Patrick Joust is an immensely gifted photographer from Baltimore, USA. His urban/street photography gives us an insight into the beauty, disorder and confusion that’s out there in streets. He’s one of the most admired photographers at Flickr and his use of vintage/medium format cameras is inspiring. His images are sort of minimalistic and there are no distractions. He does not intend to startle us as most street photographers like to do through their images. His photos of street cars and buildings seem to possess a human element and spirit with its own distinct aesthetic appeal and strength. We are very happy to showcase some of his very inspiring photos with this very detailed interview:
Hello Patrick! Please tell us a bit about yourself:
I was born in California, went to high school and college in Pennsylvania and live in Maryland now. I have a lot of interests outside of photography. I work as a reference librarian and instructor at a public library. I love my job. I enjoy reading and music. Some favorite authors include Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Haruki Murakami, Judy Budnitz, Tobias Wolff and Cormac McCarthy. Music I’ve been listening to lately includes Phedre, Santigold, The Cults, Crystal Castles and Beach House. While photography is a big part of my life, I don’t have a formal background in it. My undergraduate degree is in history.
Tell us about your journey into the world of photography:
I’m an amateur photographer and I’ve been taking pictures seriously (more or less) for about 12 years. I don’t work as a photographer for hire; nobody wants me taking pictures of their wedding. If a potential client is ok with me doing my own thing, that’s great, but I don’t have the skill or inclination to modify what I do for something I wouldn’t otherwise be interested in. I have had the opportunity to do a little shooting for some nonprofits that I believe in, and that’s been fun, but I’m not geared towards trying to sell my skills in a saturated market. I’m not even that interested in working in an unsaturated market. Of course I’m always happy to sell prints, books and licenses (the sale of which helps support the cost of purchasing and processing film) and if somebody wants to give me a grant to travel around taking pictures, I’d be happy to oblige them :) When it comes to finding time… I’m very passionate about taking pictures, so it’s easy for me to find time to shoot. I tend to shoot less in winter, but this spring I’ve sent out over 30 color rolls for processing (so far) and I also developed several black and white rolls. So I tend to go in spurts.
Why did you choose photography as a medium for expression? In other words, why do you take pictures?
This is always a hard one to answer and I’ll probably not so much answer it here as put a lot of words down that look like an answer. I watched an old interview that was done with Harry Callahan the other day on YouTube. It wasn’t that great of an interview, but at one point Callahan said something that struck a chord with me. He said that photography saved his life. I have a similar feeling about it. I didn’t get into photography until my mid-twenties and though it didn’t click right away for me, I have found that taking pictures and looking at pictures and thinking about pictures, not only makes life richer, it helps to relieve a sense of emptiness/anxiety that I’ve only been able to alleviate through trying to be creative. Photography has made me more social and more willing to get up off the couch. I’m happy to sometimes operate on little sleep and go outside habitual comfort zones, all for the sake of taking pictures.
When I was younger my mind was often too engrossed in philosophical issues, determinism, death. Now, instead of dwelling on those things, I take pictures. That’s a bit simplistic, but I honestly think that while I may be slightly wiser through the process of getting a little older, photography has also genuinely helped make me a better person. It’s given me application for my thoughts and ideas. While any pursuit like this can veer into compulsive obsession, I think I’ve found a good balance (I hope so anyway).
Tell us what interests you most in photography and what do you shoot with?
My interest in photography runs the gamut from portraiture, city-scapes, “street,” nighttime scenes, nature, etc. It’s really less about conforming to a specific genre and more to do with capturing whatever I see that’s interesting. One of the reasons I shoot film is because of my need for variety. I use digital, 35mm, medium format, half-frame, Polaroid, etc.
At times I’ll photograph the same person or scene with a couple different cameras. Some of the equipment I use includes various medium format TLR cameras (Mamiya C330, Ricohflex, Yashica Mat), an Olympus XA, a Leica M3, Hexar RF and I’ve recently acquired a Fuji 690 camera, which is a format I’m excited to explore. I use Lightroom as a way to edit and organize my digitized images.
You’ve a huge fan-following on Flickr. What else would you call your achievement?
The biggest achievement has been the sense that I’ve gotten to a level in my photography that I feel like I mostly know what I’m doing; that the distance between my mind’s eye and what the camera sees keeps shrinking. The mistakes, hang-ups and other stuff are still there but, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I’m mostly pretty happy with what I’ve been producing over the last couple of years. I feel like I’m getting better and I’m having more fun than ever.
Your urban/street photography is immensely powerful and inspiring. Please share with your creative stimulus and approach behind your art:
Thank you! Since taking up photography, I’ve found that I have a more attuned sense of beauty. That might seem kind of corny. I feel corny writing it down right now, but I think it’s true. The simple act of seeing is better. I share small parts of that experience through my photography, but even when I’m cameraless, my appreciation for my surroundings is heightened.
The great benefit to doing much of the kind of photography I do is the opportunity to meet and talk with people that I might not be able to otherwise. It’s hard for an introverted person like me to just go up to someone and chat. The camera helps provide me with an excuse to approach people. It also helps that using “old-fashioned” gear is less threatening than a DSLR sometimes can be. I get random compliments on my TLRs all the time.
