Journal, Writing

This is Rocket Science: Joao Canziani

The following is a snippet of a conversation with friend, peer, and fellow Giant Artists photographer, Joao Canziani. You can read the whole interview on the Rocket Science site here.

Joao: I’ve made my peace with that now. You know, most photographers – or any sort of artist really – want to have their work be seen by the outside world, and that’s the reason Instagram works, and pretty much everything else in this world works with social media. You may be a hermit and do your own personal work or live in the middle of nowhere – off the power grid – but for me, I still needed this communication, of being wanted by other people who wanted me to do these jobs. But long story short, since Paloma was born, that has changed. I almost don’t care, it’s a very weird shift… It’s ok if I don’t get called, it’s not the end of my life. It’s filled with other things.

How has that changed with you?

Jake: Well, going back to what you said earlier, it’s in part a sense of self-validation, but it’s also a bit of pragmatism. For nearly any freelancer or business owner, your work kind is your life. If you’re a restaurateur and people aren’t coming to your restaurant, or if you’re a plumber and people aren’t calling you, there’s always going to be that sense of “why aren’t people calling me, what am I doing wrong” per se.

And for photographers, there’s this element of, I mean—if you’re a restaurateur you think “maybe I’ll switch my menu” or if you’re a plumber you’d go “I need to advertise differently”—but for photography, it becomes “is it the way I shoot, and are people no longer interested in that?” I think that’s a really difficult mental process to wrap your head around. And I had a solid four months of that last year. The calls stopped coming so quickly that I was so confused as to how that could have transpired. And when your life and work are so intertwined, it starts to affect the way you think of yourself and your literal place in the world, how you know to contribute towards the forward movement of society.

I’ve always made a huge effort on decoupling photography and my personal life. I think it depends on your creative process. I have friends for whom photography is what they live and breathe and eat and sleep and drink and it’s so intertwined. Like Thomas Prior, I’ve never seen him without a camera by his side. We got dinner years ago in Tribeca with Ben Grieme, and on the walk from the restaurant back to the subway, Thomas whipped out this little point and shoot and was taking these epic long exposure night skyscraper shots, whereas I would have just walked to the subway, looking down at the street, not thinking about photographs. And there was something phenomenal about seeing that level of complete dedication to his craft. I have a lot of admiration and respect for that. Plus, Tom is the biggest sweetheart and most earnest dude of all time. And Daniel Shea, I see him in his work, in these stupendous bodies of images he puts out into the world.… It’s his identity. And to look at their work, sometimes I feel like I’m this unworthy schmuck wearing Crocs over here in the corner.

Photography used to be my identity, but in recent years I’ve veered into other territories. Cycling has honestly taken over that a lot. If I had to identify as a type of person, I would consider myself more of a cyclist than a photographer these days. That’s given me a healthy outlet because if photography is low, it doesn’t affect me quite as much. I don’t give myself over to photography the way I used to do it in my twenties. I think in part it’s to protect myself, and partially because I’ve discovered passions outside of photo. My interest in photography has not diminished, I still care deeply about each shoot I do, and not feeling like I’m ever phoning it in, in the slightest. But it helps me, so that if commissions don’t flow, it doesn’t drag my whole self down. I feel more balanced, and more autonomous.

Joao: I completely agree. I look at Tom and how he puts out so much work out there, it’s like 24 hours a day! It’s all he breathes, and it makes me feel a little guilty. I strive to do that, and I do it a little bit, but you know, I have a wife, I have a child, and I’m starting to have other interests.

Jake: And that’s ok too! I think it’s healthy to learn what you need for you and only yourself. For the longest time I thought I needed to be putting out work 24/7, but it never felt like true me. I think it’s a healthy part of discovery to recognize you don’t need to do that if that’s not in your character, and if it is, that’s lauded as well.

Joao: I almost wish that Kyle [R.M. Johnson] was in this conversation as well, because we’ve had so many rants about photography, and we feel empowered by these conversations. It’s a frustration that has been building up in me about this industry, about photography itself, about putting out work.

Jake: I think it just comes down to finding a balance. And you and I are at this point of very much trying to find a balance between maintaining a deep passion for photography, yet also dealing with a photo industry that increasingly wants so much more for so much less, in a way that sometimes feels painful to know someone wants quantity over quality. In my mind, that’s the downfall of everything.

Right now, we’re seeing it throughout the industry…  this tremendous collision between the death of print, the rise of digital, a radically transformed advertising landscape, and a complete proliferation of photographers — ‘Instagram’ and otherwise — entering the market. Then you combine that with it being 2018 and a general lack of decorum and civility in the world… You get a new photo landscape where now sometimes your clients have little real world photography experience, pulling together their mood board from a couple half-million dollar shoots they found, unaware of what it took to made it happen, and have none of the budget they need to pull it off. So there’s a disconnect from reality that falls on you to either sort out, through education and re-orienting what's possible, or you walk away from the impending storm. And keeping your optimism when this is the new normal is something that’s tricky but important.

At the same time, looking from the outside of this conversation inward, it’s essential to recognize that we are in such an insanely privileged place to be full-time photographers who can support ourselves comfortably. That’s something I try to keep in the forefront of the conversation and in my own mental space, that sense of eternal optimism. I’ve got no respect or patience for folks pulling in six figures but can’t find a single positive thing to say about this industry or the life and opportunities it has provided them. It’s ok to be frustrated, to want people to be better, as long as we keep perspective on being grateful to be here in the first place, because I will never forget the feeling of scrambling up the wall from the other side. There’s this infinite balance trying to retain this special effervescence to what we do but it’s also rooted in this very practical side of things, being on the phone, on email, on laptop all the time. Anyway. I digress...