Andrew Shepherd is a Dallas-based multimedia content creator who freelances on the editorial and commercial side of photography and graphic design. He thrives in a collaborative, multi-disciplinary model in which the synthesis of a team's collective specialty, vision and passion allow the formation of more genuine and whole multimedia experiences. The potential for telling stories excites him.
Andrew loves writing, exploration, narrative, mountains and oceans. So much of what he does and the way he sees himself is directly affected by his relationship with his family (church and blood), and the friends he’s honored to share life and work with, both in Texas and New York.
AHD: How do you describe yourself and the kind of work you do?
AS: It’s difficult to provide a category for my work because it takes so many different forms. The way my process translates to finished product does not always mean only photography, design or video. I value so deeply the way each intersects and informs the other, or the whole. I try to remain open to allowing that value to guide the process into finished pieces.
The semantic range of my work is broad, and at points I have (I think erroneously) felt some need to provide a concise statement about what I do and how I do it. It wasn’t until a more recent self-realization that I’ve begun to embrace this larger, true portrait of myself, and a greater composite into which it fits, and how it can be used to an advantage in creating good, informative and helpful experiences for others.
One aspect woven through everything I pursue creatively is the desire and motive to communicate well and to tell stories in whole ways. The aesthetic statement a lot of times arrives later in the process, as it best forms what it is we’re saying.
It’s probably all too philosophical, but my main goal in everything I do is to make things well—things that are useful for others in terms of understanding, practicality and enjoyment.
AHD: Your work seems to encompass many types of visual media. Which type is your favorite?
AS: Back to what I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult for me to express a hierarchy of creative preference, because I so deeply value the way a designer’s mind and process informs good photography, and the way a filmmaker needs a writer and an actor and a camera operator and all sorts of things to construct a scene visually. My work is about experience, and I at least hope that it becomes that.
When you see a great film or read a great book, the takeaway by the observer is not only “that was beautifully stated,” but it also draws upon the questions of “into what story was I just invited and what does that now mean for me as a person?” I wouldn’t say I’m even close to having reached that point on a consistent basis in final product, but I can at least state it as a goal and as a driving motive in my own pursuits.
AHD: Where do you draw your creative inspiration from, both personally and professionally?
AS: I’m constantly flagging and saving things that have meaning for me and for others universally. I’d say 10% of my inspiration comes from this. I have a giant, four-year-old folder of “inspiration” in Dropbox that includes quotes, excerpts from something I’m currently reading, a well-designed wine label, a beautifully shot conceptual photograph, a wonderfully written film. Inspiration for me is certainly more about motivation — i.e. what action does it produce in myself, and how does it affect me as a person moving forward? Am I inspired to do nothing? Or am I inspired and motivated to make not a copy, but something that can only originate within myself? Do I watch other people doing that and want the same motivation and action — not product — for myself?
I would say the other 90% of my inspiration comes from the communal experiences with the people I love most and spend the most time with.
For example, Eric lives in Brooklyn and is a close friend and creative counterpart I’ve begun to share an amount of work with over the last three years — photos, videos, print design, web design — all sorts of different attempts.
What I know I will always remember most about our time together is not all those projects (although we spend most of our hours together on them). The most important memories I have, and that I imagine I will continue to have as I grow older, are the nights we stay up until four in the morning outside his apartment in Brooklyn, dreaming, sharing every imaginable idea and experience and what it means to be us. Place, time, and hope.
That is what informs what I do. It makes me want to wake up at five in the morning and turn on the water to boil. It makes me want to stay up all night to make sure those things that are important for me to do are not neglected (which maybe is too much), and that as a result, I know I’ve worked only a little harder a single night to make steps toward who I more fully (think I) ought to be. In the grand scope, these things are very small and specific, but as the rhythm builds, and I do more of this each day, and am committed to more of the same, that conjugated, truncated set of beats turns into a song that I can connect with.
The whole notes become quarter notes, the quarter notes become sixteenth notes, and suddenly Steve Reich is playing and there is a consistency speckled with beautiful variations here and there. And I stay in the minimalistic consistency, while inviting the beautiful variation(s) in my work, which represents itself in a good photo, a well done design piece,or drawing, but I’m never depending on it to determine or guide who I am.
Rhythm is so important in my life, and to find that with others, and to see where we can connect and understand each other (and therefore ourselves) more fully is the thing that informs what I hope to do creatively, socially, ethically. That’s not to say I do it perfectly or have any proximity to it. It’s what I hope to be true to, to the point that it affects my future behaviors.
In sum, I think everything I make is an constituency of what I’ve seen, where I’ve been, and most importantly, who I’ve shared it with. Without my closest friends, it’s hard to imagine understanding anything of meaning or how to interpret and enjoy stories.
AHD: How has your time working in New York influenced your perspective of the creative community in Dallas? What sort of experiences have you brought from New York to Dallas?
AS: New York has been a surprisingly fascinating part of my existence over the last 5 years, and something increasingly special to me as time goes on. Immediately after graduating university with a degree in Theology, I went to work for a church plant there. I’ve always had in my dream the desire to live within a major cultural seat — a place in which the ideas, arts and culture provide a framework for the world at large (or, I should specify the West) to make decisions about these things. New York is certainly among them.
When I moved back to Dallas in 2007, I began working as a graphic designer and sometime after a makeshift, bootleg art director. It was two and a half years before I decided that the same sort of bravery required for me to move to New York as an inexperienced, immature 21-year-old was required of me to make the step into freelancing as a less-than-equally but still naive 24-year-old.