Working in a public library helps satisfy my need for social interaction. Carrying a camera often does the same kind of thing. There are certainly times when I’ve been met with hostility but often enough, people are flattered to have their pictures taken. I like to mix up my style and subject matter quite a bit, but taking photos of people is always the most enjoyable.
What are your views on contemporary photography? Do you notice it becoming repetitive and lacking in originality?
I’m pretty upbeat about the state of photography in general. Since I’m not trying to make my living selling pictures, I don’t feel pressure about trying to compete with anyone but myself. I find a huge amount of inspiration from the photographers I’ve gotten to know over the years online and in person. It’s amazing that I can go to almost any region of the world and connect with others like me.
I don’t think modern photography has become especially repetitive or unoriginal, but because so many are engaged in this activity and so many are doing it well, it can seem that way. However, that sense of sameness has less to do with the pictures and more with the quickness we often apply to picture viewing. I can see how people might get tired of seeing pictures of the same old building, car, etc., but I hope we never get tired of looking at interesting people in a well taken photo. It’s hard for me to imagine that type of work getting completely stale.
The deficit between the number of photos we look at and the time spent looking at individual photographs can certainly be an issue. I heard something the other day that the average person looks at more photographs in one morning than someone born in the 19th century had the opportunity to see in an entire lifetime. If that’s even close to being true, that’s pretty amazing to think about. Images that are part of a series or have a degree of complexity to them are often ignored.
Pictures, because of their nature, are more accessible and easily digested than words but they can still get short shrift. The photographer’s collective work, their identity as a distinct author, is easily minimized or overwhelmed. This has always been a problem with photography and other art forms as well. People were inundated with pictures in the past, but the scale is just so much greater now. There’s always the phenomenon of knowing the picture and not the photographer.
People may know the famous picture of the sailor kissing the nurse in New York on V-J day, but most are unlikely to remember or think to care that the photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, captured it. There’s a certain anonymity to photography that’s reinforced by its ubiquitousness. Everyone likes and takes pictures and since it’s such a huge part of our lives, it’s easy to take for granted. A photograph is a record of seeing and we often simply absorb the image without thinking about the specifics of how the picture was made. The object and a picture of the object become the same thing.
The veracity we apply to photography helps perpetuate this, particularly in images that look “natural.” Again, this is ok for a lot of things. It has to be ok. Photography is often a tool to simply convey information quickly. We don’t need to stop and ponder everything, but the pace of our Internet lives can make slowing down difficult. We end up missing things in our frantic effort not to miss things.
I’m not sure what this all means for the status of the photographer. The number of images will continue to grow but maybe the photographer’s place will shrink. Photographers may only be of interest to other photographers or people who have a special interest in art. That’s the way things have mostly been anyway. It’s only in the last 600 years or so that authorship in art has been considered important. We don’t usually know the creators of Europe’s great cathedrals or ancient frescoes or Anasazi ruins. In modern times, the importance of the individual artist has been the norm in terms of the framework for understanding art. We’ve even gone to the other extreme in singling out individuals, at the expense of others, for specific praise in efforts that usually are the product of a large team of talented creators (movie making in particular).
Today, trying to keep up with the volume of great photography threatens to overwhelm us all. Perhaps we’re building cathedrals of pictures where individual authorship will continue to be obscured. We see a lot of this already with the digitized collections of various museums and libraries that we find online. The collection of Kodachromes from the Library of Congress, for instance. It is a beautiful collection that works wonderfully as a whole. Do we endeavor to learn much about the photographers themselves? Is it enough just to take beautiful pictures and not be singled out as a special creator? Do we need to know about the photographer’s life and process to understand the pictures? Anonymity was the fate of most photographers even before the age of the Internet.
All of this is interesting to think about, but I also don’t worry about it. Like other photographers, all that matters to me right now is taking pictures. It takes time to sort out what it all means and even then, explanations often fall short. Everyone can benefit from slowing down our clicking/scrolling/texting. I doubt very many people are taking more than a brief moment to look at a picture they see on Tumblr, Flickr, Facebook, etc. I’m guilty of that myself: trying to keep up with “everything.” We shouldn’t worry so much though about what else is flying by; what we’re missing. In order to slow things down, I’ve tried to look at more books (a better way at looking at photos anyway), visit more galleries/shows and not worry so much about keeping up with the enormous visual stimulation online. That being said, most of the photographs I see, are online.
Hmmm… you do have a way with words, too! How do you keep yourself motivated?
It hasn’t been difficult for me to keep motivated. Since my desire to take pictures is somewhat mysterious to me, I worry that things will change suddenly and I’ll inexplicably lose interest, but so far that hasn’t come close to happening. I recently watched a lecture that the photographer Richard Rothman was giving at the International Center of Photography on his project/book Redwood Saw. I really liked what he said here:
“A great deal of art making-process-is about subliminal desire. The hardest thing for aspiring creative people is to learn to trust that kind of feeling, that longing, that instinct, because they are surrounded by ‘who cares about that?’, ‘that’s been done before’ and ‘what is the point of that?’ An artist has to believe in his own sense and experience of wonder. Life is too precious to simply adopt other people’s concerns.”
That’s wonderful! Would you like to say something to the readers of the post.
Probably a number of things I’ve written above could constitute advice for aspiring photographers, so I don’t have more to add except maybe that you shouldn’t take too much stock in other people’s advice.
All photos © Patrick Joust links: Website | Flickr | Facebook | Tumblr