Andy Levin is an award-winning photographer from New York who relocated to New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina. In the 1980s, Andy was a Contributing Photographer for LIFE Magazine. His work has also appeared in many other publications, including: the New York Times, National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Time, and Newsweek. Andy has a gift for capturing deeply expressive and unguarded moments on camera. His images consistently document the human experience in a way that most photographers aren’t able to achieve.
NCM: What brought you from New York to New Orleans?
Andy: My work is all about movement and music. The first time I came to New Orleans was in 1983 or 1984. Time magazine had assigned me to do a story on Charity Hospital. At the same time I was really getting into music. I kept coming to Jazz Fest throughout the years and finally decided to move here right before Katrina. That decision was either very good timing or very bad timing depending on how you look at it!
NCM: Did you stay through the storm or did you evacuate?
Andy: I stayed and it was challenging as a photographer because I was more personally involved in the experience. I had neighbors that I cared about. In the past, I had been assigned to photograph different catastrophes, but I usually flew into the places where I was assigned to work.
I benefited professionally from my work after Katrina. But looking back at the pictures, I can honestly say that I hope it never happens again.
NCM: Where were you living when Katrina happened?
Andy: I was in Mid-City. I was still fresh out of New York and not quite as familiar with Louisiana as I am now. I wasn’t experienced with hurricanes.
NCM: When did you first realize you were compelled to shoot photographs?
Andy: My father was a very avid amateur photographer. We always had photographers visiting our house on Long Island because he befriended some of the magazine photographers in New York. He really encouraged me.
NCM: Was anyone else in your family involved in the arts?
Andy: My mother was an artist. We also had a lot of paintings and Haitian artwork that she collected around the house. That definitely influenced me culturally and visually. I still go to Haiti to photograph. But I grew up in Long Beach, which was a very relaxed beach town.
NCM: Did you have any formal education in Photography or the Arts?
Andy: No formal photographic training. My education came from working with professional photographers. I started assisting and then got a job with a photo agency. I was editing photos and meeting with photographers. I think it took several years before I started to get good at it.
NCM: How do you stay relevant in an ever-changing digital world?
Andy: There’s a difference between being a photographer and being an artist. If you’re an artist, it really doesn’t matter what tools you use. That’s one answer. Another answer is I try to find subject matter that is meaningful.
Photography is not the same as it was when I started out. But humans still react to photos. There are still great photos to be made. And photos mean something.
NCM: How long have you been a full time professional photographer?
Andy: I have worked in the industry for more than 40 years. I have been a full time professional photographer for 35 years now.
NCM: Do you upgrade equipment and software/hardware often? Favorite tools for creating including hardware, software and camera?
Andy: I’m not an equipment freak. I have the ability now to basically borrow anything that I want. If I have a commercial assignment, I can get everything that I need. Cameras are so good now, and even older generation ones are really good too. I don’t have any issues with that. I try to stay relevant but not to the point of, by always buying too much specialty equipment.
NCM: What is your specialty?
Andy: I’m mostly a people photographer. I like to photograph people. I also like to photograph things that interest me. For example, musical things interest me. Movement, motion, and dancing interest me. The musical aspect of human personalities and culture interests me. New Orleans has a musical culture. Cuba has a musical culture. I want to photograph the way our lives are wrapped up in that.
NCM: If you could shoot whatever you want and not have to worry about your bank account what would be your dream?
Andy: There are some places I’ve never been, but I’m thankful to have had the opportunities to take the photographs I did. I travel quite a bit. I would like to explore more places in the Caribbean like Trinidad. I would like to see more island countries. I would be pretty busy if I had an unlimited budget!
NCM: Where do you think photography will be in 10, 25 years?
Andy: The improvements in digital technology have not helped professional photographers in their ability to make a living. There will always be people who need to do it. And they will be able to produce some great work with the new technology. It is hard to say what will happen.
NCM: Can you give some pieces of advice to the newbies out there thinking about becoming pros?
Andy: There’s a lot of advice I can give. I should probably mention that I am giving workshops in Cuba. I am happy to work with people who want to learn from my knowledge and pass it along. It is important for any new photographer to seek out experienced people who are willing to give them advice. Its important to understand how a film camera works and some of the basic concepts. It is also important to understand what makes a good composition and a good subject for an image. And don’t underestimate the value of hard work. Most successful photographers work incredibly hard.
NCM: Who inspired you along the way and possibly influenced your style?
Andy: Robert Frank inspired me. He was in the generation before me. Alex Webb and all of the Magnum photographers from my generation influenced me too. All the visual stuff that was going on in the eighties influenced me. We also still a good bit of the photographers from the 50s and 60s too. For example, Charles Moore from Life Magazine was a big influence. He was still around in the 80s.
NCM: If you could photograph anyone living or dead who would it be and why?
Andy: If he were alive, it would be Jimi Hendrix. I would also love to photograph Bob Dylan. If it weren’t a musician, it would be candid shots (without limitation) of Donald Trump or Putin. But they would have to be candid shots. A “fly on the wall” situation.
NCM: Do you have a favorite image and why?
Andy: Yes, this one of people splashing in water that I took in India. I like the movement and happiness in the picture. It’s a positive picture.