Words By: Joshua Will, Ajay Woolery
Images By: Joshua Will
In our Latest Creator Spotlight, we speak with 19y/o Toronto based Photographer Joshua Will. From our extensive sit down conversation we learn more about his creative journey, covering everything from his almost accidental beginnings as a photographer and the importance of investing in and trusting yourself as an artist.
WORK BY: Joshua Will
(TCK)How did you get into what you do creatively?
JW: It was almost quite by accident. I had a stepmom at the time who suggested that I get a point and shoot camera for Christmas. I was 10 and didn't really have an artistic outlet at the time but I just said, You know what, I'm just gonna go buy this camera. And when I got the camera, I just began going around my neighbourhood in the suburbs, and started documenting texture, reflection, shadows and whatnot, looking around and developing my visual style. There was a period basically for two years where I shot a lot of photos and just kind of kept them to myself and didn't really have an outlet to share them on until Instagram came out when I was probably around 12. And then I started getting into Instagram and posting my works when I was that age and I started to really notice that there was and is a giant photography community on Instagram and I started posting photos through the Vsco hashtag. that's how I kind of started and then after, getting climatized to Instagram, I just really started to post whatever I felt like and, engaged with a lot of other similar accounts around the Vsco hashtag and kind of built myself a little bit of a following. I used the point and shoot camera for about three or four years until I upgraded to a budget DSLR and really started to get a technical understanding of photography when I switched to the DSLR because then I was learning how to use manual mode on the camera and really just dive into aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to understand how those things worked to craft an image. And I think from there, that's when I really started to get a grasp of really abstract and experimental processes for creating photographs. I would play around with like, you know, lower shutter speeds and also like light painting, with like flashlights and sort of like waving lights around in front of my camera to create light trails and, whatnot. At the same time a I was kind of getting tired of this Vsco, um, it was almost just a way to kind of blanket over my photos. So I really started getting interested in the computer side of editing, and post-processing. At the time, I didn't really have access to any of the Adobe Suite. I was kind of just using random editing programs, whether it was on my phone or on my laptop. I started to really get into like, digital manipulation. And that's kind of where I reside today. I'm sort of trying to blur the lines between photos as digital art and paintings, because I really do treat my photos like paintings individually.
(TCK)What’s your process and what do look for when constructing an image?
JW: When I'm behind the camera, and I'm on set. I think a lot of the time it's a very, almost chaotic way of creating, I really take pride in not having structure in my work because I think that it tends to put me in a box. So when it comes to shooting, I'm really able to turn nothing into something and I came from the suburbs where I didn't really have a lot of resources to work with, whether it be studio assistance, lighting team or a stylist I kind of had to fill in all of those roles myself. And I would often craft very interesting ways of creating images. A lot of the times I would use things just found in a garage or found in my house. Even to this day, I still use these coloured gels like binder dividers and these lens coverings as a way of colouring my photos with flash. I also really love to also play music when I'm shooting people just so my subject is comfortable when we're shooting, It also helps me to really create a strong vibe. When it comes to post, I think that's where I have the most creative control. I do a lot of manipulation afterwards because I feel like the base photograph doesn't really have enough substance to it sometimes. So I try to extrapolate that, from my images. And sometimes it's like remixing a song in a way I kind of will flip images to the point where you can't even really tell the difference between the original and the altered copy because it's this brand new sort of alteration or sort of deconstruction of what that photograph once was.
WORK BY: Joshua Will
(TCK) Do you think that having to be being so resourceful in your shooting process helps you later extrapolate a stronger image?
JW: it's like a nice I-spy to me in a way. I kind of might, subconsciously leave clues for myself while I'm shooting to really pick up on when I'm looking through and selecting the images that I want to turn into my masterpieces. I really just think it's almost like an intuitive decision process. When I'm, selecting my final images I kind of just gravitate to the ones that really stand out and are iconic in a way. And then sort of leaving the rest to kind of decay, because I don't really feel the need to post the same thing over and over again, it's kind of like every photograph that I take has a world of its own. So it's good to isolate these individual photographs.
(TCK)Did you have any supports that you found as it related to learning more about photography?
