Andrea with her camera. Photo by the author
Andrea Sonnenberg, a.k.a. Teen Witch, is a 21-year-old self-taught photographer from California. Ryan McGinley first hepped us to her, and fellow VICE photographer Sandy Kim is her best friend. She’s obsessed with super-esoteric things like skateboarding and partying and tattoos. Sometimes she gets topless for no reason, and she recently got the letters "SVU" tattooed on her because she loves Law & Order so much. Her photos make San Francisco look like a big, pretty party full of wild-haired weird girls, and everything looks like the funnest time. And when she’s not running around with her crazy friends, she spends her time working at an ice cream shop. We foresee great things coming from this one.
Great things indeed. Sure, things have changed a little for Teen Witch since, mainly her age and primary occupation (she's 24 now and no longer works at an ice cream shop), but luckily the rest remains unchanged. She's still putting out countless zines and has had a couple solo shows, as well as buttloads of commerical work, resulting in her photos being plastered onto everything from T-shirts to skateboards.
In the past, we've let her photos speak for themselves, but considering that it's been a couple years since we last heard from her, we thought it was time to catch up and find out what she's been up to.
VICE: So you quit your job at the ice cream place. How does it feel?
Andrea Sonnenberg: Yeah, I just quit my job of seven years. I started scooping ice cream at Bi-rite Creamery here in San Francisco and eventually became a baker and worked in the kitchen for my last three years there. Quitting and moving on feels incredibly exciting and liberating, but I also have a tough time dealing with change, so to finally take the plunge has also been something hard for me to do and accept.
Does this mean photography will be your main focus?
Yes. I hope I can use this time to focus my energy solely on photography. It was challenging to balance working two jobs and also being involved in so many photography projects with super stressful deadlines and not as many hours of free time to work with.
Well, you’ve been up to a lot in recent years. Let’s start off with the couple of zines and work you’ve done with Hamburger Eyes. How has it been working with them these past few years? How much have they played a role in your growth as a photographer?
I have been working in collaboration with Ray Potes from Hamburger Eyes quite a lot in the past years. We’ve done zines and video work together. I have a studio office now where I do my work, where Ray and I often find and create projects to collaborate on. Working with them has been huge in my development as a photographer. They are always giving me advice and tips about cameras and certain aspects of which I know little of, so it's been great learning under their watch. I would be lost without them.
You actually just came out with a new zine with Deadbeat Club Press and had an accompanying photo show, tell us about the zine and how did you link up with Deadbeat? Why did you title the zine Never Wake a Sleeping Dragon?
The zine I did with Deadbeat Club was my first collaborative color zine since my own project about five years ago. It featured photos from the recent past, most of which I have emphasized the use of color throughout my photography. I felt the need to explore beyond a black-and-white zine, something I was used to making with my cohorts at Hamburger Eyes. Clint had contacted me with the idea of publishing a zine through Deadbeat Club, and since I love to collaborate with different photographers and artists, I jumped at the offer. The name Never Wake a Sleeping Dragon actually came from a reference to another friend of mine, but is also the famed motto and coat of arms from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which I am a fan of.
You also had a few collabs with Altamont and Analog?
The Altamont and Analog collaborations came about from ongoing projects and talks I had with these two companies. We've spent time going through photos and picking photos we thought would work best with these two lines, something I've had the pleasure of taking a part in only a few times before. A very fun process!
More recently, you just did a shoot with Vans? What was that about?
The Vans video I worked on was with famed photographer/filmmaker Tobin Yelland. He proposed a project about four different photographers who have gotten their start by doing self published work. He delved into the background of each of us, how we got started doing what we do, and what were the driving forces behind it.
Dennis McGrath helped you on that shoot too, right? How was it working with both Dennis and Tobin?
Yeah, it was such a pleasure to work with the both of them! They both have very great artistic visions and work together brilliantly. I've known Dennis for quite some time, and actually some main ideas behind the video shoot came from shots when Dennis and I had gone out skating together years ago. Getting to meet and work with Tobin on the shoot was awesome too. I had been following his work for years, and getting to know him and his crew of filmmakers was simply amazing. It was such an honor.
Last year you were a part of a three-person group show with Ted Pushinsky and Travis Jensen. How was the reception?
The show with Ted and Travis at Guerrero Gallery was amazing. I'm glad I had an opportunity to show at their gallery, which was incredibly beautiful. To work alongside with such amazing photographers was a great experience. We all had different respective views of San Francisco and growing up here. I thought the show was a really great way to incorporate different genres and age groups into the same arena.
Seems like a lot of great photographers are emerging from San Francisco and the Bay Area as a whole. Who are some of your favorites?
I'm glad to see all of the talent emerging from San Francisco right now! It's not an easy place to be an artist and especially to be making a living doing it. Though there’s never a lack of talent, maybe just a lack of outlets to share these talents, especially with the rest of the country and the world. I think some of my favorite photographers right now are the ones showing some grit. The guys at Cellybrain are putting out some of the best street handle cell-phone photos I've ever seen.
As far as cell phone photos are concerned, what’s up with that selfie you took with Usher? He came to one of your shows right? What was that like?
[Laughs] Usher came to a group show I was a part of at New Image Gallery in LA. Earlier in the day while I was setting up, he called the gallery to say that he was coming. I kinda freaked but didn't actually think he would show. He was so nice, too; he spent his time talking to every artist from the show. He actually got a selfie with me on his phone, which I thought was totally amazing. If only he would have bought a photo!
What’s next for Teen Witch?
Right now I'm working on a few different things—just recently did a shoot for Rookie magazine and have a few shows coming up. One show is with Altamont on May 20 [tonight] at Known Gallery in LA. And after that I have another show in late August at Pretty Pretty Collective, here in San Francisco, with artist Justin Hager. I've been looking forward to working with him for years. I'm also going to Europe for the month of June, to visit family and explore the continent with some girlfriends. Upon my return, I plan on exploring the US by car and train, shooting photos and doing video projects. I want to work with local artists and do freelance work, but ultimately I would love to find a company I can shoot for and finally be a part of a team once again.
Andrea's exhibition with Mandy Lynn and Altamont opens tonight, May 20, at Known Gallery in Los Angeles. See more of Andrea's work here.