Artist Interview Project Part 9: AZN Pics

The next Artist Interview Project installment features Andrea Nusinov of AZN Pics. The first part of this post includes the full interview text. It is followed by a student’s reflective summary. 

Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.

Find out more about AZN Pics on Facebook, Instagram, andTwitter (@andreanusinov). You can also purchase AZN Pics artwork on Etsy.

azn pics


You Shall Find Moments in a Box

As part of a PHL 360 assignment, I interviewed photographer Andrea Nusinov. In this Q&A we grapple with the meaning of time, the effects of technological change on her work, and the importance of communal and personal memory. The first section is the interview text,  which is followed by my analysis.

I find photography to be a melancholic medium. Photographs are invaluable resources that allow humans to look into the past. One picture shows one moment in time. String photographs together and see an era unfold. Because we are viewing what was, photography is always of the past. A photograph simultaneously shows humanity’s conquest of time (we captured a moment!) while acknowledging our ultimate, pending defeat (the moment ends). 

Why do you photograph and what makes photography an artistic endeavor?

I agree – there IS something sad about looking at a snapshot in time – especially an amazing moment that you know will never, ever return. However, when I look at the alternative (possibly losing that moment in my memory), I choose to strive to capture it. That way I can hold on to it (however desperately) and at least somewhat relive it whenever I look at the pic.

I began taking photographs at shows for this precise reason. I have a terrible memory and I always have. For some reason, events and time seem to get lost in my subconscious and it’s very difficult for me to retrieve them. After a show, I often have hundreds of photographs. Many of them are terrible and I’d never share with the world. But for ME, they help me to piece together what was usually an amazing experience.

Photography is an art form because it’s a form of self-expression. I don’t just click a few shots and post them online – I spend at least a few hours on each pic I post. My goal is to try to recreate not just the reality of what happened, but the experience of what happened. Because honestly, even with today’s advanced camera equipment, photos don’t look the way they do in real life. The vividness of Chris Kuroda’s colors combined with the intensity of the music, the buzz and energy of the crowd…all of that I try to capture when I not only take the photo but enhance it.

Is there a photographer for whom you have high regard? What makes this artist special?

I love Scott Harris’ work and he’s a good friend of mine. He has a great eye. Like me, he loves to push his photos a little over the top- they are never boring. Jay Blakesburg is an amazing photographer who is excellent at capturing people in the crowd who are completely in the moment.

What other events and landscapes do you photograph?

I like to photograph anything that inspires me. Any beautiful day with great clouds makes me want to go out and take pics. The problem is that I live in the suburbs and there’s not a lot of interesting things to photograph. I would love to be able to travel more but our budget is tight.

Does your experience photographing Phish influence how you portray other events and landscapes?

Yes, I’ve realized that everyone loves vivid colors, unusual points of view and even some distortions. People want to see the world a little differently than they see it every day with their own eyes. Truly “in touch” people realize that our 5 senses are LIMITING – that if we had extra senses we may be able to see the world in completely different ways. I try to suggest that in my pictures.

Sometimes you distort a photograph. Other times you produce a “regular” photo. Here are a couple examples:



What inspires your different takes?

I don’t love distorting people’s faces (in general) – it often makes them look creepy. I always put myself in the person’s shoes- would I want to look like that in a pic? I have taken amazing yet unflattering pics of band members that I’ve never shared for the same reason.

Therefore, when I distort pics it’s usually of the entire stage or the crowd, lights, etc.

How do you go about creating such vibrant images?

I use photo apps- in some cases I bring up the saturation but often I’m just lifting shadows and brightening things up to reveal what was already there.

I don’t use Photoshop (I don’t have it and don’t know how to use it). When I first started, it was really fun to use apps to insert things that weren’t there (like a lightning bolt or a fireball, etc.) but I don’t do that anymore.

Are there times when distortion is appropriate (artistically), and times when it isn’t? How do you determine that action?

Again, I don’t like to make people’s faces look weird so I avoid that. Honestly, I will often distort a picture if the original just wasn’t that great. When you distort it, it hides some of the flaws.

But the main reason I generally don’t distort pics anymore is because photoapps lower the resolution of the original photo. It’s very frustrating- almost all photoapps do this. If it’s a photo that I may want to print/enlarge someday and the resolution has been lowered, the photo will pixelate.

How have you grappled with recent technological changes? 

I have not updated my Ipad to the new iOS because it will automatically change one of my favorite apps and render some of its key features useless. It is very frustrating!

I am not a trained photographer. I use a little Sony rx100 point and shoot camera at shows. I do not get photo passes and I have no special access. I attend shows for the experience- the music, the lights, being with friends. I take pictures to record the experience. I share them with others because people have told me that it too helps them to relive sacred experiences at shows. I think that is why people buy my prints/canvases. And it gives me such happiness to know that my pictures are hanging in people’s homes!

Do technological changes peddle or limit your photographic endeavors? 

I am much more artistically inclined than technologically inclined. I’m not highly motivated to learn all I need to know to be a professional photographer. When people start to talk about camera settings, tech equipment, etc. my eyes begin to glaze over!

What new skills had to be learned as a result of technological change? 

I do keep on top of the latest apps. However, like I said, most of the apps lower the photo’s resolution and are therefore not attractive to me. I generally use those types of apps on pictures I have no intention of enlarging/selling.

Are there photographic methods/lessons/skills that transcend time?

Absolutely – form, composition, lighting, etc. These things will always be crucial. Color and balance are the two things I focus on the most.

On every pic I experiment with saturation, contrast, shadows, warmth and highlights.

Ultimately I think some “skills” can’t be taught – it’s a gut instinct when to click that button and which photo of your bunch to work on and present to others.