JW: I taught everything I know to myself, so I didn't really have anybody to really teach me what I know or any resources at my disposal in high school to teach me much about Photography, I can really attribute it to real-world experience, and really just taking a genuine passionate interest in this field. I'm a visual learner. So most of my research and learning how to shoot photos is really just by looking at photo books, I would attribute most of my learning to just really immersing myself in fine art, and really experimental art, and also digging around Tumblr, and blogs, and just looking on Instagram to see who's really defining photography. I don't really like to subscribe to, you know, popular photography, I really try to deep dive into who's really creating the rawest photography that isn't being noticed.
(TCK)Are you currently solely pursuing photography?
JW: Actually, this year I basically started doing this full time and I fully accepted it as a career. I think that's super important to anybody who really wants to pursue a long and healthy career in the arts is to start young, and really just not care about age, or, you know, who's more talented, I think the best thing is just to really go for it, and get out there, get your hands dirty, and get in the real world and experience. It’s your passion and sort of like your vocation or what you're good at, so really just, you know keep on doing it. Because I mean, I think what changed for me was just a mindset of I don't need a part-time job to rely on because it's limiting me creatively. And I'm sort of expending this energy that I don't need to expend when I could be putting all of it into what I love to do.
WORK BY: Joshua Will
(TCK) Your work is so unique, and the aesthetic of your work is much more artful than what the mainstream presents? Would you say that as a freelancer now that you feel obliged to create more commercial work?
JW: I think, to me, there's really a blend of both. I think my focus is more on the alternative music world in indie music and really just trying to create portraits almost like paintings were for royal’s of musicians that really stand for something and will last. I really want my photographs or paintings or whatever you like to call them to be remembered as a defining moment or period in that artists life and I want that photo to be carried until they pass. I think there's a point where art blends with the commercialism and it sort of turns into this really hyper-powerful moving image and I really look to people like Andy Warhol as an inspiration for sort of blurring the lines between raw art and popular art. When these two worlds coexist, it creates this unstoppable powerful art. And that's what I'm really striving to do. I really aim to go into contemporary art spaces eventually and start having my works featured in galleries, as well as doing some solo exhibitions and shows in the near future.
(TCK) what do you do to get into a creative state?
JW: Um, having creative people around me to bounce ideas off of is the most crucial thing when it comes to getting inspiration. The same goes for really just trying to find inspiration when nobody else is there. I'm always consuming very magical music, that really just speaks to this like mystical quality, and surreal, sort of dreamy, like state. When I'm creating I'll listen to Bjork, or I'll listen to like really abstract sounds because I find I can really pick up on texture which sort of subconsciously translates into my work. I'm always consuming that or in my downtime, watching movies, watching art films, and really observing and analyzing what set designers and what directors hide in those movies, like colour palettes.
(TCK) How has COVID-19 affected the way you create? And how are you coping with the challenges brought on by the pandemic
JW: Actually, how I developed my current style is by really being isolated. I had just gotten home from university after they kicked us out of residence, and I had that six month period in between, basically, my summer break after school to really just explore aesthetics and explore being vulnerable with myself. I really just feel like I tapped into this flow state. And just started taking photos of myself and doing a lot of self portraits, and sort of just exploring different avenues and pockets of myself that I really hadn't explored before. And that was really fascinating for me, because I think I captured a lot of sides of who I am, like I can be very manic or, frantic or energetic, or very, romantic. I think I captured all of these little hidden parts of myself and showed them to the world. It helped me find myself during that time just exploded and boosted my process, because when everybody else was complaining that they were uninspired, I was ironically so stressed out in university that I was waiting for a time period where I could just create, because during university I was just so overwhelmed with with schoolwork that I just didn't, I didn't create anything. I didn't shoot photos and felt so uninspired. But I think it really just freed up some mental space in my mind to really blossom.
WORK BY: Joshua Will
(TCK) COVID might arguably have been the greatest challenge presented to a lot of people. It's now clear to me that, you were able to have a positive experience through that. But what's been the greatest challenge for you?
