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Collaborations: Aaron Anderson

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

I came to know and appreciate Aaron's work recently, by way of LinkedIn. On an almost daily basis, as I browsed my feed, I continued to notice his absolutely stunning photographs of athletes, shot with a reverence and capturing a simmering energy that I hadn't quite seen before. To see something you haven't quite seen before in the 21st Century, when AI marketing tools generate lookalike creative that floods our daily lives, is a true rare delight. Aaron's work is a profound reminder that there very much is still a human factor in creative, and why there should be one. - CC What did creativity look like for you in childhood? It’s interesting because unlike so many creatives I didn’t grow up “in the arts” so to speak. I did art, and I liked it, but it wasn’t really a part of my every day life. I played soccer competitively from a young age and spent most of my free time riding dirt bikes and playing soccer. I mention this for a couple of reasons, first to give us late bloomers some hope, to let people know that you don’t need to have some prodigy art background to become an artist, I most certainly didn’t. (I get it and appreciate that you said this. I did have a prodigy art background, but I still feel like a late bloomer, because it took me so many jobs and fits and starts to find my rhythm working in 'Creative'. I came by it in a very circuitous way, and having never been to Art or Design School, I felt very much on the outside for a long time. - CC) The second reason I bring this up is because it has truly shaped my work and my pursuits as an artist. (Mine too -- very much. - CC) Many of the subjects and stories that I tell now in my imagery are a part, in some way or another, of my childhood. I love the quote “We are every age we’ve ever been”, which I believe is from Anne Lamott. I often talk about how long of a journey it was for me to find Photography, 20+ jobs starting from when I was 14, but everything I’ve done along the way has shaped me and changed my perspective, which is what photography is, a perspective. (I love that quote and definitely relate to it! At 47 3/4, I am now doing everything I dreamed of doing as a five year old. My perspective has also changed dramatically along the way, but at my core, the person I am -- the creative person I am -- really hasn't. - CC)

Jenny Arthur Aaron Anderson How did that relationship change as an adult? When I was in my mid 20s I really wanted to find a career, my hope was to be in a career that I loved by the time I was 30. Some of the things I was able to do were really interesting, I was a scuba instructor when I left for art school and before that I was a child development coach and trainer, even a real estate agent for a minute, but I never felt like those were things I could do forever. (Wow! Your experience is even more convoluted -— I mean varied — than mine! - CC) My start into Photography, or into the creative world in general, was rather jarring and unexpected. I’ve told this story a lot, but I think the context of these two questions makes it a little more interesting. I bought my wife a camera for her birthday, and then I promptly started using it all the time (one could say I stole it). (Hahaha...the best kind of birthday gift. -- CC) It wasn’t something I was looking for in any way, I just liked using the camera. I went through all the stages of novice photography, like being obsessed with bokeh and shallow DOF, but I was intrigued by it. I started using a reflector, and this ability to change a scene and lighting was crazy to me. After that I bought a strobe, a little Nikon speedlight, and it was CRAZY! I learned how to control it away from the camera, well, maybe control is the wrong word, but I learned to use it off the camera! One of the distinct moments in my life was talking to my wife on a walk (which we still do almost every day) and asking the question “do people actually make money doing this?”, to which her response was (in the truly awesome fashion that she typically does) “well, I don’t know, but we can certainly try!”. After that we moved to CA and I went to the Academy of Art, where I was typically the oldest and definitely the only married student in my classes. (At first, I read that as 'definitely the most married student', which, in this context, still works! - CC) It was interesting, and I felt a little out of place, but it was such an important part of my journey. My time at school solidified my passion for photography and lighting, I suddenly needed to create things, and I still do to this day. (I love that there was a Eureka! moment for you; that's really cool. I can't remember not needing to create things, and I've often wondered what it feels like to not carry that compulsion. It's been such a driving force in my life; a distraction at times, destructive at others, but always there, and very much a need, not a want. I love the idea that one day you didn't have that drive and the next you did. I'm romanticizing it in my mind, as though you tapped into some ancient lineage going back to Hellenic times...and Spinal Tap. Apollo said, 'Let there be creative drive! And it was, and it was good!" - CC)

