Patrick Joust is one of those photographers that awes you whit every shot. For this article, I could barely manage to make a selection of his work as there are just too many mesmerising pictures.
Hailing from the city of Baltimore, which was a lot in the news lately, Patrick knows to capture the city both the beautiful America as the raw side of the city as well. We’ve been awed by Patrick his photography of the city for nearly a decade now, so it’s about time we shared with you the unintentionally kept secret of Patrick Joust his photography.
“I love Baltimore. It’s a special place, and I hope I’m capturing some of that through my photography. It’s easy for me to love it here since I live in a nice neighborhood and have a great job.”
How have you and your photography been doing these years? Do you feel that your style has changed over the years?
Thanks for seeking out my work again! I’ve been keeping busy. My main issue is trying to decide on which aspects of my work I want to spend the most time on. I don’t know if my style has necessarily changed over the years, but there are a lot of threads I’ve been following and trying to develop. I’ve got lots of ideas, but a limited amount of time. I became a father two years ago, which has been a major change, obviously. My wife and I try to support each other and our creative efforts, so even though I’m not as free to just go shoot on a whim as I was before, I can still make time for photography, just as she can make time for writing or her comics. My son has become a major subject and inspiration. Most of the pictures I take of him are the standard snapshots every parent takes. I’ve long been inspired byJack Radcliffe, Cynthia Henebry, D. Fujio, Cheyenne (cowboy_montgomery), Alaine Laboile and others who have done beautiful work recording their children’s lives. I hope to do the same in my own way as long as my son is a willing participant.
You used to photograph with Michael Wriston (who’s work we discovered through you and who told us he was quite influenced by you). Are you still in contact with him every once in a while?
Mike has moved a couple of times since we first became friends, years ago. Unfortunately, since he doesn’t live in Baltimore anymore, I can’t just call him up if I want to go shooting, but we still hang out when we can. I got a chance to shoot with him a little last fall when he was up this way visiting family. He now lives in Georgia. I also spent several days with him in northern California when he was still living there, about a year and a half ago. Here’s a picture of the two of us that Christopher Hall took during that trip.
Mike’s been a big influence on me as well and I continue to be inspired by the work he’s doing. When I got together with him in California, it had been more than three years since we’d photographed together. I followed his work around the middle of coastal California, but it was really interesting seeing some of these places in person, many of which I’d been to before, but not as a photographer.
I’m very impressed with his unique way of capturing places like Monterey, Salinas, Seaside, Santa Cruz, and the places in-between. These tourist and farming towns are most often depicted in a predictable way, but he created a body of work there that is different than anything else I’ve seen. Baltimore, central California and Georgia are all very different from each other, but he’s hit the ground running in his new home and I’m enjoying the new work a lot. My grandmother was from Georgia, but I’ve barely been there myself. I’m looking forward to taking some time to visit him there.
How did you start out with photography yourself?
After a misguided and very short stint at law school, I moved to Baltimore twelve years ago where I found a job for a small non-profit that worked with people living with AIDS/HIV. My job there required travel to locations throughout the city where I was involved in tutoring, advocating, driving people to doctor’s appointments, computer training … basically whatever was needed on a particular day. In those travels I found myself itching to take pictures of my surroundings. While I had visited Baltimore before, I never got to experience the city as a whole, both the good and the bad.
Until this time I kind of looked down on photography. I liked it, but it seemed easy and a “lesser art” compared to painting, for instance. I still highly regard painters, but I found out taking a good picture was a lot harder than I thought. For the first few years, I mostly just played around with taking pictures. It took me quite a while to become satisfied with my output and find “my voice.” During all this time, I moved to California for three years and then moved back to Baltimore after that. Luckily I didn’t give up on photography and eventually I developed the right groove.
We know virtually nothing about Baltimore but what the Wire has told us (now in HD). What can you tell us about the city of Baltimore?
Unlike most (almost all) movie and television depictions of just about anything real, The Wire does an amazing job of depicting Baltimore. I’ve watched it several times now, though I haven’t yet seen it in HD. I avoided it for several years, simply because I couldn’t believe that a TV show could do such a good job. It doesn’t show every facet of the city, but nothing could accomplish that. It’s an amazing achievement because it not only entertains but has pushed many viewers to think differently about “the drug war” and issues of racism, class and poverty in America.
In terms of social problems, Baltimore’s not really all that different than a lot of other places in America. Sometimes a place like Baltimore will get singled out, held up as an exception in terms of crime, blight and other social problems even though it’s actually a near outlier on a national spectrum. It’s hard to find a place in America where the issues depicted in The Wire don’t exist. The lines that divide up our cities and towns can disguise these issues, especially when so many either choose not to cross those lines or are unable to, depending on their circumstances. Some people are segregated due to economic, racial and other circumstances and some choose self segregation. Even though a lot of our greatest achievements, as a country, have been because of the mixing of different cultures, a lot of Americans still live parallel lives that rarely intersect.
