When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
I liked taking photos in high school so my step-father Flip Schulke, who was a professional photojournalist, suggested I go to photo school at RIT in New York. In my first year at RIT I was exposed to a bunch of artists who were doing such amazing things with color photography. People like Nan Goldin, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, and Jeff Wall. That’s when I really fell in love with photography and making portraits of people. I knew it’s what I wanted to do with my life.
If you weren’t taking pictures, what else do you think you might be doing?
In a dream world I would be a professional poker player; in the real world I would probably be a teacher.
How can an editor be most helpful when giving you an assignment?
I’m sure it’s a common answer but I’m happy if a photo editor just lets me do my thing. I think my best portraits happen organically. I like to use locations where my subject is comfortable like their house or some place they like to hang out. I don’t like to have a big crew, usually around three or four people. I hang out with the subject for a bit and then come up with some interesting photos. Some editors want you to have a complete idea or plan way before the shoot happens or they want you to use their ideas and locations. I don’t think I work best in those situations.
Are you currently working on any personal projects?
Up until about 2009 I really hadn’t tried shooting anything other than people so that summer I decided to start a project shooting inanimate objects. Things like shopping carts, trees, street lamps, etc. I try to find objects that look like they have some personality or a story. It’s been a fun project. I usually go out shooting early in the morning when people are just waking up and it’s peaceful and quiet. It’s also nice not having to make small talk with my subjects.
Who would your dream subject be?
Thats always a tough question. I think all photographers would love to shoot their favorite musician or actor and I’m no exception (Jeff Tweedy and John Turturro) but really I think I would be happy if I just got to shoot interesting people for the rest of my career. Like this 16 year old kid that I photographed for People magazine; he was hit by a train and lost both legs and one arm . I also shot a couple of young preachers who go to porn conventions and pass out Bibles. I love those kind of subjects.
Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?
I think it’s probably harder than ever to break into this business so if you want to do it I think you really have to be ready and have a plan of attack. Make sure your portfolio and website are right where you want them to be. Save up some money so you can do a full year of good promotions. Try to go to New York and meet with editors face to face. And if you do get your first assignment, approach it as if it’s the most important photo shoot of your life (it may well be).
(Joe is based in LA. See more of his work, here)