At 20 years old, Andrew Geiger, a then aspiring photographer, landed in Aukland, New Zealand, with no real plan other than to make pictures.
He didn’t have a story in mind and he wasn’t on assignment, but knew that he needed to bring a body of work back to the states that, with any luck, would be the ticket to paying gigs with advertising agencies or magazines.
He photographed Australia and New Zealand with the same unbounded fervor he shoots with today — shirking a specialty in favor of a wide net. Landscapes. People. Lifestyle. Anything and everything that caught his eye.
To extend his venture, he found work along the way driving tractors, laying bricks and even a stint at a sheep and deer farm.
“If you were hitchhiking and you went by something beautiful, you shot it. If you got picked up by someone and went to work on a ranch, you shot pictures of people working on the ranch,” Geiger said.
It was this trip that taught him something integral about himself — he wasn’t meant for staying in one place for long.
Geiger is now a successful travel and landscape photographer. He’s done the rare thing of making a living in a creative pursuit and done it all from his home base in Kalispell. His images can be seen throughout the world — portraits for People Magazine, book covers on the bestseller list, such Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing,” and even a smattering of prints at Ikea. But his current career isn’t all plane tickets and royalty checks, although that’s certainly a part of it. There’s planning, marketing himself and hard work.
And it all started here in Montana.
Rewind a few decades, and Geiger is 8 or 9, and already enraptured by the magic of cameras. As he grew older, his love for the lens continued to grow. He spent a year working at Taco John’s so he could afford a nice camera system and then went to work at One Hour Photo so he could process his images for free.
He experimented with different types of photography — some with more success than others.
His attempt at becoming a wildlife photographer lasted approximately two days. He actually built a blind and cooped himself inside it, waiting for his backyard squirrels and birds to do something captivating.
“I did not have the patience level for it,” Geiger admitted with a laugh.
In high school he photographed the trifecta — senior portraits, babies and weddings. But this kind of work didn’t set his soul on fire, either. In college, Geiger last about three months before dropping out, much to his parents’ chagrin, to become a ski photographer in Colorado. However, the gig wasn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounded.
“I lived in my car in the parking lot because I couldn’t afford a place — I had an old station wagon with a really good sleeping bag,” Geiger said. “That lasted like a month.”
His trip Down Under came next and it was long after he returned to the United States that Geiger encountered esteemed photographer Kurt Markus, who had just moved to Kalispell. His client list included powerhouses such Timberland and Armani. Geiger knew this guy was the real deal. A few months after he expressed interest in working for Markus, Geiger got the call.
“In a year and a half, I worked my way up to first photo assistant and traveled the world with him,” he recalled.
The experience opened doors for him and introduced Geiger, then in this late 20s, to new styles of shooting. But as Markus delved deeper and deeper into the world of celebrity portraiture, it became clear to Geiger that this arena wasn’t for him.
“You’d fly 3,000 miles to spend an hour with the person,” he said. “It was really shallow. It wasn’t my thing.”
It was time for Geiger to make his own way — and he was ready.
By then, he’d developed his eye and built up a body of work. Geiger took on his own assignments, and eventually, he, too, shot for giants like Timberland and People Magazine. He also racked up quite a long traveling resume, visiting dozens of countries over the years, including West Africa, Ethiopia and Burma. In the latter, while under rule of an oppressive military junta, any democratic literature was strictly forbidden.
“We would stay in a hotel and our bags would be searched,” Geiger recalled.
While he doesn’t photograph in war-torn countries, he once made a river crossing into Sudan, and it was the most scared he’s ever been. Among his favorite trips was a venture to Mali, West Africa.
“The best body of work I’ve ever created was a trip I took with my wife in 2000 and we went to Mali,” he said. “We spent three weeks there in a Land Cruiser with an interpreter driving around the country.”
A few frames from that venture hang in his home office — a series of striking black and white portraits.
But if you ask him his specialty, he’ll say “non-specialty.”
“I’ve shot cars, I’ve shot travel stories, I’ve shot still life [images] for wine companies. It’s all over the place — it’s awesome,” he said.
Many of his clients are repeat buyers or have been introduced to his work through the direct mailings he sends out to lists of photo editors across the country. In recent years, he’s migrated into the realm of landscape and fine-art photography. He’ll capture a collection of images abroad and sell them to a London-based fine-art broker, Getty Images and other stock agencies. A month ago, Geiger returned from Kyrgyzstan and at the end of December, he’s planning a trip to South America.
“I’ll be at 62 [countries] when I hit Argentina and Chile,” he said. “I’d like to hit 100 before I die.”
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.