Joel Addams is an adventure photographer who doesn’t shoot hardcore action, a travel photographer who gets up close and personal to his subjects. He’s an editorial and commercial photographer, a professor and a student, a curator and an artist. He is a multi-talented creator of imagery that uses emotion and mood to focus on details, like stones on a cairn, or on a more grand scale, like the magnitude of a mountain. His dream-like photos are imbued with a sense of calm and stillness, the moments influenced by his cinematography sentiments.
You can see more of his outdoor, lifestyle and travel images here.
Aurora Photos: Can you speak to the premise behind your course at the University of Utah, “Photography as Communication, Art and Catalyst”, and the fascination with the art of observing vs. seeing?
Joel Addams: I was given a unique opportunity to teach in the Honors College at the University of Utah. I taught in a fashion course that looked at photography in the 20th century as much more than pictures: as a method for social and political change, and a mode of fashion styling and propagation, as a personal expression. We looked at war photography, fashion photography, art photography, commercial photography, and everything in between. It was interesting for me to delve deeper into those areas. I probably learned more than the students, to be honest. It’s amazing how photography is such a part of the historical record, but more than that, is a mode of change as well.
[Au]: In 2014 you released the “Before I Burn” documentary about cornea extraction in Nepal. What brought you to this subject matter? How has being a still photographer informed your abilities as a filmmaker?
JA: I was in Nepal in 2006 when I was doing ophthalmology research at the Tilganga Eye Institute in graduate school. I was taken to the Pashupatinath Temple across the road to see the cremations and how the technicians worked. For “developed” countries, we are not used to the processes around death, but in Nepal and many other countries, the families prepare their relatives after they die, transport them to the temple for cremation, and perform most of the rites around the funeral. I was fascinated by the process around this, the visually interesting process and closeness of the family to their deceased loved ones. Then of course, following the corneas (just the thin clear outer portion of the eye) into surgeries and seeing the positive results was fascinating. I shot around this subject matter with the access of the hospital, and then wanted to film the process later on, starting a documentary in 2010 and finishing in 2013. Still photography was an excellent way to learn techniques of cinematography and the difficult process of learning how to tell a story visually. Filmmaking involves so much more to think about for documentary work with each portion of filmmaking its own world. Now I try to involve as many professionals as possible in my filmmaking.
[Au]: It appears you have a deep respect and appreciation for all concentrations of art, even curating your own personal collection. What do you look for when purchasing a new piece? How do these pieces mesh with your own work?
JA: I’ve met a lot of photographers and filmmakers who look to other media for inspiration. Writing, music, film, painting, sculpture are very inspirational to me. Several good friends of mine, Zachary Proctor, Lane Bennion, CJ Hales, are all professional painters and have really been inspirational in terms of career, artistic understanding, and new ways of seeing. I would say their friendships have been invaluable to photography and filmmaking for me. I collect paintings for so many reasons. Maybe I love it because it has a quality that is so different from a photograph. I don’t choose paintings: they choose me! I don’t have specific things I look for. I’m not sure I know how my tastes in paintings mesh with my own work, though I think over the years, we have sometimes influenced each other.
[Au]: What ignited your passion for the outdoors, and how has it broadened your creative perspective?
JA: My dad was brought up fishing the rivers around Pinedale, Wyoming and then he started backpacking the Wind Rivers – something that became rather sacred for my father. He never wanted to backpack anywhere else, actually. He started inviting me along around the age of ten, before we had any fancy outdoor clothing. We backpacked in jeans and t-shirts and external frame backpacks. I think we all enter photography from a love of something, and for so many of us, landscape photography is a beautiful entrance. Over the years, I have loved the exploration into other areas of photography, but will never pass up a good landscape. There is something really calm and fulfilling about being alone in the outdoors in good light. Don McCullin seems to have found a space in the landscape again after his many years of photographing war. It seems like a place we can all go to return to something.
[Au]: Given your experience in both photography and educating others through workshops, what are some life lessons that you want to share with budding photographers?
JA: People starting to photograph seriously should look at as many photographs and photographers as possible early on. It seems important to explore all the avenues of photography; they’re so different. In addition, I worry sometimes when photographers seem guided by the concept of “what sells”. They may move away from images they really enjoy, but may take longer to establish a clientele from that particular style. The happiest and most successful photographers seem to be true to themselves and eventually find markets for their photography. I remember that I was scoffed at very early on for exhibiting a large portrait of a man in Nepal, being told by another photographer “that will never sell.” I’m glad I didn’t listen to him.
We’re also glad Joel didn’t listen! Otherwise, we wouldn’t have his fantastic outdoor, lifestyle and travel images on our site