Started as a teen photographing bands
Interviewed by Lewis Blackwell
LB: Hello Joey, congratulations on being awarded the first-ever Mobius Young Photographer of the Year honor. How’s the rest of your day going?
Joey L.: Doing pretty good, I’m just here getting caught up on some retouching.
LB: Do you like to do that work? A lot of photographers tend to pass it off to others to do.
Joey L.: I try to do as much of my own retouching as possible. It’s a very important part of the entire process for me. However, sometimes I have to outsource it to some trusted companions of mine. If I’m away or if the client would like to handle it in-house, I provide references and notes to guide the process.
LB: You have a lot on though, lot of shoots seem to be coming your way these days.
Joey L.: Yes, I haven’t felt bored in a while.
LB: How did you get into photography? You seem to have achieved a great deal at a tender age! (Joey turned 23 in November 2012).
Joey L.: When I was growing up the majority of my friends were in bands, but I couldn’t sing or play an instrument so I got into doing the band promo shots. I had been interested in photography ever since I was a kid, but my first proper jobs were photographing these bands. This helped me build my portfolio. I would go on tour with them, doing editorial jobs and press kits. I tended to photograph them in a very “entertainment style” and so that’s how I started getting a shape to my first portfolio. The musicians looked a bit like actors, shot in a concept style rather than a more conventional documentary style. It started to get me hired for entertainment, TV and movie related jobs, because it had a similar style.
All the while, the other big side of me is my personal work. There is a strong travel side to that. Growing up in a small town in Canada I wanted to get out and see the world, so as soon as I started making some money with the band photography I spent it on going on trips for as long as I could. I wanted to see the world and photograph it. So I would spend a lot of my money on doing just that, but knew it was never going to waste.
LB: How did you learn the technical side?
Joey L.: I was never formally trained but I read photography books and read a lot on the internet. I never had the opportunity to go to college although at times I can respect formal education. However, I definitely put in the same amount of hours reading, researching on my own, trying things out. I guess I learned fast because while I was experimenting with photography, I was also working on real jobs. I did not want to end up having to fix a bunch of mistakes; I needed to get the image shot right from the start… I was trying to balance high school, so I had no time to make the same mistakes twice.
LB: So you went from high school straight into full-time work as a photographer?
Joey L.: Yes. I guess I would say I was professional from 16.
LB: And how did you arrive at your style, your approach? Were there specific influences?
Joey L.: It goes along with being a kid of the 21st century. We are bombarded with new visuals every day. Growing up like this brings certain things that influence your style that are impossible to escape. I guess I have been influenced a lot by cinematography, because am a huge fan of movies.
LB: Do you have any preference for working on travel or in the studio?
JoeyL.: I really like stylized portrait work, so I find any time I get to work with people exciting. I like making what some might call “cinematic” or “environmental portraits.”
LB: And where might this be heading?
Joey L.: A lot of the time I feel my personal work is stronger than my older, outdated commissioned work. Recently, I have been trying to approach the assignment with more of a style drawing from my personal work. The Jennifer Lawrence shoot, for example, is something more like I might do personally, with just one light… it is still flattering for the subject but has something more intimate that comes from my personal approach. I’ve been working on jobs like this, and I find it a lot more effective.
This aiming to bring the two sides of my work closer will help me be more cohesive in my portfolio. I used to have this vast array of images that did not fit together very well. Now it does fit together better. Some of the work I recently shot for National Geographic Channel really bridges that gap.
LB: What would you say is the toughest assignment you have ever had?
Joey L.: My personal projects are almost always tough. But in commissioned work, it is probably when I went on location with the guys from History Channel for the reality TV program “Deadliest Roads.” If you watch the show, you see these truck drivers racing down impossible roads at breakneck speeds. But you must also realize that the camera car has to be going even faster in front of them. I was in that car. It was a horrifying mess. During one shoot day, my friend blacked out because of carrying heavy equipment in the altitude, up at 16,000ft, very little oxygen… we had to take him to the hospital. And yet in retrospect it was definitely one of the best trips I have ever been on! I look back on it with great joy, and happy I had such a great opportunity.
LB: Do you get a lot of other young photographers coming to you for advice? What do you tell them?
Joey L.: The biggest misconception is that young photographers tend to group all genres of photographers together. They should consider what kind of photographer they want to be and pursue that realm specifically. You have to focus on getting good at something. You will then perhaps get hired for that.
I aim to have some breadth but also to be focused enough that a client has a particular reason to use me. Hence my labelling myself as “stylized portraiture.” A client probably wouldn’t come to me for landscape photography, and I am certainly not putting myself out there for that. You can still branch out and do new things, but when you are starting out you need to make it easy for people to recognise you for something.
LB: To close, please tell us a bit about your set-up, your base.
Joey L.: I have an apartment in Brooklyn, and I base myself out of New York, but I am usually shooting everywhere. I get to travel to Europe quite a bit. I have two interns/apprentices and teach them what I know and also have a team of great assistants who come in on different jobs.
For the video work I have been doing recently, I have been collaborating with three friends who own a production company called Variable. I have a strong team of professional friends. We collaborate, and we can trust each other. It seems to be working thus far.
Lewis Blackwell is an author, director and a photography expert. His experience includes being Chief Creative Officer/Partner of Evolve Images, as well as the editor-at-large of photography book publisher PQ Blackwell. His resume includes industry-leading roles as the global creative head of Getty Images, and before that the Editor/Publisher of the magazine Creative Review. His critically-acclaimed volume “Photowisdom” features exclusive interviews with many of the world's most notable photographers.