DPP: How did your Ethiopia project come about?
Joey L.: Growing up in Lindsay, Ontario, an hour and a half northeast of Toronto, I was kind of cooped up in this rural town. I was always watching the History Channel and National Geographic documentaries. I wanted to explore the world. As soon as I started making money from photography, I used it to travel. I went to all the places I had seen in documentaries. When I first started, I did more photojournalistic-style photography, which you don't see in my work these days. But those early trips helped develop the way I shoot now.
DPP: If you had to label your style, what would it be?
Joey L.: Environmental portraiture. I have a more cinematic approach to subjects that are tired and fatigued by photojournalism. I use a very contemporary approach using a flash. The mission statement behind this work is although these tribes and religions are old, they're still present, they're still living. When I do something on how things are changing with the Karo, Mursi, Hamer, Daasanach and Arbore tribes in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia—the modern things that are happening there—it makes sense to do it in a more contemporary style.
Seeing the photographs of Pieter Hugo, his 'The Hyena & Other Men' series, and Phil Borges' ethnic portraits have helped me shape my personal work.DPP: How do you do the lighting in these distant locations?
Joey L.: Profoto 7Bs and an Elinchrom Octabank. Sometimes I wrap CTO around the bulb if I'm shooting at sunset. I don't like to use lighting tripods because they're too cumbersome to travel with. I have my assistant hold the light head out on a Manfrotto pole. The main thing is shooting at the right times of the day. For example, for the "Holy Men" series I did in India, I photographed either before the sun rose or during sunrise or sunset and used the rest of the day to plan out the next photo shoot. For what I do, I don't walk around and find things and document them. I really respect that approach and love to look at that work, but I don't do it. Whether I'm using my Canon 1Ds Mark III or Phase One with the P65+ DIGI back, I like creating and composing images of real people. These aren't commercial assignments, but they're funded by my commercial and editorial work.
DPP: It's interesting that you grew up watching National Geographic and the History Channel, and now you're photographing for them. Do you think your interest in their programming had anything to do with this?