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Knitting optical illusions: an interview with Joseph Ford / #URBANinsights

New interview for the #URBANinsights series, the exclusive contents dedicated to the winners of URBAN Photo Awards. Today we talk to Joseph Ford, Best Author of the 2021 contest. Enjoy!


Hello Joseph, thank you for taking the time to give us. How would you introduce yourself to those who still don’t know you as a photographer?
I’m a conceptual photographer, mostly photographing people and objects in slightly odd scenarios, often with some sort of optical illusion.

I want to congratulate you for “Invisible Jumpers”, the project that earned you the title of Best Author of URBAN Photo Awards 2021. Can you tell us the “behind the scenes” of this project?
I love optical illusions. I’m always looking for new illusions and sometimes inspiration will come by chance, seeing one object and mistaking it for another, and then figuring out a way to turn my mistake into an image that will inspire other people. I have a friend, Nina Dodd, who likes to knit out of the ordinary things, and this project was born from a collaboration with her.
I enjoy exploring the contradictory notion of using individuals blending into their background with custom-made, individual garments, made slowly by hand in a traditional way. Knitting is the ultimate analogue medium, not mass-produced, complete with imperfections and replete with detail.
At a time when it is often assumed that anything out of the ordinary in photography is solely the result of Photoshop or CGI, it is satisfying to work with a deliberately slow, hand-crafted medium. The results aren’t perfect, there are bits that don’t match up.

Another project of yours that I love was exhibited at Trieste Photo Days, “Aerial Fashion”: would you like to tell us how it was born?
I was lucky enough to spend a few days flying around Sicily in a helicopter for an advertising campaign, and while we were not shooting for that project, I took as many pictures as I could for myself. I’ve always been fascinated by the way that patterns appear in nature or architecture that remind one of other textures, other materials. From a helicopter, cars become toys, tall walls are reduced to lines on the ground, buildings become geometric shapes… When I was sorting through my aerial photographs I spent weeks finding ways of combining aspects of the landscape with details of clothing.  A field with a train track running through it would pair with the zip on a camouflage jacket, or the sand dunes in a desert landscape would match the folds in a rumpled jumper.
Fashion brands liked my first series of pictures, and commissioned me to create more diptychs, photographing in Barcelona, London, various other places.

You are a very multifaceted author: how would you describe your style? Which photographers and artists have influenced you?
I’ve always sought out clean, graphic compositions with a small number of bright colours, whether I’m photographing people, landscapes or still life.
I wouldn’t have started photographing without the influence of Bill Brandt. I love his graphic framing and stark contrasts, and the illusory nature of his nudes in landscapes. In colour, Pedro Almodovar has been very influential. I love his casting, the way he finds such striking actors. That’s definitely something that has fed into my work.

How long have you been photographing? How did you get interested in it?
Since I was at university. I was studying French and Italian and a friend got into photography. I became interested in it through seeing what he was doing. I spent a year of my studies in Paris, and used most of my time to take pictures and go to exhibitions. That made me decide to focus on photography for my career.

What equipment do you use? Do you spend a lot of time editing your images?
I have mostly used Hasselblad and Pentax medium format cameras until recently, and am currently shooting with a Fuji GFX100 and GFX100s. I’m not really bothered by the equipment – it’s just a tool to do the job – so I’ll use whichever camera is best for a particular project.
The amount of editing really varies on what I’m working on. I prefer to keep it to a minimum but when I’m preparing prints for exhibition I’ll spend a long time running tests with different papers to get the colour balance exactly right.

What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer who wants to approach photography professionally?
In your personal work, concentrate on what you really love. People will often commission you based on your personal style, so it’s really important to show work you care about – that way if you’re lucky, you’ll get paid to do work you enjoy.
Don’t worry too much if you don’t feel you know exactly what your style is. If you spend enough time taking pictures, it’ll develop naturally.
If you’re lost for ideas, just take a break – I get most of my ideas when I’m out running in the countryside. It allows me to clear my mind, and then new things come into my head.
Show your work to other people, but don’t pay too much attention to one single person’s comments. It’s easy to be discouraged by a negative comment, but everyone’s reaction to photography is ultimately subjective.

What are your projects for the future? What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a collaborative project with some other artists. It’s getting me very excited as it’s a great way to test out ideas with other people whose work I respect and admire. It’s also quite technically challenging, which I always find stimulating. I love learning new techniques.

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