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[photo credit: Max Gerber]

Timothy Archibald is the photographer that agencies call to make empathetic photographs of things that are a little bit different, a little bit curious, human, humorous and sometimes subversive.

Timothy discovered photography as a teenager; it was a license to meet people and enter worlds unlike his own—a powerful tool for a kid to have. After leaving school with a degree in art, he began using this human curiosity to support himself. Editorial photography allowed him to explore, learn about and humanize subjects that fascinated him and view them with a full range of human emotions.

His photographs have been celebrated in Communication Arts and the American Photography Annual and have been exhibited in places as wonderful as The Australian Centre for Photography, Zephyr Mannheim Gallery in Germany and Videotage in Hong Kong.

12.27.11

From Predictable and Hackneyed to Utterly Inspired

If you have a degree in what field is it? I have a BA in art from Penn State University. Essentially it was a liberal arts education from this big state school, with an emphasis in art. PSU also had a big daily newspaper, so while there I also learned how to tell stories in a functional way.

What was your strangest assignment? Well, the strangest was a self assignment, photographing a sexual subculture of inventors that resulted in the book Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews. That project had me knocking on suburban doors, looking under people’s beds and peering into garages all across America—and I had no one to blame but myself.

Which photographer would you like to meet? E.J. Bellocq, who entered the public consciousness after he died. His photographs of prostitutes in New Orleans, titled Storyville Portraits, had a view of relationships and women that I always wanted to know more about. And some things just can’t be answered until you meet someone.

What famous person (living or dead) would you most like to photograph? Edgar Allan Poe. The few photographs that exist of him reveal such a lopsided quality to his face, you just know there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. With Poe, all he would need to do was sit there. And all I would need to do is focus the camera.

Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? My toothbrush is a deal breaker. I carry extras in my glove compartment and my camera bag. I really can’t focus on a photo shoot without having my mouth clean and minty. Brushing your teeth before a shoot is like brushing your brain—it clears everything out.

Is there anything you would not digitally retouch? No…anything is game these days. Recently National Geographic ran a series from my Echolilia project and, due to their standards, they wanted to use the raw files, unretouched. We agreed and ran them unretouched, and I don’t think anyone noticed the difference. It’s so easy to get wed to perfection and sometimes, in the end, no one notices.

From where do your best ideas originate? The good stuff comes when you’re not trying really…when your brain is occupied with something else. That is when the raw idea bubbles to the surface. But then, it all gets polished and solidified when you bounce it off your peers. The collaborative moment is when something goes from predictable and hackneyed to utterly inspired.

How do you overcome a creative block? Drinking coffee and taking pseudoephedrine. Collaborating on projects with my kids always seems to allow me to see things anew.

Do you have creative pursuits other than photography? I read a ton; specifically, I devour biographies (if that’s considered a creative pursuit), write my blog and post status updates on Facebook.

What music are you listening to right now? I go through phases, but right now, Led Zeppelin’s first album is on. Every time I play it, it sounds as if it could have been recorded yesterday. It always seems to deliver and surprise me.

What’s your approach to balancing work and life? That’s a tricky one. Having kids has forced me to embrace a balance which has served me well over the past decade. I think it’s easy for creatives to get lost in their medium, or in their tiny worlds. Kids are a noisy and demanding enough distraction that will deliver this balance to you whether you like it or not.

What’s your favorite quote? Right now my favorite quote also comes from Warren Zevon. At a challenging point in his life, he joked “My career has all the promise of a Civil War leg wound.” I loved that phrase with all of it’s honesty and irony. With photography, as everyone knows, there are times when really no one wants to hear about you; no matter what you do, you are invisible. And there are other times when you are a magnet. The key to survival is not to invest too much brain/heart space in the highs or the lows.

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? I always want to remind students that it’s impossible to do this photography thing alone. Learn the history of photography, surround yourself with a community of peers whose work you admire and don’t ever pay a consultant for advice. Don’t be in afraid to invest your energy in your peers. Always be honest and generous with your advice to them. And most importantly, learn how to be happy for your fellow photographers when they totally kick ass.

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? This whole idea of a career in the arts is fascinating, and really only works, because it doesn’t have a map available to guide you. The idea of wandering with a flashlight, in the dark, to find your path is terrifying, but it leads to these things feeling so special when they work out. So of course, I like to say I wish I had a map to guide me in the beginning, but honestly, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.