has worked very closely with Milk for several years now. Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, he started in the Equipment Department, and since then has been capturing everything that happens behind the scenes here. Boyle’s Ghosts series, which documents deserted sprawls of familiar urban environments like New York City and Los Angeles, is a rare look into the witching hour. He shows oft-trodden corners of a city without the people who traverse them; they’re eerie and, well, ghost-like. The Milk Store is excited to begin selling them, as well as never before seen photographs from Andy’s archive. The collection includes his series 5 Pointz Requiem, which captured the art complex in various formats from 2007 until 2014, before it was demolished to become a generic condo tower.
You’re originally from Melbourne, Australia, but you’re now based in New York City. How would you say your background has affected your perspective?
I’m an insufferable nostalgic for New York and Los Angeles from the past. My grandfather was a jazz musician, filmmaker, photographer and painter, and he influenced me from a really early age. I worked at his record store for pocket money when I was ten, and the music and pictures he had everywhere fine-tuned my head to these big cities, where things were rough and smoky and shadowy. When I think about it, that’s what made me get into David Lynch in 6th Grade. I didn’t know what was going on in Twin Peaks or Wild at Heart, but I knew I liked it. It was that predetermined concept I had of urban America that made me want to see it for real.
You’ve said that your background is actually in the hard, long, laborious craft of film, print, and the theory behind it. Have you branched out a little more to digital, or do you still much prefer film as a medium?
Most of the personal work I do is on film, while commercially I shoot digitally. I had the theory of film, hand black-and-white and color printing drilled into me throughout school, so it’s completely fashioned how I treat my digital work in post. Both mediums have their merits, but film forces you to drop the pace. Once it’s shot, it’s done.
Where did you find inspiration for your recent project, Ghosts? How did the concept come about?
When I moved to New York in 2007, I was watching these neighborhoods I had visited as a kid being demolished for these sterile condo mini-towns. I felt like I was racing developers to shoot buildings and store fronts before they were gone. I like that these places held stories, and an atmosphere. They spoke of families and communities forced out by change.
How did you scout out locations for shooting Ghosts? Or was it just serendipitous?
It was kind of serendipitous. I shot the series in Las Vegas while on a vacation. I was told there was a run down part of town away from the strip, and it was like a no-man’s land. Amongst the buildings, I found a giant old theatre that stored mattresses, and discovered that legendary punk group The Circle Jerks played a show in the parking lot because the roof collapsed a few hours before. Most of the pictures are in places I plan to go, but don’t necessarily know what I’ll find when I get there. Then it’s just me, a Mamiya, and nothing but time.
Your portraits of models and celebrities, like A$AP Rocky, Drake, and Miley Cyrus, are very vibrant and dynamic. On the other hand, Ghosts really captures this feeling of dilapidation and loneliness. When capturing these two different sides of the emotional spectrum, do you approach the subject matter differently and if so, how?
The Ghosts series feels a little more in tune with what’s in my head. It’s not necessarily meant to be sad, just reflective and cinematic, like it comes with an Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack attached! The people I shoot are more outlandish with big personalities, and I try to reflect that.
You’ve covered a diverse range of cultures in your photographs. How do different cultures inform your work?
When you have a camera around your neck, you’ve got an automatic icebreaker with people in other communities or cultures outside your own. I like that it gives me a chance to connect with new people. It’s a bit hard for me sometimes, as I am quite shy about walking up to a stranger to ask to take their photo — which is ridiculous given how I love shooting people — but each encounter forces me outside of my comfort zone. I am always grateful for the results.
One of your major fortes is shooting live musicians like Grace Jones, Bjork, Wu Tang Clan, and more. How do you manage to connect with performers and achieve such intimate, breathtaking shots among a raucous crowd?
Shooting bands is like an addiction. Very early on, before I picked up a camera, I loved the work of Anton Corbijn. He obviously did incredible portraits, but his live photography was perfection, and he shot it all on film. When I’m at these festivals, I’ve got this voice in the back of my head jabbering away to get something unique. I try to be patient and keep one eye on the stage while staying alert to what’s going on outside that field of view.
Going through your Instagram and blog, we saw that you were working with
animation and going beyond just static images. Can you tell us a little about how you got into animation and where you would like to take it moving forward?
When I was a kid, I was taken to the ZOO TV tour that U2 took on the road in 1992-1993. This was when the band was actually cool! They took this stadium tour on the road, where they had these almost-skyscrapers covered in giant video screens, and made it a traveling TV station of surrealist imagery. I was utterly mesmerized. Emergency Broadcast Network created most of the work. I stood there thinking – I want to do THAT. It’s something I am tiptoeing towards, as I like imagery that’s rough and unpolished, static and imperfections.
You seem to be inspired by a wide range of themes, from deserted urban landscapes to revelry and celebration. What else inspires you?
Movies are what have always inspired me — the myths of Hollywood, the prestige of the studio system in the 1940s and 1950s, and the iconography of people like James Dean, James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock. I am getting into motion and video a little later than I would have liked (maybe it’s having to sit through online tutorials for Adobe Premiere that makes me want to pull teeth!) but I am beginning to throw a video supplement in for my still shoots.
What projects do you have lined up for the future?
I’m working on a photo portrait book of the downtown New York culture, which originated from of shooting portraits around MADE Fashion Week, and I’m also assembling a book of people photographed at New York Comic Con. Next year I will be driving across the U.S to expand the Ghosts series and also exploring ways to create multi-screened motion work. I’d actually like to exhibit the portraits in an interactive way that dwarfs the viewer and allows them to immerse themselves, be it through screens or some kind of augmented reality experience. I think I need a staff of people to help me!
You can purchase Andrew Boyle’s work here