Anthony Oshinuga Aaron Anderson

How has your relationship with creativity changed in the last ten years (if it has)? It's been almost exactly 10 years since I started being a fulltime freelance creative, and it changes when you start making stuff and get paid to do it. I’ve been through multiple sets of burnout, I tend to overwork myself in general, so when everything’s rolling I can get exhausted and then drop pretty bad. Slowly I’m learning to say no more and be intentional about who I work with, I’ve also moved away from retouching for other photographers, which is a huge source of burnout for me. (I've been through multiple rounds of burnout, too, and a few of them came from feeling like I couldn't say no to freelance projects when they arose, no matter how busy I was at the time. I think that's probably normal for many freelance Creatives at some point in their career. You don't know when the next project will come, and you want to explore every creative opportunity you can...but then at some point, you realize that you aren't being fair to yourself or your clients. You begin to realize what your time is actually worth; there's a maturity and sobriety in that. Though it still pains me to be unable to take it all on! - CC) I still LOVE creating, especially personal projects, that hasn’t changed and is a huge source of life for me. I’d also say I’ve found my voice even more over the past 10 years, it has changed and solidified into what you see today…all of it part of that journey. I don’t think you can be a creative without changing and growing, that’s the most beautiful part of what it means to be a creative. Every person I meet and work with has an impact on how I see the world, and telling their stories allows me to grow and look outside myself. It’s my favorite part of photography, that I am always being forced to grow and change.

Noah Elliot Aaron Anderson In time I've been aware of your work (thank you, LinkedIn!), I've come to understand your style as equal parts mysterious/moody and bombastically energetic/active. I love the tension that dynamic creates. It gives me the same feeling of anticipation and awe that I've always felt watching old NASA footage of the Saturn V gathering power before liftoff -- this buildup of kinetic energy in a quiet moment before all hell breaks spectacularly loose. Tell me about what your thoughts and process are like on the other side of the camera. What are you trying to capture, and what's your process for executing on that vision?

Thank you LinkedIn indeed! Your ability to describe my work is so special, and I appreciate it!!

This might sound weird, but I love looking at things, I am constantly finding new things in the world that intrigue me. One of my favorite compliments was from my friend Hilary, we were driving together one day and she said “for as much as you don’t look at the road, you’re a really good driver!”. ( I smell an endorsement deal with Tesla's self-driving vehicles? - CC) It’s not the good driver part of the compliment that I like, it’s that I am always pointing stuff out and looking at things, that’s why I don’t look at the road (tell my mom and dad I’m still driving safely!). (He's still driving safely! - CC) This is a long winded way to say I want people to love looking at the work I do, I want it to engage them, even if they aren’t totally sure why. It’s also important for me that the people I am photographing feel awesome, feel the way I see them. Put simply, I want to be able to tell another humans story in a way that makes them excited and gets the audience equally excited, creating a willingness to listen that maybe wasn’t there before.

As part of my process for personal projects, I meet with the people I’d like to work with and hear their story. We have coffee and talk for hours typically. This is mostly so I can get to know them and their story, but it’s also because I secretly want to have coffee with people and talk to them for a living! Once I hear their story I’ll head home and start to concept the shoot around what I’ve heard. They’re usually crazy ideas, but I’ve found that most people are open to those ideas because it’s personal. Everything from Wizard of Oz to a bunch of hands holding a snowboarder has come up, and we usually end up doing it. After that it’s full production mode and we’re scrambling to find locations and possibly sponsors, but that’s also something I love doing so it’s fun. There’s something so incredible about seeing these shoots come together, usually with little or no budgets, we can create amazing things because the community that rallies around the stories. Such an honor to be a part of it, and then to have everyone excited about what we’re making together in order to tell a story. I think that answers the question…maybe. (It does answer the question, and I'm so glad to read your response -- that investment in getting to know your subjects really shows in the work. There's a depth to your photography that communicates an intimate knowledge of the subject's personality, aspirations, challenges. I feel like each of your photos is a mini-hagiography. There's a sense of both 'this is me' and 'this is the ideal me', and both are intimate. It's apparent that your subjects are very comfortable being in front of your lens. I think we both know that getting your subjects to feel that way, to lose their inhibitions, requires some work and talent unto itself. - CC)

