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Christopher Anderson
July 11, 2012
On Monday, photographer Christopher Anderson was on the #AskMagnum hot seat. We fielded your questions on Facebook and Twitter, and Chris sat down and answered as many as he could. Here's the interview...

Claudio Calligaris: Should media companies put up pay walls? Isn't it time that people pay for content?

CA: I certainly did not expect this question. Usually I get the what-camera-do-you-use variety. This is really a business strategy question, and I am not a really a business strategists. It is complex. There is always a difficult balance between the need to make a living (or even pay for the production of what you do) and wanting to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Mette Vorraa: how/why did you get interested in photography? Have you doubted on choice of profession sometime?

CA: It was a hobby from when I was young. My sister actually gave me a camera once when I was very young. I worked construction during the summers when I was in high school to buy my own camera when I was 17. But it never crossed my mind that people actually made photographs as a living. It didn't occur to me that there was such a thing as "professional photographer" until I was actually working (quite by chance) as a professional photographer.

Trent Simms: What is the best piece of advice you have ever recieved regarding photography and how has it impacted on your career?

CA: Stay loose. Antonin Kratochvil. Not sure really how to explain what that means. For me it is kind of the idea of not taking one's self too seriously and not trying to force things. Work hard at what you do, but allow things the space to take shape organically.

David Gaberle: Documentary photography requires persistency. Do you have any personal techniques you developed for yourself in order to withstand the pressure created by the high standard of your previous work?

CA: See number 3.

Graham Martin: As a native English speaking (Irish) photographer who recently emigrated to Sao Paulo, Brasil with currently limited Portuguese, the intimidation factor has increased 10 fold with trying to take photos on the street, observe peoples actions and consider approaching groups or families in marginalized or impoverished areas in order to try to come up with some sort of social commentary photo-story to build up my reportage/documentary portfolio. I'm sure you and your colleagues (Harvey, Koudelka, Webb, Davidson, Rio Branco, McCurry etc.) have and continue to experience this problem of language barrier, different cultural or customary divides, notoriously or potentially dangerous locations or situations. Have you any advice for someone traveling without languages or someone with an opportunity to shoot in a certain environment but hopes not to offend or anger his subjects but retain the status of anonymous observer?

CA: I don't believe in the status of anonymous observer. Photography is an act of engaged subjectivity. Objectivity, fact -- they don't exist. There is only truth. Language barriers are there, sure, but I believe with all my heart that treating people with dignity and having something to say rather than looking at them as potential portfolio pages does a lot to overcome language barriers.

Dai Evans: With regards to film and digital , what is the percentage of each in your workflow ?

CA: I am shooting a lot of digital these days.

Wawmeesh George Hamilton: Do you feel like you've made a difference with your pictures?

CA: I do not think this way, and it has never been my motivation for making pictures.

@jogofoto: Hi Chris. For project work, do you tailor your aesthetics to a narrative? And, at what stage do you ID a storyline?

CA: I guess I do because my bodies of work are so different from each other. Sometimes this is a deliberate, conscious choice as with Capitolio. I specifically chose the language of black and white cinema because I wanted the book to recreate a cinematic idea in feel and structure. Sometimes it has more to do with personal evolution. As for the second question, I am not sure exactly what you mean, but I guess that you are asking when I recognize what the story is and what I am going to say? If so, it is always different. Storyline reveals itself in different ways at different times.

@duncanhillphoto: Hi Chris, what advice would you give photogs regarding the balance of shooting what you love, and staying financially stable.

CA: Find another way to make your living. Trying to make a living with your camera will mean making pictures you don't want to make. Being able to call yourself a professional photographer will not make your pictures better. Musicians dont think this way. Someone doesnt start playing the piano because it will lead to a job. You first play the music you love, and if that leads to a profession, great, but that is not the goal starting out. Make the pictures you love first and perhaps that will lead to a profession. But making pictures that you don't care about for money will not lead to making the pictures you love.

@Maloney: The lines between personal work, fine art and traditional reportage have blurred - does photojournalism need a new paradigm?

CA: It doesn't need a new one, it already exists in one. The public now knows what photographers have always known (but were unwilling to admit even to themselves): there is no such thing as factual objectivity in "photojournalism". Now we can all quit perpetuating the myth of the photographer as the benevolent objective observer of facts. Fact doesnt exist. But there is still truth. There is still integrity and authenticity. The categories of personal work, fine art, reportage...they have less and less meaning.

@PhotoVandal: How viable is serial self/group-funded project work as opposed to seeking a position in a failing newspaper industry?

CA: I guess it remains to be seen how viable it is. But one thing is for certain: positions in a failing newspaper industry (as a photographer) are not very viable.

@erickimphoto: Chris, what do you think is the most difficult part of working on a long-term project?

CA: Falling in love with it