Hailing from Miami Beach but now based in New York City, up-and-coming photographer Joshua Aronson is on a path to success and shows no signs of slowing down. At the age of twenty-three, he was one of the youngest photographers to be featured in The New York Times and he has already shot for the likes of streetwear brand Off-White, Dev Hynes and Nelly Furtado. Wanting to gather his opinion on a few topics, we discussed with Aronson everything from his most defining photography moment to whether Instagram is a photographer’s new portfolio.
You said in a previous interview that you originally had no interest in photography. So what was the moment that changed your perception and made you decide to pursue it not only as a creative outlet but also as a career?
A single moment? I’m not sure. I try to approach projects spontaneously. I never want to force anything – maybe applying bits of pressure here and there. But never outright pursuing, just feeling for what’s right. So I think it was a combination of many moments over time that changed me. It’s just what happens when your needs and environment are changing. I was only holding on to a feeling that felt honest and real to me. I was chasing that feeling. I didn’t know where it would lead but I knew how it felt, and that felt right.
Why analogue photography? What makes shooting on film more appealing to you than shooting digital? In today’s world of perfect Instagram selfies and carefully edited digital photographs, analogue might seem kind of out-dated to some people.
I’m a very historical person. I think I enjoy the history of photography as much as I do the actual thing. The photographers who came before me were largely invested in analogue processes. Shooting analogue, in a way, is my nod to history. It’s a reminder of the lineage that came before me, of the people who made it possible for me to be me.
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Speaking of social media, how important do you think it is for photographers to get their work out there? Are popular platforms like Instagram and Pinterest a photographer’s new portfolio?
First, ask yourself what type of opportunities you want. What type of pictures are you looking to make? I think it’s important to answer these questions first. Because considering whether sharing is important always depends on the context. Generally speaking, though, I like Instagram because as a platform it democratizes image sharing. It gives every user the same parameters, the same frame and format to work within. As a result, images that might have been otherwise overlooked are suddenly being seen. It’s a very unique phenomenon actually – a lot unlike the way images were shared in the past via books, galleries, or blogs, even. So Instagram, for me, is important because, as a platform, it levels the playing field. It helps underrepresented voices get heard.
In your opinion, what are the qualities of a good photograph? Guide us through your creative process when you’re looking through the lens.
Well… a good photograph invites the eye in. Good photographs let the eye linger.
What subjects do you prefer to photograph? And how do you form a connection with them that allows you to capture their natural and unfiltered emotions? Do you prefer to direct or allow the subject freedom with their movements and actions?
I don’t really direct. I have some ideas, yes, but I don’t show up directing. I’m looking and listening and applying bits of pressure here and there but, again, I’m no director. I think I’m more of a curator if anything. I show up, survey the scene and pick apart the things I find necessary.
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Describe for me the most memorable experience that you’ve had behind the camera and the significance of that experience for you.
There’s a massive road in the Hamptons called Dune Road. On it are amazing homes, all McMansions, some of the most ridiculous houses I’ve ever seen. Next to these houses though are beautiful expanses of water, sand and trees. It’s as if the most innocent ecosystems were one day interrupted by the most suspicious kind of housing. That juxtaposition is really special to me. It sums up what I sort of want to talk about with photography. It reminds me of the innocence of making an image but also the invasiveness of taking someone’s portrait. Voyeurism versus childlike creativity.
Anyway, this past winter, the artist Jackson Shea and I were in the Hamptons, driving around one day, when we passed a home on Dune Road that looked like it was built in the ‘70s. It had floor-to-ceiling windows, rounded skylights and accents that were teal and grey. The site was jaw-dropping. Jackson and I got out of the car and, on this empty patch on Dune Road, started exploring. We found the house was completely empty. It was as if someone had left for the winter one day and never came back. Really, all of the furniture was still intact.
There were knick-knacks and photographs and all the mementoes of a proper family. The interior walls, windows and ceilings were tainted though. Torn up and damaged by winter, rust and rain. That home and the way it felt like a time capsule, the way it put natural growth out of nothingness on display made an impact on me. Later, I ended up coming back to take some photographs there. Those photographs are now the material for my first book. It’s going to be called Dune Road.
You’ve shot for publications like Dazed and i-D, brands like Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, and musicians like Dev Hynes and Nelly Furtado. Many photographers may struggle balancing their creative freedom while also keeping in mind what their subject wants in commissioned shoots like these. However, were you able to exercise your creative freedom while also staying true to what the subject wanted in those instances?
I feel as if a company would only hire me if they wanted me to do the job my way. There are so many photographers out today that I have to assume that a brand would only ask to work with me if they wanted me to exercise my creative freedom specifically.
I believe that creativity thrives in times of social unrest, something that we’re experiencing a lot in 2018. For you, what is it like to be an emerging creative nowadays? Let’s say, in twenty years from now, what would you hope that the future generation of creatives takes from this period of widespread social unrest but unparalleled creative freedom?
Trends come and go and I just hope that this period of creative freedom isn’t a trend. Not that I want our current political situation to stay the same. But I hope future generations can take a look at our rebellious spirit and our desire to question everything and keep it going. Because, in spite of the creative freedoms we enjoy today, there’s still a long way to go. In twenty years from now, will we have stopped pushing? Let’s keep the conversation going and move tenderly.
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Actually, you think of your images as a way to portray the current artistic scene, especially in New York City, so in the future, people wondering how is it like to be a creative in 2018 have a reference. Do you think of your photography as something that could be used in the future as a document? Something with a social responsibility, even?
It would be presumptuous of me to say that my photos have a social responsibility, but I do think that photographs can have one. Whether or not my pictures do isn’t really up to me; it’s up to you.
When you’re not taking photographs, what do you do to stimulate your creativity? What keeps you inspired?
I used to meditate. But I can’t sit still, so I now take walks to keep my mind moving. Fifteen minutes. No talking, just listening. That, and reading. Right now, I’m obsessed with books by philosophers of art. I really like Susanne Langer and Roland Barthes. I’m also fascinated by collections of artists’ interviews. Hans Ulrich Obrist’s, David Sylvester’s and Dave Hickey’s. There’s always a new photographer whose work I try to look at too. It’ll be Bill Owens’ one day, Wolfgang Tillmans’ the next. For a while, Ryan McGinley was my mentor.
Next, I’m trying to invest the same attention into present-day photographers as I am in photographers from the past. There’s an obvious interest in two photographers that I’ve photographed, Tyler Mitchell and Arvida Byström. But I’m also really interested in this group of photographers whose work is about materiality, the body, homes and the American landscape. Molly Matalon, David Brandon Geeting, Corey Olsen and Caroline Tompkins. Each of them is unique and equally amazing.
If you had to see yourself five years from now, where do you think you’ll be? What would you hope to have accomplished by then?
I don’t have a five-year plan really. But I do know I want to be, quite literally, making things. Physical objects, books and prints. I want to have the ability to give somebody something I made physically because there’s something so special about sharing my work in the form of a thing that can be held. That, and I’d like to play with self-portraits. Experimenting more with knowing what it means to put my body in a photograph. What it means to contextualize my life within a frame.
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