MICHAEL JOSEPH

Michael Joseph is a street and street portrait photographer. Raised just outside of New York City, his inspirations are drawn from interactions with strangers on city streets and aims to afford his audience the same experience through his photographs. His portraits are made on the street, unplanned and up close to allow the viewer to explore the immediate and unseen. 

Michael’s project “Lost and Found” has been featured on CNN.comVice.comAllAboutPhoto.com and published in magazines internationally. He has been exhibited internationally, notably in the Aperture Gallery (New York, NY), Daniel Cooney Fine Art (New York, NY), The Getty Images Gallery (London, UK), and the Rayko Gallery (San Francisco, CA). His portraits are held in the permanent collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Indiana and private collections. He is a 2016 Photolucida Top 50 winner and LensCulture Portrait Award Finalist. He is a recipient of the fellowship in photography from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Peter S. Reed Foundation. He is represented by Daniel Cooney Fine Art (New York, NY).


PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: Lost and Found

2011 – current

Lost and Found is a portrait series that examines the individual souls of lost youth who abandon home to travel around the country by hitchhiking and freight train hopping. Within their personal journey driven by wanderlust, escapism or a search for transient jobs, they find a new family in their traveling friends. They are photographed on public streets using natural light, in the space in which they are found. 

Like graffiti on the walls of the city streets they inhabit and the trains they ride, their bodies and faces become the visual storybook of their lives. Their clothing is often a mismatch of found items. Jackets, pants and vests are self-made like a patchwork quilt, using fabric pieces of a fellow traveler’s clothing embellished by metal bottle caps, buttons, safety pins, lighter parts, syringe caps, and patches. The high of freedom however, does not come without consequence. Their lifestyle is physically risky and rampant with substance abuse.

Each traveler’s story is different, but they are bound by a sense of community. Often unseen and mistaken by their appearances, they are some of the kindest people one might meet. Their souls are open and their gift is time. As one states, “They will give you their time because time is all they have.” And in some cases, in the family they have lost, they have found each other.

Trey, New Orleans, LA  2017 © Michael Joseph

Alex, New Orleans, LA  2018, © Michael Joseph

Smiles & Ophelia, New Orleans 2015 © Michael Joseph

Knuckles, Las Vegas 2011 © Michael Joseph


When and where did Lost and Found begin?

In many ways, this project found me. I was working on a separate project, making up-close street portraits of strangers. I was in Las Vegas in 2011 and saw a man standing on the sidewalk from a cab window. He had a very specific look with piercing, blue eyes. I made the cab driver stop so I could meet this man and I asked to photograph him. We didn't have much conversation and I didn't obtain any contact information from him. It was only until I got home to Boston, that I saw how striking the image was. As I continued to make portraits of strangers around the United States, I would run into other people that knew the man I photographed in Las Vegas. He was known as "Knuckles" to many. As time passed, the project split off to focus on these "Travelers." I was enthralled by the way they lived and how their free lives inspired me as an artist. Three years later, I was forced to get off of the "L" in Chicago en route to the airport. As I turned the corner, there was Knuckles sitting by the stop; I recognized him by the anchor tattoo on his face. Three months later, I ran into him again in Union Square in NYC. We spent the weekend together, and I was introduced to and photographed many of his friends. As I traveled around to photograph I would run into many travelers in different places and at different points in time. Travelers are on the move, yet belong to a greater network, so they are constantly losing and finding one another. Some time later, after giving a talk at the Light Factory in Charlotte, VA, I met the mother and aunt of Knuckles and was invited back to his parents' home. We went to dinner and I met his family. Knuckles, although he had settled for a bit in Charlotte had left to travel the world, starting in Spain. It really blew my mind that all of this evolved from talking to a stranger on the side of the road.

Where do you see this project going?

This project is still in-progress but tightening up and entering a new phase. Given the tough lifestyle, many travelers "live hard and die fast." I have been keeping in close touch not only with the kids I photograph but their parents as well. Sadly, I have attended way too many memorial services. In contrast, many travelers I photographed settled down and started families. Time is such an important factor in creating work. Time makes us re-evaluate where we have been and where we are going. It also moves the narrative forward without much choice. I often feel that social media forces artists to produce and show work so quickly due to its temporal nature. But, sometimes, giving work the space and time to evolve adds to the richness of a project. With this project, nearing 7 complete years and going into its 8th, I am now meeting new travelers who are bitten by wanderlust and new experiences. They have yet to feel the weight of years on the road like many of the travelers I have photographed over years experienced. I will always continue to keep in touch with and follow those I photograph in the sprit of Mary Ellen Mark and many others. I gladly call them my friends. This work has been widely exhibited in pieces, but never as a dedicated, single person show. There are plans to have a full exhibit of this work at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York City in early to mid-2019. My ideal outcome of this work is to not only bring attention to a sub-culture of people who deserve to be seen but also for their lives to inform ours. I wold love to have this volume of work published as a record of the lives of these travelers, both those who continue and those who have passed.

What helps you sustain your current creative practice?

I live a creative life by folding the creative process into my free time. By shooting on the street and making specific trips to shoot, I am able to spend intensive periods of time producing work. When I am shooting on the street, it is often an all-day affair. I review work at night and then rinse and repeat the next day. I meet with mentors and other artists/photographers to discuss our projects and review work. Giving talks on this project also forces me to look back and often consider the future of the project. I often think about this project when exercising, listening to music or while traveling on the way to a shooting location.

What’s next for you?

I am currently working on another portrait project but it is still in development. The project is still street portraiture with some similar concepts, but also vastly different. There are plans to have "Lost and Found" as a solo exhibit at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York City in early to mid-2019.

What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?

I think Richard Renaldi is one of the most inspiring and important photographers out there. His life is reflected in his work. I am inspired by his willingness to constantly connect with people and be truly open. His ongoing self-portrait series "Hotel Room Portraits" doesn't receive much attention, but it depicts him with his partner, Seth in different hotel rooms around the world. The series is not hyper-sexualized but invites the viewer into a private space to see a true relationship and how it evolves with time.

I am also vastly intrigued by Lissa Rivera and her project "Beautiful Boy." The project depicts her partner as a muse. It examines photography’s connection with identity on a such a personal level. I am often in awe of the courage of her partner to be the center of the piece and to allow us to see inside.


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