Andrew Querner grew up in British Columbia before moving to Canmore, Alberta, to pursue his passion for climbing photography. While his home hasn’t changed, his work has and Andrew now focuses on social interest work. His new approach takes him around the world and his current portfolio includes a photo essay from Kosovo’s Stan Terg mine, Yellowknife, and the Athabasca glacier.
Fresh off a trip to Europe, Querner took the time to answer my weekly photography interview and sheds light on life behind the lens and the longer-than-anticipated transition process from part-time photographer to full-time shooter.
9 Questions with Editorial Photographer Andrew Querner
1. I’d like to start out with that “ah” moment when you realized your life would be tied to a camera instead of a more tangible career. How did it happen?
AQ: Since the end of high school I’ve played around with photography, never giving it much thought. It was not until I started rock climbing though, that I had a subject that compelled me to take it more seriously. At some point, the desire to make a good picture surpassed any athletic ambitions I had. I began to put my work out there and to my surprise, some of it was published. This was the beginning.
2. What was your last non-photography related job? How long did the transition take and what lessons did you learn during the process, and what finally made you quit?
AQ: To be clear, I have yet to make the transition to full time photographer. While not always the case, typically I’m holding down some other kind of job on the side. For several years now I’ve dabbled as an arborist. I used to be in quite a rush to adopt the “full time” label but I’ve realized that there are as many different paths to becoming a photographer, as there are photographers.
3. When you begin a personal project, do you already have a destination in mind for the final product or do you merely go to cover the story and worry about a sales point later?
AQ: With personal projects I’m rarely thinking about where it will eventually end up or how I’m going to cover my costs. If that happens, then great, it’s a bonus. But for me, the whole point of a personal project is to satisfy a curiosity, or to try to understand the experience of another through the process of making photographs. That is to say, it’s personal. I rarely have a concrete destination in mind, as I want to avoid any subconscious tailoring of the project to a particular publication or what have you. I’m aware this makes little to no business sense but this approach is really helping me to figure out what I’m trying to say with photography.
4. You live in Canmore but I do not see too much content from that area on your website. Why do you choose to live there and work elsewhere? Is there any benefit or issues from this type of arrangement?
AQ: You’ve touched on a sensitive topic, one that I debate back and forth in my head all the time. When I was pursuing climbing photography, the choice of Canmore made perfect sense. There’s a strong climbing community here and of course, the Rockies provided a playground. As I began to move towards subjects of more general social interest, I found that I had no choice but to travel to investigate the stories that mattered to me. Understandably, there is not much “news” coming out of this part of the world so I’m finding it difficult to procure more than the odd assignment now and then. In a lot of ways, it feels like I’m spinning my wheels here so the logical progression is to relocate to a larger metropolis or, for lack of a better expression, a more relevant part of the world. I don’t want to fall victim to the greener grass mentality because there are a lot of great lifestyle aspects about living in the mountains but in a professional sense, I feel isolated.
5. Some details:
a. Years as a shooter?
AQ: Tough to say but it started to feel serious about seven years ago. Prior to that I was more a photographer by measure of enthusiasm.
b. Current Location?
AQ: At home in Canmore, Alberta.
c. Breakdown of income: What percentage comes from editorial clients? From commercial clients? From other sources?
AQ: Photography-wise the majority comes from editorial. About half of my income comes from my day job.
d. Time breakdown – What percentage of time is spent shooting? Marketing? Editing? Personal Projects?
AQ: Shooting gets the least amount of respect, unfortunately. I spend the most amount of time by far, thinking about or doing some kind of marketing which includes a certain amount of social networking upkeep, entering contests, applying for grants, and of course devoting huge amounts of time to personal projects- all stuff I consider marketing. I dare say that there is also a fair amount of inefficiency on this front, as a lot of it seems experimental. I never really know what’s working and what’s not. This is the most challenging part of making a business in photography and I’m not very good at it.
6. If you could only give a single piece of advice to an aspiring photographer, aside from finding a more stable career, what would it be?
AQ: I still very much consider myself aspiring, but the best piece of non-abstract (don’t give up!) advice I can think of is to make personal projects. It’s an exercise in coming up with ideas and gives you a laboratory for experimentation. Almost all of my paying work has come as a result of personal projects. Perhaps more importantly it cultivates the habits of a healthy photography practice.
7. Was there ever a time when you questioned if photography was the right career choice? If you weren’t shooting, what would you be doing?
AQ: I often wonder if the questioning will ever go away. Mostly owing to the financial aspects, it can be a roller coaster ride. The rewards still seem to outweigh the difficulties and to be honest I can’t see what else I would be doing although I like to think that I would be involved in radio production.
8. What three people – be it friends, family, photographers, or anyone else – provide your greatest source of inspiration?
9. And finally, take this one and run with it: Why do you make photographs?
AQ: I spend hours upon hours looking at photographs and reading about the photographers that make them. I love the medium and for some reason it resonates. But I’ve come to realize that the picture (and I think I’m poorly paraphrasing someone else here) is simply the result of an actual real experience. While the formal objective is to make a lasting document, I take a lot of pleasure from the interactions that come before and after the photograph is made. Being somewhat reserved in nature I often seem to find myself in situations that, if it weren’t for the camera, I certainly would not be there. In that sense, I’ve become much more engaged with the world around me- both immediate and more distant. I never imagined that photography might do this and it has become one of the primary ways for me to learn and experience.
As always, I owe Andrew a big thank you for using his valuable time to share some thoughts, information, and samples from his budding photography career. It definitely helps to learn I’m not the only one taking my time transitioning to full-time photographer.
For anyone who hasn’t checked out Andrew’s work, please check out both his website and blog. I’m waiting he hear from a few more photographers, but hopefully I’ll have another photography interview ready for you next week.
* All images in this post are protected by Andrew Querner’s Copyright. *