2020 Community Connections Profile - Andy Hall is a lot of things...and he has a cool gallery

Mike Christopherson
Andy Hall, third from left, is pictured at a pre-pandemic event at Sweetlight Gallery with, left to right, Trey Everett, Annie Fitzgerald and Terri Hegg

First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?

    I grew up on a farm in southeastern Minnesota near the small town of Lanesboro. My parents are both retired and living in the same area that they have their entire lives. I originally had four brothers however two of them have passed away.

    Following high school I graduated from Bemidji State University with a BS in Applied Psychology with an emphasis in chemical dependency counseling. My first real life job out of college was working as a case manager on a men’s Inpatient Chemical Dependency unit for the Hazelden Foundation in Center City MN.

    During those seven years of working as a counselor is when I really discovered the tremendous satisfaction in making photographs. Looking back, I suspect that the act of creating something tangible (like a photograph)was a therapeutic outlet for me while working in the very “heady” and challenging field of chem dep treatment. I also feel like it was a time when I first began to realize that I had something to say and that my photographs helped me to do that. Eventually I left the CD field entirely and began working in retail sales and photography education at National Camera Exchange in the Twin Cities.   

     At that time I started to dip my big toe in the waters of the whole art fair scene. I began to meet more and more people who were making their living selling their art and in 2003 decided I would try that myself. I have continued to participate in juried art fairs ever since. The summer of 2020 will be the first time since 2003 that it appears likely that I won’t be able to participate in any art fairs due to the COVID-19 large gathering restrictions. Five years ago I permanently moved up to Climax from the cities and 2 years ago I opened Sweetlight Gallery in downtown Crookston.

Can you tell readers a little bit about your downtown Crookston business, Sweetlight Gallery? What are they going to see if they spend some time walking around in there?

    Sweetlight gallery is a combination workspace and gallery space that is open to the public. My hours vary depending on whether I am participating in art fairs or not.

    I have recently added in the artwork of local pen and ink artist Trey Everett. In addition to Sweetlight Gallery being a viewing and/or point of purchase space for art, I also offer photography classes and authentic custom printing on paper, canvas and metal.

Is it a tough go as a small business owner in Crookston, especially in downtown Crookston?

    Sure, any new small business starting out has a tremendous amount of challenges to overcome. Being in the art business presents some additional challenges that other small businesses selling “necessities“ perhaps don’t have but on the flipside I am the only person in the community of Crookston selling hand made fine art/decor art.

    Having the space that I do and the ability to invite other artists in to either exhibit or perform makes Sweetlight Gallery a fantastic experiential destination in downtown Crookston. I think the word gallery can be intimidating to some people but I’m hear to tell you everyone is welcome. Whether you’re interested in purchasing anything or not I encourage you to come by and enjoy some beautiful art in downtown Crookston.

With digital photography making so many advances, it’s resulted in a lot of “professional” photographers sprouting up, or photographers who do senior photos or sports photos on the side. Can you explain what separates a lot of them and their work from the artistic images that hang on your gallery walls?

    Digital photography has made a tremendous amount of advances and has allowed for people with varying levels of technical expertise to still get a certain percentage of acceptably good photographs. YouTube has also provided a lot of educational content if one wants to learn the technical side of photography, the creative ideas of photography or the software side of photography. I think where the difference becomes evident is in several areas. The quality of lenses varies tremendously and most amateur shooters aren’t going to be willing to spend a couple thousand dollars on one lens. That extra amount of money produces images that have a look, feel, and sharpness that you just simply can’t get by “fixing it in photoshop”.

    Likewise if you’re only going to post images to Facebook or other social media outlets then low resolution works great but the equipment I use allows for prints of very large size. but this overall difference in quality has to be seen to be appreciated.

