From the Jonas Brothers to Ethiopian tribesmen

A Joey Lawrence original

You have seen Joey Lawrence’s work. He shot all of the images for the Twilight movie posters.

The 21-year-old photographer from Lindsay, Ont. now lives in Brooklyn. I caught up with him last week while he was working at the Victoria Secret runway show for an interview about his documentary: Faces of a Vanishing World which follows his journey to Ethiopia to capture photograph indigenous tribes.

Visit his website to see more of his gorgeous photos, including snaps of the Jonas Brothers and 50 Cent.

Photo credit: Joey Lawrence

Here’s my Weekend Post story of Lawrence’s first-person account of his latest project, published on Nov. 13 2010:

I have a very professional mindset. The same way that I’d walk to the makeup truck of the Jonas Brothers and make sure they’re feeling comfortable about me is the same way I’d talk to an Ethiopian elder of the Karo tribe through a translator and ask him where he’d like to be photographed.

Whether you start when you’re 30 or whether you start when you’re 17, if you want to work with the people I do, you have to be a workaholic. I live in Brooklyn. I’ve lived here for the past two years but I’m originally from Lindsay, Ont. I started when I was 17, but I don’t like talking about my age or putting it on my web-site. Obviously, I’m young, and I understand why people find that interesting, but when I go into my meetings, I just want to talk about photography and the job. I don’t want my work to be a gimmick and be like, “Wow, it’s pretty good for a 20-year-old.” I just want it to be good.

When I first started, I shot a lot of local bands from Toronto. I always went into it with a very business-oriented mind. I never wanted to start low and work my way up. I wanted to aim high and get the best clients possible. For Twilight, I did all of the movie posters. 50 Cent was for Vibe magazine. The Jonas Brothers was for Forbes magazine.

I’m fascinated with anthropology. I’ve always been interested in Ethiopia because that part of Africa is considered the cradle of mankind. It’s where some of the earliest remnants of human beings have been found. I’ve been to Ethiopia three times. The most important things to document, I think right now, are the indigenous cultures because they are the cultures that are most threatened. One of the tribes that I photographed is called Karo and there are only about 1,000 Karo left. They’re being assimilated into the Ethiopian ethnic groups. Culture definitely progresses and there are no pure cultures. Everybody comes from cultures clashing but we are losing a different way of thinking and a different perception of the world, which is what indigenous people have.

There are a lot of tribal, African coffee table books that are more reportage style, black-and-white, always looking into what the people are doing. They become overlooked when they are depicted in this black-and-white way, as noble savages, as unchanged people. They come from that, but the fact is, they live in the modern world — the same world we live in. The way I photograph them is in a modern style, using studio lighting, colour pictures. It’s very controlled, it’s very posed. These are subjects that people are not used to seeing that way.

Faces of a Vanishing World is a TV documentary. The first episode — we’re going to film more — is about me taking a gallery installation I did in New York and taking it to Ethiopia, back to the subjects that I photographed. They’re really into it. If you get them involved, and say, “I’d like to make a portrait of you. Where should we take this?” If you use words from their language, they see you as someone who respects them. Of course, they’d like to collaborate on a photograph.

– Faces of a Vanishing World airs tomorrow at 9 p.m. ET/ PT on ichannel. The network is hosting a special public screening at The Royal Theatre in Toronto tonight at 7 p.m.

As told to Melissa Leong, Weekend Post


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