Rule Breakers: Michael Joseph

“I never want to see another picture of ________.” Industry veterans share their pet peeves on themes in contemporary photography. In this series they present their “rule” along with five photographs that break the rule in an effort to show that great work is the exception to the rule.

Rule Setter: Kat Kiernan, Editor-in-Chief, Don’t Take Pictures
Rule Breaker: Michael Joseph

I never want to see another picture of a homeless person on the street. Regardless of the ethical issues that someone may or may not have with the act of photographing this particular demographic, the fact remains that each year hundreds of practically identical photographs are making their way into classrooms and street photography exhibitions everywhere. Often depicting the homeless with their meager belongings on sidewalks, in parks, or sleeping on doorsteps, these photographs rely on environment instead of the subject to make a compelling portrait.

For his series Lost and Found Michael Joseph eliminates the environment entirely in order to show the storied faces of the voluntarily homeless, a youth counter culture group who travel the country by rail. His subjects are photographed on the street, where they live, but they do not depict “life on the streets.” Using a nearby wall as a backdrop, Joseph’s portraits are devoid of environment. Each person confronts the camera, allowing the viewer to see him or her as a person first and a transient person second. People of various ages, ethnicities, and genders are photographed in the way that he might photograph his sister or friend or teacher. By removing the background, Joseph allows his subjects to tell their own stories through their expressions and gaze. I don’t view them with pity, nor do I romanticize their choices.

—Kat Kiernan

  Parker, Austin, TX 2013

Parker, Austin, TX 2013

  Ari, Provincetown, MA 2013

Ari, Provincetown, MA 2013

  Hot Sauce, New Orleans, LA 2013

Hot Sauce, New Orleans, LA 2013

  Abbot, Cambridge, MA 2013

Abbot, Cambridge, MA 2013

  Gabe, New Orleans, LA 2013

Gabe, New Orleans, LA 2013