Interview with Matthew Joseph

From Music to Commercial Work – Interview with PhotoX 2017 winner

Matthew Joseph, River People – Louis, 2017

London-based Matthew Joseph is an award-winning photographer whose commercial work sees him shooting across the advertising, editorial and corporate industries for brands, creative agencies, publications and selected NGOs.

Emigrating to the world of photography from the music industry, a bold and cinematic approach to his subjects and their environment strives to evoke emotion, whilst retaining an honest authenticity that he hopes will provoke a reaction, thought or discussion. Obsessed with light and capturing moments from a young age, it’s people, faces, journeys and stories that dominate Matthew’s work as he gladly follows it around the world.

Having won the RICS Infrastructure photographer of the year 2016, he was recently awarded 1st place at the 2017 Art Gemini Prize PhotoX competition. The winning image was taken from his portrait series ‘River People’, which made it to a prestigious solo exhibition in Westminster, London. His work received national press coverage on TV, radio and in the newspapers, as well as being recommended by Time Out. Matthew’s latest project ‘aGenda’ made him a finalist in the 2017 AOP awards. and was first exhibited in August 2017, on London’s famous South Bank before visiting two other venues across the capital. Matthew is proud to have been selected by Lürzers Archive as one of the Top 200 Ad Photographers worldwide for the 2017/18 annual.

1. How long have you been a photographer?  I read that you moved from the music industry into photography.

I have been a photographer since I realised life was better behind the lens instead of having to be in family holiday photos. This was aged 11 and I soon commandeered by Dad’s manual SLR – it was then my early teenage years where I cut my teeth learning my mistakes, technical approach and people skills – all shot on film.

Since that same age, I had always had an equal interest in music as I did with photography. Post A-levels I decided to take on music at degree level, but photography never went away and in my first year there, I won a business bursary from Barclays through my uni and set up my first business – music photography (it had to be related to music). I went on to work as a musician, producer and writer and spent most of my time travelling around the UK and Europe playing in bands with my own projects, playing for other artists and everything in between which makes up the life of a session musician.

2. Your camera and creative eye takes you all over the world, what do you love most about what the travel gives you as a photographer?

I love travelling and the world is becoming a smaller place every year – there’s no excuse not to travel any more. Being a photographer ultimately gives me an excuse to travel and being paid to do so is even more of a bonus. When I travel, I don’t tend to stay in one place for very long – I can’t sit still very easily – but when I am in a new place, I completely immerse myself in that locality, the culture, the people – immediately. I don’t mess around! Travel keeps your eyes wide open as a photographer, it keeps your mind open too and there are always fresh inspirations to draw from new cultures. I absolutely love seeing new faces, new clothes/styles, new architecture and most of all … new light. It sounds strange but different parts of the world give different qualities of light to do with their location and local weather etc. That’s really key for me. I first noticed it in Iceland, then began to pick up on it more and more as I travelled. The winter sunshine in NYC is unlike any other sunshine I’ve seen. The smog and humidity of India gives a completely different diffused light – producing different colours and influencing the way you see things.

3. Congratulations on winning the inaugural 1st Prize in the PhotoX competition. Can you tell us more the winning image?

Thank you! River People was a really important series for me as it was a time where I really developed my style of environmental portraiture. It came about through a client – they’re responsible for building a huge new super sewer throughout London, it’s a massive project which is impacting a lot of Londoners, but it’s not the most sexy of projects. That’s where I come in – not the sexy part, but to help bring a human face to the whole thing. I suppose it was my job to help connect Londoners with their river so that they could appreciate the work that needed to be done to protect it. People’s faces and stories are always the way to achieve such things! So I always wanted the audience to be positively surprised as to the variety of people/vocations/jobs/hobbies that relied on the River Thames. The reaction was just that, which was perfect. There’s also a chance that the project is about to be restarted – there are plenty more characters for me to meet!

4. How do you balance commercial work and your own personal practice?

It’s always a tough one – especially as I’ve always enjoyed my commercial work. It’s a chicken and egg scenario, as you need the commercial work to afford you the time and funds to pursue your personal work, but your personal work often leads to the commercial work (or at least backs it up somewhat). It’s confusing when I actually enjoy both – this is partly because I’m as much a fan of business as I am of being a creative. Some years are overkill – I tried to fit way too much into 2017! The focus going forward will probably be fewer personal projects but the projects I do take on will be bigger and more in-depth. That scares me a little!

5. What are you working on now?

I have spent the last year shooting a project on the impact of Uber around the world. I have been to six great cities and met the local taxi drivers who are all being impacted by Uber’s arrival – it’s a portrait series which has been truly fascinating and a lot of hard work. I can’t wait to get it out there, it’s coming very soon! I also have shot a new studio portrait series called ‘Changing Face of Music’ which I am really wanting to get out there as it’s the first project I’ve done which looks into the music side of my journey.

To find out more about Matthew and his work, see his website