Photographer reflects on growth as an artist

Lavette Williams Editor-in-Chief [email protected]

Andrea Belk recently stumbled across her first camera, a disposable model given to her by her mother when she was 8-years-old. Belk fears what she is going to find on it once the film gets developed.

“It’s probably going to be pictures of corners of something,” she said.

Belk really did not get into photography until she was a freshman in high school. What started by following a friend into the Instagram photo movement, soon became a specialty.

“My friend stopped, but I kept going because I liked it,” Belk said. “I think what kept me in photography was just not wanting to put the camera down.”

Now a senior and photography major at the University of North Alabama, Belk works as a studio manager for the UNA photo room. She is also the treasure of the potential photo club and a photographer with a local magazine, Soul of the Shoals.

“I have a lot going on and I am terrified,” Belk said. “I’m overwhelmed, but it’s a good kind of overwhelmed because during the summer I went through a complete dry patch, where I completely quit my job.”

Belk did this because she wanted to fully commit to being a self-sustainable

artist. For many this does not work out, but for her it did. Belk believes that it was a “timing kind of thing.”

She said she did not try to get another job, which is very dangerous, but she knew what she was working toward.

“I had a savings account, that’s a very important thing,” Belk said. “Quitting with support is very, very important. When I quit my job, I was very lucky to have so many people reach out to me and support me.”

Assistant Professor of Photography Robert Rausch said it is not hard to find work if you are a good artist.

“And by good artist I mean someone who has a voice and something to say and has a level of skill to convey that idea or thought,” Rausch said. “I tell my students never produce something you haven’t put your all into.”

When Belk quit her job, it was because she declared herself as a full-time photographer and a full-time artist that people reached out to her.

Belk received offers to take senior portraits and this kept her busy taking pictures and producing work. She knew that it would keep her creating, even though senior portraits were not really her “style.”

“The kind of art that I’m interested in is very documentary based,” Belk said. “I want to document life in terms of travel and concerts because I just love of being a part of something that’s bigger than me.”

She pulls a lot of inspiration from the American photojournalist from the Great Depression-era, Dorthea Lange, because of the way she worked and did not see herself as an artist.

“I came from no money,” Belk said. “The weight of money doesn’t really hold much to me. I was able to find things that made me happy. You learn a lot about how to get your art made without having money.”

One day she had to do a lighting project on donuts and went to Krispy Kreme with no money. Belk made an exchange with a manager to take pictures for free donuts.

“They really loved them,” Belk said. “It was that connection as well. I really admire working with people for the sake of being around people.”

She still has the photos on her computer and still thinks they reflect a good commercial art product.

Typically, Belk is the woman behind the camera, but in some cases this can cause her to abandon photographing herself.

“I’m so bad at documenting my own life,” she said. “I’m really good at documenting everything else around me, but I have no pictures of my senior prom or I have two pictures from graduation.”

She has not uploaded anything on her Instagram in a while. Occasionally, she will put stuff on her story to let everyone know that she is not “dead.”

Belk said she used to be so obsessed with this idea that social media was her success, but it is not.

“It’s a really great, helpful tool in terms of a portfolio, if you don’t have a website or if you just want to use it as a quick ‘this is what I do, this is the type of photography that I have,’” she said. “Instagram is not a direct reflection of the success that I make for myself.”

Rather than reminiscing in the past, Belk is more focused on growing as an artist. For now, she leaves her disposable camera on