Art Producers Speak: Joel Slocum

We emailed Art Buyers and Art Producers around the world asking them to submit names of established photographers who were keeping it fresh and up-and-comers who they are keeping their eye on. If you are an Art Buyer/Producer or an Art Director at an agency and want to submit a photographer anonymously for this column email:

Anonymous Art Director: I nominate: Joel Slocum. “ Joel has an incredible eye and fastidious work.”

Architecture has always had an influence on my way of seeing. It’s no surprise it forms “center-stage” in much of my work.

An image from the first shoot I did after moving to the city.

An image from my personal project “Anthromorphology”.

“Anthromorphology” started out as a simple test, and turned into an exploration of possibilities.

This shot was never part of any story, so I have difficulty placing it, but it is one that haunts me in the best possible way.

An image from “Skinned” which ran in The Fashionisto.

I’m always surprised to see the threshold of human capability. Steven actually dislocated his shoulder to do something really magical (which you don’t see at first glance), it’s in his hands, in how they knit together in ways I’ve only seen in marble.

An image from a series called “Rituals.” This was my first (successful) attempt at a completely art driven concept. From clothes hand sewn at all hours of the night, to figuring out how to shoot a story in New York while seemingly outside of it. I was fortunate enough to have The Wild, a fashion publication share it when it was beyond the traditional scope of “brand-driven editorials”.

An image from my current creative endeavor “Facing Fiction”.

Fanely was the first portrait sitting I had set up with the agency, before “Facing Fiction” was even an iota of a thought. I had no idea, nor any intention of beginning a new project, but sometimes, it’s in the middle of shooting when you’re struck with something more. I have Fanely to thank for one of these moments.

An image from the current SS2013 Ad Campaign for men’s luxury accessory label “title of work”.

I call this one “A Cover for V”… I think every now and again we need to remember to dream. Who knows, if I can visualize it now…

This is what happens when a shoot goes blissfully wrong. What started out as a nightmare involving a stylist not showing up for a location shoot, turned into an on the fly run to the flower district for a spring shoot in December. What came from it was the first image I’ve ever taken that I could call “pretty”.

How many years have you been in business?

I guess it would be just around 2 years at this point. I’m a baby! Oh man, and I look it too. Is that good or bad? Important at all? Infuriating that I’m answering questions with questions?

Are you self-taught or photography school taught?

Does one count a singular attendance to the first class of Intro to Photography? I only enrolled to convince my parents a camera was a necessary and solid investment (I was tired of playing around with my dinky point and shoot, and couldn’t afford one at the time)… Really though, how about peer taught? I learned everything I needed to know in one hour sitting down with a friend of mine, Lei Gong, an incredible photographer in his own right (does this count as an anonymous recommendation?).

Who was your greatest influence that inspired you to get into this business?

I’m not sure if I’m actually in the business or not. I feel like I’m an outsider dipping his toe in and scraping the edge, tracing the pool of some elusive pond, trying to find the right point of entry for a full-on swan dive. I think though, inspiration hit me hard with Richard Avedon. Even in his fashion images there was a semblance of humanity, and as I started to be inspired by these images, photographers struck me for different reasons, Steven Meisel for his story telling, Tim Walker for his fantasy, Ismael Moumin and Paolo Roversi for their austerity. I find literature, art and science just as compelling. Surrealism being a fundamental structure in my work, I look to creators such as Eduardo Berti, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel and Georgia O’Keeffe to challenge my way of seeing through the lens. Meanwhile, I dissect the surreal with the absolutism of biology and hyperrealism, encouraged by the works of Albert Camus, Darcy Thompson and Péter Nádas. I think we see this dichotomy most in architecture, which is my ultimate visual inspiration. Conjectures of space, they can’t be beat! Summation: creation inspires creation.

How do you find your inspiration to be so fresh, push the envelope, stay true to yourself so that creative folks are noticing you and hiring you?

Well, I think getting hired has more to do with whom you know, but that only goes so far as how much you know. In order to keep challenging my work I keep myself visually overloaded. I run my own blog Harold + Mod (, which is my inspiration feed and also a useful tool to spread my work. The fact that a single photo of mine has been seen by thousands of people around the world really is overwhelming. I think this constant influx keeps me thinking of new ideas and mulling on reinvention, which has helped my work tremendously in being innovative.

Do you find that some creatives love your work but the client holds you back?

Hahahaha, how to answer this without alienation? Actually, clients have really developed my technique. Their demands have required me to progress my skill set, and a vast majority of them are actually looking for something gripping, eye-catching, innovative… it’s all just a matter of paradox, of how you present an idea as collaborative and shared. No one wants a tyrant; we’re all here to be part of something.

What are you doing to get your vision out to the buying audience?

A lot of getting people interested in my work is dependent on getting people exposed to it. I try to open as many avenues as I can for exposure. For instance, my work with Major Models, was spurred by doing a test with an unsigned guy. When Major picked him up my work stood out in a novice portfolio and I was contacted for tests. They now supply me with faces for my personal work, which I help to fuel content for my professional goals. This means access to agency models for editorial shoots, a precursor for getting your story run as a novice.

What is your advice for those who are showing what they think the buyers want to see?

Buyers aren’t going to be interested. If the work isn’t for you, it’s obvious. I recently did a shoot that was completely against everything I wanted and it pleased the client, but it is the worst work I have ever turned out. It was disingenuous and insubstantial and in the end won’t bring the client money. That said, not all work you produce under your own creative direction will be viable. There are factors of taste, trend and precedence that dictate more than art for art’s sake (at least coming from a fashion standpoint) which is why I study before any shoot. Consider each shoot an essay. You do have to know the facts… it’s just a matter of how you present them that counts.

Are you shooting for yourself and creating new work to keep your artistic talent true to you?

Funny you should ask. I am indeed, haha!

In February, I started what I’ve come to call Facing Fiction (, a 100 portrait series that will take approximately 2.5 years to complete. I’m already over 1/10 of the way through shooting these portraits and still going strong.

It all started after that recent mishap of the aforementioned shoot. I felt detached and uninspired and I needed a reminder as to why I was interested in all of this to begin with (cue the melodramatic refrains of some nihilist concerto). Anyway, I reconnected after shooting two portraits. I was reminded of the rare intimacy a photographer has with a subject, much in the same way a priest has with a parishioner. The confession as it were is a capture I take with me in a frame.

But get this, I decided I wanted to make this a global project and involve more people than can just be included in a one-on-one sitting; and this is where fiction comes in.

The series has become a social involvement project, where I post 4 captures from a session and allow the public to decide what this individual’s portrait will be. After that, the final composition is posted and used as visual inspiration for a fiction piece: a story/document/poem that centers round this character. The ultimate goal is to turn this into a book.

I told my father when I was 12, that I would make a bestseller. Who knows, maybe this is it?

How often are you shooting new work?

In addition to a full-time career as an art director myself, I shoot every weekend. Saturdays are dedicated to the FFP, and I allocate Sundays to professional work, which happen bimonthly.

Joel Slocum is an American fashion, beauty and art photographer currently based in New York City. Known for his keen eye in austerity and romanticism his work is driven by the exploration of sexual attitudes, an interest that has stemmed from observations in a global upbringing. Joel Slocum has created compelling multimedia visual identities for established and emerging brands. His work has been featured on internationally acclaimed platforms such as Elle, The Wall Street Journal, The Wild and The Fashionisto, among others.


APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies. She has a new Twitter fed with helpful marketing information.  Follow her@SuzanneSease.

There Are 2 Comments On This Article.