Joey L. Opens the Wilderness for Hostiles
The United States of America’s history with Native Americans is rife with blood and conflict, a horror story filled with terror and shame. It’s a history that every American must contend with as a part of our shared heritage, and one of the best ways to approach that education is through storytelling – even if the stories are fictitious. Late last year Hostiles debuted at the Telluride Film Festival, with a larger national release on December 22. The film stars Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, and Wes Studi, and depicts a collection of white Americans escorting a dying Cheyenne war chief to his homeland in Montana in the late 1800s. The film was shot in New Mexico, where Joey L met the cast to photograph the key photography for the project. Joey was able to grab portraits of each of the main actors including Jesse Plemons, Ben Foster, and Adam Beach.
Shooting in New Mexico afforded Joey L the luxury of a kind of untouched wilderness. From a metropolitan point of view in 2018, it’s easy to forget that even just over 100 years ago, the US had a kind of wildness that has since been largely sanitized not only by urban spread, but also by technology that arrests anyone from getting lost. Part of what makes western stories so captivating is the experience that any danger can be on the other side of a hill, the mysterious stranger we meet could threaten any life, and there is no savior on the other end of a cell signal. Joey L uses the expansive wilderness to great effect, calling up all those desperate risks, allowing the landscape to unfold into mountains in the distance that are then absorbed into the clouded sky. In each solo portrait, each character stands in the grassy expanse, profoundly alone. In the group shot, they move together through the same landscape, alone together, working towards a single goal despite whatever conflict undoubtedly will disrupt their efforts.
The full story is told in Hostiles, but Joey brings pieces of it to the key art the studio used for promotional posters found in Times Square, and dotted all over the country.
Hostiles is out now at theaters nationwide.
Joey L Sees Through The Smoke with Oxfam
The current conflicts in the Middle East have been waging for well over a decade, and when we talk about them it’s easy to think of the whole region as a black pit of horror and devoid of any real life. We’re lead to think that it’s terror and death, but in reality there are families, school children, and budding curiosity. Even under the pressures of terrorism and gunfire life finds a way. At the end of last year, Joey L traveled with Oxfam to Iraq to photograph not only the oil wells that had been set alight, but also the people that live in the shadows of black clouds rising from the flaming wells. The goal was to tell a story to inspire aid from afar, and that’s exactly what the results were. “Projects like this are why I became a photographer in the first place,” Joey told PetaPixel in an interview.
This trip was to be Joey’s third time in the region, making him an experienced navigator of political and security concerns. For some with the ability to translate human stories into visual communication it’s a moral imperative to use their skills to do just that. For Joey, he keeps going back because it’s become a calling. “When I first started planning the project with Amy Christian, the head of Oxfam media based in Iraq, we knew we wanted to do something unique,” explains Joey. “I proposed using both aerial and portrait photography, two styles a little different than traditional photojournalism. The war in Iraq and Syria has drawn on for so long, that the average viewer can actually grow fatigued by the daily bombardment of visuals. We needed a different perspective so that Oxfam could call upon people to care.” It’s not that Joey and Oxfam wanted to shock viewers so that they would send charity to Iraq, but they did need to reveal different stories and show that there’s more to the conflicts than what breaks through on the nightly news.
Joey knows how to handle the weather and the social complexities of photographing in a warring region, but that doesn’t mean the project was easy by any measure. “The challenges never ended,” Joey says. “On our first day, we had to get permission to fly the quadcopter from the various mukhtars [community leaders] and armed groups that control the region because ISIS uses similar drones to drop explosives or to scout out military formations to plan counter-attacks. ISIS drones are commonly shot down, so we didn’t want to risk it. This area was close to the frontline and the civilians had just been freed from ISIS, so as you can imagine the tension was high.” But thanks to the work that Oxfam every day, Joey and his team were able to convince the leaders in the area to let them use the drones, and communicated effectively enough to ensure that their drones were left untouched. Even though their drones weren’t under direct fire there were still incredible challenges thanks to the thick, black, oily smoke spewing off the wells.
When looking at Joey’s photographs of families, running school children, and an Earth that seems to be aflame, it’s easy to forget that we get to see these incredible images thanks in part to his equipment. Equipment that was never designed to be in the midst of war and burning oil “Working with electronic cameras in this was a nightmare - fumbling around with a flashlight, the gear itself became oily to the touch and even putting your hands on anything would turn them black,” Joe explains. “The lenses would get fogged over with black soot and had to be wiped clean every twenty minutes. Sometimes I had to fly the drone back to us by just relying on just the internal map /guidance system, because the smoke was so thick we couldn’t see our way from the air by using the aerial camera. I remember having a shower afterward and the water running brown. If this is how bad it was for us after just a few days, imagine being a local and living there.” The imperative to imagine that situation is exactly why we need people like Joey L traveling to these areas so we can remember that what’s happening is more than just statistics. It’s more than clips on your TV at 7pm, narrated from a studio. Joey’s subjects find love, life, and joy, even when everything around them is on fire.
Joey L Brings You Along with San Miguel
As a brand, San Miguel understands that they fit into the lives of real people. Instead of framing themselves as a destination in their latest campaign, they want their customers to see them as a partner. San Miguel comes along with you in your life, and who better to show off that part of the brand identity than Joey L?
