“My wife and I planned a major renovation a few years ago and turned the three dark rooms on our ground floor into one, long open floor with glass doors looking out into our back yard. The garden end of the floor turned into my studio, a combination of post-production shop on my Mac and home photo studio with a backdrop and lights.
Though I love working with cameras and lights and lenses and software, the favorite tool I’ve picked up in the last year or so is the rotary paper cutter. It’s such a joy cutting printer paper after using the old guillotine/arm style.
One of the great things about the studio is, of course, that it’s in my home — I have one of those pajama commutes when I’m working in the studio. And it’s only two and a half blocks to Prospect Park where I shot (and continue to shoot) my Urban Wilderness Series. Another wonderful thing about the studio is that my wife’s office is at the other end of the floor, so she’s always available for consultations on my work. “
Joseph O. Holmes was born in 1954 and raised in a tiny factory town in rural Pennsylvania where his father taught him how to develop and print photos in the home darkroom. His photos have been exhibited in dozens of shows across the country and are featured in the international survey Photography Now: One Hundred Portfolios. Joe was one of four photographers in the national print campaign “Stunning Nikon,” which appeared in National Geographic, People and many other magazines in 2005 and 2006. As part of Berlin Meets New York, 28 photos from his series, joy’s nyc, were displayed on multimedia screens in Berlin subway trains in 2006. For more than three years, his daily photographs of New York City have been syndicated in Charlie Suisman’s Manhattan User’s Guide. Joe’s short stories have appeared in the literary journals Phantasmagoria, the North Atlantic Review and Pikeville Review. He lives and works in Brooklyn.
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
JOSEPH O. HOLMES: I’ve always got two or three projects going (only some of which I’ll end up showing). And because I love getting out and shooting New York City for my photoblog joe’s nyc, I discover many of my projects as I explore the city.
I head for those narrow NYC streets and alleys that are in the shade of tall buildings.
JOH: I love a shot I took of my wife and my infant son Julian as he nuzzled her face. I took the photo about twenty years ago and I’ve had it somewhere around the house ever since. It’s now right in the middle of my desk.
FYD: What is your favorite or most required work tool?
JOH: I’ve always been on a quest for a camera that’s totally transparent. And though no camera could even be truly transparent, my Nikon D700 is the closest I’ve come yet. I love using it. It’s at the point where I simply don’t think about it any more; it’s like an extension of my hand and my eye. If only it were a couple pounds lighter.
FYD: Your dad taught you how to develop film; was he a professional photographer?
JOH: My dad was a very talented amateur, though sadly he sold his Leica as soon as my sister and I got old enough to start shooting; he traded it in for an SLR that would be easier for us kids to learn. By the time I was in junior high I was shooting a lot and using the darkroom, and he had completely given up the hobby.
My favorite days of shooing are those I spend shooting with my daughter…
FYD: Do you still visit the darkroom?
JOH: I haven’t used a darkroom for a long, long time. I haven’t shot more than three or four rolls of film in the past six years. My daughter, however, has adopted the family’s Nikon FM2 and she loves shooting film, as well as instant photos with her Fuji Instax camera. She’s very very good, certainly better than I was in high school.
FYD: How do you approach shooting in New York in terms of light, view, angle?
JOH: Light is always the toughest thing. On a sunny day, it’s simply too contrasty to shoot the look I want, so I head for those narrow NYC streets and alleys that are in the shade of tall buildings. One of my favorite streets is Crosby Street, where the light is always soft and even. I spent a large part of this past October and November down in Zuccotti Park shooting portraits, which was wonderful because it’s shaded by buildings all day long. But for the most part, I take care of desk business on sunny days and head out into the streets on cloudy days.
FYD: Do you set out to shoot with a plan of action or does the spirit of the day move you?
JOH: On days when I’m working a specific project, I know exactly what I want to accomplish — which doesn’t mean it necessarily works out that way. But if I have a free day, when I’m free to explore, I set out with a couple destinations but no other plan. I may start in the Lower East Side and work my way across town looking for inspiration and trying out new ideas.
FYD: I’ve long loved your Workspace series. How did the project come about and what attracted you to those industrial spaces?
JOH: I used to stumble across some beautiful work desks as I wandered the city, and I’d make a mental note of the location and return in a day or two with a tripod. Then I’d stop in unannounced and explain that I was photographing workspaces and ask permission to shoot. I didn’t want to call ahead because I wanted to capture the spaces as they were — cluttered, not cleaned up and neatened. I’m not totally sure what attracts me to those spaces. I’ve always loved pouring over all the tiny accumulated details of someone else’s life.
I wanted to capture the spaces as they were — cluttered, not cleaned up and neatened.
FYD: In the vein of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, if you could transform yourself into a New York City era, where would you go?
JOH: I’ve always thought it would be grand to live in NYC between the mid-50s and the mid-60s. When I was very young in the mid-sixties, my parents brought my sister and me on a trip to Manhattan to visit my aunt, who lived on Jane Street. I can still vividly picture Chinatown, the Village, the subways. The music, the art, things were changing so fast and so wildly.
FYD: What is one of your top days of shooting and why?
JOH: My favorite days of shooing are those I spend shooting with my daughter: either taking her photo, or shooting side by side, or helping her with something she’s shooting.