Photographer of the Month: Jason Joseph
This month we're going to New York City, to find out more about our featured Photographer, Jason Joseph. Be prepared for answers that will encourage, stoke, affirm, and educate your person, as Jason's passion for his craft and expression come blasting out of his responses and images. Buckle in, it's about to get informative.
How did you get interested in photography?
As a child, I was fortunate enough to have a family who took genuine pleasure in exposing me to the wonders of the world. A family who reveled in the simple joys of passionately embracing all life has to offer. And what this translated into was being surrounded by people who took every measure to share with me anything and everything that could elicit a wow.
My mother was an artist who couldn't seem to ever choose just one medium, and is truly blessed in her ability to do anything and everything she sets her mind to with a level of excellence that is at every turn staggering. A partial list of things she excelled at, on what could easily be a professional level, would have to include: Stained glass work, painting, clothing design (she, like many of the women in my family, wielded a sewing machine like Enzo Ferrari at the drawing board for his next coach), elaborate baking (Cake Boss would tip his hat) and one of the things she also shined at was photography. Though her 1st love was always the canvas. The house smelled of oil paints often, and to this day I find the aroma soothing. There were always two things in my house: painting supplies and cameras. In my later adolescence, I recall exploring my mother’s photography gear, marveling at how these machines made the images much like the images I saw in magazines that drew me in to this amazing world we live in. I was awestruck and mesmerized by the ability to make an image. To preserve something and to be able to share it.
My Aunt Rita, a Wall Street gal, was a lover of the arts, and it was she who bestowed upon me a subscription to National Geographic for my seventh birthday - she always gave me gifts designed to enrich me. This subscription was monumental in setting the course for which my future would unfold. I was blown away by the entire world. I marveled at its beauty! I felt so lucky to be able to see the world in all of its amazing details, and diversities. And the experience of seeing such amazements always had me wanting to share them with the rest of my family. The sharing of things was to me, the very best part about the things themselves...the getting excited about something with someone.
Stick with me now because I'm just about to answer the question (finally). It was the following year that my aunt Rita gave me a camera for my birthday, nothing fancy...in fact it was simply the era’s equivalent of the modern point and shoot. But it was MINE, and she gave me film to put in it... and that meant that for the first time I could share what I got excited about with everyone! Just like the people who made the photos in National Geographic! And to make the birthday even more monumental...my aunt took me to what is still to this very day my favorite place in all of New York City, The Museum of Natural History! A field day with me, my aunt, and my camera! It was on this day that I experienced what it felt like to be excited about something, preserve that excitement, and be able to take it home and share with my entire family the things that made me say... wowwwww! I could hardly contain myself! The images of course came out horribly, there was flash glaring off of the glass of the dioramas, the images were too dark, blurry, and did not at all manage to capture what the scene felt like, and while I was quite devastatingly disappointed, I was also suddenly more in awe of photography as a whole; it wasn't easy to make the amazing images I'd seen. Somehow to me that made them all the more special, even if it meant I couldn't make things look the way I wished to share and preserve them for others. I told myself, if they could do it, then I'm sure I could too. And this feeling of sharing, of celebrating life through the act of pointing a lens at it, this act of sharing, of looking at life as nothing but something to be in awe of... is something that will always remain the greatest gift, my family... my aunt... this life, has ever given me.
How long have you been a photographer?
...Roughly since I was 8 years old. That day I was taught the importance of taking my time to frame a subject. I was so frustrated trying to get the right angle of Teddy Roosevelt on his horse out front of the museum, and my aunt, sensing my frustration, asked me what was wrong? I responded.. The trees are in the way if I go this way.. and if I move over here it’s all wrong.. and this looks funny this way.. and I know you want to get going and I want this to be perfect and it’s frustrating! She assured me that it was not only OK that I was taking so long to make the photo but that it showed that I respected what I was photographing, she also showed me a few little tricks to help me get the shot.
So it was that day that I learned of my inner desire to make photos rather than take them, and also of the importance that it had in my life. I was consciously sharing something in my life that I felt something about... with others in the hope that they too would feel something. Certainly a lot more going on at 8 years old than simply snapping a photo; I learned about myself that day, what remains among the greatest lessons of my life.
What is your favorite place to photograph? Or subject?
I don't have a favorite place, though I will say this....I've known for a long long time that there is absolutely nothing to be gained from adopting a mindset that will elude oneself to believe that 'this place is too boring' or 'there is nothing here to photograph' or 'the lighting here is horrible'. Focusing on such negative things will leave you with absolutely nothing. Instead, I like to look at any opportunity I have to be alive.. with a camera in my hand.. and the ability to choose whether or not to make a photo...as simply a blessing. Period. Any time I am in a new place, even if... and this is the most important part of what I'm trying to convey here... even if I'm not making images... I'm being immersed in a new experience, and if I remain open to it, and to the experience of simply being, I am then allowing myself, my creative juices, to be replenished. I must remain OK with the not making of images in order to better be in tune to the making of images. If I only seek…..seek without stopping, and simply being able to look, then I will falter. It's more than a bit Buddhist... but it is also a lesson whose wisdom is astonishingly rewarding once the lesson is truly absorbed.