“[We are] highlighting men and women who have devoted their lives to pursuing the most valuable of all things: experiences.” Experiences are challenging to fit within a two-dimensional frame, so Joey linked up with some exciting characters and created contextual portraits that show off what they do and where they do it. His subjects included photographer Robbie Shone, horse whisperer Simin Nadjafi Hinrichs, and artist Tony Plant. For each one of them, he went to their environment and caught them in action doing what they do best.
The most memorable shot for Joey was photographing Shone who does most of his photography in vast settings, many underground. Joey trailed him into one of those incredible caves. “Although we shot this after a long trek at the huge entrance to the cave, my job as a photographer is a lot less daunting compared to Robbie,” says Joey. “He's the real deal and spends days in the darkest depths of the world, squiggling through tiny claustrophobic crevices with his gear, setting up flashes in complete darkness, and creating some incredible photographs.” The work that Robbie does is incredible, but maybe Joey is being a little hasty. Joey’s own work from the South Sudan, to the agave fields of Mexico, to the streets of Brooklyn have honed the skills necessary to follow any artist to their part of the world and bring back a perfect representation of that experience.
Joey L Gets Real for Lifetime
“I don’t care what it is, I always like working with her no matter what,” photographer Joey L. says about Ilene Block, the Creative Director at Lifetime Television who recently asked Joey to shoot their campaign for UnREAL's second season. The TV drama lifts the curtain that covers the inner workings of reality television. Rather than focusing on the antics in front of the cameras it dissects how reality TV shows are put together, replete with the manipulations and machinations that make the on screen chemistry burn. Good television requires drama and when the drama doesn’t show up naturally it has to be inspired. The two main character of UnREAL, as producers of their own reality show, must make the drama happen whether it’s authentic or of their own creation.
Two portraits support the main image that Joey captured, one each of the main characters. In the set up of taking these photographs, Joey has created more than just a portrait; he has built multiple layers. Joey usually sits with his subjects and draws out of them authentic moments that he captures on film. This time he sat with real people and drew out their characters. It’s a unique creative challenge that he struck with some masterful lighting. “We balanced the lights to match the light that was emanating off the TV. On their set they were shooting with constant light so flashes balance that daylight,” he explains. The two colors - the blue from the TV and the yellower natural light - show the conflicts these women face as they strike their own balances between real lives and the ones they manufacture for television.
As its core, reality TV is a feint at reality. Even in the rawest form of drama, documentary, production has a real effect on the results and that’s something that Joey knows very well. When he’s not shooting commercial work he often takes the role of a documentarian, like on his recent trips to Kurdistan and the Omo Valley. As a photographer he gets as close as possible to showing life as it is, but there’s always going to be some change purely because of his presence. “No matter what you do whenever you bring a camera somewhere to document it you’re changing the reality because you are documenting it,” he says. “The very act of taking a photo and not doing anything to it is implying something in itself.” He’s describing The Observer Effect - when a subject feels a camera on them, their behavior will change, however subtly. In documentary, like what Joey does, they lessen the effect as much as possible. But in reality TV, and in UnREAL, the directors and producers use that effect to their greatest benefit. It’s the heart of their drama, and for UnREAL that’s attracted acclaim and a Peabody Award. It’s an examination of this cultural phenomenon and a recontextualization how we think about our own displays of “reality.”
Fighting ISIS: Joey L's Insight and Vanity Fair Italia
It's hard to find trust in a war zone, especially if it's a war whose realities are almost entirely misunderstood at home. When Joey L first traveled to the Middle East to embed with the YPG (People's Protection Units), it took him a while to warm up to the war zone, and understandably so. It's not like what you read in the paper. Well, it is, but it's one thing to read about a firefight and something completely different to be in it. Joey recently returned to the conflict areas towards the end of 2015, spending a month and a half photographing the the newly formed alliance "Syrian Democratic Forces" in Syria. These are the people fighting ISIS and each of these groups has their own power structures, their own brigades, and their own goals. Joey’s goal is to get as big of a picture of these people as possible, but this month Vanity Fair Italia is running eight of Joey's images in an attempt to help us all understand better what's happening in the fight against ISIS.
“Even to this day I don’t try to pretend to be some hardcore photojournalist who’s not afraid of anything,” Joey explains. “These groups really have their stuff figured out and they’re well organized, they’re not just a bunch of rag-tag guerrilla fighters that hit and then run away. They have frontlines, several resistance lines, and exit strategies.” As the American presumptions of what a “rebel” is fell away, Joey was able to relax a little into the flow of what he was seeing and doing. That didn’t mean it wasn’t an easy place to be, of course. “A lot of things you see are quite frankly terrifying,” Joey reminds us, but it did allow him to focus on photographing his subjects so he could bring the story back for us to understand better.
There’s so much more that goes into fighting a real war than firing bullets. There’s minesweeping after taking over cities, and life at the base. There’s cleaning weapons and cooking lunch. There’s life. When journalists come through for just a few days they don’t typically get the full picture. Joey’s extended stay offers a view of what it’s really like for the rebels in a way we don’t typically get to see. But this commitment has compounded in on itself. His access has made it able for him to tell a richer story, which in turn builds trust and gets him even more honest access. “After my first trip, the spokesman/commander for YPG shared my video on his Facebook page,” Joey says. “All his forces saw it and they all know about it so when I went back he was the first person that we reached out to and he helped facilitate more access. I was seeing a lot more things because they trusted me to be honest about what I observed and tell the real story.” There’s an international effort to discredit these forces, with propaganda coming out of Turkey and ISIS. But Joey is committed to showing the truth of what he sees.
