Russell Joslin interview
Blue Mitchell: How long have you been shooting self-portraits?
Russell Joslin: For about 15 years. I had done some before that, but not with serious intent.
Can you remember your first successful self-portrait? How did it come about?
I really can’t remember a specific image that I would call my first success. I came to self-portraiture gradually. In school and for several years following, I normally photographed friends as my subjects. I would do an occasional self-portrait when I didn’t have anyone available to photograph, but it wasn’t a big part of my work. When I began doing self-portraits with more frequency several years down the road, and they began to emerge to the forefront of my work, it was primarily a decision based on convenience—I was always available, would do anything I asked of myself, and could work whenever the conditions were right.
What drives you to continue working in this way?
The idea that self-portraits cut to the chase of what is personal. Conveying something personal is what I ultimately want to do with my work regardless of who or what the subject is. So what drives me to shoot self-portraits is what drives me to be a photographer in general. It’s what I’ve found in my life that gives it a lot of personal meaning. It’s when I’m working that I feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to do. My life is immersed in photography and art—my own work and that of others. It’s the primary filter I see my life through. It’s the context in which I often think about things, even when I’m not making photographs (which is most of the time). It is often the means I use to communicate something about myself, to express thoughts, ideas and questions. I think this is mostly what drives me.
My life is immersed in photography and art—my own work and that of others. It’s the primary filter I see my life through.
In your artist statement, you state that you see your “photographs as visual manifestations of my subconscious mind”. When you are shooting do you find yourself shooting with a specific intent in mind or are you working more organically, or rather more abstractly?
I guess the best way I could put it is that I’m shooting intuitively. That’s not to be mistaken for “haphazardly”. It took me years of work and growth (and not just in photography) to get to the point to where I could trust my intuition and to let go a little bit. I’m not one who feels he has to explain his every motive, but I think there is meaning in my work, and sometimes I don’t discover that meaning until after the fact. It’s as though I understand things on a subconscious level, and it takes my photographs, or dreams, for these things to be revealed consciously. More recently, in an effort to challenge myself and mix things up a little bit, I’ve been approaching my work with a more planned approach, and sometimes even playing characters in my self-portraits. Even so, I usually tend to leave some room for things to happen instinctively.
It’s as though I understand things on a subconscious level, and it takes my photographs, or dreams, for these things to be revealed consciously.
Technically speaking, what are your favorite tools of the trade?
I’m very simple technically: one camera (Mamiya 645), one or two lenses, one type of film and a tripod.
What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of self-portraiture?
Not being able to compose my body through the viewfinder. Sometimes when I’m photographing others, it feels like a luxury, to be able to compose looking through the camera. Having said this, I like the challenge and the surprise of later seeing what the photograph looks like when I process film. Sometimes it’s frustrating, and I’ll wish that I would have been just a little more this way or that. In rare cases, it can work the other way too, where I don’t get what I was attempting at the time of the shoot, but the resulting image is surprising and better than what I was attempting.
How did you become the Editor and Publisher of SHOTS magazine?
In the 90’s, I used to submit photographs to Shots and did some writing/interviews with the previous editor, Robert Owen. When he tired of doing the magazine and wanted to find a new editor, I had emerged, in his mind, as a good candidate, and eventually took over the publication.
What is the most rewarding aspect of curating and reviewing portfolios for publication consideration?
Having the first-hand access to so much good work by so many wonderful photographers, and being able to share this work with others. I learn from the photographers I come in contact with by looking at their work, corresponding with them, and sometimes befriending them. I feel very lucky in these ways and hope that those who are a part of Shots benefit in the same ways as well.
How do you find the balance between being an active photographer and being a curator of photography?
I don’t feel like I do find a balance… I struggle with that. I don’t feel like I give my personal work enough attention. I need to find a way to better balance the two, as the demands of my editor-self outweigh those of my photographer self. I do love what I do though—I love being an editor and see it as an extension of my personal vision. I think that even though I’m editing other people’s photographs in Shots (or elsewhere), there’s an imprint of “me” that comes through.