As Adobe’s Creative Resident, Aundre Larrow spent a year travelling the length and breadth of America, documenting the stories of the people he met and the places that shaped them through a series of portraits. His goal was to tell a story that connects us all. One of identity shaped by our physical place in the world. We caught up with him to find out more about his work as a photographer, and the making of his book, Stories From Here.
How did you get into photography? When did you know you wanted to make pictures?
It was kind of a happy accident for me. I would always play with cameras at relatives houses or beg for disposable cameras when I was going on class trips as a kid. In high school, I took an introduction to journalism class with a photo unit and really enjoyed it. A little after that my theatre teacher, Mr. Tempest, saw something in me and gave me my first film camera—a Minolta SRT-101—as a gift for my fifteenth birthday.
I never had a moment when I was like, “this is what I am going to do”. It was more a case of this was a way to express myself, capture the people around me and hold them close. No matter how far away we were from each other.
What’s your training background? What was the hardest part? What came easily?
I was a journalism and economics major at the University of Florida, but I took lots of photos because I enjoyed it. Eventually, I started shooting for the student newspaper, The Alligator. I got a lot of practice covering big sports games or crime scenes or producing off the cuff portraits. It was difficult at first but once I got the swing of it, I enjoyed chasing the opportunity to take a dynamic photo, with little time to think or set up.
This eventually stressed me and challenged me. When I moved to NYC and started to wonder if I was an artist or a photojournalist, I wasn’t sure. I thought that because I was primarily being reactionary in my shooting, I was somehow a lesser photographer. It took me a while to get out of that mindset, and embrace what got me into photography in the first place.
Portraiture always came easier to me because I enjoyed being able to learn about someone, study them, and show them an honest version of themselves.
What would you say are the key elements of a great photo?
Light, expression, and the decisive moment. My favorite photography quote is “the lens is designed to be like the eye, but unlike the eye a camera cannot differentiate what is important”. That’s the job of the photographer. So, mastering light and using it to isolate your subject is key.
How do you decide what to photograph? What ideas or emotions guide your approach to photography?
The focus in my work has always been the human condition, particularly how to find truth in portraiture. I photograph trends that I see, or folks that have great, lived experience that I want to share with the world.
In my opinion, shooting only smiling photos or brooding ones is a disservice. I try to capture the full spectrum of human emotion. That’s why I enjoy shooting sports sometimes.
Are photography books a valuable tool for photographers? What role have they played in your career?
The physical, touching of pages, holding something in front of you, being able to hold it with another person, and discuss it without screens, is something we all need more of. It allows us to embrace, understand, and value the process of image making more than a ‘like’ can.
In my career, I’ve always used books to study the work of artists I admire. By comparing their printed work with that on Instagram, for example, I can study how they curate their work across different mediums and platforms when putting a book together.
What role does photography play in wider society? Why is it important?
It’s our opportunity to tell the truth. A photograph can’t lie. And in an age where we document so many things, our ability to observe, capture, and then learn from the past will be so valuable.
Photos are touchstones for moments in history, loved ones, and for ourselves. They are vital.
How did you find the process of making your book? What were some of the challenges? Which bit did you enjoy the most?
The self-editing process has always been difficult for me. Cutting our certain things always felt really unfair to the entire story, but I recognize the power of a full edit. I found it challenging to let some things go so that the viewer could have a cohesive book of images, and not just my favorite photos.
I really enjoyed putting all the stories together. In Stories From Here, the goal was always to see matches in lived experience through a sense of place, location, and values. So, to finally see the web of underlying stories converge in the book is incredible.
What advice do you have for people just getting started in photography?
Study the work of those you admire. And in doing so, always ask yourself, where is the light coming from? The question should never be can I recreate this person’s work? Can I vocalize their process after studying it? By understanding the light in a situation, you develop as an artist and become better prepared to photograph more scenarios.
What’s one project you’re dying to do?
I need to do some work telling the stories of people in my family in Jamaica. As an immigrant, there are many parts of my identity I haven’t fully actualized. Stories, demeanours, beliefs that were taught to me, but which I don’t yet understand the full significance of.
Thank you Aundre, for taking time to talk to us in such an inspiring way about your project.