By Kody Ford
(Ed. Note: Amanda is running a special for Idle Class readers on her Etsy store. If you’d like a print, use the code IdleClass to get 10 percent off.)
Amanda Grupp has been snapping pictures since grade school. Throughout the years, she’s developed a solid technical expertise and a eye for capturing a subject with an eye for lighting and composition. After spending a few years with Chicago as her muse, the Iowa-native and DePaul University graduate (anthropology/photography) recently moved to San Diego where she is doing furthering studying photography and graphic design.
The Idle Class: Tell me about your early years in photography. I know you took photography class in high school but did someone influence you or inspire you to pick up a camera?
Amanda: I’m not sure how I got into it. My earliest memory is being in 4th grade and using a cheap plastic film (which was all there really was at that time) camera to follow my sister and boyfriend. They were five years older, so it totally annoyed her, but I thought it was fun to capture them holding hands – scandalous to a 4th grader!
The Idle Class: Funny.
Amanda: It was also in 4th grade that I saved up all my allowance to buy a Polaroid camera (that I still have). I used to to do fashion shoots with my friend and our Furbies. If only I had realized at that point how expensive Polaroid film actually is. Hah.
The Idle Class: I think it may have been cheaper then. You didn’t have to get it all from the Impossible Project at the time. So let’s jump forward a few years…to high school. Still doing fashion shoots or had you moved on to a new subject(s)?
Amanda: At that point I just had a point and shoot camera and I moved on from fashion shoots to do more landscape, artistic, and really just capturing my daily surroundings. Also the typical, I’m a high school girl and these are me and my friends having fun-type shots.
Amanda: I got more into photography in college when I had access to more classes, people to collaborate with, and conveniently my first roommate was a photographer.
The Idle Class: How did having a photographer roommate help you progress with your own style?
Amanda: I don’t think it helped me out with my style as much as encouraging me to buy a nice DSLR camera and realizing that I could be a photographer. Up to that point, I had considered it just a side hobby and I began to take it more seriously. It was also fun; because we had the same brand camera so we could share lenses and such.
The Idle Class: Usually you have to worry about roommates jacking your clothes, not your lenses. Did you two have any challenges or contests amongst yourselves?
Amanda: Never. It was always encouraging- we hung both our photos on the wall. We also have very different styles and while I took classes in the art department focusing on conceptual art, she makes a living doing wedding photography. Although she is talented at fine art and travel photography as well.
The Idle Class: That’s great. Looking back on your freshman year versus today, how much has your style changed and it what ways?
Amanda: I’ve definitely improved on technical aspects of photograph and being more comfortable with the camera, as well as subjects. I find myself much more concerned with detail now than before. Especially detail in the content of the photograph. For instance, if I’m shooting a place setting I think about where everything is placed and how that affects the lines of the photos and where the viewer looks.
Being in the art department at school did help a lot with my style. For instance, it made me think of the possibilities of photography as more than a 2D art form. I made a friend who does primarily studio arts and we did a show together that included her sculptures, paintings, and my photography as well as a mixed media texture wall that we created together. To this day when I do shows, I think about presentation and how it can be different. I’ve printed photographs on transparent paper and hung them from the ceiling; incorporated texture to make them 3D had pictures of fire in a heated room.
The Idle Class: Do you do a lot of work with food photography?
Amanda: I love food photography. I love pretty cookbook like photography as well as more abstract. I enjoy creating scenes, like I sent you a photograph that looks like a swamp but is really strawberries and pudding. I am also interested in health and processed foods; I recently had a photograph of a hot dog dissection scene in a juried exhibition. I want my photographs to encourage people to think about what they are really eating. Also, food relating to culture. I guess that’s the anthropologist in me. Food is such a vital part of gatherings, whether it is family, friends, or strangers.
The Idle Class: I like your passion for food. You’re definitely doing a great job with food photography. Much better than everyone on Instagram. What about you’re other subjects? You talked about your anthropology background…how has that influenced your photography?
Amanda: I LOVE to travel and I’ve been fortunate enough to do quite a bit of it. I try to stay with local families and get a real feel for where I am. I try to capture this real place and everyday living through the camera instead of just the tourist attractions. Basically, I want my photographs to tell a story and I would love it if they made people see more differences between themselves and others than differences.
And that doesn’t just apply to travel; I hope to do that even when shooting around my town.
The Idle Class: What have been some of your favorite travel shoots?
Amanda: I studied abroad in Merida, Mexico, for 6 months so it was fun to shoot in a place that was foreign to me, but that was also becoming familiar. And while I was there I traveled to other parts of Mexico and to Belize so I enjoyed shooting in the different areas and seeing the differences in scenery and such.
The Idle Class: I noticed some of your pics were from Asia. How was that experience?
Amanda: It was great! Honestly, Asia was not on the top of my list of places to visit, but my sister taught English in Taiwan for two years so I went to visit for three weeks with an additional one week stop in Tokyo. Let’s just say it was so exciting that I’m considering moving there in a year. I was lucky to get to meet a lot of people. I stayed with a family in Tokyo and they showed me around. In Taiwan, my sister was my tour guide but I got to go to the school she worked at and play with all the kids!
The Idle Class: Let’s talk about your Colors series. How’d this come about? And how do talk people into getting naked and painted up?
Amanda: I love color, you might most of my photographs are in color. The colors series came about since my boyfriend is a painter so there is always paint around. One day we were talking about how it would be fun to paint him the same color as a canvas so that he would blend in. It turned out to be more than that as he made several faces to show different feelings and we threw in props. I put pics up on Facebook and asked for volunteers and at this point I have a list of people wanting to do it, which is so much fun! I love doing projects with friends (and strangers). I feel like you can get so much more out of it when ideas are flowing back and forth.
The Idle Class: Speaking of photography in general, I’m sure you take a lot of pictures and not all of them turn out are as good as others. What is it about a certain picture that stands out and you know that this one represents you as an artist?
Amanda: When going through photos, I just go with first instinct. I’m drawn to composition, intriguing subjects, and color. I also welcome and ask for feedback from people, but ultimately I make the call based on how I feel.
The Idle Class: What are your plans for the future?
Amanda: I have so many. I just completed the TESOL, so teaching abroad is a possibility. I am also looking into grad schools with strong photography programs. All I know for sure is that whatever I’ll be doing will include making photographs and traveling.
To learn more about Amanda, visit her website.