I started following the photography of Tamás Andok years ago, when he was mainly shooting analogue and the iPhone wasn’t the huge phenomenon it is now.
Differently from a number of iPhoneographers who adapted their style to mobile photography, Budapest-based Tamás went the opposite way, having the medium meet his personal vision. The transition was, to an extent, accidental, and it was back then dictated by practical reasons. As he recalls, “After my good old Fuji Finepix digital camera died I used analogue only, but after a time it was too expensive. My iPhone was always in my pocket, so I gave it a chance.” Andok explains how the potential of a mobile camera as a creative instrument had to be discovered little by little before he could put it to use. “It wasn’t a conscious decision,” he adds, “I got an iPhone for my birthday but for a long time I didn’t think about it as a photography tool.”
The analog sensibility of Tamás Andok’s artistry is evident in every single image in his collection. “I like my poor old cameras, a Smena 8M, an Olympus XA2, Olympus OM-2 and some Russian stuff like Fed-2,” he says, “I used them for a long time and they taught me a lot.” Even with his background, Tamás took the possibilities of the mobile medium to heart. He now shoots mainly iPhone and with a group of other Hungary-based photographers he started a mobile group, the UM Collective. The Collective is an ideal territory for disparate aesthetics to collide and for displaying different approaches in the pursuit of a language still in evolution.
As the possibilities of mobile photography are fluid and unpredictable, so is Andok’s vague imagery, a visual poetry made of frozen echoes, never-ending intervals and ineffable suggestions immersed in foggy monochromes. His photos are immaterial and mysterious, in perfect accordance with his interests, a carefully selected assortment of sources of inspiration ranging from the books of Cormac McCarthy to the aesthetics of film noir, with more than a few images that may form a continuum with the films of Béla Tarr and György Fehér. “I always try to reflect my environment, so my photos often turn out to be personal interpretations of musical, literary and cinematic experiences,” he says, “Many movies, books and music inspire me, so it means a lot if somebody notices the small analogies or references.”
References aside, Andok clearly states that, as far as his images are concerned, he is open to all sorts of interpretations. In his photos, landscape and street speak in a multiplicity of secret voices, calling out to the viewer’s own perception of reality. They are fragments of stories, whose most crucial essence is often hidden in pitch black shadows. Imagination brings semblance of movement and meaning to the darkness, the mist, the vacant spaces, through the viewers’ most personal experiences, shaping stories within the stories. The notion that the nature of Andok’s pictures is highly subjective is shared by other photographers. As an example, he mentions Hungarian photographer Judit Ruprech, who described his photos as synesthetic pieces of art. “[She] wrote in an article that my images are musical, and if you look at them you can hear music.” He adds, “If it’s true, I reached what I wanted.”
The complexity of influences and themes in the photos of Tamás Andok is not reflected by the array of tools used. Andok’s iPhone camera bag is, to say the least, essential. “I don’t use too many apps, just a few. Hipstamatic in most cases; Afterlight or Snapseed for post processing; KitCam for colorful shots; maybe Mextures. Usually they are just pure Hipstamatic pics with small changes.”
Even though inspiration and workflow vary from project to project, the outcome always shows Andok’s unmistakable coherence in content and style. Improvisation and planning can both lead to the desired results, even though the scope of the project and its genesis may vary greatly. “Planned and improvised photos often start with a defining experience,” Andok reveals. “In bigger projects like Planet Nivalis or Wizards of Autumn I plan carefully for months.” In many instances, it’s the environment to suggest to the photographer a direction, but it can take a long time for the original impressions to mature until they become tangible. “I walk in the city or in the nature for hours, see something interesting, a great place, a nice light, or I hear an amazing music, read a great book, and I’m totally in their mood for a long time,” Andok explains, “Thoughts and feelings are spinning in me. Then weeks, months or years [later], all of them are melting into something and I try to visualize it.”
Mobile photography is a powerful expressive language, but as all the others, it requires sincere and constant application. Andok says he realizes that the mobile medium has many positive sides, but it would be useless to deny its good share of negative ones. “It all depends on what kind of mobile photography we are talking about. A lot of people don’t take it too seriously, they just make family photos and snapshots, use Instagram and whatever. They don’t want to be good artists, so it doesn’t affect them too much.” Because of its accessibility and instantaneous character, it’s relatively easy even for the “good artists” to slip into a most convenient lethargy, while a plethora of tools keep them busy and under the impression of producing art. “I think mobile photography after a time gives a superficial and sometimes negligent attitude, and because of all the filters, textures, and endless opportunities, you can easily lose your focus.” Even the favorable criticism and exchange of ideas taking place on social networks as Instagram can become an ambiguous blessing, as Andok puts it. “It’s convenient and secure, but it’s just an illusion,” he says, “Creation can be more exciting and complex than that.”
However, Andok recognizes the tremendous opportunities and stimulating power offered by the new media when creating. The essential for artists is learning to control the chosen tools properly in order to use them to express a personal vision. So what’s the best way for beginners to develop a style and to keep their creative side alive? “Be curious, open-minded and don’t fear about experimentation; sometimes just leave the well-known roads for something new,” Tamás says, and he concludes, “Meet and speak with other creators, use networks like Flickr, and of course go out and do it, again and again.”
All photos courtesy of Tamás Andok.