Creative Lives — “Be prepared to get rejected”: Photographer Josh Adam Jones on persistence and hard work

Posted 19 November 2019 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Introduction by Ayla Angelos

Josh Adam Jones, a Bristol-based freelance photographer, learnt the true meaning of hard graft from those closest to him. His parents had to work for the things they have, presenting him with a fine example of what it means when you don't have everything handed over on a plate. “My upbringing was great,” he says, “but I constantly remind myself of certain privileges and try to keep my social morals and responsibilities in perspective.” Josh has gone on to achieve a BA in Photography at UWE and is about to finish an MA – taking on various personal projects, numerous commissions and assisting photographers on the side. While doors have certainly opened, many doors have closed on him, too. “Some people even open the door quite a lot before acting like the door never existed.” Having overcome a few challenges along the way, we speak to Josh about his journey into photography, why resilience is key and how you should be prepared to get rejected “quite a lot”.

Josh Adam Jones

Job Title

Photographer

Based

Bristol

Place of Study

BA Photography, University of the West of England (2015-2018)
MA Photography, University of the West of England (2018-2020)

Selected Clients

UWE, AECOM, Avon & Somerset Constabulary, theprintspace, British Council

Website
Social Media

Josh

Day-to-Day

How would you describe what you do?
I would describe myself as a social documentary and portrait photographer, but in truth, there are a number of other things that I do in order to sustain my practice. I work as an assistant to a handful of photographers in Bristol and London, and I also work at University of the West of England (UWE) as a student ambassador and on the Central Loans Desk.

I am approaching the end of a Masters in Photography, so there is a lot of balancing happening in my life right now. Having recently been signed with Lisa Pritchard Agency as part of their Futures scheme, my commercial photography practice is slowly building in momentum, yet I am still to find that big break into the advertising world. Therefore, the companies and clients that I have worked for have mainly been in the area of events, conferences and corporate video interviews which, compared to my personal projects, involves a very different way of working.

What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
If I am working on my own stuff, I tend to work a lot from home. I recently won the EIZO Student Award, so the new monitor I received has helped my workflow a lot. Working from home often involves retouching images, catching up on emails, researching for the Masters, applying for awards or grants and generally attending to the running of a photography business.

“Whether I'm occupied with a self-led long-term project or working for a client, this job is a game of extremes.”

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
Personally, I think the most enjoyable aspect of the job is largely having the choice of my own working hours, meaning there is quite a bit of freedom and flexibility for when and where I work. However, this is simultaneously the least enjoyable aspect of the job, as there always seems to be a drastic uncertainty of how I am going to pay my rent every month.

Whether I am occupied with a self-led long-term project or working for a client, this job is a game of extremes. There are wonderful highs where all things seem to slot neatly in place, which is often followed by crippling low points where it gets very difficult to remember the good parts. For me, photography consumes almost all of my life in some way or another; I am still trying to find a healthy work-life balance. That being said, being a photographer is incredibly rewarding on many levels, so opportunities (such as this interview) really do allow for a deep personal reflection, which is an important process to go through regularly.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
XO is a piece of work that began in 2018 while I was completing my final year at university. Since its inception, the project has developed and moulded into something that I am generally very happy with, yet conflicted about overall. It has been incredibly exciting to disseminate the work on a global stage, but I have also questioned my authenticity, validity and success every step of the way.

As a brief summary about the work, the series was intended to tackle personal misconceptions of Middle Eastern culture and Western misrepresentations of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] region by focussing particularly on Muscat, the capital city of Oman. What I hope about the resulting exhibition series with Ffotogallery and British Council is that the work might promote healthy conversation about the themes involved.

XO: commissioned by Ffotogallery and the British Council for The Place I Call Home

XO: commissioned by Ffotogallery and the British Council for The Place I Call Home

XO: commissioned by Ffotogallery and the British Council for The Place I Call Home

What skills would you say are essential to your job?
It is essential to have resilience in this job, which is a skill that I am working on. People are always closing the door on you, or even opening the door just a little bit to get you excited, before quickly closing it again… some people even open the door quite a lot before acting like the door never existed in the first place.

Besides that, it is really important to be personable with everyone, especially when working on set. I have assisted a number of photographers and things can get stressful, for sure, but there is nothing worse than treating someone differently because they are ‘lower’ in the hierarchy. I don’t really agree with the ‘pecking order’ way of things, and I think it should be regarded as a team effort instead, like it very much is.

What do you like about working in Bristol?
This city is very much a microcosm of what is happening in London. Without wanting to advertise the place even more, as rent prices and the property situation is getting somewhat tricky, Bristol is a hub of creativity, diversity and really good places to drink! I love being able to cycle quite easily to jobs, even with a small lighting kit on the paneer rack, before finishing the day in a pub by the harbourside.

“Bristol is a hub of creativity, diversity and really good places to drink!”

