Motherfuck, from the series Water Pipes, 2013

Motherfuck, from the series Water Pipes, 2013


What are your themes in photography and what are you looking for in your exploration?

I’m looking for the exotic in the prosaic, how certain discarded objects can be elevated and viewed as artistic studies in colour, texture and composition like ‘Water Pipes‘ or the ‘Sleep Patterns’ series. I’m drawn to the outcast, whether it be a person, an object or a place.


We are intrigued by The Kingsway Project! Please tell us a bit about it: what is it about, what are your questions, what does it mean for you, how do you work on it?

The Kingsway Project is an attempt to document and understand Vancouver’s longest street. It was originally constructed as a wagon road and, as a result, cuts a slash across the city’s checker-board street layout built many years later. At first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Kingsway as an unsightly thoroughfare lined with strip malls, discount bins and used car lots whose only purpose is to get motorist from point A to point B. As with many projects of this nature, the more time you invest, the more surprises you encounter, the more interesting the project and photos become. Because Kingsway began its life as a wagon road to connect Vancouver with the former capital of British Columbia, I try to walk the full length of the street at least once a week in order to experience it in its original form. This usually takes most of the day when factoring in picture making. It’s a relationship built on curiosity and happenstance and I’m happy that Kingsway is a part of my life.


An inspiring painting?

I’m drawn to Realism. Paintings such as Gustave Courbet’s Stone-Breakers and Tim Gardner’s Untitled (Parking Lot) are firmly planted in the back of my mind. Steven Shearer’s work – particularly his drawings of long haired youth – inspired my Metallurgy series.

How do you approach people when you want to take a photograph or do a portrait?

My approach to photographing people depends on the type of photo I want to make at a particular moment. If it’s a wonderful or strange moment happening on the street that’s not going to last, I’ll take the shot without permission. If it’s someone I see on the street who I want to spend more time with, I’ll describe the project I’m working on and try to be as charming and nonthreatening as possible. I’ve also stuck handwritten notes to vans as I did for the “Great West Van” project and placed ads in Craigslist. Each circumstance is different, a few are unpleasant but most are fulfilling.

Angel_and_Alex City Centre Motor Motel_Exterior2Dave

If you lived in another era, which one would it be? Where would it be?
I would have liked to experience Berlin during the Weimar Republic between the two World Wars. I’ve spent many years learning German and reading about the country’s history. It’s a natural first choice for me.


What was the hardest part of your journey so far?

The hardest part of The Kingsway project has been obtaining access to places and events that wouldn’t normally permit photography. Recently I’ve been trying to receive permission to photograph the president and vice president of a veteran’s association. We’ve already had two meetings and now they have to present my proposal to their board for further consideration. It’s a lot of work for one photo that may or may not be successful.

Photographs from The Kingsway Project and Mount Pleasant series.

You can see more of Joel’s work at