Interview with Joel Pulliam
TIFA 2020 Winner, 1st Place, Book category – “The Consolation of Dew”
Photography is often a way to process difficult emotions – through it, the artist can express his/herself and attempt to work through and better understand them. This was the case of Joel Pulliam, a father who has lost his daughter. His images in his book show us a glimpse into his meditation of loss, grief and mortality.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background?
I was born in the western United States. I received my bachelor‘s degree in History and Literature from Harvard University, and later a law degree. I moved to Tokyo three years ago.
Q: What is the most difficult feeling to capture in a photo?
Surely this depends on the photographer and his or her personal circumstances. What interests me, though, is that we humans often experience more than one feeling at the same time — even feelings generally thought of as contradictory. Capturing this complexity is the real challenge.
Q: How did you feel about sharing such deep feelings in your ‘The Consolation of Dew’ project?
The project was my way of exploring and understanding my own emotional state. I didn‘t work on it with other people in mind. But now that the book is complete, I am comfortable sharing it. Grief is, after all, a universal human experience.
Q: What would you say to someone starting out in the world of photography?
There has never been a better time to be a photographer! Surround yourself by the best possible photography, and shoot as often as you can.
Q: What’s your favorite picture?
Lately, I can‘t get Robert Frank’s “Sick of Good-byes”, out of my mind. It is so raw and so full of feeling. And it reminds me that to make a great photograph, it isn‘t necessary to go somewhere exotic or do something highly technical.
Q: What does winning this award mean for you?
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, communicating with others in the photographic community has become more difficult. Winning this award has given me an invaluable opportunity to connect with other photographers and to show and discuss my work.
Q: Name 5 photographers who have inspired you.
There have been so many! I am especially inspired by black-and-white photographers whose work has complex emotional qualities and moves printing and bookmaking forward in new ways. Josef Koudelka, John Gossage, Kikuji Kawada, Hajime Kimura, Jungjin Lee.
Q: Is there one photograph of yours that you are very proud of? Why?
For me, crafting a strong sequence of photographs is more rewarding than taking a great individual photograph. In a successful series, even a seemingly simple photograph can play an important role — and at the same time, an amazing photograph may have to be left out if it doesn‘t fit.
Q: What themes guide your work and process?
I try to engage with existing artistic traditions, and then to add something to them. Beyond that, every project is different, with themes that emerge through the connections I am making subconsciously. The process of photography educates me about myself.
Q: What was your first formal job as a photographer?
I have never had a formal photography job. It’s been a privilege to be able to photograph what I want in the way that I want.