Andrea Ellen Reed is a storyteller based in Minneapolis and Brooklyn. She is also the President of ASMP Minneapolis-St Paul. Andrea’s “multi-sensory” project Unsighted was awarded a 2017 grant from the Tim Hetherington Trust. She can be found at andreaellenreed.com.
Watch a compilation of The Streets are Talkin’.
We Asked: What is Unsighted and how did you come up with the idea for the project?
Andrea Said: Unsighted is an experimental short film that exemplifies the evolution of my work into soundscapes and moving photography. I created this film in 2015 in direct response to race riots in Baltimore, MD and Ferguson, MO – both the result of the deaths of unarmed Black men. In the film, I created a soundscape of edited audio clips of pundits, civil rights activists, educators and newscasters to comment on how Black people internalize White supremacist culture.
I was participating in a Masterclass at Fabrica in Italy and wanted to present this work but the version I created was not working. The instructor asked me why creating this work was important to me and my perspective immediately shifted. I was able to talk through my ideas and landed on something that was simple and powerful with Unsighted.
We Asked: How much time have you spent on Unsighted and how do you balance that with other work/life requirements?
Andrea Said: The time that I spend on Unsighted varies. To shoot and edit the video took two days, while researching how to exhibit the work in a public space has taken considerably longer. Working with sound and exhibiting my work outdoors is new territory for me and over the past couple of years, with the help of grants, I have had dedicated resources to help me prototype outdoor structures to show the work and connect me with professionals who have shown work in all spaces.
I have a full-time job and finding time to work on my projects can be challenging, but I made a commitment to myself that when I started working full-time I would continue to pursue my work by promoting it and seeking funding through grants. It was not until I had been working at least 8 months, that I was able to clear some headspace to be able to focus on my project with any real commitment.
We Asked: In your project The Streets are Talkin’, you combine still images with audio. Please tell us a little bit about the process of creating this project and what led you to include audio.
Andrea Said: The process of combining still with audio allows for the subject to tell more of their story and allows the viewer to experience it on many levels. I began using this multi-sensory form of storytelling at the 4th precinct protest where protesters shut down the 4th precinct police station in North Minneapolis. I thought this would be the perfect space for this project because it would allow the viewer to experience the protest by not only listening to the interview, but also by hearing the ambient sound of cars passing, fire crackling, and people interacting. To create the Streets are Talkin’ I began by spending time at the protest. Slowly, I was able to see where the story was and approach people about participating.
We Asked: How do you find your subjects and then convince them to participate?
Andrea Said: My subjects are sometimes people I know, but are more often than not people I do not know or know very well. When I see someone that I want to photograph on the street I am usually attracted to their look- something in their face, their mannerisms, or their body language has a story to tell. I introduce myself while very deliberately holding my camera at my side or completely put away in my bag. I ask them what their name is and have a conversation with them that does not have anything to do with photography. I get to know them for a little while. As we continue to connect, I let them know that I am interested in photographing them and telling their story. Most times people are open to that. Other times, they do not feel comfortable and we sit there and continue on in conversation.
We Asked: What advice would you give to others who are looking for outside funding for passion projects?
Andrea Said: One thing I did that was very helpful was I met with a professional grant writer who had years of experience writing grants for corporations and non-profits. Her advice to me was to know what the organization is looking to fund and speak specifically to that. That really helped me to focus my efforts and tailor my message to each grant and that is when I started to see results. I would also advise that you keep records of all the grants you have applied for and keep track your latest fine art resume, bio, artist statement, and a folder of sized images. You will not be able to use your written docs word for word, but you will know where they are and be able to build on the strong parts every time you submit and soon you will have some really solid grant materials. I have found it really valuable to do one-on-ones with the staff that work for the grantors. I bring printouts of the work I am planning to submit and get feedback on everything from the order of the images to the messaging in my artist statement. My goals is to walk away from those meetings with a sense of any changes I need to make so my message is clear to anyone reviewing my work.
We Asked: What is one of your greatest challenges as a photographer today?
Andrea Said: One of my greatest challenges as a photographer is continuing to make the work I want and need to make. I became a photographer because I wanted to do challenging work, work that is not always popular and often times does not pay the bills. Over the years, in an effort to support myself, I have taken photography jobs that have taken me further away from my original goal. There was a point where I had gone years without shooting anything of substance and that became daunting and made me question my relationship to photography. As an African American artist, it is imperative to me that I am always creating work that tells the stories of my community in a way that is thoughtful, engaging, and challenging. Keeping sight of that has been my greatest challenge, but as I have grown as a person and an artist it is becoming less so.
We Asked: What advice would you give to students and emerging photographers entering the industry today?
Andrea Said: I think it’s really important to have a creative community that will give you feedback and help you grow. While in school, you are encouraged to show your work multiple times a week, but when you are out of school, the focus becomes finding work. Sometimes that can be a very insular process. I would connect with as many photographers as you can find that share your skill, passion, and drive to be at the level you want to reach (and beyond) and show each other your work consistently. This will help inform your work as well as give you an opportunity to learn about successful business practices.
When I got out of school, I had more questions than answers. Because of this, I looked for people to give me answers by going to talks, one-on-one meetings, and information sessions. No one person or workshop can give you the answers you need to guide your career. It’s important to go into any learning opportunity with a strong sense of your work and taking applicable info to inform your work, not define it.
We Said: Congrats on your Tim Hetherington Trust Award, Andrea! You can view Andrea’s work at the following links:
Watch a compilation of The Streets are Talkin’