After recently featuring Joey L’s work on YM&C, we were able to get an exclusive interview with him about his photographic adventures and his creative process. His answers were filled with the insight and he even shared some advice for aspiring photographers. It’s hard to hear his story and not feel inspired. Joey’s hard work, beautiful technique, and an unwavering sense of wanderlust are a recipe for magic.
CLAIRE: It looks like your work has taken you all around the world. What were some of your favorite locations?
JOEY L: I am very fortunate to see many beautiful places such as Ethiopia, Indonesia, India, Bolivia and many other nice countries that end in ‘ia.
C: What do you look for in a subject?
J: Photographers only tell stories with sight, so when we are done our job and show people our work, there are no other senses to help guide our photographs. Because of this, often times we seek subjects that can visually link a single image to a greater narrative. For example, in a series about religious people, how can you express the inward such as belief with something as outward as sight? You must rely on how things look- the personal objects the subject surrounds themselves with, the environment they choose to live in, or even how they choose to present themselves to others. Sometimes, you can look at someone and know straight away what kind of person he is. However, our eyes can also deceive us. So, it is up to the photographer to be like a filter. A photographer has the responsibility to make something as chaotic as a moment in time into a simple flat photograph. To filter out all sights that could confuse or distract, and channel the vision into a single cohesive body of work. A good subject can guide the whole process.
C: What’s your creative process like?
J: On my personal trips where you see a lot of my portraits from around the world, that process is very slow. It takes a lot of time and patience to have some degree of control of the outcome. In a strange land unfamiliar to you, sometimes you can’t fight problems, you have to go along with them to conquer them. Most time on those trips isn’t spent clicking the shutter- that part is very quick. For me, the most time is spent setting up the shoots, getting the people comfortable with what I do, getting them to believe in my work, and then after that perhaps I can take a portrait.
In my commissioned shoots back home, sometimes I don’t have the luxury of time. But one thing I do have is more control. Equipment and electronic doo-dads are easy to get, and the people I work with are true professionals in their fields. When I have been gone months on a trip somewhere, all I want to do is go home and be in complete control of a production. But when I am doing commercial shoots for too long, I want to venture off and let the unknowns slowly influence me and push to take control of how my photographs turn out.
C: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favorite camera?
J: You can check out an ever-changing, ever-evolving gear list on my site here: http://www.joeyl.com/gear/
C: Tell us about your new book Photographing Shadow and Light. How long did it take you to create it?
J: It took way too long to write because I had to keep writing hours between 3am – 5am. When I wrote it last year, I had a lot of projects on the table. But that busy time of photographing eventually contributed itself to the book, and all the forces & tasks pulling me this way and that somehow became one big happy family.
The book is a behind the scenes look at many of my photoshoots. There are case studies which cover my approach to each shot, my sometimes techie lighting setups, and how each shot was executed in the end. It’s full of nice big pictures too.
C: If you could take a photo of anyone or anything what would it be?
J: There is one monk in a rock hewn church in Northern Ethiopia who won’t ever let me take his picture. Of course this monk looks really cool to me, but I don’t know much about him. Every time I go to see him and walk for hours with my stuff, he is not interested in anything I do. Fair enough. Out of respect I don’t push it, but I know he’s just playing hard to get… Right?
C: What advice do you have for young photographers aspiring to get into commercial work?
J: It is very easy to lump all commercial photographers into one category. We all use cameras, but the clients we work for, or the places our photographs are displayed are all very different. You don’t go to an ear doctor to fix your eye. You need to specialize in the beginning, and get really good at one thing instead of mediocre at many things. Then people in that field will recognize that work, and it may just be the style of work you one day get paid to create. In the beginning, I would aim to work in one focussed path that you are passionate about. I would start by choosing to photograph a subject matter that is important to you, something to keep you full of passion during the hard times.
*Sponsored by Crown Publishing Group