My work, as a reference librarian at a public library, brings me into contact with a diverse group of people and my photography does so as well, but I experience Baltimore very differently than those less privileged. At least a third of the city lives at or below the official poverty line. Poverty here can be extreme, not just because of misallocated resources, crime, etc., but in the lack of social mobility entrenched in our society and a complete lack of political will to do anything about it. A recent study compared kids in the poorest neighborhoods of Baltimore to those in Johannesburg, New Delhi and other cities and found that youth in Baltimore face the same kinds of issues or worse that the youth in these underdeveloped countries. The United States has one of the most rigid class structures among modern democracies, this in spite of a national mythology that promotes the belief that everyone is treated equally. There’s even the question as to whether the United States can include itself on a list of modern democracies. A recent study concluded that, at this point in our history, we are actually closer to an oligarchy.
I love Baltimore. It’s a special place, and I hope I’m capturing some of that through my photography. It’s easy for me to love it here since I live in a nice neighborhood and have a great job. Huge swaths of the east and west sides of Baltimore hemorrhage residents who have any means to escape, even while the city attracts a large number of young professionals and students every year. The only economic growth that takes place in this city caters to these new, mostly white, residents that are so loved by developers. Because we don’t have a holistic social welfare system or the will to put one in place, because we’re not honest about the way our justice system works, because we don’t acknowledge that there aren’t enough good jobs for everyone to have one, and because of a basic lack of empathy and a “me first” attitude, these problems persist. This is what things are like in Baltimore, but again, you’ll find the same thing in Oakland, Chicago, Washington DC and elsewhere.
Being on the streets of Baltimore at all times of day with a camera, you must have experienced some interesting adventures? Do you have any stories to share with us?
I don’t know if I’d call them adventures, but one of the great pleasures of roaming around Baltimore with a camera are the small encounters I’ve had with people that I might not have the excuse to talk to otherwise. A few weeks ago I was photographing with some friends and we talked to some residents on the edge of a neighborhood called Middle East. They told us about wildlife that was returning to parts of their neighborhood where thousands of row homes have been torn down, leaving empty lots behind. We were shown a picture of a large hawk one of them had photographed. I’m kind of lazy, so if I wasn’t out photographing I’d probably be inside my house watching bad movies. These encounters are a lot of what attracts me to photography.
I also really enjoy lingering in a place at night, while I’m holding the shutter open, watching the scene I’m photographing. I love how photography gives me an excuse to stop and stare; to simply look at something closely. It’s made all the better when the photo turns out well, but as great as the photo as an artifact can be, I especially love how it reminds me of the experience I had taking it. Not every photo is like that, but enough are to make it something I want to keep repeating.
How do you manage to get so many amazing portraits of (seemingly) random people on the streets?
It was very slow going for me to get up the courage to take pictures of strangers I met on the street. A lot of the pictures I take in busy areas and during festivals and parades are surreptitious, but it would be very difficult to pull that off most of the time. I do get plenty of rejection, but the more I ask people for their portraits, the more gumption I have had to continue, in spite of my generally introverted nature. Working at a busy public library might help me with that as well. When you engage with lots of different people throughout the day, I think it helps lower your own guard.
We love your car shots! What draws you to these fantastic pieces of Americana (mostly)? And why do you think others are so drawn to those pictures?
Thanks! I still don’t really know why I photograph cars so much. Part of it is simply because it’s easy. When you’re driving by and there’s an old car and some interesting architecture and lighting, it’s a lot of fun to try and capture that. I have a lot of ambivalence about cars and their mostly detrimental impact on the world, and yet I can still get caught up in the romance of the road. A lot of my friends who photograph cars feel the same way.
There’s a strong connection between Americans and their cars. Part of it must have something to do with childhood and those early years of being in the car and watching the world unfold through the windshield. It’s just central to our culture. I see that sense of wonder in my son when we’re driving from place to place. I would imagine people are drawn to my car pictures for these reasons. For better or worse, the car is very closely tied in with our lives, memories and aspirations.
Do you have any ultimate goals with your photography?
Just to keep doing it and keep getting better. I want to photograph more places and travel as much as I can, but I also want to keep recording Baltimore. I feel like I uncover more of this city with every year I spend here.
What can we expect from Patrick Joust in the future?
Greatness!!! … well, maybe not, but definitely more photos 😉