darkroom based photography

Andrew Sanderson

The first post in readiness for 2022 and what better way than to talk about one of our finest photographers, Andrew Sanderson

But what to say that has not already been said? He has been interviewed many times, his pictures are in several collections across the world, he is the author of books, he is an excellent teacher of all things relating to film photography, and he is an Ilford Harman master printer.

The only thing I can add is a personal reflection about why I find his work inspirational. It’s more to do with his attitude to photography rather than anything to do with a technique or process. After spending 5 days in his studio and darkroom learning various techniques, the one thing that has stayed with me, (and influenced me) is his attitude. And it shows in his work.

© Andrew Sanderson ‘Steps in a Forest, Fairy Woods’.

Mamiya RB67, Ilford XP2, Printed on Ilford MGWT

These days the term ‘master’ is bandied around willy nilly. The word ‘craftsman’ is sometimes used in art circles in a pejorative sense. But Andrew is a ‘master craftsman’ in the best sense. Indeeed, I see a hint of a modern-day John Ruskin at work. A ‘master craftsman’,1in my book a term of esteem, sums his attitude up well. The making of a picture is not to be separated from the final picture itself. Process and picture are fused together. Each picture is a separate event. His attitude reminds me of the Japanese potter, Yanagi, who had such a feeling for his clay that the resulting pot became an inevitability.

For Andrew, photography is not an intellectual exercise but rather a process of intuition dictated by an extraordinary power of visual perception. His photographs always seem to be in exquisite harmony with the objects they portray. Nothing seems forced. All seems natural, as if inevitable. Putting this into words is difficult, but what he has is a ‘sympathy of things’.

In his own words … ‘I feel things very deeply, I can pick up emotions in other people instantly and can often see into a person’s soul on first meeting. The emotional connection happens with inanimate objects too. I find it hard to explain because it has always been so, and I can’t believe that other people don’t experience things as I do’.

© Andrew Sanderson ‘The painter Jo Aylward’. Kodak Specialist camera, x-ray film, Ilford MG FB paper.

A quietness pervades when we look at this beautiful portrait.

What is this sympathy of things?

A clue comes from reading an interview with him in ‘On Landscape’, the on-line magazine. 2 Andrew talks about the magic of a great print. The magic comes not so much from correctly applying techniques, although this can be important, but more from something much more elusive. We can use the word ‘spirit’, for want of a way of referring to it, but (and this is me talking here), any word will miss its mark because the essence of this communion with objects is beyond words. Whatever we might mean by ‘spirit’, for Andrew a crucial part of taking photographs is the emotion felt with the object in its given light . I use the word ‘communion’ not in a religious sense but in the context of a mutual participation.

© Andrew Sanderson ‘Teasel’. De Vere 5×7 camera with 5×4 reducing back. Polaroid Type 55 pos/neg film, Ilford WT FB paper, toned.

I may have imputed too much here in trying to understand his philosophy but for me this helps to explain several aspects of his work.

Firstly, for Andrew vision is an intensely personal thing because it comes from an emotion. Success will not come from aping the work of others. Copying someone’s style or subject would mean that the resulting photograph would partly be coming from outside of one-self rather than from within. Of course, looking at the work of others is part of acquainting oneself with how others have looked. But to be successful, a photographer needs to develop her own way of seeing things.

In his own words … ‘I looked at a lot of other photographers work, figured out how they did it, then tucked that info away in my mind until I had use for it. There was no point re shooting what had already been done, that would be a waste of my time and materials’.

Secondly, a Sanderson picture is expressive, each made in an idiom to match the impact felt by the scene perceived. Whether by way of a paper negative, a home-made lens, X-ray film or a pictorial manner of printing, a Sanderson picture goes beyond a literal interpretation of a scene to find that extra something, but still in sympathy with it.

Taken by Tony Cearns, printed by Andrew Sanderson

When leafing through my negatives, Andrew pulled this one out saying ‘this will show what a paper negative treatment will give’. He then proceeded to print it using his paper negative process, a technique that he has spent years perfecting.

Art 300 paper

Finally, his pictures are one-offs, not parts of projects. The intensity of a visual experience is such that it finds its outlet through a single image, not a series of pictures. The experience that is necessary is not one that can be ‘harnessed’ across a series of pictures. I think Edward Weston expressed this well: ‘When subject matter is forced to fit into preconceived patterns, there can be no freshness of vision’. Something is lost when photographs conform to the order or story of a project. The article about him on LensScratch covers this well.

A corollary of this is that Andrew finds plenty to engage with at home or in his village or local woods. If it is the act of communion that produces memorable pictures, then the familiar and the close-at-hand are more likely to provide the conditions for the magic to happen. Trips to foreign climes or exotic landscapes are unnecessary and perhaps counter-productive.


© Andrew Sanderson ‘ Stairs and bottles’. MPP 5×4 camera, Ilford Ortho Film. Lith print on Agfa MCC FB paper. Visitors to his studio will recognise this

There is a lot more that I could say about Andrew Sanderson’s work, but I will close here, lest I stray into flights of fancy. In any case, his pictures should do most of the talking.

© Andrew Sanderson. ‘Ollie at the window’. Kodak Specialist 5×7 camera, Ilford FP4, Ilford MG WT paper. I have a print of this image on my studio wall. A very sympathetic encounter with light.

I finish with some details about Andrew Sanderson’s services:

His instagram account is @andrewsandersonphotography

Some of his pictures can be seen at his web-site.

No matter what stage of expertise you have, you will likely obtain enormous benefit from attending a workshop with him. He packs a lot into a day and I have no doubt that you will come out of it changed in some way.

Some of his pictures are for sale. His shop can be found here.

Andrew runs a printing service

Some of his books can be found here.

  1. The Oxford English Dictionary has it as ‘a person who demonstrates great talent, skill, expertise, or artistry in a particular field’.
  2. Behind paywall and subject to copyright, so not quoted here

4 Comments

  1. Mike Skelton

    Wonderful article. Andrews work is beautiful.

  2. Frédérique Gerbaud

    Hi Tony,
    Many thanks for this interesting article. The part about vision and emotion (“the emotion felt with the object in its given light”) and that about expression and idiom paticularly make sense to me.
    And I quite agree with your evocation of uniqueness as opposed to series.
    I hope you are well despite the morose time.
    Amitiés,
    Frédérique

    (a question: why did you write “…a photographer needs to develop her own way of seeing things. In his own words … ‘I looked at a lot of other photographers work…” “her”, and then “his”? Did I miss anything, or is it a typo?)

    • Sidewayseye

      Her own way refers to people in general. In his own words refers to Andrew Sanderson, a man. It gets confusing, I think. Best regards Frédérique. Hope you are well too. Spring approaches

  3. Anthony

    Insightful

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