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Oct 09, 2012

Phlearn Interviews Joel Robison

Joel Robison is a 27 year old teacher who has a great passion for photography.

Joel lives in Cranbrook, BC, Canada. In this interview we find out how Joel has managed to keep up with four 365 days projects, how he’s dealt with images being stolen, and how to stay positive, motivated, and inspired.

Joel you’ve done all kinds of different projects within your photography. You’ve done four 365 days project, two 52 weeks, as well as side projects like “inspired by Disney”, “peaceful food”, and a collaborative project with Coca-Cola. How important is it for you to keep up with these ongoing projects?

I find that I work best under the guidelines of a specific project. I like working towards an end goal and for me, signing up for a project like a 365 project gives me a guideline to work with. I enjoy working in themes and representing different themes in series or collections of images so having these ongoing projects gives me a chance to keep my brain always thinking and coming up with new ways of seeing something.

I’ve attempted a 365 days project twice, and I only completed one. You are now on your 4th 365 days project. How do you keep up with it? And how do you keep the drive to post everyday?

My first 365 was all about learning how to use my camera, the second was a bit of exploration into conceptual photography, and the last two have been more of a chance to develop my skills and express myself in this visual format. I enjoy the process of working on an image and it has become almost part of my daily routine. There are days when I don’t feel like taking a photo or days that an image just isn’t what I had hoped and I’m getting better at just telling myself “you don’t have to do this everyday, do it because you want to.”

As artists, trying to find inspiration can become difficult. You are constantly creating- a new photo almost every day it seems. How do you stay inspired and motivated?

I’ve always been the type of person who likes to express through visual media and photography for me has become such a distinct way for me to show my thoughts, fears, goals and dreams with other people. I stay inspired by connecting with other artists who I feel have a similar style as me, I feel that this collaborative friendship helps keep inspiration flowing. I create because I like to show a part of my world or myself and that’s what motivates me to keep working.

Your photographs have so many different elements in them. You make your own props and you also take advantage of Photoshop. How long on average does it take you to create a photograph that utilizes both your prop-making skills as well as time spent in Photoshop?

When I first started learning photoshop it would take a few hours for me to finish an image but now that I have a familiar work flow and I understand the program it usually takes me no longer than an hour to take the images from my camera and have them ready to post online. Some of my handmade props take a few minutes to make and some have taken an entire day to prepare and put together, it’s always worth the effort though!

 When I first found out that you were not a full-time photographer I was astounded. You create such beautiful imagery so often, and it’s always done so well. What do you do as a full time job? And how do you make time for your photography once the day is done?

My goal is to eventually be a full-time photographer and I’m working towards that. Currently I work in a high school assisting students with special needs and helping them achieve their academic goals. This job inspires me to create and it works perfectly into my photography schedule. I usually think up an idea for a photograph during the day and then go home, take photos and edit before 7 at night, sometimes it feels like I’m working two jobs at the same time but I really love the balance it gives.

Looking at your Flickr sets I see sets titled “Vancouver Meetup”, “Midwest Meetup”, etc. How important is it to you to meet other photographers and collaborate with them?

The opportunity to attend a photography meetup is one that shouldn’t be passed up. This summer I travelled to Indiana with 30 other photographers and we spent about 5 days creating and working on photos together and it completely changed my views on my own photography and gave me a huge boost of confidence. Later in the summer I travelled to Vancouver to attend a smaller meet up with about 12 other photographers which was equally inspiring. There is a such a strong sense of community and genuine support amongst most of the photographers I know and being able to work alongside such talented people is inspiring and helps me to work on skills that I haven’t had the chance to yet.  This October I will be hosting my own meetup with 7 other photographers from across North America and I can’t wait to see the images that are created from this time spent together.

Have you ever had a bad experience at a meetup?

Personally I haven’t had a bad experience, each time I’ve have the opportunity to meet and collaborate with other photographers has been absolutely incredible. The types of people that host and attend these types of gatherings are those that want to support other photographers and work alongside people with similar interests so I think that’s why they are so successful.

As photographers living in the 21st century we have so many tools available to us to promote our work, and get our name out there. However, with that comes risk. Those risks being having our photos taken from us and being used without our permission.
I am an avid follower of your work, and I’ve seen on many occasions that your work has been taken without your permission and I know this is an issue you’ve had to deal with a number of times.
Once on one of your blog posts you wrote:
“There have been many times in the last few months that I’ve been tempted to just “leave” the internet, let my images float endlessly in the world-wide web and focus on being a physical photographer and not a digital/social media based one.”
What was it that made you continue posting online?
Also, how do you deal with your images being stolen?

The quote was  said during a very ‘raw’ time in my own photography journey, I hadn’t really experienced any negative feedback or criticism until that point and it opened my eyes to a new side of online media. I realized though, that the good things that have happened in my life because of photography greatly outweighed the negatives and that I felt so much better sharing my work than keeping it myself.
It has taken me a few months to come to terms with my work being used so frequently without my permission. In a small way I’m flattered that people enjoy my work so much that they want to use it and share it, but there is also a part of me that just wants credit. People assume that all photographers want when they complain about image theft is money, but for me it was never about being financially compensated, it was just about having people know that I was the person behind the photograph. I know add small watermarks to my work and I try to politely notify people if I see my work being shared without permission. It’s been really interesting hearing people who have seen this happening to myself and other artists talk about how they’ve also started notifying people and giving credit where it’s due. I’m hoping that it’s something that can be changed.

In your photos you seem to utilize natural light quite often. Do you ever use other kinds of lighting in your photos? Reflectors, external flash, etc.?

I really enjoy the process of working with natural light, I feel like it makes me more in tune with my natural environment. I try to pay attention to weather and sun patterns and it allows me the opportunity to pay closer attention to the world around me. I do have a reflector that I use on occasion but aside from that almost all my images are done with natural light.

I take a lot of self-portraits in my work, and I sometimes worry that my viewers get sick of looking at my face, and sometimes I just don’t feel like taking pictures of myself.
Is this a feeling that you ever get? Tell me about your thoughts on self-portraits in general.

I do feel the same way sometimes. I began taking self portraits because I was self conscious about being a photographer. I didn’t think people would understand my concepts or want to participate in something that wasn’t “traditional” photography. Over the last year or so I’ve started to branch out and work with other people in my images, during the meet ups I’ve attended I’ve had the opportunity to use models in photographs and I’ve started to incorporate other people more frequently in my work. I really enjoy being able to use myself in a variety of images to show that one person can be interpreted or photographed in a variety of ways, but I also love being able to capture someone else’s emotions and personality in a photograph.

In your photography, and in your blog posts you are always so positive. I think this is such a wonderful thing.
How do you maintain this positive mindset?

As a teenager and in my early 20′s, I went through a difficult time in my life and became a very negative, depressed and cynical person. I didn’t have a lot of things in my life that I felt passionate about and I felt very jaded and not very optimistic about the world around me. About 5 years ago I joined an environmental organization and cycled across British Columbia and it opened my eyes to all the positive things that exist in the world. During the last few years I’ve undergone a sort of personal transformation, and become a more positive person and I’ve noticed that when you emit positivity, it returns back to you. I try to incorporate positive imagery in my work to hopefully give someone else a chance to feel that positivity in their own life.
Interview by Angela Butler
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