Breaking into photography can be tough, but according to Joshua Aronson, the key to success is relatively simple — be in the right place at the right time.
The 24-year-old photographer has no formal training, yet he’s shot for The New York Times and has worked with Dev Hynes and Virgil Abloh. These opportunities happened partly due to luck — Aronson met the right people and used his self-described “make-something-out-of-nothing mentality” to take advantage of everything he was offered.
Of course, chance meetings are nothing if you lack the skills to back up your words. But when you browse through his images, Aronson’s talent shines through. He plays with natural light and shadows to create intimate, tender portraits that seem more like candid snaps of old friends or a lover than a professionally posed image.
Aronson is drawn to capturing other young creatives hovering somewhere between obscurity and fame. With Aronson having moved from his hometown of Miami to New York, the scenery he documents has changed, his images serving as time capsules for what was happening creatively at the time. Or, as he puts it, “Someone 10, 20 years from now can look back and ask, ‘What was going on in 2017 in New York, or Miami, or in Los Angeles?’ And they can see these images and get an understanding of what it was like.”
We caught up with the young photographer over the phone to talk about breaking into photography, working with Virgil Abloh, and why print isn’t dead yet.
Do you have any formal photography training?
I never studied photography. My philosophy was that if I knew I was going to be pursuing photography out in the world, I should study something completely different so that I don’t graduate and have only one thing to talk about. I studied philosophy to kind of broaden my horizons and give myself something to make photos about.
How did you end up connecting with Virgil Abloh?
Through friends I’d met just being around Art Basel. I feel like that’s half the battle, just making yourself available. Opening your mind to the possibility that you could be having lunch in Miami with some friends and run into a guy like Virgil. It’s an always-be-on-your-toes, make-something-out-of-nothing mentality.
Virgil’s also incredibly busy. So the other half of the battle is nailing him down. But when the creative agency CCCC got involved, things started to come together. We rented a car and drove out to the [Pacific] Palisades to shoot this campaign. It all happened in under an hour, as we were literally chasing light down the coast. The shot that ended up being published in the magazine happened just as the sun was setting.
You also shot the Dev Hynes-Nelly Furtado cassette tape back in 2015. How did that happen?
Dev was working with my friend, the creative director and DJ, Nick Harwood, at the time. I was living between Chicago and Miami, so Nick had me come by Dev’s performance at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2015. Nelly Furtado was there, and their tape was about to drop, and they needed an image because they had never been photographed together. Nick asked if I’d do it, and I said, “Yes, of course.” I love Dev and the way he’s expanding our understanding of masculine identity. It was an honor for me to photograph him. I kind of consider that the start of my story.
Tell me about shooting for ‘The New York Times.’
The New York Times shoot was really special to me. Eve Lyons, the styles photo editor, liked the idea of a photographer photographing another photographer. Also, the fact that I was 23 and Tyler was 22 lent itself to a story already.
I think I’d been internet friends with Tyler for five years at that point. We’d never met before, and coming together in this way for The Times was really kind of beautiful.
Is taking photos of a photographer different to working with regular people?
For me, every photograph is this marriage of interests. One is my agenda and the things I want to say with my photography, and the other is the subject and what they are interested in getting out of the images.
That sounds very transactional.
I think photography, in a way, is a transaction. It’s a way of not only sort of documenting a moment in time, but also proposing something for the future.
I’m a person who is looking to pick people’s brains and understand people’s minds. It’s a transaction where you give someone what they want and they give you what you want, but at the same time, you’re also just sort of hanging out. Like, photography for me is, you know, people say, “Hey, let’s get a beer, let’s grab a coffee.” Taking a portrait is my way of getting a coffee with somebody.
You mentioned previously that you’re releasing a book this year. Do you have any more details on that?
I’m developing this all in real time, but I want the book to be a musing on fragility and how that relates to our identities. Right now, a lot of these pillars of masculinity, the idea of the patriarchy, and the way that we view masculine identity is being questioned. In a way, the photographs that make it into the book are my way of continuing that, of trying to understand what it means to be a man in 2018 and proposing this new idea for masculine identity.
Why a book specifically? Why do you want to put out a physical object?
I think the book is sort of an antithesis to what’s happening with photography right now.
Obviously, a lot of photography is being consumed at such a rapid rate. Because you see so many images, your eyes are desensitized and your brain is oversaturated — so none of the pictures are really able to affect you or mean anything.
Doing the book is to say that I believe in these images that I’m putting out. I’m not just posting them on social media to be scrolled through and double-tapped or whatever. I’m putting these images in a physical object so that they can last forever.
Do you have any advice for young artists trying to break into the industry?
My advice would be that you have to put yourself in the picture. Ultimately, the only thing that you can offer that’s unique is yourself and your opinions. And so, if you’re not making every image with that in mind, what are you doing? Are you really pushing this thing forward?
Anyone can have great references. We can all go on Tumblr, or read books, or magazines, and get inspiration from the photographers that came before us. But in order to really evolve, and to really push the medium, you have to look within and ask yourself what it is that you want to say.
Next up, read our interview with Kelela, taken from issue 16 of Highsnobiety magazine.