After everything that Joey has seen and learned he gets why America's plan is what it is. It makes sense to go full force after ISIS right now, but that plan has its limits. ISIS is causing the most damage right this moment, but if they're rooted out our problems don't end. It's far more complicated than that. ISIS rose in a power vacuum whose solution is political. “[The US] also has to honor political projects of the Syrian Democratic Forces and give special attention to what they plan to do afterwards,” explains Joey. It’s one thing to understand a war from clips on the nightly news and from Presidential candidates on the stump, but something completely different on the ground. As Joey says, it's not crucial that everyone on American soil understand everything that's happening in the Middle East, even in wars being fought in our name. But if we refuse to examine any complexities or refuse, to support systems that are different than ours, we can expect this fight to go on for a very, very long time.
You can find the Joey L Vanity Fair Italia story here.
Happy Holidays: 2015 in Review
As we come together with loved ones and friends to close the year, we’d like to take this time to reflect on some of our favorite moments from the last year. Included here is a list of some of our favorite stories we’ve had the pleasure to share with our community and friends. This year our artists helped usher in the next generation of Star Wars stars, discovered what bacteria lurk in NYC’s subways, sent hundreds of mean postcards to adoring fans, and put their own stamp on the 2016 Presidential campaign.
Our artists have done amazing things, so let’s take some time to remember some of the best stories from 2015 before turning our focus to the New Year.
We hope you have Wonderful Holidays, and a Happy New Year.
Weeks before Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters, Marco Grob photographed the cast of the highly anticipated movie for Time Magazine. Not only did he get to photograph the human stars, he also got to spend time with the famous R2-D2 and meet the newest favorite: BB-8.
Riding the New York City subway can be a precarious situation, not because of the unpredictable riders but because of what lurks on the handrails. Craig Ward wanted to see what exactly he has holding onto every day and the answers were both beautiful and revolting.
Sawdust and Nike Reach New Heights
One project with international powerhouse Nike is celebration enough, but when Sawdust teamed up with the athletic juggernaut for three bespoke typefaces it was an honor. Not only were they creating these solutions for Nike, but they'd be paired with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant, three of the most powerful names in basketball. What they created turly elevated the game.
This year Joey L joined Annie Leibovitz, Erwin Olaf, and David LaChapelle as a photographer for Lavazza's annual calendar. With the theme “From Father to Son,” Joey L examined how the tradition of sustainable farming is passed on from generation to generation, and how food gets to our tables from around the world.
People's Sexiest Man Alive is always a hotly watched and eagerly awaited issue, and frequently their most popular. When Marc Hom got the call to photograph their non-traditional choice this year, David Beckham, it was an honor and a thrill. And on the day of the shoot, Beckham didn't disappoint.
For more than a decade Stephen Wilkes has been pursuing his ongoing personal project of condensing an entire day into a single photograph. This year, Stephen showed off some of his favorite shots at the Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery, a great way to look back on all the work he's done, and look forward to what's still to come.
Over the course of months with locations stretching from The Costume Institute to the Louvre's vault, and even the private archive of Yves Saint Laurent, Platon captured the epic vastness of the Met's latest blockbuster. "China: Through the Looking Glass" examines how China's history has impacted the rest of the world through design influence, and Platon was able to photograph every step along the way.
Mr. Bingo's ongoing series "Hate Mail" pits the artist against those who pay for the pleasure of being berated by him through the post. Enough fans have gotten their kicks this way that he turned them all into a book that catalyzed an enormously successful Kickstarter. Books are available for purchase now!
Living a life in the limelight isn't always easy, so when We Are The Rhoads teamed up with Taylor Swift for their latest Keds campaign, they immediately found common ground. By creating a safe space the mega celebrity was able to focus on the moments with Sarah and Chris, resulting in images that are effortlessly Taylor.
Style is communication and a stylist has the power to shape how their subject communicates to the world. For Uzo Aduba's cover of As If Magazine, Stacey Jones dove into feminine luxury, offering the Emmy Award winning actress the opportunity to step away from the orange jumpsuits that her fans so often see her in.
Paris is a hotbed of fashion and style, making it a dream destination for many and attracting artists from all over the world. Tom Corbett is no different. On his latest assignment for Somerset he really sank his teeth into the city, taking advantage of every block and street corner, capturing the beauty of the city and the ease of its powerful energy.
It's hard to describe Donald Trump's political rise, so sometimes the best option is to not even try. When The New York Times Magazine tasked Stanley Chow and Jamie Chung with an image that spoke to the story they got right to work on something that felt honest but was also a lot of fun.
When Marcus Bleasdale began his work as a photojournalist it was to make a difference, but an artist can never be sure if their hopes are going to come to fruition. Marcus' has. His work with Human Rights Watch has lead to changes in law, and even helped end a war. Their joint gallery show, "Impact," proved it.
