August Photographer of the Month: Joel Carillet

Doyle Chastain's picture

Our August Photographer of the Month is's very own Chief Editor, Joel Carillet. His work has been seen on and other prominent sites for a few years now - he's a very popular writer and photographer!

Joel Carillet

A Village’s Protest (Bil’in, West Bank)


Joel Carillet

A Story to Tell (near Hue, Vietnam)


Raised in Atlanta and Papua New Guinea, Joel went to college and graduate school in Tennessee. After working several years in several places—Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, Ukraine, and Washington DC—he began a 14-month overland journey across Asia in 2003 to write about the people he met along the way. He has been writing and taking pictures ever since, with his work appearing in publications such as the Christian Science Monitor, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and Best Travel Writing 2008.


Joel Carillet

Looking out over Jerusalem


Later this summer his first book, 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia, is scheduled for release. You can also find his images at Imagekind, as well as through his personal website at

Joel Carillet

Hoi An Fish Market, (Hoi An, Vietnam)


Joel Carillet

Three Generations (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)


DC: How did you get interested in photography?

JC: It was a gradual process, I suppose. My dad enjoyed photography and so I grew up in a home where taking well composed, thoughtful pictures – as opposed to just quick snapshots – was valued. I never took a photography class, but my interest in photography continued to grow as I myself grew. I love how photography enables one to visually record the things that shape one’s own life – friends, events, places. In a sense then, photographs help remind us who we were, who we are, and who we still want to become.

So my early interest in photography was primarily self-referential. Today – and now this is my driving force – I also see it as a means for people to better understand one another, or at least better see one another. So photography for me is a means, not an end.


Joel Carillet

Cultural Complexity (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)


Joel Carillet

A Settlement’s Shadow (Aboud, West Bank)






DC: How long have you been a photographer?

JC: There is no official start date, of course, but I’ve been trying to earn some money at it only in the last two years. In 2006 I took the plunge to buy my first good camera – a Nikon D80 – and have taken it to the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as well as places more local, like the Appalachian Trail and Washington DC.  I maintain a print gallery at Imagekind—which is also accessible through my personal website,


Joel Carillet

Poverty Seeking Understanding (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)



Joel Carillet

Shark Tattoo (Penang, Malaysia)



Joel carillet

Soldiers on a Bike (Pattani, Thailand)


DC: What is your favorite place to photograph? Or subject?

JC: I most enjoy taking pictures in a cross-cultural context, and my favorite subject is the human face. There is such beauty and horror, quirkiness and pain, humor and seriousness reflected in the faces of the people we pass by each day. I’m energized when I try to capture that.

I’m also deeply drawn to photographing situations of conflict and injustice, such as in Israel/Palestine. The human face of complex issues is often hard to discover in newsprint and through short blurbs on television. But when you look at many Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, you come face to face with the power of the image to convey raw humanity, to reveal our own humanity and the humanity we share with others. Such images not only enable viewers to better understand an issue; the act of capturing such photographs gives many photographers the chance to feel that, in a small way, they are contributing to something constructive, something truthful and hopeful. In my own work in the Palestinian Territories, one doesn’t just photograph; one also comes to know the people and is changed in the process. And in turn, one hopes to help others care about what is happening in places both near and far.


Joel Carillet

Homeless Again (Anata, West Bank)



Joel Carillet

Amputee at Wat Phnom (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)


DC: How difficult is it to take film on travels (doesn't x-rays destroy it)? Or does one really need to be all digital?

JC: One seldom sees film these days. People photographing the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall, or their intriguing meal in a Hanoi market are almost all using digital.

Having said that, for those still using film it is important to remember that X-rays can harm film, and that not all airport x-ray machines are film safe. In Bangkok four years ago I had safely taken my film through the first layer of security (which included an x-ray machine) but then at the gate an airline official (I was flying El-Al, which has perhaps the strictest security in the industry) pulled me out of the line and asked (well, insisted) that my carry-on be taken away for another check. He assured me the x-ray machine would be fine, but when later in the week I had the film developed in Jerusalem l was crushed to find all my photographs of Tibet fogged.

Since 2006, I’ve stuck strictly to digital. It is less of a hassle than film, and digital provides good enough quality now that I’m comfortable with it.


Joel Carillet

Muslim Woman in Malacca (Malacca, Malaysia)



Joel Carillet

Break on Through (Bangkok, Thailand)



Joel Carillet

Cambodian Children (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)



DC: Are there rules in other countries people need to be aware of about who or what you can or cannot shoot?

JC: Differences in culture and politics mean that there are different standards for acceptable photography. Once in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan (an authoritarian state) an officer stopped me and demanded to know why I was photographing an evergreen tree. This struck me as ludicrous, but it wasn’t surprising given that I was in the capital of a very totalitarian, ex-Soviet regime. (Later that day I was also reprimanded for photographing a beautiful government building.)

More than buildings, however, photographers should be sensitive about photographing people. Few things are as distasteful as watching tourists act as if they were on a turkey shoot, blazing away at locals with their cameras, sometimes shooting at incredibly close range, all in hopes of having a trophy or two to show the folks back home. Not only is this completely disrespectful to the people who live in the country you’re visiting, but it also robs the photographer of the opportunity to actually encounter the subject of his or her photo. Talk to a person first—even if it is with nothing more than kind body language—and often your wish for a photograph will be granted.


Joel Carillet

Girl in White Hat (near Hue, Vietnam)



Joel Carillet

A Citizen’s Protest (Eretz Crossing, Israel/Gaza border)


Joel Carillet

At the Beach (Cat Ba Island, Vietnam)



DC: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

JC: Love people, and love life. Of course, read up a bit on how to take a decent picture, but I’m not sure what photography is for—or anything else for that matter—if love is not somehow involved. There is a quote in Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov that has stuck with me since I first came across it five years ago. If I may, I’d like to close with it: “Love man in his sin too, for such love resembles God’s love, the highest possible form of love on earth. Love God’s creation, love every atom of it separately, and love it also as a whole…”


Joel Carillet

Flower Hmong (Bac Ha, Vietnam)



Joel Carillet

West Bank Landscape (near Bethlehem)


Joel Carillet

Smiling Woman with Egg (Chau Doc, Vietnam)


DC: Thank you so much, Joel! To view more of Joel's extraordinary photographs, please see his site at




Comments (1)

  • rfrisbie

    15 years 10 months ago

    I 'm so shy when it comes to asking people if I can photograph them. Joel amazes me with his beautiful and candid portraits. When he pairs them with his zen-like travelogues I'm captivated.

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