Spotlight on Andrew Whitaker

 
EDITOR'S NOTE: Some of the following may be NSFW.
 
TID:
 
What an unusual image. It’s part of a larger project, can you tell us a little about where it fits within it?
 
ANDREW:
 
Yes, of course Ross. I came across "Sandy Lane Club" my last few weeks as an intern at The Hutchinson News in Kansas. It first started off for me looking around for photo ideas, and new things I could just experience. I would talk to coworkers, look on Craigslist, and browse previous stories. I just wanted to keep shooting besides daily work. I came across the "Sandy Lane Club" and eventually found someone's email at the club who was okay with me coming down to take pictures. "Sandy Lane Club" is a nudist club of about 50 people from all over the state and neighboring states about 20 miles north of Hutchinson. Nudist clubs are nothing new for photojournalists and even for the previous photo interns. That being said,  I really went there to just educate myself, regardless if it was going to be published. I wanted to gain experience.
 
TID:
 
What was it like when you first started photographing there?
 
ANDREW:
 
It was a slow start before actually picking up my camera. I don't know if I was just nervous or unsure how I would photograph this, and if they even wanted me to. Before I even took any frames, I talked one-on-one with the members and really tried to get an understanding of why would someone want to do this.  I started to take photos but didn't feel like I was in my photographer mode. It didn't help that I was the only one clothed and surrounded by 10 naked people.
 
 
 
 
TID:
 
How did you work to gain trust with people?
 
ANDREW:
 
A question I had asked one of the members was, "Who is a nudist?" and his response was, "You want to know who is a nudist? Go to Walmart. They are your average everyday people." He didn't mean this in a bad way, just that nudists, look like you and me. After he said that, I looked around at everyone there, and thought, "he's right, they were just like me." They were not there to judge or be weird, so I went to my car to see if I had a towel and found out I did not and said, "what the hell", and decided to remove my clothes and join them. After that, I really noticed a change, it mostly had to do with my confidence. I needed to believe in myself as a photographer which allowed me to gain trust within myself. I think they sensed this too.
 
TID:
 
I’m always curious how photographers problem-solve. What problems did you faced, and how did you overcome them? With this, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
 
 
 
 
ANDREW:
 
As I mentioned, once I got nude myself everything seemed to be easier for me. I needed to solve the problem of feeling like the odd one out.   Up to that point, I really didn't know what I was doing and felt shy and uncomfortable that I didn't belong. If I would have done this differently, I might not question myself when someone had asked if I wanted to participate, I would not hold back. I just felt like I wasted so much time from my lack of confidence. Next time, I will leave my clothes and my "lack of confidence" at the car!
 
TID:
 
What did you learn about this community that you didn’t know before going into this?
 
 
 
ANDREW:
 
If you put clothes on these people you wouldn't know they were nudist. Not that I imagined them to look any different or act differently than my next door neighbor, heck, my neighbor might be a nudist. They each have a story, as to why they do this.  Most of them had a similar story, and it was that they tried it once and liked it. Being nude  allowed them to feel relaxed.  This community behaved like a family at a summer cottage; eating, swimming, and socializing. I learned that I need to respect myself, before others would respect me, which leads to trusting one another. 
 
TID:
 
What did you learn about yourself?
 
ANDREW:
 
I think I learned more about myself than I took away photo wise. I don't think taking photos naked will help in most situations unless you are at a nudist club. But, getting comfortable and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone most definitely will. I used to be terrified to go up to people and talk to them or get close with my camera and I missed a lot of moments. I think the biggest thing I came away with, I didn't feel comfortable because I was nude, I felt comfortable because I no longer seemed out of place. I wasn't hiding behind my camera, like a piece of clothing hiding my imperfections.
 
TID:
 
Now, onto the moment. Can you tell us what was going on in the lead picture and how you worked through the scene to capture the image?
 
 
ANDREW:
 
There were two times when three of us sat at table talking. The first time was early on, and I was clothed. The second, all three of us were nude ,and I didn't even realize we were. At this point in time there was a sense of freedom from my thoughts. I was able to go through the camp and see what they do. I wandered around the camp through the trails, around the pool and in the clubhouse. I followed one member in the clubhouse he decided to make himself a drink. He went back and forth to the refrigerator then the sink, I went in with my camera. I  realized I could get in close and not be afraid to do so. They understood why I was there before I understood. I had to turn off my uneasy thoughts, and just do it. Now I have "my" story of why I did it.
 
TID:
 
In conclusion, do you have any advice for photographers?
 
 
ANDREW:
 
In conclusion, I am still looking for advice myself. I have no clue what I am doing and that's alright. The biggest "aha" I have learned about myself and this story is (trying) not to be afraid. I spent way too much time as a photographer being too scared to do a story, do a workshop or going up to a front door. The more I pushed myself to do something I didn't want to do the better it got and the better I got. It is terrifying going up to a random person on the street and saying “hello can I take your photograph?” but the more you push yourself to do that, the easier it gets. And if you need help, ask for it. There are so many wonderful people with a camera going through the same exact thing.
 
:::BIO:::
 
 
You can see more of his work here: 
 
Instagram: @Andrewjwhitaker
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