Chipotle has seen better days, but before their troubles they made a very solid decision when they asked Harriet Russell, Sarah J. Coleman, Adam Hayes, and Dave Homer to create illustrations for their bags and cups. Each illustrator was paired up with a writer whose pieces were to serve as the inspiration, and the results are as delicious as you can imagine.
Ken Fulk is a master at interior design, and Douglas Friedman is a master at photographing interiors. When the two came together in a show-stopping shoot of Elle Decor, Fulk's vision leapt off the page thanks to Douglas' unique ability to translate space into flawless photographic composition.
Bernie Sanders represents one of the most interesting political stories this season, and like any political character his whole persona is hard to distill into a single image (even a photograph!). Ryan McAmis took his time, and dug deeply into his bag of tricks, creating a portrait for the cover of National Journal that is as honest a representation as we've ever seen.
It's not every day that passion projects turn directly into corporate campaigns, but when UPS saw Brian Doben's "At Work" series they knew they needed it for themselves. Brian extended the project, meeting with read UPS customers that happened to run their own small businesses, to see what it's really like to work with a company that caters to their needs.
Cinemagraphs are becoming more and more popular, but Chloe Aftel was there since day one. In fact, she's sort of become a go-to photographer to create these captive moments that she finds particular expressive because of their ability to inject more emotion and more story.
Sometimes the best way to talk about serious issues is with a good laugh, so when Todd Selby linked up with Evolve on a series of gun safety PSA they imagined what other things kids get into. Whether it's playing with condoms like balloons, or tampons like Wolverine's claws: the kids will get into anything and, most of the time, it can be hilarious.
Few artists are as closely watched as Banksy whose work is discussed and devoured the world over, so when James Joyce got the call to be included in Banksy's latest installation it was a no-brainer. James' contributions ended up including the cover of Dismaland's catalogue, a piece that has now been distributed the world over and marked as a coveted accomplishment for any creative CV.
We cannot pretend we know what the future will hold, but if we had to bet we'd bet on Roof Studios' vision. They were tasked with glimpsing ahead for a spot with Toshiba that envisions how our relationship with technology will continue to deepen and grow, and shows us what that will look like.
Ice Skating GIF by Nomoco.
Joey L's Lavazza Calendar: A Study in Sustainability
It was an epic, forty day, non-stop shoot through Brazil, Peru, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, that made Joey L’s calendar for Italian espresso brand Lavazza possible. For the uninitiated, the calendar is a big deal. Joey is the latest addition to a roster of photographers that includes Steve McCurry, Martin Schoeller, Annie Leibovitz, Erwin Olaf, David LaChapelle, and Helmut Newton, among others that have created these monumental projects. The whirlwind Lenten length shoot is an inherent part of capturing this depth in a project, and earned through the international recognition that the annual calendar commands.
This year the theme is “From Father to Son,” a continuation of last year’s theme, focusing on vertically responsible and sustainable food practices in a world economy that extends beyond coffee. Lavazza’s ongoing partnership with Slow Food, a company that makes small, sustainable farming more widely available in the world market, fills out the calendar so that the images touch on the entire universe of food and how families come together to put beautiful food on the table. At one point, Joey got to photograph oyster farmers who have their own small operation in the shadow of Brazil’s factory farming, but with the help of Slow Food and Lavazza they’ve been able to find the customers they need. “In that region in Brazil there are a lot of huge companies that oyster farm in a factory type setting. But Slow Flood comes in and they see a family run business doing it in a more sustainable way,” explains Joey. “And instead of getting the products from the factory, they open up a supply chain directly with these family run places to a restaurant or a supermarket in Italy or Paris.” It is an operation of access, and it’s changing the lives for these farmers while changing the quality of food being made available to the world.
This is a serious issue as our relationship with food becomes ever more distant from the source. But as Joey L tells it, the Lavazza calendar this year is bringing a face to this heritage and encapsulating the value of the tradition. “Our Calendar is focusing on the future generation of agriculturalists,” says Joey. “Every single shot is a group shot in a way, even if the parent, or the grandmother or grandfather is in the background somewhere. For me it was always approaching it as a group shot first. Collaborating together. It always started with trying to show two people. It shows the passing of generations. Showing people together.” These farmers are hands on, keeping the human element connected with the food from beginning to end guaranteeing more sustainable practices and universal experiences.
To tell such an important story required the crazy schedule that Joey L and his team embarked on, all forty days through all those countries, meeting those people, and having a few cups of coffee in between. “Our only break was maybe sitting in the van for 12 hours. It was a really daunting challenge holistically it was non-stop. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done commercially,” says Joey. “It was a dream assignment, to be honest.”
Joey L: The Guerrilla Fighters of Kurdistan
For almost all of us, the wars that our government engages in overseas are impossible to understand. They are happening on the other side of the world for reasons that are either too complex to understand, or apparently not worthy of our government explaining or debating those reasons. But the truth is, they are partially our wars. This is a democracy, so what our government does, we do. The system doesn't always look like that, especially in our latest conflict fighting ISIS in the Middle East. That conflict has yet to even be discussed formally by our Congress whose constitutional responsibility is to debate and approve our military action. But here we are, nine months into this quasi war being fought by our Executive Branch of government with the work of our men and women in uniform. With so little formal debate over this conflict, it’s been up to our media to simplify the conflict. But what’s happening in Kurdistan is complex. Between state militaries, local forces, and guerrilla fighters, there’s a lot to keep track of, and it doesn’t fit squarely into how the Western world has traditionally compartmentalized and reported on conflict.
