Roanoke, Virginia, based photographic artist Andy Silvers is a growing internet phenomenon whose combination of photography and digital graphic design has taken the mediums in new and exciting directions. His ecclectic mix of visual storytelling, eroticism, horror, glamor, fashion, and pop culture is gaining a growing following among afficionadoes of pulp, pin up art, burlesque, gothic culture, tattoo culture, rockabilly, and, yes, Dieselpunk and Steampunk. His work has appeared in many magazines, including on the covers of South, Image, and Dark Beauty magazines. He recently spoke with Dieselpunks.org about his art and inspirations.
To start, tell us about your art and what led you down this path. Your website bio states that you were educated and worked in graphic design and got into photography as a self-taught avocation. Obviously the initial photographs are merely the start of a transformative process that calls upon your graphical arts background. What inspired you to this specific combination of photography and graphic arts?
Andy Silvers: I was always a visually creative person. As a kid I was always drawing, all the time. School performance suffered because I just was drawing and sketching so much during class. I was into cartooning and I would draw characters mostly. So my art interest veered toward being stylistic and illustrative, something that lends itself pretty well to graphic design. It was pretty clear early in my life I would be doing something creative to make my living. I was in college during the period computers and "desktop publishing" started becoming the standard, but all my education was in the old school ways. After college I worked some crap jobs to save up for my first Apple computer and software to start learning the new ways.
One of my first big purchases was a high end scanner that came bundled with Photoshop. Having the ability to scan and manipulate photos was really interesting to me. I have always had a camera since I was a kid. Mostly I'd take the typical snaps of friends, family and occasional odd thing. However I disliked film and dealing with paying for developing and prints. When consumer digital cameras started coming out in the mid 90's I was pretty quick to get one. I went through a few before I eventually got a Nikon D100. My first DSL.
Photography, was pretty much a hobby, but with digital the computer was the darkroom and I got to have full control from start to finish of my photos. As a graphic designer photography is utilized and a key component for many projects to help communicate the client's idea. For me it seems natural at times to incorporate graphic design elements into the photography. A lot in how my mind works creatively is geared toward design. As a artist, digital photography let me really express myself creatively in ways I couldn't do drawing or painting. However, the graphic design and art background comes into play strongly in the retouching and composing of my images. Seems a natural fit.
Your work covers a wide variety of subjects, from fashion to pulp to burlesque and from the exciting to the macabre to the erotic to the surreal and more, such that nailing it down to a single descriptor proves impossible. On your website you speak of being a "storyteller", and your work inevitably makes the viewer wonder what events led to the "moment" of the image. What informs your visual "storytelling" process and how do you go about it? What inspires you to tell a tale in this manner?
AS: I'm a visually oriented person and a pop culture junkie. There is a lot of visual data I've accumulated over the years up in my head. So what often happens are ideas happen out of associations. It could be a location, a prop or an outfit will conjure up a visual in my head and I will build a scene based on that visual. For example, a designer may send me an outfit to shoot. I could just throw it on a model and shoot it in a typical fashion way against a seamless background. Except if I look at it and it makes me associate it with, say, a train station in the early 1900's then I will try and create a scene that is based on the sort of scene I saw in my head. Sorta a gut inspiration.
Subject matter wise I am not tied to any specific genre. I would become very bored and stagnant shooting just one type of photograph over and over. As a person working to be a viable commercial and editorial photographer you have to be able and shoot variety of subject matter. I'm not trying to be specialized as the got to for just one thing.
Among the myriad subjects of your work, some arguably falls into what we here consider Dieselpunk, be it a pulpy, retro 30s/40s adventure plucked from a Republic serial, a dark, noir scene from a smoky room or back alley, or a WWII-ish poster image. Had you heard about the Dieselpunk subculture/aestetic beforehand or did other things steer you towards these particular images?
AS: Until you started classifying some of the images I posted as Dieselpunk I had never heard the term. Steampunk I was familiar with but not Dieselpunk. I just referred to the military-ish themed shoots as para military pinups. Again what steered me toward this look at the time was the influence something else's. Going into some antique stores they had WW-I and WW-II officer hats, uniforms, holsters and various items form those periods. So I thought it would be cool to do a series of female characters that were based in the stretch between those two wars. It was a series I called "Bitchslap".
Later I was asked to contribute some editorial content to Dark Beauty magazine's steampunk issue. I found a designer, Black Mirror Design in Italy, that made these awesome outfits that were inspired by victorian age military looks. Her outfits have lent themselves and inspired the noir and Sky Captain-esque looks very well.
Occasionally in the comments section of one of your Facebook image posts, typically from a bikini or lingere shoot, I'll see the old "ooo, hard job ya' got there! ;-)" comment. While photographing beautiful people is likely not the worst way to pass the time, anyone with any first- or second-hand experience in professional photography knows it's a demanding profession. How much time and effort goes into to the production of a single image, from initial concept through preparation, photo, and editing, to completion?
AS: Some shoots are a wham bam thank you ma'am in and out process. Certainly if it is shooting a bikini or lingerie type glam shot. Those sort of shoots are more about sex appeal than anything else. Not much story trying to be conveyed there, it is what it is. A shoot like that can be done in a couple hours. Then maybe a hour editing through images to find a couple of the strongest shots. Add about a hour per image for retouch and done. So maybe 5 hours work in all.