Noah Elliot, Powder Aaron Anderson Your work also breaks down the perceived wall between fine art photography and commercial photography. Have you found clients were immediately receptive to that, or has it been a journey to acceptance? Have you gravitated toward clients who are more risk-tolerant?

This is one of the best compliments I’ve been given and one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked, truly. Thank you. (It's the truth! Your work works on many levels. - CC)

There’s a lot of layers to this, the easiest place to start would be that I have shaped my career around the idea that if I create enough good work that I’m passionate about, then eventually people would pay me to do it. It’s certainly not the most lucrative way to start a career, and I spend a lot of money and time on personal projects. It is however a good way to establish a brand that attracts a certain type of client and steers away from others, it is also extremely creatively fulfilling and allows me to work with people who I might not get to meet otherwise. It’s been a slow process, but when I do get hired it’s the type of job where everyone is excited and they’re usually referencing my work for the art direction, which is both flattering and amazing! (That's the brass ring, as far as I'm concerned! - CC) There’s something radical about getting a mood board that has your work on it, those moments are what it’s about, that’s when I know we’re gonna make something awesome.

I love the phrase “the journey to acceptance”, that’s truly what it is. What’s really cool about the clients I work with is they have usually been on a journey with me, and I don’t usually know about it. Some of the biggest clients I’ve worked with have come out of nowhere, but they’ve been following my journey and waiting for the right moment. Just writing that down is exciting, it’s like the stars align and suddenly we can work together! Most of the time I don’t even know I’m on the radar when a client reaches out, but they know my work and my brand…so cool to me. (SO cool! Magical. We don't know who we impact on a daily basis. - CC)

I truly wish I knew how to find clients who are more risk-tolerant (insert your brilliant creative director advice here), (Haha...I wish I had some to offer! My journey to acceptance has been very similar to yours. I've invested a LOT of time, money, and sweat into personal projects that were either explorations, educational tools, or brand-building and marketing tools for myself. That all worked, but it's a long road. I agree with you about people eventually accepting the brand, and referencing the brand, for what it is, if you just keep being undeniably yourself. I made the decision this year that I'm no longer accepting compromise to my brand. I went through an exercise of defining it for myself, and once I did, I had a great measuring stick against which to judge the projects that come my way. If they see me, understand what I'm about and want that, then I want to work and create with them, too. If they don't get it, then I don't want to waste my time. Enough people will eventually get my brand to make it fully lucrative. - CC) for now I’ll just keep creating crazy stuff with rad humans and sending it out into the world…I suppose that’s what you get when you combine fine art with commercial work, it’s very feast or famine. (True! Trying to learn to save more from the feast times to prepare for the famines. - CC)

Caroline Cora for Fujifilm Aaron Anderson

Has photography always been your favored medium, or did you move to it after exploring others?