What tools do you use most for your work?
My long-form pieces of work are predominantly made with analogue cameras, but more recently I am incorporating digital too. A digital workflow has been prevalent for a while within these projects, as I mostly scan film to work on as a digital file. However, I have started to print more in the colour darkroom which has been a wonderful process to relearn.

In terms of specifics, I regularly use a Mamiya RB67, Hasselblad 500 CM and a Canon 5D mkii. To scan film I use a Hasselblad Flextight scanner, and then use Adobe Bridge, Photoshop and InDesign within my digital workflow. For tethered shooting on set, I will use CaptureOne which is a really powerful piece of software.

Josh’s project, 99 Peace Walls, 2017

Josh’s project, 99 Peace Walls, 2017

Josh’s project, 99 Peace Walls, 2017

Josh’s project, 99 Peace Walls, 2017

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How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
When I was quite young, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I don’t think I really knew why at the time – maybe it had a lot to do with it sounding like a cool job, or that I was fascinated by the process of discovery. Much like photography, in some ways.

How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
My parents have always worked hard for the things they have, coming from working class roots yet arguably now falling somewhere in between classes. I think this has had a huge impact on my career choices – I have an understanding of having to graft along the way and not having everything handed to me on a plate. My upbringing was great, but I constantly remind myself of certain privileges and try to keep my social morals and responsibilities in perspective.

Did you study at degree level and if so, do you feel you need a formal education for what you do?
I graduated from UWE in 2018 and went straight on to study an MA. I thought the structure of the BA course was very good, and provided a really good base in which I progressed quickly. Of course I could have learnt a lot without the structure of a degree, and could have instead assisted other photographers, for instance, but I felt like having the pressures of ‘real life’ put on hold was important for me.

“I think the biggest challenge that all emerging creatives face is valuing the work that we produce.”

After graduating, what were your initial steps?
Throughout my time studying, I worked on small commissions and assisted other photographers too. Since graduating, I have largely been doing the same, but I have also been able to continue XO as part of a commission from Ffotogallery and British Council called The Place I Call Home. This group project recently launched in Derby last month, followed closely by Kuwait at the start of October, and has provided a global platform to show my work. Although this opportunity has been very good, I am still working two jobs whilst assisting other photographers – it’s still early days for me.

What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
I think the biggest challenge that all emerging creatives face is valuing the work that we produce. As a student, I guess people can and do take advantage of you. Once you are producing work at the same level as a professional though, your rates should reflect that. I learnt very quickly that when a client says, “The budget is really tight for this job, but there will be lots more work in the future,” they rarely mean it. Of course you don’t want to damage relationships for potential future work, but it’s important to remember that you might only do one job for them – don’t undersell yourself.

Josh’s project, Céad Míle Fáilte, 2017

Josh’s project, Céad Míle Fáilte, 2017

What would you say are the biggest challenges associated with being freelance, and how do you deal with these?
The biggest challenges for me are staying motivated and dedicating time out for myself. From month-to-month, I struggle to make ends meet financially, so when I receive multiple rejection emails in one week it is very difficult to stay positive. My work is pretty much with me 24/7 in terms of ideas, potential clients, project work – the list goes on. I therefore find it difficult to dedicate time away from these things. I’ve recently started climbing indoors again, and I find this helps a lot.

How important have you found social media and self-promotion in your work?
I find social media to be an entity of two dramatic extremes. In some ways, social media is important for promoting work and all of the things that go with it – behind-the-scenes, exhibitions, talks and so on. It is also a valuable tool to research other people in the industry, such as curators, producers and picture editors. In other ways, social media is a highly toxic, self-indulgent space in which things are curated to always look positive and successful, and I often find myself comparing my life and work to others. I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way, and I think we all need to keep an eye on how we engage with social media.

XO: commissioned by Ffotogallery and the British Council for The Place I Call Home

XO: commissioned by Ffotogallery and the British Council for The Place I Call Home

Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next?
I am working through some new stuff as part of my MA, but creatively I feel a little stunted. On top of this, I am trying to figure out what ‘type’ of photographer I want to be. Having a commercial agent doesn’t mean guaranteed work, so I am trying not to be complacent with finding new potential clients. A goal for me is to land my first advertising job, mainly so I can be more financially stable for a period of time but also to allow myself the time to concentrate more on the projects that are personal to me.

Balancing the time between personal and paid work has been really hard, especially over the summer. As much as I would like to dedicate the remaining months of my MA solely to working on my own stuff, rent and bills don’t go away.

Could you do this job forever?
In short, yes. However, I want to be challenged and don't want to become complacent in the work that I make – both personally and professionally.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Be prepared to get rejected, quite a lot. Competitions, clients, grants – the list continues, but you can’t win them all. Learn to be persistent without being irritating, and be prepared to play the long game. Anyone can make a good picture, but not everyone has what it takes to find the right ways to ‘sell themselves’ as a photographer, either through personal work or commissioned work. It’s hard and I would say I’m still learning a lot every day.

Posted 19 November 2019 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Introduction by Ayla Angelos
Introduction: Ayla Angelos
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Photography
Mentions: Josh Adam Jones

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