We are very excited to have JoeyL as our guest blogger today!
WARNING: If you’re familiar with Joey’s work, you know that he travels all over the world photographing many different cultures. His post today contains some National Geographic-y type images of natives, and since these natives don’t tend to overdress, there are a few images where the natives have exposed breasts. If you’re sensitive to seeing these types of images, then please don’t click the “Read the Rest of this Entry” button below. Even more importantly, now that you’ve been warned up front, don’t post complaints about the images (I’ll just delete them). Now, here’s JoeyL!
I have been traveling for a few years just looking, observing the nature of things, mostly people. I feel that photography is a way both to legitimize my traveling and give me a source of dedication to keep looking deeper for answers. Aside from photography being a teacher, my commissioned work keeps me fed and gives me shelter, so you can imagine it means a lot to me.
The first thing people ask about is my commercial work. I can understand this due to the subject matter- The Twilight movie posters, the Jonas Brothers, 50 Cent, etc. When I think about my work, these subjects and projects are forgettable and have no real meaning for me. Of course- I please my clients, enjoy and boast about every success, and put myself and dedication into every project I am paid for. But, I see the time I have put into photography more about my life and the things I am interested in. I’m not saying I’m the type of person to claim my commercial work doesn’t effect me, but it does not influence or shape who I am in the same way my own interests do.
Here I am on the Scott Kelby blog, rambling away about myself and things most people don’t care about. I should go over some lighting or Photoshop technique, plug my tutorial and be finished with it, but I think I’m better off explaining my new mindset in photography. I like to read this kind of thing about photographers I admire, so I hope if you like my work you will also enjoy getting inside my head.
Sometimes I do not consider myself a very deep person, I am just as tainted as anyone else. I lie, cheat, want, and even sometimes think fart jokes are funny. A lot of my personal work has very religious or spiritual connections. This is mostly because of the subjects I am interested in learning from- monks, Brahmins, Animist tribes. My own beliefs are nothing in particular fashion, but shaped by all these people and would be a combination of every subject I’ve spent time with. Good or bad, truth or bullshit, I am welcome to becoming a little bit of everything.
In the simplest terms, I am looking for a dignified portrait. When photographing a subject in my personal work, I am interested in them and have a respect for them. I have photographed normal villagers, famous musicians, Indian Sadhus, Moldovian kings, tribal warriors and women prisoners… But the mindset is always the same.
I used to be very simple, and just walk around with a camera scouting out the best light situations- sunset downtown when the harsh low-level light bounced off metallic buildings or glass windows onto subjects. Then it got a little more complex, and I would move subjects to these locations within a few meters. Then I decided if I wanted this kind of dramatic light, there is no sense is waiting for it… So now I have a friend walk around with me with a light on a stick, and a battery generator in a backpack. I have brought this setup around the world- and I owe a lot of thanks to the poor guys carrying it all. They have literally gotten lost in jungles, climbed mountains, fought off tribal warriors, and ate the same disgusting food I did, except they were holding my big stupid light on a stick the whole time.
Most of my images are contrived and posed. I think it is wrong to assume this direction as less realistic than a photojournalistic approach. I believe that ‘purist photojournalism’ is a very strong form of communication, and has its place in the world, but it is not my calling. Every single image not captured by an eye undergoes some kind of process, be it light reacting to the film which renders color and tonality or a digital signal being reassembled and compressed. If you take snapshots wishing them to not look contrived, then they are contrived to be snapshots. Every single image ever taken is contrived in some way or another. No process is purer than another, and no color is a truer color. (I have never seen the world in black and white either. )
I used to do a lot more Photoshop work than I do now. My tastes are still the same, but I believed they have ripened. My old techniques used to edit photos to make them look like they had an extra light source in them, but now since I usually have this in real life, I don’t do as much as I used to.
Have you ever had one of those out of body experiences, where you look through the camera at your surroundings, intake a moment greedily to yourself while your subject doesn’t know it… and wonder “how the hell did I end up here?”
