In 2002 after careers in college teaching and jazz piano, New Jersey-native JOEL SIMPSON devoted himself to his great love since age 13: photography. He explored a number of photographic genres, but eventually found himself drawn back to his childhood passion, rocks. Having immersed himself in 20th Century art, he came to explore natural figurations and symbols in rock formations, ice, and botanical subjects that touch off both explicit and unconscious associations in the viewer.
Simpson’s work has been exhibited in Paris (Musée de l’érotisme), Tours, Rome, Barcelona, and many US galleries and art fairs. His images have been published in Silvershotz (Australia), View Magazine (Brussels), Camera Arts (Boulder, CO) and Focus Exposures (online). He went around the world in 2014 and continues to travel extensively, mainly in search of provocative mineral formations.
In 2007 Simpson curated a 125-artist photography show at the Williamsburg Art and Historical (WAH) Center in Brooklyn, Sun Pictures to Mega-Pixels, focusing on non-silver-based photography. The WAH Center continues to show and collect his work. He continues to teach photography, more recently on Zoom. His awards include ten Black and White Spider Awards (2012–2020, UK), and was named one of the “Best Landscape Photographers of 2019” and again in 2021 by One Eyeland (India). His 2019 book, Earthforms: Intimate Portraits of Our Planet, was featured on the cover of Natural History Magazine (June, 2019) and won the 2019 Nautilus Gold Award for Art and Photography. A shorter book (50 pp.) of geological photography came out in 2021, Playgrounds for the Mind: The Art of Geological Photography. Though his current work is generally classed as “landscape” photography, Simpson believes that he goes deeper than the conventional landscape, focusing more on the power of natural forms to stir the mind, rather than conveying a sense of place—and even of scale.
I research areas that are especially rich in forms, many of which can be found in deserts in the Western states of the US, as well as all over the world. I believe my sensitivity to provocative, metaphor-rich formations has greatly benefited from my book-research and long experience viewing art in museums, galleries and art fairs.
Before starting out, I carefully make spread-sheet itineraries to make maximum use of my time, In such environments (at any time of day), I follow my intuition to capture as many images as possible. Once at home at my computer, I sort through these, looking for the most provocative ones, then work on the chosen ones to bring out the forms that are most interesting or salient, generally rendering them in black and white. Often I’ll find an image some time later whose power I didn’t notice at first. In this way my collections of favorites grows.
I also work with an 8-mm fisheye (circular format) lens on my Canon 6D Mark II and create panoramas of vertical components, later stitched together, using a photo stitching program. My drone is another important tool of capture. Aerial compositions from 100 meters up can be just as interesting as closeups from two meters.