ALTON — So much of life goes by in a flash. For photographers the constant challenge is to capture a moment in time — freezing it as it were — in order to reveal something interesting about a person or event.
That's what Andrew Walker strives to do every day in his work as a celebrity/event photographer.
For the past week Walker has been encamped at Fashion Week in New York City, a semi-annual event where top designers showcase their latest creations which consumers may see in the fall.
As a staff entertainment photographer for Getty Images, Walker has for more than six years now been watching and recording the comings and goings of celebrities at fashion shows, posh parties, sporting events and film festivals, including Cannes in France and Sundance in Utah. The career path that has taken him from East Alton to the Big Apple has been anything but a straight line.
And considering Walker's first try at taking pictures it's a wonder that he found his niche in photography.
"When I was in high school (at Alton Central) I tried taking photographs of games for the school paper. But when I turned in three or four rolls of blank film they took me off the job," Walker said with a chuckle.
But while his initiation to picture-taking was far from auspicious there was another influence in his early life that helped prepare him for his career.
"My dad was a painter. I got a lot of my visual sense from watching him paint," he recalled.
Both Walker's father, Frank, and his stepmother, Margot, are teachers at Kingswood Regional High School in Wolfeboro.
After high school Walker attended Pacific University in northern Oregon where he graduated in 1992 with a major in creative writing and played varsity soccer. While at Pacific he decided to take a photograph course "as a lark." Looking back on that first serious exposure to photography he observed that what he learned was how to take better photographs, "but they don't teach you how to make a living as a photographer."
After college he got a job in a photo lab in Oregon. Processing rolls of film of other people's vacations and family events wasn't for him, and after a year he joined the Peace Corps which sent him to Poland. At the end of his two-year stint in the Peace Corps he joined the non-governmental organization called Building with Books which sent him to Nepal and Bolivia to oversee the building of schoolhouses.
By 1998 he returned to the U.S. and ended up in New York City where he worked at an assortment of jobs, including bartending. Eventually he got a job as a creative director for a company that owned entertainment venues. His responsibilities included overseeing photography and art direction for events. But that job ended shortly after 9/11 when business dropped off.
Rather than seeing the layoff as a setback, Walker viewed it as "unpredicted opportunity." He picked up a camera and with the contacts he had made began doing all sorts of photography assignments: actor's head shot, band performances, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, you name it.
"There's a very thin, fine line of people who have gotten me to where I am today," Walker said during a telephone interview on Wednesday during a break from shooting Fashion Week at New York's Lincoln Center. While the spotlight at Fashion Week is on the runway, Walker cruises the sidelines of the event capturing mood, rhythm and style of the occasion. "I walk around the venue looking for alternative views. I want to get something interesting or unique," he said.
His work has brought him into contact with countless celebrities, mostly in the field of entertainment. He drops a couple of names: Megan Boone of NBC's "The Blacklist," and Vanessa Hudgens of "High School Musical" series fame, who Walker was hired to photograph while she was shopping in a New York boutique.
Perhaps because Walker spends so much time around the glitterati of stage and screen he realizes that many people stereotype celebrity photographers. "I get defensive when I hear the word paparazzi," he said. Just about every celebrity he photographs wants to be photographed. Most of the time the shoot has been set up either by the celebrity's representative or a third party who has obtained the celebrity's permission beforehand.
Walker credits his affable manner with his success as a celebrity photographer. "I'm very personable. Talking to people comes easily for me," he explained. "And I try not be too demanding."
While Walker mostly rubs elbows with actors, singers, musicians and the like. His work has brought him into the world of politics. In 2006 he was the personal photographer for Andrew Cuomo during his successful campaign for New York Attorney General, an opportunity that brought him into contact with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Asked to name someone who he would like to photograph, Walker quickly cites, Hillary Clinton, who he says he greatly admires. But then he adds, "I'd love to be able to shoot any sitting president."
But Walker says that being a photographer is not always as glamorous as it might appear. "(Celebrities) want to be photographed, but they don't want to see the person taking the photo," he observed.
And being a professional photographer means there will be times when there will be humdrum or even unpleasant assignments. Walker recently had an experience of the latter.
On Feb. 2. Walker got a call to go Manhattan's West Village and stand outside Philip Seymour Hoffman's apartment building and try to get a photograph of the actor's body being taken from the building. Walker was on the scene for five hours and the best shot was able to get was of two medical examiners exiting the brownstone building. "It wasn't the kind of assignment that I enjoyed," he said. But then he added that to being successful as a photographer means taking opportunities as they come. "Don't be afraid to take any assignment."