Photographer Joey L was so captivated by what was happening in the region of Iraq and Syria known as Kurdistan, that he felt compelled to head into the fire and see what he could discover there. “I set out to uncover the truth, or at least to better understand the nuances behind the headlines,” he explains on his blog. “Portrait photography has a strange way of humanizing even the most distant of situations, and that was my goal with this project.” He knew it was going to be a terrific challenge, so he opted to venture out on his own – with the incredible support of his fixers Jan and Ipek Ezidxelo. What he found on the ground is almost unbelievable.
When Joey got to JFK he was halfway expecting an ordeal and was not let down. After learning his passport was flagged he had a half hour conversation with two plain clothes Homeland Security officers that was as much about subtext as the content of their words. After finally being cleared to leave the states, Joey headed first to Turkey, then Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, and then to meet the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party), a mixed gender guerrilla group who is officially a terrorist group according to the US Government, but is supported by coalition airstrikes.
Joey arrived at their camp informed only by their varied reputations of both “Warrior Women” as the American Press has gushed, and as terrorists like Joey’s Turkish friends had called them. In person, it was a very different situation. “My first encounter with the PKK took me by surprise,” says Joey. “As much as I had been told in advance of their kindness, I was not quite prepared for the hospitality I was treated with when staying at their base for four days. The guerrilla’s warm and bubbly nature can almost be deceiving and their reputation of fear fighters almost seems to vanish after spending just a few hours with them.” By imbedding himself with these fighters, Joey achieved the access required to capture the images he traveled there to get.
His portraits show these usually faceless fighters in a way that Americans, especially, are not used to seeing them. But these photographs remind us that they are human beings fighting for a land that they love and a people they are a part of. “Most residents and refugees will tell you that guerrilla groups like these play extremely decisive roles in battles against the Islamic state. To many, they’re like local heroes,” Joey explains. In his photographs you can imagine the families these fighters go back to, and the local residents who admire them. No longer shadowy figures gliding through thermal footage, we get to see them as people.
Joey’s time with the PKK represents only a small part of his trip to Kurdistan. To get the full story behind his journey, check out his full journal here. Before Joey left, he grabbed his GoPro at the last moment, just in case “anything interesting happened.” He ended up cutting all the footage together into a half-hour documentary about his time in Kurdistan. The accompanying video can be found here.
Joey L Employs Creative Solutions for Jose Cuervo
Almost all liquor is the resulting product of distilling natural sugars. Most rums are the distilled version of sugar cane juice, most vodka comes from distilled potatoes, and to make real tequila you must distill Blue Agave. The plant only grows in certain regions of Mexico, and like Champagne, if it’s not from that region or that plant, it cannot be called Tequila. In the middle of a multiple month whirlwind tour around the world shooting for the US Army, National Geographic Channel, and a stop for a friend's wedding, photographer Joey L spent a few weeks in Mexico for Jose Cuervo’s latest campaign. And he got to know these Blue Agave plants well. Maybe a little too well.
Fully grown, Blue Agave is gigantic: almost as tall as a man, and twice as wide. Most of the plant is made up of succulent spears in a three-dimensional fan like a pincushion, or a Koosh ball, and each one of them is sharper than the next. “They’re the most peaceful looking plants until you get near them and they start making you bleed,” says Joey’s assistant Jesse with a laugh. They were in the fields because Joey wanted to get shots of the jimadors, the specialized agave farmers who are experts at identifying the ripe agave, which can happen anywhere between eight and 12 years in the plant’s life cycle. The plants were so big that they were impeding the shots that Joey wanted to get, so he needed a better vantage point: Jesse’s shoulders. “I needed to get a little higher, so I turned to my trusty friend and assistant Jesse and climbed up on his shoulders and was suspended above the death trap agave needles,” says Joey. After they walked down those rows of plants as a single unit, there were able to get the shot. “It was way better,” says Joey.
Towards the end of the day, Joey wanted to capture a quiet moment between the jimadors, so they decided to set up a fire that the farmers could chat around and trade stories. They were going to set up the shot in a different location, but the sun was setting so Joey hurried on ahead to get as much time as possible. But his camera was still with his crew. “There’s a very small window of time after the sun sets when it still light out and you get this beautiful bluey twilight feel that will balance perfectly with that orange glow from a fire. But that window only lasts like 20-25 minutes max,” says Joey. “And here I was with this amazing scenery in front of me and these amazing characters to photograph and I didn’t even have my camera.” Eventually there was just enough hustle and Joey got his camera with enough time to get the shot. As soon as he got the image, the clouds opened up and it started to pour rain. Despite the natural challenges, Joey and his crews ability to employ creative solutions meant he got every shot he needed wrapping up the shoot with aplomb.
Joey L Infuses Reality into Fantasy
The world of fantasy is exactly that: it is invented by the imagination, only inspired by real life. In that world, words on a page can create any image, no matter how impossible in reality. The mind can create environments, universes, and dimensions unfathomed by the natural laws of our world. These stories and ideas don’t exist in our world, so what’s a photographer to do when he has to put these images on film?
