JOIA Magazine Interview 

In conversation with Adriana Conde, July 2019

Read the full article here. The version on JOIA Magazine's website has been translated in to Spanish, the untranslated version is below.

It is difficult to imagine the future . The Future with a capital letter, not the future of you or mine, but that of humanity that will happen in hundreds, thousands of years, and towards which we advance guided by technological advances that "facilitate" our existence. Are we heading towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution dominated by robotics and in which the human being loses presence as an executor and wins as a supervisor? Or are we heading towards a "back to basics" in which the depletion of natural resources and Will the pollution of the planet force us to live with less and in a more sustainable way?

Nobody knows the answer. Faced with this uncertainty, there are some who choose to put themselves in the "worst possible scenario" and recreate a post-apocalyptic world in which the Information Age has failed and collapsed. Attracted by the costumes and activities of that futuristic simulation similar to the world of Mad Max, Welsh photographer Joe Pettet-Smith traveled from the United Kingdom to the Mojave desert in California to attend the Wasteland Weekend festival . We talked to him for a while to tell us more about the experience.

Are there some situations, people, experiences or things that you remember from your childhood or teenage years that were crucial on you becoming a photographer? What influences could you mention?

As a kid the world didn’t make sense me. In many ways it still doesn’t and I that’s why I make work.

You’ve said that you always want your work to mean something and could be translated to complex ideas. Isn’t that a big pressure? What are the ideas and concepts you have a tendency to show in your work? 

Potentially. I just want to make work that is accessible. What I like about photography is you can take inspiration from other disciplines and translate those ideas visually. I draw from philosophy, the social sciences and literature quite a bit which I see as other systems of understanding.

Living in Brighton, how did you know about the Wasteland Weekend in Southern California? Tell us about the experience of attending this event and the feedback you got from the attendees. What kind of activities take place over there? What kind of people participate?

The internet is a powerful thing. The plus side of being technologically hyper-connected 24/7 is occasionally you come across something that is worth-while, worth pursuing and investigating further. Like many I’m completely glued to my phone. News of the Wasteland Weekend gathering interrupted one of these infinite scrolling sessions. I saw a whole festival dedicated to a global community of people who are all dissatisfied with modern societal pressures and want to pretend, just for a short period, that the Information Age has collapsed. For a week in the Mojave Desert it was no more emails, no more phones, no more class structures. It’s a beautiful irony that I came across the festival through a short clip on social media.

They have a restaging of a sport taken from the 1989 film The Salute of the Jugger, a tournament that takes place over several days and looks like a futuristic mixture of the 1990s hit game show Gladiators and American football. They have a post-apocalyptic themed bikini contest that uses a rusted boat salvaged from the film set of Universal Studio’s Waterworld (1995) as the stage. There’s a reconstruction of the Thunderdome from Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome where participants can sign up to beat the shit out of each other with padded weapons whilst attached to bungee cords. As well as costume competitions, vehicle parades, an onsite postal service where they print physical newsletters of what’s happening around the festival site… Lots of stuff to immerse participants in the fantasy.

The crowd is a real mixture of anti-establishment types, film buffs who like to party and people who like to dress up at comic-con events. 

Could you highlight 3 of the dresses you saw there? Were you in costume as well?

In no particular order;
i. One of the bikini competition contestants had made an outfit out of up-cycled plastic containers
ii. The tire helmets worn by the jugger contestants were unexpected
iii. The guy with tire inner tube with horns is one of my favourites

I’ve never been one for dressing up but if I wasn’t dressed like someone from a Mad Max film then I wouldn’t have been allowed in. For the whole week I lived in a pair of ripped up trousers, battered Reebok Classics, oil-splattered baseball cap, a destroyed military tactical vest which I kept my spare film and camera supplies in. For when the sandstorms picked up I had a dust mask / bandana combo and a pair of swimming goggles on me that I could put on quickly. 

The series Anarchy Tamed talks about a real encounter or festival based in a science fiction world, that could become a reality (for better or for worse). What is the concept or the discussion behind those aesthetics? Why are you so interested and feel so comfortable in the post-apocalyptic narratives?

Like many photographers before me I’m just responding to the contemporary condition. The visual arts is about putting up a mirror to what is going on in the world and my work is a part of that tradition. Only, I’m not photographing social injustices or photographing war zones, I’m making work about an internal conflict.  

You are working on a large series called Preparations for the Worst-Case Scenario, what could you disclose about that, formally and conceptually?

At the moment as it is still in progress so I can’t reveal too much but it uses scenes from post-apocalyptic entertainment as a visual metaphor to talk about the new zeitgeist of contemporary western society; media induced paranoia and anxieties for the future.

Do you enjoy doing something else besides photography? Is that your full-time job?

More or less, yes. Before photography became my main outlet I was a DJ, which is still something I love and do for enjoyment but I don’t pursue it as my main creative output anymore. 

©JOIA Magazine 2019 - This text is for research purposes, no copyright infringement is intended.

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