JW: I think to me I really struggled in the last three months, it was the most difficult for me. I started to lose that flow state eventually. Because I had that period where I was kind of untouchable, you know, I was off school. And I was just in this giant flow state when I was putting out this work and just constantly evolving my style. And then in September, when I had to go back to school, that kind of was a wake-up call for me because I was like, Wow. You know, I wasn't expecting school to just come out of nowhere like that. And then when they announced that school was online, it really just engulfed me again in that overwhelm and that anxiety. That sort of led me to really question in December of last year if school was really the right place for me, and I ended up deferring from my program and really just wanting to take some time to recharge. Now that I've been out for five months now, I would definitely say the biggest challenge that I've experienced, would really just be the mental battle to find the inspiration and the energy to create after being just sort of thrown into the opposite of the creative world. And that to me is a world where you feel obligated to create because you have to, not because you feel like it. Yeah, and also one of just, of feeling indifferent. The biggest struggle for a creative can oftentimes just be feeling or having feelings of not belonging or not feeling accepted by a group of students, just even really feeling like you have a place in that school system, because I feel like a lot of the time in school I was sort of being put in a box. And I had toc reate a project based on these parameters. And there is no room for breaking that structure or those parameters. So I really struggled to create within those boundaries, and it really just made me frustrated. I became very angry.
(TCK) How would describe your work as a body?
JW: I would say it's very just like deconstructed artwork. And to put it very, blatantly, what I do is really just looking at how a photograph is actually created. And whether that be through the chemical process or the process of light entering the shutter and exposing light on the negative, I aim to really look at how that photograph is constructed from nature and apply those raw elements to my work. Whether that's texture or lighting or color, I really take pride in boosting those elements to the point where that photograph feels like it's almost like a malleable playdough in your hand. And that's something that is really infuriating for me, is like not having my work, be physical and out in the open. Because people don't get to experience that same level of depth and intricacy that you would get if you went to an art gallery. As you know, looking at a painting, it's really just looking at all of those elements, that comprises my final image that makes up my work, except those elements are way more apparent, because I make them easier to see. And like I said, I really do take pride in taking those small things that people choose to ignore or don't really observe and bring them to light.
(TCK) Do you place value on social media platforms like Instagram?
JW: I don't place any value on Instagram, to be honest with you, I really and truly hate Instagram, I see it as a necessary evil in today's art world because everybody is interconnected on this platform. And I mean, that's how I find most of my clients and, and other artists. But I think the golden age of contemporary art was really in the 90s and 80s because a lot of that was really just through galleries and gallery parties, just really raw street art like Basquiat, or Keith Haring, you know, they were out in the streets, and that artwork was being seen by hundreds of 1000s, if not millions of people, unwillingly. And that's how I really want my art to be consumed. At the end of the day. I think the greatest transition in my artistic career would be to really just ship to a contemporary space, and go offline to really bring that art to the physical world, because it's so easy to get disconnected from what that art actually means and what it speaks to when we're just consuming it in a matter of milliseconds. That's something that really also infuriates me too, is when people are taking like two seconds of their time to look at my work I really would like people to offer constructive opinions or interpretations to my work, as opposed to just leaving a three-word comment. Because to me, that speaks so much more than just that little ounce of validation.
(TCK) What’s some advice you'd give to a younger creative maybe still in high school or even just transitioning out of high school and deciding if they want to pursue something in the creative fields?
JW: I've been waiting for this one, The advice I'd probably give to my younger self, would really just to be, don't be afraid to express yourself in high school, um, I don't hide those parts of you in high school, because those parts are really what makes an artist, you know, whether it's the way they dress, if they're into fashion, or the ability to post these things, because that's that's how our personalities are being consumed online. So, you know, throughout high school, if you are afraid of being judged because you have this wonderful artwork, or drawing or painting or clothing piece or whatever and you're hiding that everybody around you out of the fear of no being accepted or not looking cool that's the very same quality that people look for in high school. And also to, I think it's really just understanding where you can find inspiration from because it doesn't have to be education. And I think that's something that gets really caught up in the art world is like, do I really need to go to school for art or do I just need to find out the process of creating that art, because I think everybody has their own way of creating and learning how to create. But I really think it all boils down to that process, the technique, finding that talent within yourself and owning it, that's a super important part. Like, if you don't own your talent, you're shutting off a part of yourself that is really valuable to the world, and really needs to be heard. That always needs to be wide open, I believe as an artist, you really have to open up a part of yourself to the world that you might not want them to see. But in opening that, it really just magnifies it to the point where it's like a laser beam, you know, you'd see it from miles away. And it's something that really needs to be seen, especially in these times. And regardless, we always need artists to be able to be role models for people who can’t express themselves.
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