How Photography Careers Evolve: A Profile of Theo Anderson

By Dustin Flowers

At LexJet, we talk to dozens of successful photography professionals every day. One thing we’ve learned is that photography careers often take some interesting twists. Few photographers are doing the same type of work they started out doing 20 years ago.

Each photographer has a unique story—about how they got their first break and how they are adapting to changes in how photographs are captured, processed, used, and sold. Ideally, some of the career-reinvention stories you’ll read on Studio LexJet will provide inspiration and insight—whether you’re new to the photography business or seeking new ideas for your own business reinvention.  

Today, we’re highlighting an experienced, respected editorial photographer who is also making a name for himself in contemporary fine-art photography.  He has also undertaken a pesronal project  to help support orphans in the Dominican Republic.

Theo Anderson is a self-taught photographer based in Allentown, PA.  After graduating from Temple University in 1974 with a B.A. in political science, he was pursuing a doctorate in government at Lehigh University when he bought his first camera and built a darkroom in the closet of his apartment. He left graduate school in 1978 to start a career as a photographer. One of his first jobs was shooting images for the publications office at Lehigh University. Since then, he has spent much of his career shooting photojournalistic essays for corporate annual reports. He has also served as creative director for an award-winning community-college magazine, sold stock images, and operated a studio in which he built sets for intricate photo compositions for companies in the tech industry. 

Now, Anderson is using his personal projects to make a name for himself in the upper echelons of contemporary fine-art photography.  One of his best-known projects, entitled Where’s Joe? The Ghost of Bethlehem Steel, depicts the de-industrialization of the US.  An image from the Where’s Joe? series is included in the inventory of HamburgKennedy Photographs, a New York-based private art-advisory service for novice and seasoned collectors.  

Anderson’s other projects, entitled Amarillo, NYC, and Pennsylvania, aren’t so much about place as they are about transformation, and the transitions in the human experience. He shares works from these series with the curators and collectors who attend fine-art photography gatherings such as FotoFest in Houston and Review Santa Fe.

A Unique Vision and Simple Workflow: What has helped Anderson get noticed in the fine-art world is the way he structures his shots, his sense and use of color, and his confidence in his unique vision. Anderson has a very simple shooting style and workflow and is skilled at crafting his own large-format prints. His intention is to reflect the scene exactly the way it appeared when he took the shot. As Anderson explains, “I want the purity of the frame to come through in the authenticity of the image.” 

Anderson doesn’t take a whole lot of shots, because he prefers to wait until conditions are perfect before pressing the shutter. He envisions the finished print as he sets up each shot.

He shoots only in available light, nearly always using either a 35 or 50 mm lens. His images don’t get cropped and his photographs are never Photoshopped unless a chromatic aberration needs to be removed. Most images are printed directly from the digital negatives.

The print size Anderson likes best is 28 x 42 in. on a 36 x 50 in. paper, because he believes it has the greatest visual impact and resemblance to what he saw through the camera’s viewfinder.

Retaining Control of His Work: Anderson has been printing his own work for awhile. He says he was always a good black-and-white printer, but hasn’t been in a black-and-white darkroom since 1990. When he started shooting color for his editorial assignments, he became interested in learning how to make color prints. Anderson points out that color photography has so many subtleties in tone that it’s advantageous to retain control. When he sent prints to labs, he says “I could never get prints to look the way I wanted.”

The first in-studio printer he bought was an Epson Stylus Photo 2200. Then he bought an Epson Stylus Pro 5000, and later an Epson Stylus Pro 4000.

When HamburgKennedy Photographs expressed interest in his work a few years ago, one of the questions they asked was how large he could make his prints. First, he considered having large prints made at a firm that specialized in large-format printmaking. But he realized that no matter how skilled those printmakers might be, it would mean giving up final control over the quality of his work.

So Anderson bought a 44-in. Epson Stylus Pro 9800 from LexJet, created his own profiles for his papers, and started printing. After experimenting with several papers, he ultimately decided his images looked best on Moab Entrada Natural.  

When Anderson shipped 13 of his large prints to HamburgKennedy, one of the agency’s partners commented how impressed she was with the quality of the prints. He regards the acceptance of his work by HamburgKennedy as a turning point in his career. The quality of his printmaking has also been noticed by the art lovers at FotoFest and Review Santa Fe—particularly when he unrolled two 36 x 50 in. prints to show alongside his smaller prints. Anderson believes that displaying photographic art on a web gallery can’t come close to matching the visual impact of showing curators and collectors the actual print.

StudioLJTheoAndersonCedulaHelping Orphans in the Dominican Republic: Like other photographers, Anderson wants to use his talents to help others. He hopes his newest personal project will help raise funds to support a project being led by Dr. Lois Grau, who chairs the School of Public Health at the University of Medical and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). Anderson was shooting images for an annual report at UMDNJ when he learned that some drawings posted on office walls had been created by children in the Dominican Republic who have since died due to the substandard living conditions and lack of medical care.

Dr. Grau is currently spearheading a facilities-reconstruction project that will help support education and health care for 27 Haitian orphans in the Dominican Republic and the women who take care of them.

Human-rights organizations have documented the need to help the families of Haitian migrant workers who help with sugar cane harvesting in the Dominican Republic. The Haitians have no legal rights in the Dominican Republic, are discriminated against based on their darker skin color, and live in overcrowded “bateyes” without potable drinking water, electricity, sewerage, schools, or medical facilities.  The problem hasn’t received as much media attention as regions of the world in which there is active fighting.  Anderson hopes the 47 images in his Cédula series will be able to help raise awareness and funds through print sales, the creation of a traveling exhibition, or the publication of a photo essay. 

At LexJet, we applaud photographers who are using their talents to support worthy causes. And we agree there is value in knowing how to make your own large-format prints.

If you’re interested in learning more about the wide-format inkjet-printing process, equipment, and materials, please call a LexJet account specialist at 888-873-7553. We’d be happy to help you get started!