After a year away from New York, I began to travel back with more consistency. I had kept in touch with some great friends there (my best friend from high school, Trae, still lives in the South Street Seaport with his wife Chelsea), and it continued to afford me opportunities for visits. As years passed and my relationships there deepened, occasions continued to present themselves for me exploring projects as a photographer and designer, among other things.
I think New York is different than any other city, but it is also the same. It’s a place where people live, and it is surely a confluence of so many different specifically cultural things as Dallas, but in the most basic sense it is similar. In this odd (but not negative) split of life where I would say my best friends live in Dallas and in New York (with a few in Chicago and London), I seek to maintain that balance. I think if anything, having friends in so many different parts of the world informs me to be fully present and active socially where I am, and this has definitely been the case in Dallas.
AHD: How do you most enjoy spending your days off in Dallas?
AS: Days off in Dallas have been very few and far between in recent months, but I definitely welcome them (and the prospect of them). I love riding bikes with my friends, running, getting out to White Rock with a good John Steinbeck novel (second readings now), and enjoying a great patio (Cedars Social or Gingerman to be exact). I can be introverted, so while I do enjoy time to recharge alone, the most important stories in my life are those shared with the people close to me and I hope to only develop that and see it into further growth.
AHD: What motivated you to try to make something you're proud of every day this year? What success have you had in this endeavor? How difficult has it been?
AS: I’ve never really made a New Year’s resolution, if anything tangible at least, and this year I made an internal decision to do something I knew very well I could do, but something that would continue to challenge me and encourage me to build out the rhythms that would make it possible.
I decided in January that I would do this: make something every day that I’m proud of. I think the general reaction when I announced that earlier in January — that I was 16 for 16 — was a question of how long I could keep something like that moving.
It’s not semantically specific, and the feedback loop is internal. What’s the criteria? That I’m proud of it. What does it have to be? Anything. A design piece, a good photo, a piece of writing, a guitar part, a meaningful experience with a person, an effort in building community, a sincere act of service without any hope of recognition or affirmation.
Does anyone need to know about it, or should it be announced each time? Nope. Am I glad I did it and spent intentional time and energy each day with a specific motive to guarantee it happens? Yes, because I want a rhythm to be built, and I want to be sure at the end of each day I’ve seen progress and growth, on whichever level. And I am making and doing things that contribute something to the Whole, however small, and whether or not it translates to blogs or social media or whatever.
Difficult? Of course. It’s hard not to be lazy. Laziness is clearly the easiest choice in all scenarios. Worth every bit of energy? Absolutely.
I don’t anticipate doing something wonderful or amazing every day, at least in universal perception. But I know if I can make small steps each day to do something of internally great value, that carries so much meaning now and in the future for who I am and the ways I hope to live my life.
The great thing is that each day passing displays to me how easy it really is, and how silly I’ve been in the past for not pursuing something similar. I would say that is definitely the motif of my last 6 months, the theme of every conversation I have with creative friends. And what I hope to continue it in exponential ways in the next year, five years, and decades.
AHD: What's the biggest challenge you face as an artist and believer? What advice do you have for those who are trying to live out their faith while working as an artist?
AS: This is actually not as difficult as it might seem to be. Which is not to say anything close to say I’ve perfected it, or that I’m anywhere close to doing it well 25% of the time.
A good bit of my work is done on the computer, and I’ll sometimes spend 18 hours a day in front of my computer (apologies to my roommate), and so most of my interactions come across on the phone, text, or email. I’m a firm believer that your identity is not created by the tasks you complete, or how you perceive yourself, or how your parents perceive you; your identity is the baseline for every activity you pursue, the decisions you make as a professional and as a person in general.
As long as I understand my identity in terms of my understanding of the Father and his love for me in Jesus, and I am constantly exploring the questions about what that means for my life practically, I will seek to make work and communicate with others consistent with the worldview that embodies.
Do I have advice? I don’t think that being an “artist” (no one likes this word) presents any particularly unique difficulties in faith when compared to any other profession.
I think the better question is: “what does it mean to work? and “What then does it mean to work with a particular identity that precedes it?” And how does each inform the other? It’s dynamic, fluid. I do believe we are created to work, and to do so knowing our spiritual vocation is more foundational than our professional vocation allows me to understand a proper hierarchy of what I ought to do and how I ought to carry it out. In any profession this system is equally as difficult. But if identity is not guided by what you produce, and meaning precedes and even informs the work of your hands, you’ll have, simply put, a much happier, productive, and holistic life. Or at least the beginnings of it.
I think otherwise you’re setting yourself up for life of depression, anxiety, and constant comparison to others (but seriously, everyone is better than me at everything), and all of your approval-seeking will come from the wrong place, and whatever approval you do receive will never really actually fulfill you. And that negative, self-perpetuating paradigm will provide nothing more than decay.
AHD: Is there any upcoming work you would like us to know about? How can we follow you and keep up with your work?
AS: I continue to travel this Spring and have a few pretty exciting video and design projects coming out in the next few months. I will be back in New York in February and hope to really push forward some of these and some additional ones that build on those. Wow, pretty vague?
Also, that big inspiration folder I talked about earlier? You can find that at explore.andrewryanshepherd.com. But before you thumb through, be sure to read the about page to know what I’m posting and why. This is not my work, my Pinterest or what I want to do or make. It’s not even about other artists in grand scope, but about whole human experience and what I value. So there is something, even if nuanced.
You can always keep up with what I’m doing in real time on my website, blog and Twitter, which is somewhat a representation of who I am, where I am, and what I’m choosing to do.