Photographer Joey L was faced with this exact challenge this season for the Starz series Black Sails. The show follows the golden age of Piracy in the Bahamas in the early 1700s, and for the promotional posters Starz wanted to highlight the drama. Illustrating the action, the cable network and Joey composed an impossible image: a pirate and a skeleton climbing the mast of a ship rapidly sinking in rough seas. This image would effectively be impossible to create “in camera” (taking a photo without any digital assistance). Typically when presented with the impossible, photographers lean heavily on retouching and some CGI, creating on a computer what cannot be created in real life for the camera. That’s industry standard, that’s what is expected of photographers. But Joey L approached this project in a different way, creating as much in camera as possible. “Oftentimes with composites it looks off because it’s just done with all different pieces or digital elements, but we thought this through,” Joey says, explaining how their process began.
Joey’s team set up a huge pool of water, and constructed the mast in it, at the angle it would appear in the images. He could have shot the image with the mast coming straight out of the water vertically and rotate it in post production, but tiny details like the way fabric hangs, or the model’s musculature would be slightly off. Even the skeleton was real. It wasn’t a real human skeleton, but the piece was there on the mast climbing with the model. “If you do composites, it’s nice to use organic elements because no amount of Photoshop wizardry is going to get past the weird uncanny valley that happens when everything’s fake,” Joey says, explaining the slight uneasiness that comes with looking at images that look almost real but not quite. That can only be accomplished with proper planning.
If every element is going to be photographed, they have to know in advanced what the final image is going to look like so everything can be captured perfectly. For example, Joey photographed the flag in the image separately. Since he knew exactly how it was going to lay out, he photographed it in such a way that it would fit in seamlessly. Even the waves were photographed in that pool, using a leaf blower blowing directly into the water. The careful measurement of each piece guaranteed they would all come together into an image that told the exact story necessary, no matter how impossible in our reality.
Check out the second season of Black Sails to premiere on Starz on January 24.
Joey L Comes Together with FEED
The Holiday Season is the perfect time to take stock and reflect on everything we have, everything we’re grateful for, and everything that opens our hearts. It’s the perfect time to regard the gifts we’ve been given, either through circumstance or direct generosity, and explore if there’s room for us to give back. Organizations like FEED Projects can use these impulses to change the lives of millions around the world. FEED sells products like bags and bracelets to source donations that they turn into meals around the world. Since 2007, more than 85 million meals have distributed thanks to FEED’s work, and this year for the first time they wanted to get the word out in a more traditional way. Lauren Bush Lauren, FEED’s founder, came together with her friend Joey L to conceive a campaign for their Holiday 2014 Collection, and the result was a series of celebrity portraits celebrating togetherness.
Even though the campaign was set to run in publications like Vanity Fair, Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar, like all non-profits, the need to keep costs low was tantamount, so that every dollar possible could go towards the ultimate mission of feeding the hungry. So, Joey L and the celebrity subjects had to get creative with coming together. “It is an honor to give my time to a charity and create something that would contribute to raising funds for a good cause, but I had already confirmed and held days for other projects,” Joey explains the challenge. In order to ensure the project would work to the greatest ends, Joey designed a consistent aesthetic highlighting the intimate goal, that way no matter how the shoot panned out, it would look perfect. Weaving in and out of other projects in his busy work life, Joey was still able to find a way to connect with Lauren Bush Lauren, and the deep roster of celebrities who came through his studio for the project.
With names like John Legend, Christina Tosi, and Jessica Alba, Joey and FEED included the brand’s celebrity ambassadors and influencers, using star power to bring attention to the cause. In each image they hold products from FEED’s product line, each emblazoned with the amount of meals provided or children helped per purchase. As these friendly and familiar faces hold onto the bags, we consider what they represent and remember that even though we may be far from those who need our help, there are still ways to come together in a global community and lend a hand.
Joey L Explores Halloween in Brooklyn
Halloween traditions vary from culture to culture. Although other places have taken on America's custom of donning costumes and roaming from home to home expecting candy, it is a uniquely American practice. In Mexico, they celebrate El Dia de los Muertos, paying homage to the dead and honoring their own lives. In China, food and water are left in front of photographs of dead relatives while fires and lanterns are lit to light the paths of the dead. For American kids, Trick or Treating is something to look forward to all year, but to an outsider it might seem a strange tradition. Joey L has spent the last four years trying to see this tradition with fresh eyes. “My goal for Halloween in Brooklyn is to view this local annual tradition through the eyes of a foreigner, lost in a childish sugar rush of both homemade and store-bought pop-culture costumes of the year,” Joey explains in his blog. “Photographing that which you are already familiar with has its own challenges. The things that would normally be exciting to an outsider become mundane to you, so as a photographer you have to force yourself to look at all these elements with new eyes.” Americans are used to seeing swarms of kids dressed up as witches, superheroes, and cultural archetypes with their palms wide open expecting processed sugar, so it is a challenge to see it again for the first time.
Every year on Halloween, Joey L reassumes the mantel of his ongoing project, “Halloween in Brooklyn,” traveling back to his old neighborhood, Bushwick, Brooklyn, to document this celebration. With a light crew and mobile equipment, Joey takes stock of costumes on the street as an encyclopedia of terrors and treats.
