arts 11.3.05

Joe Holmes

Who's Joe?

That's one of the questions we get asked most frequently around here, by readers who've come to love the Joe's NYC daily photo as much as, or more than, MUG itself.

We've never met Joe, never even knew what he looked like until yesterday, when we asked for a self-portrait (pictured).

All we knew is there was this guy capturing the city day after day in invariably breathtaking ways on his photoblog. When we asked him this past February if we could feature his work on MUG, he said yes — a major piece of good fortune for us.

Today seemed like the right day to feature Joseph O. Holmes, as he's formally known, because he's part of an emerging photographer show called "Hot Shots" at the Jen Bekman Gallery, 6 Spring [Eliz/Bowery] 212.219.0166, that runs through this Sunday. Here's what he told us about himself:
Making a connection between my photos and the tiny steel town in Pennsylvania where I grew up gets more strained every time I'm asked for an Artist's Bio. Certainly art runs in my family. My father was an art student for a time and remains an avid photographer (as well as my mentor). It was in his darkroom that I first learned that photos can be more than snapshots. And I find photography extremely satisfying because it scratches the dual itches of deep creativity and technical geekiness.

One thing I love about street photography is that it feels infinitely deep. After years of shooting strangers on the streets, it's still challenging, fresh, fun. I've got a lot yet to learn, but at the same time, I come home every day excited to see what I've captured.

I've shot in other cities, but there's nothing like NYC. I've never visited another city that offers half as much happening on the streets. In fact, as much as I love Paris, it was a struggle to get a photo that isn't already a postcard. The downside to New York is that we've become very jaded about being photographed. Every other pedestrian carries a camera, and people react with more annoyance every day.

I use a Nikon D70; my walkaround lens is the Nikkor 12-24mm. I love shooting with the wide angle partly because it's a great landscape lens for cityscapes, but mostly because it forces me to get in very close to strangers for a capture. The closer I get, the more immediate and immersive the result.

The most common question I'm asked is whether I ask permission before I shoot people. With very rare exceptions, never. Asking permission results in a portrait, and I'm not interested in a portrait. Asking permission kills the chance of a capture like this.

The other common question is how I catch people without being noticed. Actually, I'm noticed all the time, but I try to catch people unaware, and my method is not complicated. I use a very wide lens (usually 12mm, sometimes even a fisheye), I get very, very close, I shoot while I move, and once I shoot, I don't look back.

A technical trick is to set the camera to auto aperture mode at its widest aperture. Camera geeks will see that this makes for a shallow depth of field, but the bonus is that it keeps the camera at the fastest shutter speed available, very important to freeze the action in the constantly changing shadow and light on the street. Thank goodness for automatic exposure.

Much has been written about how digital cameras have opened up creativity by accelerating the learning curve. But I think the real revolution comes from the triple whammy of digital photography, high-end home printing (without which I could never have afforded sixty prints for last year's solo show in Idaho), and, most important, the photoblog. Before the Web, it was all but impossible to show photos to more than a handful of people. Nowadays, a Web page of daily photos can be seen by thousands, even tens of thousands, of viewers all over the world. Without a photoblog, my work would never have been discovered for gallery shows, freelance work — or syndication on MUG.

My influences are so obvious as to be trivial (Winogrand, Arbus, Leavitt, etc.), but I do love to point out some of my favorite photographers: Thomas Roma, Gregory Crewdson, Bruce Gilden, and fellow NYC photobloggers Keith Kin Yan, Rion Nakaya, and Eliot Shepard, among many others.

Advice for photographers? Sit down and take a good look at your day's shots, figure out what didn't work, take your camera out the next day and avoid those mistakes. Repeat daily forever.
It was close, but it turns out Jennifer Leuzzi over at Snack beat us to the post about the new NYC Michelin ratings. In such things, though, a miss is as good as a mile and we wanted to set the record straight. Toques off to you, Jennifer.

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