Something that is more conceptual can take a lot of preplanning and organizing. Getting wardrobe and props. Corresponding with designer, MUA and models to get everyone on the same page. Setting up and lighting the scene I will do either a day before the shoot or while the model is in makeup. That can take a couple hours in makeup. When the model is ready we do the lighting test which can be another half hour tweaking the settings and checking the tests in the computer to make sure it looks good. Then it will be about 3 hours [of] shoots as we will try other ideas and change of the lighting. Plus I typically will set up and do beauty shots for the MUA. The shoot can take up a day's worth of time overall.
The editing process is more tedious as I will shoot more images in this situation compared to what I may shoot for a bikini glam shoot. The retouching will be more time consuming as well. Either because I am going to build and composite the background on top of retouching the model. Or I have to finish and add details to the mini set I may have set up. This can be hours spent retouching to finish one shot.
Speaking of your models, I've noticed you have a few regular models you work with. You frequently name and compliment them in your image posts. How involved are they in the process of the work? Do you have a set vision, or do they provide their own ideas or improvosations during the shoot? Are they involved with post-production in any way?
AS: I do have favorites. They are the ones I will call on for the personal shoot ideas when I need someone that can be more than just a model. Kari G is my best collaborator. She gets what I'm going for. Kari and I can just pull ideas out of our ass spur of the moment with no planning. When I do a shoot that is being staged as a story. What I have is a basic character and story idea in mind but I want to explore that idea and cover all the scenarios. I think I direct models like how a movie director directs actors. I'll perhaps come up with a backstory and tell them this is who you are in this scene and this is what's happening or going on around you and you have to react to this. It's left to the model to improvise a performance based on the details I give them. Not all models can do this as well as Kari or Chrissy Inky.
Who does the makeup? Fashion selection? Hair?
AS: I've been lucky and fortunate to have met and worked with several talented MUA's. I work mostly with Hay Qureshi and Jackie Greene. I first worked with Christine Geiger 'till she moved to NYC. Then there is Katy Albright and Elizabeth Tolley. Most of the MUA's also do hair as well though I do at time work with a hair stylist Sean Folley. Sometimes though the model has to fend for herself and do her own hair and makeup.
I usually pick out the outfits for the shoot among what the model brings or a designer has sent. Sometimes there is discussion with the model for specify things I want them to bring. With the MUA's I just give a basic direction of what I'm going for and let them just run with it. There is a team effort going on with the styling. In the end I make the final call if the look is working or not. My way of managing the shoot is to just give a little bit of direction and let the others work of that.
For the many photographers and photo enthusiasts that follow this site, the obligatory technical questions: what camera(s), what lighting, what digital software? Do you still work with film, or strictly digital?
AS: I'm revamping my equipment right now having sold my Alien Bees and currently investing in the Einsteins. I've also sold my Zooms and started using prime lenses exclusively. I have the Nikon D800 and primarily shoot everything with the Nikon 85 1.4 lens. It's my go-to lens for personal work. I use Lightroom version 4 for my RAW editing/processing and Photoshop CS5 for retouch. I work on a quad core iMac. I strictly shoot digital.
And the obligatory Inspiration question for struggling artists of all medium: what advice do you have for breaking out of your 9-5 job and into the pursuit of your passions?
AS: I don't know. I kinda somehow ended up working the last 6 years shooting product in-house 9-5 for 3 different companies. Thats my trade off on utilizing my photo skills to make a reliable income. This way I can be selective in the freelance work I do and not have to shoot things that don't interest me.
And on Inspiration, the obligatory "who inspires you"?
AS: As stated in a earlier question my head is just full of visual information. I like the work of Dave Hill, Jim Fiscus, August Bradley and Jill Greenberg but I would say movies have a bigger influence on me more than anything. I feel my work would lend itself very well to movie posters and advertisements. It's creating photographs that are staged in the context of telling a story. Giving considerations to the wardrobe, set, props, character, lighting and the model I'm working with. The thing is, I can stage and set up the shot but the viewer can take their own story away from what they see.
Your professional work has included fashion shoots and magazine covers and your experimental imagery has a growing online following, including it is worth mentioning with the Dieselpunk and Steampunk communities as well as with the burlesque community. Where do you go from here? What's the planned road ahead, or are you simply seeing where the road takes you?
AS: My goal is to be shooting commercial and editorial content on a more consistent basis. When I look over what I've been doing the past 8 years there has been a pretty steady progression and evolution of my work. I'm going to continue to shoot what interests me. Work to improve my technique both as a photographer and a retoucher. Everything so far seems to keep just falling into place.
Finally, where can people go to see your work or get the latest news from Andy Silvers Photography?
[NSFW Warning! Some images may be unsuitable for work or children.]
Anything else you wish to mention before we sign off?
AS: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my work. I do tend to ramble on into tangents. hopefully my responses are coherent.
Perfectly so, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Good luck with your future endevors, and if time permits please keep us here at Dieselpunks informed as to your latest art and efforts.
All images appearing in this article are the exclusive property of Andy SIlvers and are protected under the United States and International Copyright laws.
The images may not be reproduced, copied, transmitted or manipulated without the written permission of Andy Silvers.
Use of any image as the basis for another photographic concept or illustration (digital, artist rendering or alike) is a violation of the United States and International Copyright laws. All images are copyrighted © 2006 - 2013 Andy Silvers.
Images used with permission of copyright holder.