Costumes are incredibly personal. They can operate as an escape, assuming the identity of a figure more powerful, more in control. They can operate as an enhancement, parading a piece of the wearer’s identity that is normally kept hidden. They reveal secrets about the wearer, and Halloween is the high holiday of costuming. In Joey’s series we see the heart of Brooklyn, even though the concrete landscape is usually hidden behind a black backdrop. We witness the citizens, and their dreams of glory, or expression of the unfamiliar. We understand these people, perhaps deeper than if they were completely exposed.
Joey doesn’t get off scot-free during these shoots. Of course, all the subjects sign model releases, and Joey goes through all the proper channels. But payment is another story: “We give them a handful of candy for their time.” Very appropriate.
Joey L helps Warsteiner tell you to "Do It Right"
Warsteiner beer has been around since 1753, that’s 211 years of German hops, yeast, and malt. That makes Warsteiner older than The United States of America. If a brand has been around that long, it’s obvious they’re doing something right. They most recently started a new campaign, with photographer Joey L., to spread that message. To implore people that if you’re going to do anything, “Do It Right.”
In their own explanation of the campaign, Warsteiner said they looked to present “stories of people who do what [is right] for them. At the same time, the campaign asks everyone to stand up for whatever their individual pursuit might be.“ It’s about considering what actions you’re taking, and to do them full out without apology. When regular folks dive into their unique interests unbound there’s certainly going to be some surprising results.
Warsteiner tasked Joey L. with profiling three real-live Germans in and around Frankfurt, highlighting their own personal passions that they do right. Michael Maas rejects the spotlight, instead he fosters his passion for lighting musicians. Gabriele von Lutzau carves incredibly intricate and detailed wood sculptures using only a chainsaw. René Karg put together an office chair-racing league that has had its 3rd Annual Race with corporate sponsors like WD-40.
When a company is as established at Warsteiner, they can get caught in public opinion. Product centric campaigns are great for selling beer, but human centric campaigns sell ideas. Human campaigns sell slivers of a lifestyle. “They like to pair interesting, but real people with Warteiner,” Joey L. explains. For every person there’s a special passion, which means countless variation across infinite disciplines. But Joey used his acumen to keep the campaign feeling unified as one solid statement. “For all three of the pictures I tried to bring a sense of cohesion to how they feel.” He and Warsteiner chose a warm light for the whole campaign that groups them in the same world, despite the differences between specialties. Despite all their different interests Warsteiner can cover them all.
This campaign was a long time coming. Joey L. met with Amsterdam Worldwide about the possibility of working together 6 or 7 years ago. Not everything gets slapped together, sometimes it’s got to take time. Take time to work it out. Take time to do it right. In fact, when it came time to shooting René Karg between hay bails in a turn on the track, to get the shot just right, “I made them go down, probably a hundred times.” Joey L. had to make sure that they could Do It Right. And they did.
Stephen Wilkes, Jamie Chung, Jason Madara, and Joey L. Featured in PDN Photo Annual
Four Bernstein & Andriulli talents are featured in the 2014 PDN Photo Annual, which showcases the year's best imagery in advertising, magazine and editorial, photojournalism and documentary, corporate design and self-promotion, photo books, personal work, sports, stock, video, student work, and websites.
PDN included both Stephen Wilkes and Jamie Chung in the magazine/editorial category – Wilkes for his picture of the F-35 Lightning II a.k.a. the Joint Strike Fighter situated at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida (which ran in Vanity Fair) and Chung for capturing a series of kaleidoscopic floral compositions that were printed in Document Journal. Jason Madara's 2013-14 campaign for ABC Carpet & Home earned an Advertising mention for blurring the lines between nature and upholstery in a dramatic, yet harmonious environment. Joey L. completed the B&A crew, recognized for his tutorial-rich website.
The winners' work can be viewed in the June issue of Photo District News and online.
New Season of Nat Geo Channel's 'Life Below Zero' Premieres With Joey L. Promos
"To make a long story short, I had photographed some portraits in an indoor blizzard setting and shared them online," he explained on his blog. "The images were then shared around quite heavily … and got a lot of traction. L.A.-based design company Cold Open was in the process of pitching ideas to National Geographic Channel, and were chosen to lead the design and creative for the new campaign." Coincidentally, the group brought along Joey L.'s blizzard images as reference imagery, but wasn't aware that the photographer had worked with the channel before. Nat Geo Channel creative director Andy Baker and design director Carla Daeninckx mentioned it to Cold Open, which would ultimately pick the photographer, and everything fell into place in Joey L.'s favor.
He flew to Anchorage to shoot Sue Aikens, one of the program's subjects and the warden of Kavik River Camp, miles north of the Arctic Circle (and 500 miles from the nearest city and 80 miles from the closest road). "Although I think Sue is actually quite beautiful and charming in real life, the image of her chosen for the main key art isn't exactly flattering, but it is honest in representing exactly what the show is," Joey L. noted. "Sue didn't mind this either, and would rather be depicted authentically as someone facing a harsh climate rather than 'a girly-girl with a pink rifle,' as she put it." He added that aside from technical knowledge and artistry, portrait photographers have to develop social observational skills: "Sue is a lovable person and easygoing, but this is still the first time she's done a photo shoot like this. She hadn't met us previously ... we listened to what she had to say and made her part of the creative process. We did our research by watching episodes and reading material about her life, we took recommendations on what she'd actually wear and even the way she'd hold certain props or objects."
