In conversation with Bailey Dale, June 2019
Read the full article here.  

Joe, thanks again for taking the time to speak with us about your work! I’d love to start off by hearing about your journey as a photographer and what got you interested in the medium.

No worries, it’s a pleasure. Photography didn’t actually come along until my late teens. As a kid, school was a struggle. I was distinctly average at everything from sport to academia. After a stint working on a building site with my brother, my grades were released and I found out I had scraped just enough qualifications to get into college. Coincidently the local college had a black and white and colour darkroom, a well equipped camera kit room and a passionate technician. He took me under his wing a bit, got me to open up more and was the first person to really believe I had any potential. I had a knack for the hands-on, technical side of photography and became totally obsessed with the darkroom and just wanted to shoot and experiment all the time.

Your subject matter leads to such interesting images, can you speak more on what drew you to focus on ideas of dystopian/utopian societies, science/fiction, post-apocalypse, etc? What were some of your early influences?

JPS: Over the last few years as my visual language has developed, my intentions for what subject matter I pursue have clarified a bit. Looking back on it I think I have always used photography to make sense of the world around me but I also want my work to mean something and to be able to translate complex ideas into a visual form.

The best science fiction is based on plausible realities, worlds not too different from our own that are an exaggeration of the current state of things. It uses prophecies of the future to act as an active questioning of the present. That’s true of everything from Star Wars (the perils of one-state colonial power) all the way through to something like Mad Max (what might happen when fossil fuels run out). As an artist working in these post-truth, counterfactual times, science fiction offers a lot of possibilities. I started thinking about post-apocalyptic representations of the future as a direct response and reaction to the endless pessimistic newscycle.

Seeing your series Anarchy Tamed is the first I’d heard of such a festival. I’m interested in how you came across the event all the way from Brighton. Was this by chance or were you searching for similar events to utilize for your work?

JPS: The internet mainly. I had heard about it maybe a year before through researching subject matter for a larger project I am working on called Preparations for the Worst-Case Scenario; a philosophical study of post-apocalyptic themes within entertainment. I had read about Wasteland Weekend as being the biggest Mad Max festival in the world so I knew I had to make work there. It’s a 4,000 capacity festival in the Mojave Desert that sits directly in between Hollywood and the Nevada Nuclear Test Site. To be allowed in you have to be dressed like the world has ended.

What was your experience like working with the participants at Wasteland Weekend?

JPS: Despite the intimidating costumes, armoured vehicles, the "fuckyous" as greetings; the thing that surprised me most was the sense of absolute inclusion, community and the sense of everyone looking out for each other. I went by myself, flew into LA and caught a ride with someone who responded to a post on one of the festival facebook groups. I was almost overwhelmed with how friendly people were when I got there. As an example, on the first day I hadn’t adjusted to the desert yet and was staggering around with a mixture of heat stroke and jet lag. A couple saw me and ushered me into the their camp and sat me down in the shade. When I started to feel better they offered me a margarita on ice and the guy said “We’re at the end of the world, we’ve got to look after out fellow man, we’re an endangered species now” - which kind of sums it up.

After experiencing the way different communities view ideas of the future or post-apocalypse through your work, what are your personal takeaways on the subject matter? How do you see the future unfolding?

JPS: I started making work about contemporary post-apocalyptic narratives to understand why it’s a thing. One of the recurring research questions I’ve been working with is why are films like Mad Max so popular (when it was released the 1979 original was the highest grossing film of all time) and ultimately what that says about the human condition, the society we have built for ourselves and late-capitalism. These narratives are becoming increasingly mainstream, offering not only a window of escape from our day-to-day lives but also a way of dealing with an uncertain future. In general though I am unflinchingly optimistic about the future, but perhaps that is just part of my character.

Lastly, what can we expect next for you and your work?
JPS: That’s a good question. I’m still working towards finishing Preparations for the Worst-Case Scenario, a larger, more ambitious project. It’s a slow process, each picture takes weeks and months to negotiate access to photograph each of the sites but it feels like the shooting is nearly finished. As well as that I’m starting to think about research for the series after that.

©Aint-Bad 2019 - This text is for research purposes, no copyright infringement is intended.

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