Meet Josh Rose, street photographer / fellow cinemagraph maker based in Los Angeles. One of our best street photography interviews so far this year.
Q: Josh, you're a street photographer split between Los Angeles and New York, tell us a little about you:
I’d say I’m pretty purely a Los Angeles street photographer - that’s where I live. But my work takes me to New York quite a bit, so that’s why you see New York images among the others. I make my living in advertising and marketing where I’m chief creative officer of an agency called Weber Shandwick. But photography and artistic exploration for me started very young. I was always that kid – drawing, gluing things, playing music, doing magic shows. I grew up around a lot of creativity and weirdness. Directors, musicians, artists, drug dealers and pornographers. It was the Seventies in Southern California. But there was also a lot of support for creativity in my family. And because people were around so much, I gathered a very eclectic education. A musician would stop by the house and while there teach me a lick on the guitar. An artist would show me how to shade a sphere. Eventually, someone put a camera in my hands and took me to a darkroom. That one really stuck and I’ve been doing it ever since. Some years more than others. Things have been good lately. I’m working toward a show of all new work in November.
Q: What attracts you to Street Photography?
Street photography is very unique. When you are staying true to the idea of it, there is no way to corrupt it. As soon as you use models or lights or stage it in any way, it stops being street photography, just by definition. So, it keeps you centered and concentrated on exactly what it is, which is fairly straight-forward. It is solely about what you see and how you frame. Which is a deceivingly simple set of rules. Like saying cooking is simply about mixing ingredients and heating it up. But I enjoy the singleness of a goal that relies only on your creativity, not on market or production value. It’s a relatively unheralded medium, but it stays very true to itself.
Also, the actual physical act of doing photography is just very satisfying to me. I like to observe the world. I like to imagine the symbolic meanings of things. I also like imagery and design, typography and texture, light and shadow. The whole thing just kind of sets me on fire. Every time I go out I’m as excited as a little kid.
Q: You run workshops, how important do you think they are and what do you feel you can teach people?
I consider myself a student of photography first. And I have taken a lot of workshops myself. I took one just four weeks ago with Mary Ellen Mark, who just passed away. To be honest, I rarely learn what I set out to learn, but I do learn every time, nonetheless. The very best thing about a workshop is that it forces you to immerse yourself in shooting for a longer time, and in a more focused way, than you would normally. It’s an excuse to obsess on it, be self-indulgent and take a ton of photos. Which is always good.
In my workshops, I’m very specific about what we’re going to learn. I try to make sure they come away with a tangible set of tools, and a fun experience. And I have a companion book (it’s available on my website: joshrosephotographs.com) that covers all of it, so they can refer back to the principles. The biggest thing that someone would learn from my workshop is that a great street photo is not something you chance upon. There are techniques that ensure you get good images. Do it enough and you’ll get a great image. I try to take the mystery out of it.
Q: You shoot a majority of black and white. Is it something you decide at the time of shooting, in the moment, or do you convert in post?
I shoot with a Leica M Typ240, a full frame digital rangefinder. 90% of the time with the 35mm Summicron. I keep my preview in black and white and I shoot entirely with black and white photography in mind. The files are RAW but I convert them all quickly to black and white upon import. I go through, do my edits and then sometimes I will make virtual copies of a few of my favorites and see how they look in color. Then, when they look good, I question my whole existence. But my mindset is in black and white.
Q: Cinemagraphs for street photography. I have been producing a few street cinemagraphs myself (actually I've completely fallen for them), could you tell us a little more? What does it bring you that still photographs don't?
I’d actually seen some of your London Cinemagraphs before you reached out and they inspired me to really get into it. I’m very interested in the world that one makes as a street photographer. I think that becomes your signature. When I look at other photographers, it’s the first thing I look for – their special take on the world. A Cinemagraph, gives you the ability to do more with that world you’re creating. You’re making someone feel even more like they are there. I find it works best when it doesn’t jar you too much. When you’re not oohing and ahing over the magic of it and finding yourself just kind of taken by the beauty of the entire captured moment.
Q: One word to describe your life if photography wasn't in it?
Q: Do you draw inspiration from others or do you try to avoid that?
I do draw inspiration from others. What’s hard for me is that what I like to do is, actually, very specific. It’s not fashion. It’s not reportage. It’s not documentary. I’m not trying to make a statement or use the camera as a “tool for social reform.” I find all that to be a distraction from the art of it. All I’m interested in is creating a harmonious image of interconnected elements, using people and environments of the everyday. And I want to try to get it to be as alluring, interesting and beautiful as possible. With that specific of a goal, there are actually not a lot of people to turn to. I look to the work of Joel Meyerowitz for inspiration a lot. I learn a lot from his body of work and from his approach. And Robert Frank, of course.
Q: How is street photography different between Los Angeles and New York?
There’s the storied differences that everyone knows: New York has a very distinct look. The city is larger than the people. And Los Angeles is a study in contrasts: Skid Row to surf culture. But there’s a new phenomenon happening in Los Angeles that is really interesting. Slowly, over the last few decades, Downtown Los Angeles has transformed itself from a never-visit ghost town into one of the most creative cultural destinations in the world. But not in a way that has displaced the true Los Angelenos. So, it’s all intermixed: young and old, those on the rise and those who’ve fallen, students and homeless, the self-conscious and the unaware, haute cuisine and street tacos. The diversity and energy in downtown right now is off the charts. I spent a lot of time in New York, in the Eighties. There are some distinct similarities. The greatest irony of all is that I’m totally comfortable shooting in New York, but Los Angeles feels dangerous.
Q: If you could give one single piece of advice to a budding street photographer what would it be?
Henri Cartier-Bresson said it best, “Your first ten thousand photos are your worst.”
(Link: Top 50 Best Photography Quotes)
Thanks very much Josh! You put in words feelings and thoughts I'm sure a lot will relate to.