This kind of goes back to your first question, it’s really my first and only medium. I’m really bad at most art forms, like drawing and such (I wish I could make posters like you!!), (And I wish I could shoot like you, so thpppt! - CC) and I even tried photography in high school, I hated it. I remember going out with a camera for a photo course that I took in high school, specifically this one shot I was trying to pan with a bird. In my mind it was awesome, then I would get the film back and they were terrible. That was the last experience I really had until I picked it back up again like 10 years later. I’ve always admired artists, especially people who can draw and paint, my mentor is an incredible sketch artist. Honestly, I still struggle to call myself an artist, I’ve had this discussion with a few people, but photography is very different than a lot of mediums in that we are at the mercy of what’s around us to create anything. I love being a part of the artist community though…so I’ll just keep hanging around until they kick me out 😉 (Hahaha! I'm laughing, but this really resonates, too. My mom is a photographer who used to own her own studio. She's extremely creative, and grew up wanting to paint portraits, but couldn't create what was in her mind through painting. To her, that was 'art' until she discovered photography. Since that time, she's developed the ability to create what she sees in her mind through the camera lens, but she's also been made acutely aware that photography has had a long road to acceptance as an art form. Even as recently as fifteen years ago, she was still getting snubbed by some other photographers as not producing 'artful' photography. She and I have had so many conversations about what art is and isn't. I've come down on the side of 'it is whatever the artist deems art'. You're an artist, Aaron. Deal with it! - CC)

Evonne Britton for Parity Aaron Anderson What do you love about it? I love people. That’s why it took me so long to find a career, I was always looking for a way to spend more time with people and do cool stuff with them. Photography allows me to be with people and have amazing experiences with them, it’s kind of insane some of the things we get to do! It’s not just the people in front of my camera either, it’s everyone involved. It takes teams of people, as you know, to create these images, they are not only extremely important to the process but I love having them around. I’ve done some crazy things with assistants who are willing to be right there with me, everything from long road trips to hiking large amount of gear down mountains. Finding photography was a blessing, I was beginning to think something was wrong with me after trying so many jobs and always feeling like it wasn’t right. We tell our kids often “you can’t love things, you can only love people”, and that’s my answer to this question, I like photography a lot, but I love people. (I love that! - CC)

Cage Dresses Aaron Anderson What's inspiring you in this moment?

In this moment I’m in a beautiful RV park with the fam and the dappled light is coming through the trees while ladybugs crawl on the window. That’s inspiring, and I often spend time staring at things making them into pictures in my head. I’ve always been a fan of lighting; my friends compare me to the guy in Bedazzled who says “would you look at that sunset?! Just look at it!” (insert funny Bedazzled GIF). To quote one of my favorite movies The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - “Life, I’m loving it”. (And a Buddy Cole/Scott Thompson/Kids in the Hall quote -- 'What's love but an allergic reaction to the right lighting? - CC)

Goorin Bros. x Ralph Holguin Aaron Anderson

More conventional modes of inspiration (other than being alive lol) are tattoos, music and movies. As well as art museums, talk about understanding lighting, sheesh. I go to a lot of movies in the theatre, I saw Top Gun like 4 times, movies like that are hugely inspirational, not just because of how beautiful they are but because they dreamed something crazy and DID IT! Movies like Joker and Moneyball are also up there, I tend to lean towards making darker work and that shows up in the movies I like as well. I don’t think I’m a dark person, but I like the look of things that are darker. I’m always listening to music as well, and have been somewhat of an audiophile since I was young, I think mostly thanks to my dad. I like a lot of different kinds of music, but tend to listen to electronic (EDM and Downtempo) and then mix it up with some Jazz. I recently discovered a Jazz artist called Vega Trails, and they have such interesting music, the song “Epic Dream” has been being blasted out in my headphones and sounds system a lot. Sometimes I just lay on my back and listen to music, recenter and think. (You and I share that, too -- I'm not a dark person, but I've always been attracted to, and comfortable with, the look and sound of darker art. At a poster show some years back, a customer even told me, 'Your work is so dark!' I see that in your work, for sure. I think that's part of what intrigues me about it. I see a glory in it; a bright spot of optimism and aspiration, surrounded by a mantle of deep, enveloping darkness -- that sure sounds like cosmic resonance with the whole human experience to me. - CC)

Kevin Staab Aaron Anderson

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Robbie Maddison Aaron Anderson And then there's this... :D

Aaron, Coffee Aaron Anderson See more of Aaron's work and DEFY MEDIOCRACY at Anderson Visuals.

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