Joshua Black Wilkins: Behind-the-Lens

The moment I discovered Joshua Black Wilkins photography work I knew we would be fast friends. Look for more of Joshua's work in the upcoming spring/summer issue of Refueled magazine.


Being a musician yourself, you have the opportunity to hang out and capture the lives of fellow musicians like Billy Gibbons, your good pal Justin Townes Earle & his father Steve, Don Was & Lucinda Williams. What are you trying to capture on film when you shoot a musical soul?

My biggest goal when photographing musicians is to make honest portraits. I had been around large production photoshoots for about 5 years, as an photo/camera assistant and I saw what went into taking an artist and putting them through alternate universes in order to make a cool photograph, and there is nothing wrong with that. In Fact, that helps give well known musicians this "bigger than life", untouchable persona. But, as a musician, I want to be able to tell a story with, or express a feeling with a single photograph. Whenever I'm photography a musicians whose music I like, I always take a direction of how I'd like to be portrayed if I were them. What their music means to me should also be included in what the photographs should say. There are a lot of generic and widely used poses and situations that photographers use for musicians that I would never do as a musician, and so I try to find a way to give that person an identity that is more honest and reflective of being a human. I don't direct people very well because I would rather shoot someone at their truest moment.

Justin and I have been the best of friends for several years. He and I had played a few shows together in Nashville and I was asked to take a few photographs of him, since he didn't have any at the time. After that first photoshoot, he and I went on tour together and have worked, and played together, ever since. I have know his dad for awhile too, but much more on the fan side than friend. Steve and Justin were working together on the "Townes" record and I got to hang out, and take photographs of them for a day.

Lucinda wouldn't look at me the entire time. The shoot was for a film being made on Merle Haggard. It wasn't until later that night, after two bottles of wine, that lucinda opened up to me. She and I both agreed we should have drank first, then made photographs.


I quite like a square format when doing design work, just works really well for me. When shooting a square format it’s all about the framing I feel. Is 6x6 a format you like to use a lot? What do you see it best used for?

6x6, or square format, is my absolute favorite. There are several reasons for this. Personally, I am a very symmetrical person. I like things to be even. Even my guitars have to be "non-cutaway", so with square format photography, there isn't a wrong orientation. Other than getting a holga several years ago, I bought a Kiev 6C because I wanted a huge, heavy, tank-like medium format camera that shot 6x6. I started in the mid-90's with a Pentax k1000 and I missed that barbaric manual camera.

6x6 is also great when shooting music packaging jobs. I have a very hard time cropping a digital image to make it square because I have always tried to compose in-camera. With square format, you can visualize the album cover, right in the camera. It's also great for portraits, and people seem to like seeing a huge russian camera in their face.


You have such a great raw & dirty style to all your work, which is probably one of the reasons I’m inspired so much by it. We definitely share a similiar aesthetic. Take us inside shooting fashion & style.

For years I have spent a lot of time looking at fashion magazines. At first it was for tear sheets based on lighting, poses and post-production. Magazines like W, V magazine, 10, Zink, Paper and a lot of European magazines have great photography. But like so many people, I thought that I could also shoot models. Most of my model shoots have been with the huge help of Leanne Ford, a stylist loosely based in Nashville. We had worked together on several jobs for other people and had decided to shoot some stuff for ourselves that didn't have so many rules attached.

I'm fortunate in that I have a lot of interesting looking friends. It also helps that many people in the Nashville area know me for not only music, but the interesting photographs I've made from burlesque to the homeless and less fortunate. So when I have approached my friends about shooting them, they understand that I see something in them that general society may not. Even with professional models, I try to break down any walls they put up and find person behind that.

I like shooting models because they usually don't have an agenda. They are open to just about anything and know how to look cool in unusual clothing and situations. It is definetly something that I want to continue doing, even if just for fun.


So many photographers are drawn in by the beauty of empty rural decay. You use black & white and monochromia techniques in your Alabama series above. Do you feel it better captures the vibe?

After my father retired from the Marine Corps, my family moved to Huntsville to be closer to his family. I lived there for quite some time and had always been inspired by the rural america that Alabama holds. In fact, when I first starting learning photography, I almost only shot rural structures and sprawling landscapes. Although Alabama can be very colorful, it can also be very timeless and the use of black and white photography seems appropriate. Rural America is very textured with age, not unlike an interesting, and weathered person can be.


I am all about lo-fi, and you can’t get more lo-fi then a plastic box, 4 holes and a spring. 4 images within one seconds time. You took the images above with a Lomo Action Sampler camera someone gave you. Did you like the results?

My love of "lo-fi" photography came about due to not being able to keep up with all the newest, greatest digital do-dads that the industry pumps out on a regular basis. As soon as you think you have the best digital camera, another one comes out that is claimed to be better, for whatever reason. Since I already had experience shooting film, I wanted to be able to go back to that medium and revisit the fundamentals of what makes me a photographer. Of course, Lomography has certainly helped people understand that great photography doesn't have to be about 21 megapixel cameras and more about making great photographs. I had received the LOMO Action sampler from a friend and shot a roll that afternoon to see what the fuss was about. I plan on using it more often for music and fashion shoots. I also use plastic fisheye cameras, disposable cameras, Holgas, older rangefinder cameras and odd point-and-shoots.


Shooting just for yourself in always very personal. What do you find yourself shooting and documenting when no one else is around?

Your best work is often your personal work. When you remove all the rules and art directors and agendas, you can really explore making photographs that are both honest, and personally emotive. My person work is also more expensive that what people pay me to do.

I try to always have a camera with me, especially when traveling for music. Being in another town, where everything is new to me, can really inspire me to make photographs. I don't have a plan of what I want to shoot, but even shooting "from the hip" while experiencing a town for the first time can be very rewarding. I started learning tintype photography to better understand the fundamentals of photography as well as the history of image making. It was also a way for me to repel against the megapixel race, slow down, and do something that was very rewarding to me. I try to shoot a lot of large format whenever I can. I feel like I have a lot more control over the camera and can really concentrate on the subject, whether it's a landscape, a still life, or a nude.

Although I have a lot of respect for digital photography, and use digital cameras as a tool on a regular basis, my heart is still in analog photography. Whether it's large format polaroids, tintypes, 4x5 sheet film, or 35mm and 120mm roll film I want to make great images that have a timeless quality to them. It doesn't matter what tool you use as long as you are honest with yourself, and your subject.


Sparky said...

Holy cow, this guy IS talent, he doesn't just have it. Great work! Thanks for the feature.

Carolina Eclectic said...

FANTASTIC PHOTOS!! Oh, I love them.
P.S your new site looks great, Chris