An Interview with: Josh Kern
Who are you, and where are you from / studying?
My name is Josh and I was born and raised in a small town in Germany called Kaiserslautern. At the moment I'm based in Dortmund where I study photography and couldn’t be more thankful for that.
How would you best describe your practice in a sentence?
Haha, this is probably my most hated question and it always makes me so nervous. I guess I just try to express my inner world by documenting the world around me. But if you were to ask me face to face, I would mumble something like,
"I photograph my friends“.
What has been your biggest lesson learned as an undergraduate so far?
I first entered university with a completely wrong approach.
I asked it to transform me into a professional photographer so that I can earn money out of my creativity. But it doesn’t work like that. Or at least not for me. I wasn’t in love anymore and if Im not kind of in love Im not able to do anything.
It was a fucked up time and it took me quite a while to finally fall for photography again, and this time with every single aspect of it. No one can teach you that and I don’t think that a classroom is a good environment to fall for something.
But if you are one of those people who are already obsessed, then university is one of the best places to be.
Your work makes me want to run home and watch Kids as soon as possible. Are there any films or photographers that have profoundly influenced your current practice?
Thats a big compliment for me! Movies were such an inspiration in the past.
I watched "Palo Alto" by Gia Cappola over and over again. Probably over a hundred times. Other visual influences were The Virgin Suicides, Basketball Diaries or The Dreamers. But I’m not really into movies anymore.
My photography really changed when I first discovered Petra Collins' series "Teenage Gaze". I fell in love with it immediately and it was also the reason why I started to shoot 35mm film.
After that for about a year I was completely obsessed with everything that Ryan McGinley had ever published. His work and personality motivated me like crazy.
There are so many other great artists, but these two influenced me the most. Right now I’m in love with the work of Chad Moore, Luc Delahaye, and Jim Goldberg.
Whether soft and dreamy or full of grain, the aesthetic qualities of your analogue imagery are far outweighed – in my opinion – by the sincere intimacy and colloquialism you bring to the spectator.
Placing us in the lives of lovers and friends, I respect how you also expose your own vulnerabilities by sharing photographs patched in with diary entries. How does this verbal tangibility of emotion influence the broader reading of your oeuvre?
Thank you so much! It makes me happy that you see it that way. But I actually have no idea how people interpret my writing and to be completely honest with you, I don’t think that this is any of my business.
The thing is that I write these words when I'm very emotional and I let them out without thinking much about it. It's just a way of dealing with my feelings and has no other use for me in that very moment. But when it comes to sharing its different.
I’ve struggled a lot in the past because I was so scared of every social interaction, and my decisions were always based on what other people might think. I just want to prove to myself that it's okay to be seen as I am. More than that, the world doesn’t end because I share something embarrassing. That's the only reason why my notebooks are part of my work.
If you’ve expected a more conceptional meaning, I'm sorry. I could tell you that my words give the whole work a more personal influence, and its totally up to you to see it that way or another, but that's just not what it's about for me.
Sometimes it makes me feel kind of unprofessional between all my other fellow students, but that's something I have to learn to be comfortable with because I don’t want to pretend and lie about myself anymore.
What’s your most coveted photo book?
I could never narrow it down to just one book because I obsess with the same devotion over a new one every few months. But I can tell you that "Winterreise“ by Luc Delahaye is my favorite right now. I love every single detail about it, its crazy.
I understand you’ve completed your final book dummy – how important did you find the editing process in reaching a satisfying climax to the work? Did you have to kill many of your darlings?
Actually, I never reached a satisfying climax and probably never will. But thats okay for me. I know that my "work" is an ongoing process and it's really hard to find a beginning and an end to something that will probably go on forever. But I still tried my best. And I was so lucky because I had a lot of talented people who were giving me feedback.
I’m pretty sure that without their help I would have probably gone crazy while editing. It also made the experience that most of them had different opinions on the same aspects. But I love this fact because it just makes me want to play.
I realised that - at least in my case - the editing isn't as important as I thought it would be and I don’t have to take it all so seriously.
But still, most of them were saying that the book is too big and contains too many duplications. Although they were right, I’ve decided that I want to leave it that way. I’m really hoping for a book that isn't done by one time flipping through; more like something that you can discover new things every single time you look at it. So luckily, I just had to kill a few darlings.
How might the context of your work might change if it were on the gallery wall rather than the printed page?
I'm so sorry to say this again, but I don’t really know.
I can tell you with certainty that I always preferred books over exhibitions - probably because I'm not very socially outgoing and the idea of sitting alone in my room with my favorite book is much more to my liking then enjoying it in a bright room full of important people and to be constantly afraid to drop my drink or something like that.
Therefore, I always had the idea that an exhibition is less personal and intense than a book. And I feel like my photography isn’t something that can be explained in a few big images. But I’m pretty sure there are people out there who think differently about this topic, based on their experiences.
Now that you’re rounding off the book, what are you working on next?
I will continue documenting my world like I did before.
I’ve changed a lot as a person in the recent past and it just felt right do something like the book to reflect myself. But I'm never really trying to make anything in particular with my photography. I just follow my curiosity. For example, I'm planning a trip to Russia this summer and would love to connect with people my age over there, but I don’t know what exactly will happen or what I'm going to do with the pictures.
All I know is that I’m already so thankful for my friends around me who let me be part of their life.
With that in mind, there is no other way than to be completely excited for everything that will come up.
Let us know where to keep up with you.
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