Ian MacDonald, on giving a creative friend some advice in a time of doubt:
Success is really an iceberg. On the surface you see the rewards and accolades, but underneath it is nothing but blood, sweat, failure, hard work, frustration, set backs, disappointment, and resistance.
Among the urbex/abandoned community on Instagram, I try to look for photographers who do it well, and have a personal style that’s recognizable. James Joyner is one of my favorites, and we’ve collaborated in the past on each other’s work. Jimmy’s style has really grown into its own, and I love seeing the locations he finds on his adventures.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is James Joyner and I’m a radiological aide at a local hospital in Maryland, USA.
How did you get started in photography?
My parents got me my first “real” camera, a Nikon 35mm N2000, back when I was a junior in high school, where I first started really learning how to compose photos and work the controls. For my high school grad gift, I got myself my first DSLR, a Nikon D60, where I really started coming into my own and learning what I liked to photograph.
What do you like about your photography?
That’s a tough one… I guess if I were a third party looking at my photography, I’d say that I really liked the way I try to channel a scene’s darker side. I’ve always been a fan of darker styles of photography… I believe the shadows can add to a photo just as much as the light does (if not, more). In a sense, I like to work the lighting in a scene to enhance the darkness.
I’d also say that I really like that I shoot abandonment, but in the context of the surrounding landscape and scenery. I think there’s a deeper and a sadder story to tell about an abandoned house when you add elements such as the sky and the overgrowing grass around it.
Where do you get inspiration for your style/ideas?
I get my inspiration for my style and ideas primarily from the music I listen to, films/shows I love, and from other artists whose work I follow on Instagram.
Films/shows that really inspire my work include ones like I Am Legend, The Road, War of the Worlds, The Walking Dead, and other post-apocalyptic pieces such as those. I have a huge obsession with that genre… Sometimes when I’m editing a photo I’ll think something like, “I want this house to look like a scene straight out of The Walking Dead. I want the viewers mind to race when looking at this house, thinking thoughts such as ‘what happened here? Is there anything lurking in those shadows? Is there something written in blood on the walls inside that house somewhere?’” I want to create those thoughts in people’s heads.
Your work focuses on on a lot of spooky situations and abandoned properties. What excites you about shooting in these situations?
The story behind why a place is abandoned. The unknown of what I’ll find upon investigation of the place. Getting that ONE shot that makes the entire shoot worth doing. Getting caught by either the angry owner/the police on a property for which I haven’t necessarily gotten permission to shoot. All things that are racing through my mind while on shoots.
Honestly that latter thought tends to occupy my mind a little more than I’d prefer… but that’s all part of the game. It makes getting that one beautiful shot all the more rewarding.
What kinds of themes do you like to explore with your work?
The major theme I like to explore is Life After Humans. The History channel did an entire series on what happens on a grander scale if people were to vanish tomorrow, and I like to channel that on a little bit more personal level with my work.
Any upcoming projects or shoots you’re working on?
I’m working on a project at the moment for a @pr0ject_uno story takeover on Instagram. They have been doing it with some amazing artists so far, and it’s an absolute honor that they thought of me for this. My theme is going to be rural abandonment. Make sure to keep an eye on their account and their story for the takeover!
As for shoots… that’s the part that’s so cool about shooting abandonment the way I do. New shoots present themselves every time I go out and randomly drive around or explore a new spot. It could be tomorrow that I find the coolest house I’ve ever come across.
There’s an abandoned middle school I plan on hitting soon very close by… I just got a brand new Sigma 20mm Art lens, so that will be my saving grace inside that place.
I try to think of my photography as a daily practice. Even if I don’t make a photograph every day, I still do some action involved with the art.
One of those practices is to upload a photo (or two) to Flickr every weekday. Just one will do, although Flickr shows at least five of your recent uploads in the People section. One photo says, this is a thing I do every day.
To keep track of my daily Flickr photo, I have a bucket of photos to upload in Aperture (and eventually, a Lightroom catalog). Each morning, I select one of those pictures, and send it off to Flickr. After the upload, I pick an album, and then add it to a few relevant groups. If I missed any keywords, I’ll add those in Flickr, too.
After doing this for a few years, a few trends pop up.
For one, the best photos seem to get uploaded the soonest. Maybe I’m excited to share them, or maybe the photo follows a theme. Then, the not-so-good photos drop to bottom of the Flickr bucket. Maybe I’m less excited about sharing those. The system is self filtering: eventually, all those photos at the bottom of the bucket get purged.
Two, to keep it interesting for myself, sometimes I’ll assign theme days to my upload. Monday can be for film photos, Friday is for iPhone photos, etc.
And three, while it’s not an end goal, making Flickr’s “Explore” listing is a fun accomplishment. You can learn how to game the system, but for me, earning an “Explore” requires a great photo shared with the right groups. That’s it. Before I upload a photo, sometimes I’ll think, “This is an ‘Explore’ photo,” but it doesn’t make the listing. Other days, a photo I paid little attention to earns “Explore.” Some of it’s luck, but a lot of it is the quality of the photo.
I still love Flickr, and I’ve made it a daily ritual to support the site and share my work. My system keeps it easy for me to keep the daily practice.
Fifty here. Thirty six there. Even my modest Canon 6D has 20 megapixels. Any of these photo sizes feel too big for my creaky old 2009 21.5″ iMac. Editing a 6D RAW image, especially in Photoshop, always grinds my system to a halt.
You know what doesn’t? Photos from my classic Canon 5D. At 12 megapixels, my aging editing system has no problem processing those RAW files. It’s one of those hidden benefits of using an older camera: processing and editing is a snap. Even DP Review mentioned what a breath of fresh air the “small” file sizes of the original 5D were.
Ask anyone who’s had to promote a project – a book, a gallery showing, a performance – and they’ll probably tell you how exhausting it can feel. Especially if the project is close to their heart, and especially if the person tends toward introversion.
It feels like you put your heart and effort into something, and then you have to put your heart and effort into making sure enough people (a) care and (b) hear about it to be interested. Yelling is tiring, even when it’s about yourself.
Some people are pretty good at this. But when I think about it, usually those folks are speaking to a big enough audience that cares. They hit (a) and (b) from above every time they promote something.
My projects started small: a portrait project here, a documentary there, each with a modest built-in audience. They cared. Over time, the number of people who knew about me grew.
Organic growth means taking the long view. Person by person, project by project, you’re increasing the number of people who know what you do. It takes patience, and planning, and a bit of humility. But I love the process.
Dampen your expectations on the first few projects, because it’s going to take time to reach people that care. Start making stuff that people might have an interest in (that’s the first part) so that, for the next project, they’ll hear about it (the second part). Each time might just get easier.
If you make stuff – write, photograph, film, dance – now’s your chance to feature those individuals. Tell their stories. Express their fears. Make their voice heard. Do more than take crowd shots. Take on City Hall.
It’s easy to ignore a “Photoshopped” crowd shot of protestors. But it’s harder to dismiss our neighbors (or refugees) face-to-face.