    Another factor that can come into play is ego. We are living in the selfie era or me me me era right now. Frankly people want to be able to say “I took that picture“.  As a general rule we don’t have a lot of objectivity when it comes to evaluating the photographs that we have made or that are of experiences that we have had i.e. vacations etc. In other words when it’s personal, the picture looks better to us than it likely does to any objective person looking at it from the outside. In other words it’s probably not as good a shot as you think it is but the only way for the public to begin to more fully understand that is by studying the work of really truly accomplished/famous photographers of which I readily admit I am not.

How do you arrive at the photos you take? Do you get tips or suggestions from people about especially good photographic opportunities? Do you just drive around and see what you stumble upon? Do you have specific ideas in mind early on? What’s your process?

    I’d like to think that my process is evolving but I know I have stagnated on plenty of plateaus in my 18 years of doing this full time. sometimes I create projects for myself and decide ahead of time on visual ideas that I’d like to work towards.     

    However serendipity certainly has played a role in successful image creation during my career. I could be intently focused on a scene directly in front of me and work on it for a half an hour only to turn around 180° and find something far more interesting simply by looking.

    One of the skills I think I do possess is a tendency to see small nuanced details that are so easily overlooked. I really enjoy close-up photography and I love to feature aspects of nature that are rarely seen by the average person walking around.

    The last part that is critically important in my process is staying fresh. If I haven’t picked up a camera in a month the images I create are pretty awful. My creativity is covered up by head noise from day to day life. My vision is distracted by day-to-day life. However when shooting becomes a part of day-to-day or nearly day-to-day life then my vision and creativity don’t suffer.

You seem like someone who’s not afraid to speak your mind. On politics and other issues, you’re sort of outspoken on social media. Has that always been your way, or do you find that technology and social media gives you another outlet to voice your opinions?

    Social media has certainly given me a voice that is at times empowering and at other times just plain fool hearty. I do tend to speak my mind and to be honest I’m not sure if that’s the wisest course of action as a business owner in a small community. Sometimes I struggle with the balancing act between supporting things that I believe in versus just letting things slide that I disagree with.

Do you have any skills and/or hobbies that are particularly quirky or unusual that might surprise people if they knew?

    I always do quirky behaviors in the privacy of my own home (just ask my spouse) and maybe once in a while at the gallery when no one‘s there. I’m either singing some nonsensical lyric or I’m busting an extremely odd and non-rhythmic move to non-existent music. I enjoy woodworking and I have tremendous expertise in making “big pieces of wood smaller“

Let’s try a you’re-stranded-on-a-deserted-island question: You have an amazing home theater and audio system and somehow have all of the electrical power you could ever need. But you can only play three songs and watch three movies. Which three songs and which three movies do you pick?

    Wow movies are tough for me because I tend to not be a person who watches a movie over and over again.

    Love Actually


    Saving Private Ryan


    La mamma morta by Maria Callas

    Stairway to Heaven by Zepplin

    Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

I’m not asking you to list your heroes, since that term is a bit too casually tossed around these days, but could you list three people you look up to and/or admire, and explain why?

    John Muir for his tireless efforts at preserving wild spaces and for his tremendous accomplishments related to the National park system.

    Jimmy Carter not so much for his presidency but for his tireless efforts with Habitat for Humanity.

    All who Anonymously donate to humanitarian causes. Those give with no chance or expectation of benefit to themselves.

Please describe yourself using no more than 10 words.

    Impatient, caring, restless, adventurous, loving, thoughtful, analytical, open yet fearful.

    FINAL THOUGHTS: I have a couple more thoughts that I want to share with you that I really didn’t include under any of the specific questions that you asked.

    I am immensely grateful for the customers that I have from Crookston and the surrounding area. My custom base is quite small but fiercely loyal and they are always sharing positive comments about and marketing my gallery.

    Walk in traffic had been slowly growing up until just the past couple of months since the arrival of COVID-19. Still I would like to make the message loud and clear that all are welcome at Sweetlight Gallery regardless of whether you are considering purchasing something or are merely there to browse and just take in the beauty. I’m planning to bring in a line of greeting cards of my images that will be +\- $4.

    Archival paper prints range from $28-$79

    Canvases range from $79-$1395

    There truly is some thing for every budget range at my gallery.