What is the role of photography in the Phish community? 

Photography is important for a few reasons. The obvious one, as discussed above, is that pictures help us to preserve the memory of the experience of being there. People describe phish as a sacred experience (some call it “church”) and they want that moment captured. Bloggers who describe and review the shows want photos to accompany their words. People want photos to share with their friends but they don’t feel good about their photo skills or they are too busy dancing to stop and take pics.

Pictures also help to connect those who weren’t there to the experience of being there. Technology in general helps bring our community closer together. I’m active on Twitter and when phish is playing, we all stream/webcast and discuss the show live. It’s pretty incredible that we can do that. People live tweet pictures of the show and, again, it helps the rest of us feel in some way part of the experience. However, I will clearly say that NOTHING ever truly replaces the experience of actually attending a show.

Reflective Summary

The genre-blending music quartet Phish has attracted numerous artists over their thirty-plus year history. In the Phish culture, “phans” have created shirts, posters, pins, publications, and a near limitless variety of other trinkets that reflect their appreciation and understanding of Phish. The band has responded in kind, producing similar items, even decorating ticket stubs with tour-varying designs. Andrea Nusinov participates in the production of Phish fan art through her photography. Her sense of community, sense experience, and time reveal something universal in the Phish experience.

In his Critique of Judgment, Immanuel Kant discusses notions of sublimity, beauty and profundity. He knows that reason alone cannot grasp the totality of existence, sensory experience can deceive, and imagination illuminates ideas. Nietzsche drives at a similar point in The Birth of Tragedy when he discusses Dionysian experiences:

Dionysian excitement [traditionally associated with music] inspires a whole mass to see themselves surrounded by a host of spirits with whom they know themselves to be essentially one (Section 8).

Phish music is designed to create this feeling. It is easy to get lost in a jam. Reason is subverted as one gives oneself up to the sway and rhythm of the music. Dionysian ecstasy, or connection with the sublime, develops as fans “merge with the music” (Bicknell, Why Music Moves Us, pg 51).

The Phish festival is the most potent example of this feeling. Most recently, Magnaball allowed me and thirty thousand others participated in an artistic utopia – exploring art installations, listening to improvisational music, and discussing the meaning of life. A temporary city was developed and we lived for a weekend in tune with art and in harmony with each other. Fans often speak of a sense of freedom embedded in the music. At Magnaball, we lived it. Phish has fun with their music, constantly toying with fans and themselves as music emanates from stage. It is easy I am sure, to dismiss Magnaball and the playful ethos of Phish as having little to no “real world” value. If your mind trends that way, please consider the following.

No matter how hard we try, humans without aid of technology could never soar through the atmosphere and explore the subatomic world. We are limited not only by our senses, but the laws of nature too. If you don’t believe me, toss something, preferably inanimate, into the air. Did it fall? Of course it fell. It always will. It is this consistency in the natural world that allows humans to figure things out, to know and to “advance” civilization. As happy a thought that may be to some (did you see the photos of Pluto!?), it does ring of rigidity. This oxymoronic mode of existence, humans simultaneously growing and being held back by the same forces that shape the cosmos, spurs philosophers to ponder whether or not there are other ways to know the universe.

A great leap forward in human understanding occurred when mathematicians began to play with Euclid’s Elements, particularly the axioms (common sense definitions) that he presents and builds upon in each of his geometric proofs. The book provides a thorough and decisive examination of two-dimensional space and can be effectively applied to human endeavors in 3-D. No one thought to tinker with that reality until the nineteenth century when someone(s) dared to ask, “What are the properties of a line drawn on a sphere?” Fast-forward a few decades. Einstein is troubled. His theory of relativity is not holding up to scrutiny. Did he make a grave error? Would the tyranny of Isaac Newton continue? No! Einstein was alerted to the new, playful geometry that asked “what if space is curved?” by his buddy Marcel Grossman.[1] Through their partnership a new way to conceive and explore the cosmos was opened! Good friends with a sense of play and curiosity changed the world.

Andrea clearly understands that nothing humans know is final, and that having a sense of play when thinking is crucial to a healthy mind and life. Photography allows her to play with reality, presenting previously unseen visions of Phish to her audience, the Phish community. Her photography allows viewers to alter the way they think about their experiences. A Phish show, and reminiscing about one’s favorite show(s) and moment(s), is a completely subjective experience. Fans discuss and deepen their appreciation of Phish by being open to new experiences, new knowledge, and new interpretations. This openness is can be construed as the single most important lesson Phish and the Phish community provide. We grow together through a willingness to play, to be exposed to new perspectives – through discussion or direct experience –, to wrestle with and incorporate new ideas into our ways of knowing and being. When Phish is on stage there is a “latent potential for any moment to become meaningful.” (Blau, A Phan on Phish, pg. 4). As those moments pass they get strung together by artists like Andrea, the individual and collective memory of fans are developed.

How did Phish grow to the point where they not only affected their audience but encouraged nearly a cult following? I think the answer is two-fold: 1) the music resounding from the stage consisted of experimental instrumentation and abstract poetry tossed together in an often hodgepodge way (not always! But from my vantage point the music seemed to say it all, lyrics were merely a formality) which allowed for the 2nd stage of the answer – fans are encouraged to interpret the tunes in anyway. The fact that Phish fans are so passionate about their Phish experiences “points to the power of affect to fuse our bodies and our senses and our minds… to bring forth a new articulation of self-understanding” (DeChaine, Affect and the Musical Experience, pg. 83).

[1] Thomas Levenson, The Hunt for Vulcan…And How Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relatvity, and Deciphered the Universe (New York: Random House, 2015), 152.

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