Joel Robison, a local expat who now resides in London while pursuing his photography passion, recently returned home for a visit with family and friends. During his all-too-brief sojourn back to his hometown, he hosted a walk through the downtown core, offering advice and guidance to a host of local photographers of abilities.
What began as a hobby for Robison has turned into a full-time career that has taken him to photo assignments across the world, most notably the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour — a nine-month saga that took him to 84 countries as the official photographer.
More recently, his work was featured in the July issue of The Oprah Magazine, where he was tasked with illustrating the ‘big books of summer’.
Joel graciously agreed to share some insight on his development as an artist and photography as an art form with the Cranbrook Townsman.
Q. The FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour was the opportunity of a lifetime. How did that experience of travelling the world and plying your craft help you grow as a photographer and artist?
I think it really changed my photography for the better. Before this trip I was very concentrated on creating stories and “created” moments with my photography, I was spending a lot of time coming up with ideas, making and building props and supplies and spending many hours on each photograph. On the tour, everything was real-time and I had to look for the stories as they were happening. I had to rely purely on my eye to catch the moments and not to rely on editing to back them up. It really helped me connect with people and with my surroundings in a brand new way.
Q. What style or setting do you enjoy shooting the most and why?
I’d say that my favourite is always shooting portraits with other creative people because there is a certain electric energy that starts to build when creative people work together. I like to challenge myself as well and I’ve been trying to photograph more landscapes and street photography as well, mostly as a way to document my every day life so that i can look back at the images and be reminded of what I see.
Q. What projects or assignments are you particularly proud of?
I’ve been so lucky to have had some really amazing opportunities with my photography, certainly traveling the world with Coca-Cola and FIFA will always be the biggest highlight of my photography journey but I would say I’m also really proud of the work I’ve done getting my work onto book covers and album covers with publishing agencies around the world, it’s such a thrilling and exciting feeling to see my work in a bookstore or a library in a far away country. I’m really proud of the work I’ve done with my teaching programs as well, being able to teach and assist other photographers build their creative voices is such a huge enjoyment for me and I love watching people grow and become successful.
Q. On the topic of equipment and software, any essential pieces of gear?
The best camera is the one you have with you and I definitely think you can create some really impressive work with any type of camera. For me my essentials are a sturdy tripod, a remote control for my camera, and a memory card with wifi (I like to start looking at images right away on my phone). As far as software, I stick to Photoshop mostly for all my editing with a bit of extra work done in Lightroom.
Q. Any advice for people who are interested in getting into photography?
Do it! Photography is such an incredible opportunity to share your view on the world with other people, and for me the best part about it is the community that exists around it. There are people all over the world that are getting together, sharing their work, learning and teaching each other and it’s amazing to be a part of. It’s a hobby and a profession for me but it’s also something that I love to do because it helps me connect with the world around me and has rewarded me with some of the best experiences, people and memories I could ever ask for!
Q. Everyone’s got a smartphone with a camera now. Is that diluting photography as an art form or growing it?
I think it’s amazing to see so many people expressing themselves with it. There’s a huge community of people online using platforms like Instagram to share their unique view on the world and it’s such a great opportunity to do that. I think that there will always be people that feel very protective about photography as an art and they will continue to create using their techniques and voices but I think that it’s an opportunity for us all to share how different we are and how we can connect with each other.
Q. Photography in itself is an art form, but the conceptual images takes it to another level. How did you get into developing that aspect?
Conceptual Photography is my favourite form of expression because I feel like it allows me to visualize the thoughts, fears, goals, worries and everything else in my head that I can’t quite seem to get into words. I started by just taking random words, objects or themes and trying to show that in a slightly different way. As I started developing my own voice and my style I started unlocking these doors in my creativity that started to allow me to easily translate experiences and ideas into visuals quite clearly. Sometimes I’ll create an image that I don’t know where it came from but as I look at it at the end, I can see how it relates to what’s going on in my life or what I’m thinking about. I love that about conceptual photography, it tells a story that is up to the viewer to decipher.
Q. How do you start putting a concept photo together?
I have two very different approaches to creating an image. One method is very formulated, I’ll meditate or brainstorm ideas on a piece of paper and write down any visuals that seem to be at the front of my mind. Then I’ll start building the idea based on those visuals and the locations I have available to me (and the weather of course). Then I’ll go out and start shooting, it’s very controlled and I usually finish shooting the images within a few minutes because I know exactly what I want and need.
The other method is much more free in it’s creation, I’ll just grab some things that I like and put them in my bag and head out to a location that I like and see what happens, sometimes it’s a bit like an abstract painter creating on a canvas. I’ll start just taking photos seeing where it all goes and sometimes it works out and I end up with something that I really like and sometimes it doesn’t end up going anywhere but I still feel like I’ve learned something and that I’ve exercised my creative mind.
Q. Describe the process you went through to create the photo you’ve chosen
For this image I went through a fairly simple process. The models in the photo are two of my friends, both incredibly talented artists themselves and they’ve been dating long distance for several years. Bella lives in the UK and Pratik lives in the USA. They frequently travel together but spend most of the year apart, we planned to meet in the UK and I wanted to create an image that showed their connection and love for each other even though they’re often in different places in the world. I started writing down visuals and the word house came up and I remembered seeing a cardboard house at a craft store and I thought maybe I could connect their love with the smoke coming out of the chimneys. We met in Oxford and the shoot was over in a few minutes!