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Joel Robison is a conceptual photographer who has been an inspiration in the photography community for many years. Over a decade ago, I randomly discovered his Flickr account, where he was already sharing mind-blowing works of art. His photographs stood out to me because of their magical qualities; they were whimsical, told a story, and made me want to take inspiring photos of my own.
Today, Joel has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media. He’s currently working on a 365 project and creating all kinds of stunning photos that are meant to motivate photographers to embrace their unique selves. We talk about:
- Joel’s experience with different forms of art and how that led to his love for photography
- What his photoshoots and editing sessions are like
- Why he believes in the power of photography communities
& much more!
Joel does so much for other photographers. He wants to inspire them to be their best selves. He advocates passionately for mental health. I’m sure that no matter what kind of photography you specialise in, you’ll find something inspiring in his conceptual photography portfolio or in the stories he shares.
Here is a preview of our discussion with Joel Robison.
Q: A lot of photographers, regardless of experience, often struggle with developing a style of their own. Do you have any advice for those people?
Joel Robison: It takes time. You never really know. I don’t think it’s ever possible to really know what your style is. It’s revealed to you as you work. The more you do something, the more you start to settle into what is best and what feels best and what connects to you most.
The best advice I could give to someone is to create as much as you can at the beginning, or if you’re kind of trying to figure that out, just to create and to let it fall where it falls. When I first started, I did the 365 project. And I did four back to back. The first couple I did were a mixture of all different kinds of styles.
That all helped me figure out what didn’t feel like me and what I didn’t connect to.
Q: How much planning goes into your shoots before you actually start taking photos?
Joel Robison: That’s a good question. So I kind of have two modes of working. One is hyper organized and one is completely spontaneous. The [photos] that are more, maybe emotionally connected to me, are the ones that I’ve planned out more. So they are ones that are inspired more by a specific feeling or a specific emotion or experience. I really want to find a way to connect it personally to myself, more as a diary or more like a way for me to look back on that image and remember what I was feeling or thinking about.
I tend to spend a bit of time either drawing out the idea, so I can see it in my head, and then kind of gathering all the items I need and figuring out the right place to go, and spending more time matching the image in my head to what I’m producing. That can take a few days and times to do it well. Then, on the flip side of that is just my love for just going out and doing whatever. I enjoy both parts of it. So sometimes, if the weather is interesting or I’m feeling like I just need to go out and do something, I’ll just grab a bunch of random stuff, put it in my backpack, go out into the woods, and be like, “Well, let’s see what happens today.”
Sometimes those images fail completely, but they always teach me. Okay, why did it fail? Okay, well, you shot it in the middle of the day. So that’s probably why. And sometimes they work. I feel like those images that I’ve taken – in that more spontaneous kind of way – are more maybe creative and less personally connected to me. They’re a little bit more on-the-spot thinking. Okay, what can I do in this place, in this time with what I have? And what story can I tell?
And I like that. I like the ability of doing both of those things because that is very reflective of my personality, where I can be very introspective and very thoughtful and I’m always thinking. But then I also do like to be spontaneous. I like to go out and do stuff. Both of those fit who I am as a person just as much as they fit who I am as an artist.
Q: I know that as photographers, we often focus so much on producing great content that we forget to connect with others or to take care of ourselves. In your opinion, what’s something that everyone should do in their personal lives to improve their mental health?
Joel Robison: That’s a really good question. I think especially now, the way that the world is and what we’ve gone through in the past year, it’s really important that we use social media intentionally. And we use it in a way that is not just self-serving.
I know that social media is pretty much just self-serving, but there’s so many ways and opportunities to use it to help others even if it’s just to communicate with them. That’s something that I learned way back in the Flickr days, and it was just being personal. And that’s how people get to know you as an artist.
I think that for me, my work has always been a personal journal or diary of my life. But then writing has been a way for me to kind of connect it even deeper to me, for myself and to myself, and for others as well. That’s something that I have enjoyed. That’s helped my mental health immensely. It’s just to not feel like I have to hold it all in.
That’s something that anyone can do. Just find a way that you can let out whatever it is that you’re thinking about, whether you write it down, or whether you say it to someone, or whether you can just go out and scream it into the void if you want to. It’s just knowing that you don’t ever have to hold everything in. Your life is not supposed to be this endless vacuum where you just suck things in and you don’t ever have a chance to exhale it out. What’s really been interesting and really powerful for me is that the more that I open up, the more other people around me tend to do the same thing.
Watch Our Second Interview with Joel Robison on YouTube
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Joel Robison is a creative portrait photographer from Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada. His work is a blend of whimsy and realism and focuses on the fine line between our imagination and the real work around us. Much of his work is inspired by his own interpretations of real life events, dreams, fears and his understanding of mental health. His work has been featured around the world with clients like Coca-Cola, Google, Oprah Magazine, Adobe and others. He has taught workshops both online and offline around the world and is passionate about inspiring other artists to develop their own creative identity.