PPD Master Series: The Storytelling Photos of Joseph Linaschke

By Jeff Wignall   Tuesday December 16, 2014

Photographer Joseph Linaschke is what you might call the ultimate photographic generalist: He has shot everything from portraits to journalism to sports, products—including Mercedes-Benz autos for a social-media campaign—and musical acts. Linaschke prefers to think of himself as a storyteller with a camera. “Whether it’s travel, events, food, or anything else, my approach is to tell the story of my subjects. Clients get that,” he says. “Got a restaurant? An auto-repair shop? A dance studio? Everyone, every subject, has a story to tell. My aim is to express that story photographically.” 

A California native, Linaschke attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and soon after graduating joined Apple, where he worked on the marketing team for the launch of the Aperture editing platform. Then, in 2009, he left the company to launch his own a freelance photography career. He became a camera-toting vagabond, going wherever his subjects and assignments took him—as official photographer for Seal’s European “SOUL” tour, for example, he visited no fewer than eleven countries. Recently, however, he opened a studio in his adopted hometown of Ashland, Oregon. “I used to shoot mostly on location, and if I needed a big studio, I’d rent it,” he says. “But about a year and a half ago I decided to bite the bullet and take studio space. I found a 1,000-square-foot warehouse just minutes from my house, and the rent was reasonable.” Linaschke gave himself a year to make the studio pay for itself, and, he says, the move has worked out well. “I now shoot a lot more in-studio than out. The studio is something that I can offer my clients that few other photographers in the area aren't able to offer.” 

One thing he likes about being a studio shooter is that his clients meet him in the professional surroundings of his own space, instead of at a window table at the local Starbucks. “They see my work on the walls, shelves of gear, and know that I’m legitimate, qualified, and serious,” he says.

 For our ongoing Master Series sponsored by Panasonic (see previous posts here, here, and here), contributor Jeff Wignall recently talked to Linaschke about what it takes to be a generalist in a time when the photo industry seems to pressure artists into specialties, and how today’s photo technology allows him to shoot not just anything, but everything.


PPD:  Considering the broad range of assignments that you have covered, do you have a favorite subject or favorite type of assignment?

JL: Yeah, new ones! I bore easily and love the challenge of something new. I love to learn as I go and take on projects that are outside of my comfort zone. Example: earlier this year, a high-end interior designer for luxury homes and office spaces approached me for a portfolio image of one of her prized projects. Initially her budget was quite low, and I told her what I could do within that range. But I also said, “If you can raise your budget to this, then here’s what I can do.” I’d never done an image like that before, so before committing I did my research, and I was really intrigued by the possibilities. The client agreed, and I created the image. I spent more time on it than I should have, but, wow, it came out great.I also created a video explaining how the project was assembled. [Go here to see the work.]

PPD: Is it more difficult to sell yourself to new clients when you have such a broad range of styles and subjects?

JL: I suppose it can be, but that doesn’t bother me much. I believe my work stands on it’s own, and usually by the time I’m talking to a client they’ve been pre-sold by my work. I think the fact that I can show successful work in such a broad range of projects instills the confidence that I can do their project, no matter what it is. If you step back and look at my body of work, you can select the right pieces to build your project. It’s like looking at a box of Legos to find the right pieces; they’re all in there.

PPD: Can you talk about your work with the Beauty After Breast Cancer project? How did you get involved in that, and what is its goal?

JL: The project is incredible. I was introduced to the principal behind it, Katelyn Carey, over a year ago, as a potential photographer for her book, Beauty After Breast Cancer (BABC). Katelyn’s story is that she had an elective double mastectomy in her 20s because the risk of breast cancer was so high in her family and literally every female she could track had died of it. She wanted to have children and wanted to be there for her children.

In going through the process, she was shocked at the cold and impersonal way her the options were presented to her. Those opting for mastectomy have several options, ranging from full reconstruction to nothing at all. This is a huge decision, but it’s one that absolutely has to be made, often in very little time. She was being shown what amounted to Polaroid photos of the torsos of post-op patients shot in a doctor’s office and being asked then and there to decide how to spend the rest of her life. That just didn’t work for her. And Katelyn is an E.R. nurse—she’s used to the cold hard facts of medical life. If this was horrible to her, imagine how it is for the average woman.

