Photographer Profile - Andy Goodwin: "I wanted to know how they spent their time in jail, and what it was like when they came out."

By David Schonauer   Tuesday July 26, 2016

Andy Goodwin  is a freelance commercial photographer based in Frankfort, Illinois, a southern suburb of Chicago, who has built up an impressive commercial business working for companies like John Deere, PNC Bank, and Chesapeake Energy. His New York rep, Ralph Mennemeyer of M Represents, has also brought him a growing number of assignments from pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKlein. Late last year, however, he found himself between jobs. He considered using the down time to shoot some new material for his portfolio, but then he had another idea.

“I thought that I would just throw an offer out through friends on Facebook asking if there were any organizations in my area that needed some pro bono photography work done,” he says. “And I got a ton of responses.”

Many were requests from foundations who needed portraits of their board members. “But then I was put in touch with Northwestern University about doing some work for the Center On Wrongful Convictions,” Goodwin says. “Right away, I thought, yeah, this is the one I want to do.”

Part of Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Center was founded in 1999 — a time, it notes at its website, when wrongful convictions were considered legal anomalies. That assumption has been laid to rest, in part because of the emerging field of forensic science and also because of the pioneering work the Center has done representing prisoners and pushing for legal reforms. It receives more than 3,000 inquiries a year from prison inmates around the country. Its efforts have led to the exoneration of 30 people, notes Sara Sommervold, an attorney at the Center.

When Sommervold first spoke with Goodwin about the project, the idea was simply to have him shoot a portrait series for the Center’s website featuring a number of the people it had helped to free. “We had no idea what it was going to turn into,” she says.

“It was nice for me because they gave me total creative freedom,” says Goodwin. As he made his plans for the portraits, he came to realize something was missing, and it was the most important thing — the stories the former prisoners, some who had spent more than 20 years behind bars, had to tell.

“I just wanted to know what it felt like for them,” says Goodwin. “I wanted to know how they spent their time in jail and what it was like when they came out. Were they met with suspicion? What are their lives like now? Were they compensated? And what would they have done with those years if they could get them back?”

Those questions pushed him up against the narrative limits of photography, which is why along with the portraits he created a 10-minute video documentary called Exonerated.

Content Over Style

Kristine Bunch is one of the former prisoners featured in Goodwin’s documentary.

 “I went to prison, charged with arson and murder in the death of my three-year-old son. I was sentenced to 60 years. I served 17 for a crime a I didn’t commit,” she says in the video.

Her conviction was reversed in 2012 — a decision based on new forensic evidence and on older evidence that had been withheld by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives at her trial.

Goodwin also interviewed Leroy Orange, who was sentenced to death for assisting in the murder of four people based on a confession he made after 12 hours of interrogation and beatings. He was exonerated in 2003. “I don’t know if I ever adjusted to being charged with something I didn’t do,” he says in the video.

“I can’t imagine going to jail, let along for something I didn’t do,” says Goodwin. “These people were essentially serving somebody else’s time. In some cases, there are murderers still out free. One guy we didn’t have time to interview for the video was put away for 27 years before he got out.”

Goodwin’s documentary is not highly polished. It doesn’t need to be. “Technically, it lacks a little,” he admits, “but it’s all about the content and recording what these folks had to say.” He came to the project without a great deal of experience in video but did some test work at home before setting out to shoot his interviews in January and February of this year.

“I wanted to do portraits that would have a consistency to them, and so that’s how I got the idea to make a set with hash marks on it,” he says. “Originally I was going to use LED lights for both the video and still portraits, but we ended up using strobes for the photos, then knocked those down and put up LED panels for the video.” The photographs and video were both shot with Canon 5D Mark IIs and Mark IIIs.

Goodwin’s crew consisted of his son, who operated one camera, and a friend operating a second camera and boom mic. Goodwin operated a third camera and conducted the interviews. He gives much of the credit for the final video to the Cutters  video-editing shop in Chicago.

“I went in to meet with those guys with all this raw footage, and they said they would be thrilled to be a part of it, and they put in a ton of time pro bono. It wouldn’t have happened without them,” he says. It was the Cutters editors, including Patrick Duffy, who shaped the various stories into a compelling form, intercutting between the various interviews.

“The final video does an extraordinary job of humanizing these people,” says the Center’s Sara Sommervold. “We were just so pleased.”

Big Breaks

Goodwin studied forestry in college and was working as a carpenter in Seattle when photography happened to him. “I was taking a lot of amateur nature photos, and a friend told me about this guy he knew back in Chicago who was a professional photographer. So the next time I was there I went to see him. I walked into his studio and my mind was blown. I had no idea this world existed.”

He ended up working for the photographer for three years, then struck out on his own. His big break came when a picture he took on vacation — a stock shot of his wife throwing a beach ball in the air — was published in Communication Arts. “Somebody from Beefeater Gin saw it and made an offer to buy it from me for $20,000. I took every penny and put it into promotion and some cameras, and that’s how things took off.” Goodwin says.

Over the past few years he’s also had a number of images selected for the American Photography annual, most recently fine-art work from a personal series about charreada, a Mexican rodeo. “When you look at the photos, you might think they were shot in Juarez, but it was all shot in the Chicagoland area,” he says.

Goodwin says that what he learned from his video project on exonerated prisoners is how important teamwork is in filmmaking. ”It’s different from still photography; you have to count on other people’s expertise to get something that’s worthwhile,” he says.

He also learned that he wants to do more pro bono work. “I think God gave everyone a talent, and to be able to use the talent that I have to give back, it just seems like a natural,” he says.