I’ve had this come over me several times so far throughout my career- when I looked through my lens to see 300 Moldovian women prisoners lined up to be photographed, a nude model or looking upon 50 Cent through my 50mm. They don’t know I’m doing it, but I am not taking pictures… I am just looking, thinking, observing, perhaps pant-shitting.
A woman of the Bodi tribe has fallen ill and died. The other women of the tribe shout to the spirits and chant of her death to bring her soul to peace. The Bodi men perform ceremonial death procession and will keep the body of the woman safe for 3 days. After this, the tribe will gather together and eat the body as a sign of respect, and to ensure passing into the next world. The missionaries have failed to ban this practice.
Even though I’m starting to become desensitized to most things like this in my life, the most notable case was of recent. I peaked through the viewfinder and saw an African tribesman. The same kind I had been studying and spending countless nights Googling and Flickr-ing months before. The same kind I had read about in anthropology books in school, and thought only of as a distant figment… I knew he existed, but not like this… Now in front of me.
Bona is the highly respected chief of his village, Labaltoy. In Hamer culture, the name Bona is given to an aggressive dog or animal. It is not a common name for a human. When he was young, Bona showed strong signs of aggression and strength, causing his mother to choose this name.
His scarification is a symbol of the enemies of the Borana tribe he killed in battle. He is unsure of the exact number of deaths from of the wounds he inflicted, but is sure at least 7 fell to him.
“There is someone who created us. I don’t know who he is, or where he lives. Perhaps he lives in the sky, but it doesn’t matter. We get together and pray or whoever, or whatever he is.”
To just be real with you- Ethiopia’s Omo Valley has been photographed dozens of times over by photographers much better than me. It was in fact those masters who inspired me to visit the remote area, a three day drive from the capital city. What I found there, however, was not an immaculate depiction of untouched tribal beauty nor an assimilated and converted Disneylandish dress-up world for tourist, but a clash of the two worlds meeting.
“I do not do as the others in the tribe do, I have my own personal God. I walk over to my favorite tree, look upon the skies and pray.”
Missionaries have been working in the area for many years building schools, stopping wars and providing medical attention but also teaching monotheistic values to the Animist tribal populations. The government has done its part too to take control of the land, and assimilate tribal leaders. Some label it as cultural genocide, while some call it relief. I have named the series Abyssinia. Abyssinia is the old name for Ethiopia, which translates to “beautiful.” (Ethiopia translates to ‘land of burnt faces’.) Although disputed, many people believe that humankind first blossomed from an area near the Ethiopian/Kenyan border due to strong archeological evidence. And also disputed, many people also believe that Ethiopia is the region of the Garden of Eden mentioned in the bible. Regardless, it is safe to say that perhaps some of mankind’s first peoples originated in this region, and its people remain ancient and diverse… However, in this present day they are also people of change.
“We are progressing and soon we will move out of this place.”
I feel the best method to measure change in a people is not their environment or what they wear… The best method of investigating change is in a people’s beliefs. In my series, I have focused on this area through personal interviews with each subject. These words are just as important as the photographs.
I will leave you with an excerpt from my Ethiopia journal posted on my blog. My personal words aren’t really all that important compared to the series, but just a reflection of what I was feeling the whole time living in the bush.
“We board the plane in Ethiopia and say goodbye to Anteneh, our guide. I tell him I will miss him, and I mean it. Everything is surreal as our little taxi heads to the airport down the same streets we feared when we first drove down them almost 2 months ago. Now they are like home and we’ve grown used to the sights, it will be our home that shocks us now.
Our plane stops over in Amsterdam at 5:30am in the morning, we have an 8 hour stop over but it’s not spent in the airport. It’s not spent smoking dope or getting with Red Light District women either, we meet our good friend Will. God answers my prayers and we find a McDonald’s and wait patiently for it to open…
The food tastes so good in my mouth, but it isn’t as great as I thought it would be. For a moment the craving was satisfied, but then another something inside me changed and grew unsatisfied… This was much deeper and more powerful than a fast food craving. I realized I would be taking no more pictures, and the trip was over. I’d rather have a bowl of rice in Ethiopia over this shit food any day.”