This is an interview with a musician and a song writer.
This is an interview with a photographer with a passion for film photography.
This is also an interview with a professional photographer printed in SPIN, Rolling Stone, GQ, UNCUT, LA Times, The New York Times… and yes the list goes on.
Joshua Black Wilkins expresses himself through his voice and through his eyes and I wanted to know how he relates with his tools of the trade… guitars and cameras.
Well… it all led to songs and photographs, black cats and diptychs, Nashville and tintypes, honesty and honestly…
Thank you Joshua for making this possible.
Hat’s off to you sir.
For the last few days I’ve been browsing your website, listening to your songs and reading about you. You use music and photography to express yourself creatively and they always connect. Even you do “professional” work, it’s all about music, musicians… or, in a wider range, about a way of life.
Who is Joshua Black Wilkins? The guy who picks up his camera first, his guitar first, both, none…
I am a musician first,. It has always been first priority though Photography has become my main source of income and I have certainly gained a lot of attention for it in the past couple years.
Guitar players and their guitars, photographers and their cameras.
Do you relate with both your “work tools” in an emotional level, or are they just tools?
For the most part, my guitars and my cameras are just tools. I like “cool” guitars, and I like “cool” cameras, but they have to work WITH me and FOR me. Like my favorite guitars, a camera must inspire me to make a photograph with it.
You worked as an assistant for a lot of great photographers and, of course, you must have seen a lot of changes in the photo industry. You lived those changes and you can make a beautiful tintype or deliver a great set of digital images for a world renowned magazine. You can use as easily an old developing process or a high quality digital camera. Do you feel you’re using the best of both worlds?
As far as my assisting career, it was a fantastic experience. I DID get to work with the “best of the best” in the commercial music industry, and I learned something valueable every day. I know what it is like to work under a huge amount of stress and I know what it is like to be on a $100,000 photo production, but what assisting taught me most was knowing what I DON’T want to do with photography. I don’t want to rely on high end technology to make the shot. I started doing photography in the mid 90’s, so I understood film and I have always had the intention of getting the photograph made “in camera”. Of course I use a lot of digital technology in all of my work, but again, they are just tools.
I know you prefer large format photography but for someone doing photography for as long as you are I’m sure you’ve used every device capable of capturing light so why large format?
Large format photography makes me concentrate a lot more of getting the shot right the first time. I have to breathe more, concentrate on focus, composition, and exposure. I can force myself to do an entire shoot in 12 frames instead of 1200 with digital. I am also very comfortable using a large format (4×5) camera. I feel very in control, and I know that the camera must work with me.
I asked this same question to Benjamin Goss and I think it also applies to your work: Do you feel that posing in front of a large format camera brings out more “respect” for the moment, for the medium, for the photographer? Do you think it influences the attitude of the people you portrait?
When my subjects pose in from of a large format camera, I do think that they have more respect for me, the camera and the moment. They know what I am doing is important and that when I am ready to make the photo, they too must be ready to GIVE me a photo. Things get quiet, it becomes only about me, the subject, and the large camera in between us.
You make a lot of diptychs. It’s a very specific thing about your style… can you please elaborate a bit about that?
I have always like diptychs. I am a very symmetrical person and like to have things in my life that balance each other. Although a great photograph should tell a story in a single image, I DO like to see two aspects of a single idea.
I’ve seen images from you taken with a medium format Mamiya, Kiev, of course the 4×5… when we open your camera cabinet what would we find there?
If you came into my office, you would see cameras everywhere, along with boxes of polaroids, stacks of prints, shelves full of film binders, two black cats and cases full of cameras. but I only “collect” cameras that I could actually use, so anything camera related in my house is also very usable.
After so many years doing photography do you still do any darkroom work?
Developing, printing? Does the “process” still thrills you?
I use my darkroom for developing film and tintypes. I don’t make wet prints, but do develop all my own black and white film at home. It is always thrilling to develop a roll or sheets of film. There is that magic that will never go away for me.
From all the things I’ve read about you what impresses me the most is feeling that you’ve walked a long path, but also a certain one. Your images and your music are tied together, it’s your style I’m talking about. I’m listening to Gone, Gone, Gone and I’m wondering about the importance of a specific place on what you are now, both as a song writer, photographer and as a person… Nashville.
I don’t try to separate my music from my photography, but I don’t try to tie them together either. I am just as passionate about them both and I do approach them very similarly when it comes to the creative processes. More now than ever, I only care about making honest art. I have to feel it and I have to believe in it. If I don’t, than the listener or viewer won’t either.
Nashville is a very inspiring place. There is a huge community of creative and multi-talented people here and I have chosen to surround myself with other people that I can feed off of creatively.
Both your images and music make me feel they are the visual and the poetic result of an… heritage. Cultural, social, geographic… I can’t explain it better. It’s that path again. Are you what you shoot and what you sing?
I am not trying to single-handedly “bring anything back” or keep things traditional. I have a lot of respect for the fundamentals of photography and the fundamentals of great music, but I do live in the present and I do attempt to make modern art with the tools that I have.
Is honesty the best way to go Joshua? Are “honest portraits” the best kind of portraits?
I will always feel that “honestly” is more important. It may not be classically beautiful or socially acceptable, but it is what I have to be proud of. My phone could stop ringing tomorrow and I would still have to make honest photographs (and music) for myself.
Is that what you are after when you sing or take a shot? Does the guitar or the camera really matter or are they just tools?
I do take good care of my tools (guitars, cameras, etc) because I respect them as tools and I need them to work with me. but I could write a song on a very cheap guitar and I can make a photograph with anything that reads and records light, so in the end, I have to be the best tool in the shed.