Joey L. also paid particular attention to creating the faux precipitation. "When it's extremely cold, snow is not puffy and large," he remarked. "Beyond making the light more dramatic and less feathered and soft, something as simple as reducing the size and speed of the snowflakes themselves could even change the feeling of the photograph."
The second season of "Life Below Zero" premieres Thursday, April 17 at 9 p.m. on the Nat Geo Channel.
Joey L. Scores With Lifetime's 'Gabby Douglas Story'
Lifetime sent Joey L. to Winnipeg, Canada, to photograph gymnast Gabby Douglas and actress Imani Hakim for its forthcoming movie about the Olympian.
"I needed to shoot a key visual of Gabby that could double as an image of Imani, who plays her from ages 14 to 16 in the film," explained Joey. "I decided to turn her profile, with half of her face in the dark, so the viewer isn't quite sure whether it's Gabby or Imani." He backlit the powder – "the real chalk she uses on her hands before she gets on the bars" – and left enough negative space for Lifetime to put in the title.
Lighting for this project was particularly important. "Winnipeg doesn't have a lot of gear and I could find only one background that was darker than white – a pale gray," the photographer said. "I placed it pretty far away from Gabby so it wouldn't collect any light and show up in camera as the color I wanted."
Joey called Douglas inspirational, noting, "What she does in life is much more difficult than any photo shoot, so it seemed easy for her to remain focused on set." Hakim is "super-cool, too," he added. "She was filming the same day and despite her jam-packed schedule, she was extremely patient."
"The Gabby Douglas Story" premieres on Lifetime February 1 at 8 p.m.
Lifetime Taps Joey L. for 'Flowers in the Attic' Promo
Joey L. captured Ellen Burstyn in-and out-of-character to promote Lifetime Movies' remake of "Flowers in the Attic." Burstyn was a patient subject, the photographer said, continuing, "Even after a career spanning over 60 years, she still is passionate about acting and everything that surrounds it."
For the pictures of her as ruthless grandmother Olivia Foxworth, Burstyn tried a range of expressions and made full use of the (little) set. "It was all made from scratch," Joey L. explained. "We began with a red background and added texture to that, had Ellen in the middle, and placed the vines in front of the lens to add greater depth. As she moved, the crew re-pinned the vines to her dress."
He noted that the lighting had to be precise. "I used a huge key light, some fill light, and white bounce because we wanted to make it dramatic and sinister, but without heavy shadows on her face. The larger light sources ensured a smooth and delicate gradient from light to dark."
'Killing Kennedy' by Joey L. for Nat Geo
Following his masterful "Killing Lincoln" ads, Joey L. once again partnered with the National Geographic Channel for the "Killing Kennedy" promos.
The campaigns share commonalities ("historical subjects are depicted outside of a moment, breaking 'the fourth wall' ... these photos are posed, lit in a studio, and removed from their surroundings," Joey L. wrote on his blog); however, a key difference kept him awake at night: "John F. Kennedy's legacy and unfortunate death are in the living memory of many people around the globe. There is no one on earth today that was alive during Abraham Lincoln’s assassination." As such, "For 'Killing Lincoln,' we were able to take certain artistic liberties ... [but] being so incredibly recent, depicting the assassination of President John F. Kennedy would require even more care."
Joey L. noted the entire team did plenty of research to prepare for the two-day shoot. "We read the book by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard that the TV movie is based on, which was factual and well-done," he told B&A. "We all watched a few documentaries and spent time on Google." It also helped to build a rapport with the actors. "One of my favorite pictures is of Ginnifer Goodwin crying and clutching Rob Lowe's arm. That emotion came from her – she's a great actress and she trusted us not to make it cheesy, so she went for it."
The photographer and production company Variable used the same stage setting, a rarity in the biz. "Often, the photo and video sets operate separately and there's no collaboration – the people might meet each other the day of the shoot – and that's so backwards," Joey L. said. "When I get a job like this, we talk about the images from the beginning: 'How can we make sets that work for video and stills?' 'How can we do everything with a constant light?' It results in higher production value for both."
Scroll to see his images and behind-the-scenes footage below.
Client: National Geographic Channel
Creative director: Andy Baker, Tyler Korba, and Brian Everett
Design director: Christos Devaris
Production manager: Kevin Lahr
Production company: Variable
Joey L Photographs Lavazza's Wimbledon Campaign
Joey L. photographs the campaign celebrating Lavazza's long-lasting tradition being an official sponsor of Wimbledon. The sport's umpires, stewards, ball boys and girls are pictured drinking from Lavazza espresso cups and are wearing Wimbledon's classic navy blazers. The print ads are displayed prominently around the United Kingdom on billboards, in magazines, on Lavazza's official site, social networks and oh, also the London tube!
Photographer: Joey L.
Agency: Neri Wolff
Production: Patricia McMahon
Co-Ordination and Supervision: Lavazza Advertising and Digital Marketing Department
Retouching: Joey L, Pratik Naik & Nick Leadlay