So I suppose, to answer the question I would say that any place in which I find myself is my new favorite, with hopefully each new place surpassing the last! In relation to this, recently I was asked if I was going to photograph the damage done by hurricane Sandy. I happen to reside on Staten Island, and grew up in the area most affected, and I knew many people who were devastated by the storm. My immediate response was no. Absolutely not. While I have a tremendous respect and admiration for photojournalists and photographers who put time and devotion into projects that shed light where most eyes naturally divert... me, as a photographer, I wish to leave behind images that resonate on a different frequency than anything I could possibly photograph pertaining to or on that scene would ever produce. So it simply was not something for me. Many people I know had a hard time understanding this. Now as for favorite subjects to photograph...it’s simple...people. Nothing to me is more special than sharing in the making of a photograph with and or of someone.
How can photographers help change/impact the world, while they are traveling?
Well, first thing that comes to mind is "Take only photos, leave only footprints," which I believe was coined by Ansel Adams. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, I'm nearly certain it was him though... I believe the best way to change the world is to be cognitive of the fact that we are all connected, to remember that everything matters, and that...People may not remember the things you do or say, but will remember how you make them feel. ~Maya Angelou. I truly believe that by simply keeping these four things in mind.....truly focused in mind, while experiencing the world, you will have no recourse but to have changed and impacted the world in the best way you possibly can. You may not even realize what you've done... but you will have left a lasting impression.
Are there rules in other countries people need to be aware of about who or what you can or cannot shoot?
There are absolutely no rules whatsoever…especially if you're traveling through North Korea. Also if you have a large camera in hand you can get into concerts for free and on private property. Museums love you if you walk in with a tripod. And traffic will always stop for you in NYC if you lie down in the street to photograph tall buildings.
That said.. yes. There are rules, and I highly suggest that if you are going to travel, you take the time to get the facts from your travel agent, or from the official websites of the places you are traveling to.. .and please... do not simply take the advice of someone who tells you... "I'm Tellin' ya... I've been there" Unless that someone is Joe McNally.
Lastly, any time I've ever been told I cant photograph where I was, or that I had to leave...(whether I'm in the right or not), I've greeted the situation with one goal that instantly takes precedence OVER making the image... and that's letting the person know that I come in peace, I respect them and their position, and making the situation go as smoothly as possible for all parties involved. This invariably has led to me getting my way 98% of the time. Mind you, I'm bad at math. It also does not hurt to know your rights, and to speak in a warm, non-defensive manner. This came in very handy while photographing commuters who were asleep during their commutes in the Manhattan-side Staten Island Ferry Terminal recently. The head of security even suggested at the end of our exchange that I come back on a Saturday to "really see some action." Now... mind you when he approached me, he was demanding I stop doing what I was doing. Its like my mother and grandmother always said.. sometimes it's not what you say...but how you say it! That said though, again...do your homework before you leave and go armed with the facts, but don't be so anxious to pull the trigger on those guns if confronted...be more desiring of peace..and I bet you get your way.
Any photography tips you want to share?
Work on yourself and your photography will thrive. You are not your camera, your gear, or your ability to make a photo, there are many like you and what you do is not special. However your ability to make people feel...is. Work on it, work on what you want your viewers to feel, your subject to feel.. what you feel as you make the images you make. This will resonate in your photos in a manner that will outshine any and all technical fortitude you may have. Not simply while you are learning, in your formative years...but always. Even in the longest, of the most successful, careers someone with a camera could hope to have, this will resonate as true to the end.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
I've been working through this winter on images preparing them for printing, and they are finally ready to be released. They will be available in a limited range of sizes, and each have been painstakingly gone over inch by inch by myself. There is not an image in the bunch that is the product of anything less than several hours’ worth of work and processing, careful consideration, and tremendous amounts of love and care for the viewer’s experience. I've been listening to copious amounts of Japanese flute and drum music while producing these images and I find the soulful tranquility of these timeless songs and their powerful chant-like anthems to be a soulful match for the preparation of my work. I feel that its made for a body of work that resonates with intention, and I hope that you will feel the same way.
You can view and purchase these newly released prints here:
and you can view my blog and portfolios on the main section of my website here
I love making new friends so please do say hello
You can find me:
On Google Plus: Plus.JasonJosephStudio.com
On Twitter: @JasonJosephNYC and @JasonJosephStudio.com
On Facebook: facebook.com/JasonJosephNY.LA
On Instagram: instagram.com/jasonjosephnyc
See What inspires me on Pinterest: Pin.JasonJosephStudio.com
Hear what inspires me on Spotify: Spotify.JasonJosephStudio.com
And please do visit my blog and Main website: JasonJosephStudio.com
And thank you so so much for taking time in this busy world to stop and hear my story and peruse my photographs. You make all of this, worthwhile.
Jordan Oram is the Photography Editor for Wandering Educators. He has a passion for encouraging and empowering others to realize the combinations of their unique passions and strengths. In April of 2012, with $250 to his name, he travelled more than 10,000 km, over 8 months, across Canada and back, to encourage people to rock out their awesomeness. Find him at www.maplemusketeer.com
All photos courtesy and copyright Jason Joseph