Holly Andres and Her Cinematic Mind’s Eye
Holly Andres had never visited a modern art museum until the summer before her senior year of college. She was studying to get a BFA in drawing at Montana State University. On a trip with her sister, she walked into the Centre de Pompidou in Paris and became compelled by the large scale photography. It had never occurred to her that photography was art in the same way as traditional disciplines such as painting, drawing and sculpture.
That was a turning point for Andres. She went on to study film at Portland State University. After graduating she created her first photography series ‘Stories From a Short Street’ based on her childhood growing up in rural Missoula, Montana. As the youngest of 10 kids, five boys and five girls, growing up on a farm gave her a unique experience to draw from when creating the series.
The cinematic narrative style Andres often draws from, popularized by Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson and Cindy Sherman, creates a clear dialogue with filmmaking, says Andres.
“When I think about a photograph, ‘tableau vivant’ comes to mind, which is the term that was used to describe these kinds of staged productions,” says Andres. “So I’m always thinking about this false, heightened moment and inviting the viewer to have a more interactive experience, where they are compelled to think about what happened the moments before and what happened afterwards. And I like to keep the narrative rather implicit versus explicit.”
A constant in Andre’s work is using vivid colors, feminine patterns and artificial lighting. Recently she started to work on commercial projects and commissions. Despite the difference in motive, Andres does not let her style fade away in any photograph she produces.
“I feel like I was in kind of a sweet spot in that the first part of the trajectory of my career was in personal work and fine art,” says Andres. “So when a lot of art directors and photo editors hire me for an editorial assignment they know my style of work. I don’t feel like I’m ever in a position where I’m asked to do something that’s really out of the way that I see things and the way that I work.”
The biggest challenge in Andre’s work is the pre-production, which she compares to preparing for a short film. She spends time location scouting and modifying existing spaces within a short window of time. Oftentimes, Andres will fly across the country and walk into a space she picked online.
“I really love that challenge of just trusting, and having just a few minutes,” says Andres. “It’s this really sensitive time where I have to be really receptive to the world around me to make decisions quickly and trust my intuition.”
When it comes to challenges Andre’s work with New York Magazine on the ‘43-day fashion shoot’ proved itself to be a life transforming experience. She traveled around the country in a minivan with her assistant shooting pictures of women that represented different parts and cultures of the country.
“The US is so big and I needed to drive eight to 12 hours every other day to make it on time and to have around 15 different stops. So I picked locations that I felt as though they have their own identity and style.”
After coming up with her route she prepared a mood board. The route was based on places where she could craft an interesting aesthetic that would reflect that city, and places where she had help on the ground in the form of family members or friends. Ideally, New York Magazine wanted street casting, but due to a tight schedule she sought help from people she knew to cast. It was important to the project to shoot women that weren’t professional models.
“It was a lot of word of mouth,” says Andres. “I would put some notices on Facebook or Instagram and say I’m going to be here today, if anyone’s interested in participating in our project. Of course, I couldn’t mention the magazine. But so much of that project was just serendipity. Quite frankly, we reached out to whoever replied and was available. Because we drove so much and during that time I was editing.”
The minivan was full of designer clothes to style models. Most days consisted of driving from city to city and then finding interesting locations, meeting up with the models, doing their hair and makeup, setting up all the lights and shooting.
Some projects allowed for more preparation. In Dallas, the first thing that came to mind for Andres was the TV show ‘Dallas’. “We were able to rent the actual mansion where the TV show Dallas was filmed. Every single location was just so different. And I was virtually scouting locations and firming up the casting while we were driving to that location and it was nuts. It was the perfect time, too. It was right after the election and Donald Trump had won. So I think at that time, we were all just trying to figure out what happened and who are all these people in the middle of the country? Who somehow thought he was the one.”
Currently, Andres is working on video work within music videos and a personal project revolving around her father.
“My dad was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, and he’s kind of spiraling, and he has spiraled into that during the pandemic, and the isolation obviously hasn’t helped. And so I’m fully vaccinated, I’ve been able to see him three times. And this last time I went, I took my camera, and my lights and I’m working on something inspired by the same motivations Larry Sultan had in ‘Pictures from home’, just wanting your parents to live forever. And the only way I know how to do that is through photography.”
THE ARTIST EXPLAINS:
“That particular image is one of my favorites. It’s in the series ‘Fieldcrest Drive’, and it’s the photograph of the station wagon and there’s a big plume of smoke. It’s like on fire and there’s a birthday party in the background. At the time, I was collecting stories and also pulling from some of my own that were based on incidents that people have from their childhood in which their mothers acted really heroically in an attempt to protect them. And my friend, who is actually in the photograph, was telling me about this incident when her mom was driving a car loaded with children to a birthday party. And this fire erupted underneath the hood of the car, and her mom had to swerve to the side of the road and individually shlep all these kids out of the car. And she had mentioned that it was one of her first memories. And as she was telling me the story, like many visual and creative people have this film strip of sorts that was in my mind’s eye. And then I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, that would make a really interesting photograph, would you recreate it’ and so she was down. And at that point, I didn’t ask her any more questions, like what did the car look like or what was your mom wearing because I wanted to use the reference of the image that that story triggered as my inspiration.”