Josh Poehlein Seattle, USA

Josh Poehlein is a visual artist based in Seattle, WA. He received his MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago in 2013 and a BFA from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2007. His work has been exhibited internationally at the FotoMuseum in Antwerp Belgium, at the Pingyao International Photo Festival in Pingyao, China, and at the 2011 Les Rencontres D’Arles Photographie in Arles, France. His work has been shown at Columbia College Chicago’s Glass Curtain and C33 galleries, the Kresge Gallery in Batesville, AR, and was included in the 2012 Midway Art Fair in Chicago, IL. Poehlein received an Artist Printing Fellowship at the Photo Center Northwest in 2013.


Josh Poehlein

Josh Poehlein was chosen by Photographer Gregg Evans.




Josh Poehlein’s interview with Laatikkomo 30.10.2014

L:  Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?

JP: I have lived in a number of areas across the US. I was born in Georgia, and lived in a relatively small town there until I was 13. I then moved North with my family to rural Virginia, and on to the Philadelphia, PA suburbs for my High School years. I attended college in Rochester, NY at Rochester Institute of Technology. After that I was in Salt Lake City, UT for a few years, followed by Chicago for graduate school. Now I am living in Seattle, WA!

As far as influence is concerned, my immediate surroundings definitely affect the way my work looks and feels. When I was in Chicago I was really influenced by the urban environment, both it’s overwhelming nature, and also it’s seeming permanence in relation to the human body. My images from Era I think reflect these interests, and they would not have come about had I not been living in Chicago at the time. Nowadays I am living in the Pacific Northwest and I find myself photographing in caves and rainforests, and thinking about a different (and larger) sort of timescale.


L:  What is your earliest memory of the city?

JP: This is actually really easy for me to pinpoint. In elementary school my grandparents lived in Atlanta, GA, which is about 3 hours North of where we lived at the time. I remember coming into the city at night in the car and seeing all the apartment buildings. I was completely overwhelmed by the thought that each light represented an entire life, and furthermore, a life that I would most likely never encounter.


L:  When you create an image, are you thinking about the visual or is the image a means for you to deal with larger topics?

JP: My process usually involves a certain level of pre-visualization, but the final product always differs from what I originally saw. I really like that about photography, that the process still surprises me. I come from a pretty traditional photographic education, so I am always concerned with composition, light, etc. For me though, the formal aspects of a photograph are just a way to get to the ideas. When I go out to photograph I always have a specific place in mind, or a certain image I want to try to capture/make.


L:  Within the realm of photography, many of your images are altered/adjusted, (superimposed) in different ways (digital collages etc). What kind of process goes into making your images?

JP: In the Era project there is a mix of techniques going on. In some cases Photoshop is involved, in others, I am making pictures of pictures, and manipulating the final result in that way. For this project I was excited about mixing the “reality” of the photograph with certain “artificial” elements from Photoshop. I was interested in proposing a hybrid reality. The work itself is a bit about this waffling back and forth between the physical and the virtual, so I wanted to include that in the image-making process.


L:  Many of your images hold an apocalyptic feeling of doom. Images void of human life, people running from explosions, even the titles hint at a catastrophic end: ruin, aftermath, stay calm…etc.  Are your images like science fiction stories or realistic fears for the future?

JP: I would say I definitely lean in the direction of science-fiction. I am interested in this idea of the End of Days or the spectacular future event because it forces me to think about humanity on a really large timescale, and also to expand what my definition of human really is. These sorts of events simplify things too. In the face of large, historic moments, the world feels smaller to me. I feel more connected to humanity at large if we are all facing some hardship together, or struggling with a new paradigm. So, yeah, there is ruin, there is aftermath, there is emptiness, but I like to think there is hope as well. Rainbows, celebrations, progress… these are things that show up in my images as well.


L:  Some of the pieces in this series appear to be selectively or deliberately pixelized. What kind of digital or cyber influence is behind these images? Does the pixelization have a special message or meaning in your work?

JP: In the images you are referring to I was thinking about this idea of deterioration, but also creation. The images are of this capitalist detritus, and I was thinking about the decay of these items metaphorically, that an old way of life is passing us by, but a new one may be growing out of it. There is also a sort of pun going on with the images and the idea of the jpeg artifact.


L:  The title of this series is: ERA: Images and artifacts collected from a post-human future. Do you see a future for humanity here on Earth? If you do not, do you have any thoughts on how we can avoid an “ERA” future?

JP: In titling the work I was really thinking about time, and this idea of a new era in human history, or even the idea of a “bygone era.” I don’t think the work is really as pessimistic as it appears on first look though. When I say “post-human” I am thinking about expanding the definition of human. Maybe a better term would be “post-biological.”

The truth of the matter is, if we don’t find a way to expand off the planet or beyond the confines of our bodies, on a long enough timescale the human race will encounter great difficulty, if not annihilation. Once we accept this as an inevitability, the possibilities for the future expand in a way. We can start to think about existing in new ways. When I was making this work I was really into this article about the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford. It profiles a group of scientists and philosophers who basically think about the future of humanity in relation to what they call “deep time”, both in terms of existential threats as well as the possibility of avoiding those threats.


L:  Looking at this series, several books on the future and humanity come to mind (Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us etc.). From what kinds of sources do you draw inspiration (reportage, literature, film, video games..)?

JP: First of all, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention science-fiction literature and film as a really big influence. In the non-fiction realm authors like Ray Kurzweil and Brian Massumi have played a big part in shaping the ERA project in particular. News coverage of large-scale events and disasters was important in the early stages of the project as well as government materials relating to disasters and how to react to them.


L:  Could you list 5 (or more) words that you were thinking about when you made this work (shown in Laatikkomo)?

JP:  Firewall, Artifact, Neology, CAPTCHA, History


Thank you so much Josh!