Joey Lawrence - Freezing Moments In Time

  • 20 Jan - 26 Jan, 2018
  • Mariam Khan
  • Interview

Behind the scenes featurettes attached to movies like Jurassic Park and The Lord of the Rings inspired Joey Lawrence, or popularly known as Joey L, a Canadian photographer and director, to pick up a camera when he was very young. "When I was a kid, I would make dioramas of my Jurassic Park toys, set up in a natural landscape. This is how I learned photography and Photoshop -- 'Dino-Ramas'," Joey brings to mind his first shot.

The photographer-cum-director, shares he was brought up differently. "Raised in a small town in Canada, I didn't travel anywhere until I began making money as a photographer."

"A portrait can be among the most expressive form of communication," shares the individual who has documented countless human faces. For him, the main ingredient in cooking (read: capturing) a good photo consists of subconscious components. “It's made up of the same invisible, subconscious ingredients your mother puts in all her dishes: love, soul, passion. It sounds cheesy, but it's true.”

When words fall short of conveying the message many mortals seek solace in moments locked in time. Joey, when asked how true the cliche 'A photograph speaks more than words' is, backed his response with the findings of dwellers from the Stone Age. “It's easy to read ancient cave paintings, and quite easy to read a photograph as well.”

For this freelance photographer, his job “has all the qualities of addiction: high highs and low lows. You can wake up one morning and an e-mail regarding an assignment can change the course of your life.”

And these assignments are what take this lensman to conflict zones. For those who follow him on Instagram can come across his posts from the Sinjar Mountains, Iraq to an all nature studio set up in Sierra Leone. Joey's most favourite subject to date at the time MAG contacted him in December 2017 was, “the anti-ISIS fighters of the Syrian YPG (People's Protection Units) are my main area of focus as a photographer. This is because they are the armed defenders of Kurdish culture – a distinct ethnic minority in the Middle East.”

Even though his work revolves around war-torn zones, Joey does not consider himself as a war photographer. Talking about his first trip to Iraq and Syria, he shares, “I was afraid of everything. I was paranoid. But over time, I began to trust the people I surrounded myself with. I don't really consider myself a war photographer, but rather a portrait photographer, first and foremost. For this reason, my project in the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Syria was more of a cultural study than anything else.

“After the Syrian government retreated from Kurdish areas when facing both a rebellion and jihadist insurgency, the Kurds found themselves removed from the repressive nature of the regime, but also forced to defend themselves. I wanted to record this rare moment in history in which the Kurds became authors of their own history,” he puts across his main goal photographing the volatile zone.

This globetrotter did a project in Southern Ethiopia that gave the audience a first-hand view of life that wasn't covered before. “Although Southern Ethiopia has been photographed many times, we filmed a lot of things for People of the Delta, my first film, that the outside world had never seen before. The film not only starred the local population as actors and invaluable creative collaborators, but all of the film’s dialogues were spoken in the endangered languages of Dassanach and Hamar,” he makes it known.

Venturing into unknown territories, Joey is guided by second sight. For all those who partake on similar ventures, he shares, “Always remember that you'll be the same person in an unknown situation as you are now. Let your gut instinct guide you.”

In an age where each smartphone holder can record and share snaps instantaneously, are photographers practicing more of a craft nowadays and less of science, we enquire? “Photography has always been a careful mix of artistry and science, but technology is making photography a lot more approachable, which I believe is a good thing.”

Joey's style of shooting does not favour quick trips. So how long is enough for him to fully 'explore' a place? And he virtually draws a roadmap around the world for us. “Suppose you drove in a relatively straight line around the whole world: you could rush and see nothing, only roads and highways. Now, let's suppose you did that same straight line across the Earth but 1km south. The experiences of each trip would be entirely different. With this in mind, it is important to visit the same areas of interest multiple times to even try to begin to comprehend them.”

For the photo to talk to its audience, a bond has to be built with the subjects. “The best thing to do is to just be passionate about what you are photographing, as well as be honest to your subjects,” Joey talks about the secret of his craft.

Capturing so many facades, is there any standout memory that Joey has framed in mind? “The self-confident, proud attitude of Ethiopian people has always impressed me. Perhaps it comes from their history of being the only African country to never be successfully colonised?”

Working in combat zones, one wonders what awaits those working in such precarious areas. “I believe one should choose their photography projects based on subjects they'd want to observe if their camera breaks. This has happened to me just once before,” the shutterbug speaks about an instance when he faced the worst.

Nowadays, Joey is working on his upcoming book. “My book We Came From Fire: Photographs of Kurdistan's Armed Struggle Against ISIS will be out this year. So at this time, I am dedicating all my time to finishing up both the colour match proofing and writing. It has been one of the most difficult projects I have ever worked on,” he says.

As for Joey’s dream project, he reveals, “Please tell me where I should visit in Pakistan?” All those reading this, make a list of the wonders of our homeland where this global citizen can visit and maybe you can end up being photographed with Joey L behind the lens.•