The goal of BABC is to create a coffee-table style photo book that will be in cancer centers worldwide, showing beautiful photos of women who’ve chosen every option available, along with their stories. Women facing this decision will be able to read the book, look at photos that represent their options beautifully, and read the stories of why each woman chose the path that she did. Hopefully that patient will be able to identify with at least one of these women in the book and fine comfort and common ground.

PPD: You’ve said in your blog that this was the most important project you’ve ever been involved with. Can you explain that more fully?

JL:  Straight up, one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer. Do you know eight people? Of course you do. Then you will be touched by breast cancer. If my work can help anyone, then I’ll feel exceptionally honored and blessed. And I say “people,” not “women,” because breast cancer doesn’t just affect the patient, but everyone around them—husbands, fathers, sons and friends.

On top of all that, I have a very dear friend who had recently gone through this—the mastectomy, the chemo, all of it. I photographed her at a certain stage of the process so she’d have a very personal image for the cover of the book she’s writing. No one has seen those images yet. But here was a wonderful friend who’d gone through this, subjected to the exact things Katelyn was talking about, and I had no idea that that part of it was so awful. The more Katelyn and I talked about it, the more I wanted to be involved. So instead of coming on to shoot a single project, as was originally intended, I signed on to shoot the entire book.

We recently did a Kickstarter campaign, trying to raise the $20,000 we need to get this project finished and published. The campaign was unsuccessful, but I think that’s because the book isn’t done. Kickstarter is, for better or for worse, for projects that are 90-percent done and just need that final kick. So we’re raising money privately through our website, Maybe we’ll do Kickstarter again in a year, for the final publishing of the book. At this point our goal is to finish by fall of 2015.

PPD: What was it like to work with the women you have shot so far? Was there any trepidation on their part, being in front of a camera?

JL: Not at all. Granted we’ve only shot a couple, and I’m sure it will get more complicated, but so far they’ve been great. Every model has a story behind why they made the decision they did, and before I shoot them, Katelyn interviews them to learn the story and come up with a headline. The shoots are based around that. For example, one model, Toni, said “I wanted something worth flashing.” You can imagine how fun that shoot was!

PPD: You’ve done a lot of work with musicians, including a major tour with Seal. How did that gig come about?

JL: A person on my team at Apple introduced me to Seal, and he and I became friends. He’s really into photography. We’d talk about how it’d be great if I could come on tour with him to shoot, but of course I had a day job, so that was impossible. Then shortly after I left Apple and I went on his next tour—six weeks on the road through Europe, shooting 28 shows in 26 cities. It was an incredible experience.

PPD: When did that tour take place, and what countries did you visit?

JL: It was the European “SOUL” tour in the summer of 2009. They played in England, Scotland, Portugal, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Monaco.

PPD: How many photos did you shoot of the tour?

JL: Seriously? 10,000? 20,000? I don’t know. I do know that as the tour went on, I shot less and less. Even though the show was different every night, I learned to read the band quite well and predict what was happening and when. I knew what shots would be great and what would be boring. I gained the confidence to wait out a shot, to make the effort to spend a quarter of the show making my way up a catwalk knowing that the shot would be worth it from there. If I only shot a handful in a single show, I knew they were worth it. Then the next day I’d sit down with Seal and show him my top 20 or so, and from there he’d pick his top five, and those were the ones that went public. Towards the end I grew to learn what he liked and didn’t like and could present fewer and fewer images to him to get those final selects.

PPD: Photographically is there a particular moment from that tour that stands out?

JL: Many. In Paris we had the biggest audience, and I have a shot showing the scope of that. I love that photo. Also, at an early show at Radio City Music Hall in New York, before the tour, I made a shot from the very top back corner that ended up being used as a two-page spread on the tour program. Another time I put a remote camera on the drum rig pointing out at the audience and captured an image with Seal as a silhouette. I adore that shot.

PPD: Let’s talk about your travel work a bit. What is the most difficult challenge when it comes to photographing people in countries where you may not speak the language, and how do you bridge that language gap?

JL: Not speaking the language and being an obvious foreigner makes shooting people easier, I think. I don’t enjoy street photography in my own country nearly as much. You can get away with a lot more outside of your comfort zone. A humble smile and glance at your camera is all that’s needed to ask, “Can I take your picture?” A lot of people are more than happy to let you. I like to shoot with a short lens—no more than 50mm, and usually 35mm—and that means getting quite close. Usually I’m trying to capture real life, not posed life. But both are great. I’ll take what I can and make the best of it all.

PPD: Your photos for Mercedes-Benz are not typical car portraits with clean, perfect shots of the cars. They are much more environmental. What was the theme of that campaign, and how did that assignment come about?

JL:  That was a social-media campaign, and it’s an ongoing thing. Mercedes-Benz works with photographers all over the world on these social media projects. I went along with a small team of shooters, and we had a fleet of cars at our disposal, first in New York and then in Los Angeles. There isn't much direction to these shoots—Mercedes-Benz really wants the photographers to come up with their own approach and show off the cars in their own ways. Personally, I felt it was very successful; my photos certainly had a very high number of likes in relation to the rest of the team. I was thrilled to get to work on a project for such a fantastic brand and hopefully will have the opportunity to do so again in the future.

PPD: You were posting these photos live at the time, correct? Was that a particular challenge, to keep shooting and keep posting?

JL: Yes we were, and yes it was. We divided the day among the team, and each of us was responsible for a new photo every three hours or so. Originally I thought, “Oh that’s easy!” But once we got going, I realized that it was quite a challenge. You basically have three hours to conceptualize, execute, retouch and deliver a shot. And in New York, where it can take forever to drive through midtown traffic, we all got stuck at least once or twice and were unable to deliver. Fortunately we could message the team and say, “There’s no way I’m gonna make my 3:00…who can fill in?” Invariably someone would have an extra shot that they could post.

The most challenging shot for me was one where I had the camera mounted on the hood of a car and was shooting with a long exposure so that the viewer would see the hood and Mercedes-Benz star in sharp focus, with the blur of the road and the lights in the background. It turns out that’s a lot harder than it looks, especially working alone. Getting the exposure just right, getting a good looking stream of lights in the background, and getting a smooth enough road in Manhattan was difficult, but totally worth it. I love that shot.

PPD: You are shooting a lot with Lumix mirrorless cameras. What is it about this new format that you like?

JL: I was first attracted to the Micro Four Thirds format not because of size or weight, as you might expect, but simply because of the joy of using the cameras and the quality of the images I was getting. I used to be a sensor snob—all my DSLR gear is full frame. I scoffed at the tiny MFT sensor. But then I absolutely fell in love with the cameras. I found my favorite lenses were the Panasonic Lumix lenses from Leica, and from there I made my way to the Lumix cameras. The cameras are way more flexible and more customizable than my DSLR gear ever was. Image quality is just as good, yet the gear is half the size and weight.

PPD: Which cameras are you using and which lenses are your favorites?

JL: I’m spoiled. Being a Lumix Luminary, I have access to all the gear. I fully recognize that not everyone can have every camera, but I’m fortunate enough to have my favorites at my disposal. I use the GH4 for any pro work—it is the most capable, most professional camera of the line-up, and it has the solid build of a top-end pro camera in my hands. I can change settings more quickly because all the custom buttons are set just for me, and I can do almost anything without digging into the menus. On a client shoot, you don’t want to be digging through menus to change a setting. Plus, the thing is a tank—albeit a very small tank.

I love the GX7 for street photography, primarily because of its fold-down LCD and because it doesn’t look like a big pro camera. The GH4’s LCD rotates out and around, which is useful in a different way, but for discreet street photos, the GX7 is my favorite.

PPD: Do you have a favorite lens?

JL: My favorite lenses are the Summilux 15mm f/1.7 (30mm equivalent) and the Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 (85mm equivalent). Both are Leica engineered, very high end, very sharp, very good.

PPD: What’s next for Joseph Linaschke?

JL: I’m shooting as much as possible and keeping my client base expanding. It’s really two full-time jobs. In the first quarter of 2015 I’ll be in South Korea working with a private school on their digital storytelling program. I’ll be doing a road show with fellow Lumix Luminary Giulio Sciorio throughout the American West Coast, and I expect to be at the WPPI show in Las Vegas for Panasonic as well. And as soon as I can find a few minutes to finalize it, I’ll be launching a new podcast on the TWiP [This Week in Photo] network. The podcast will cover about any and all photo-related apps—for Mac, Windows, iOS or Android.




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