Streetness and Light
When asked to describe the most precarious position he has been in while taking a picture, photographer Michael Joseph recalls a midafternoon climb up a 50-foot-tall industrial crane. "When you start to climb, you have the feeling of falling backwards," he explains nonchalantly, as if photographers scale cranes every day. The result of the hair-raising ascent is the photo Descention (Joseph's play on the words descent and dissension), which depicts the crane's elevator shaft from the top looking down.
While not every photographer goes to such lengths (or heights) for shots, this kind of scramble isn't unusual for the 37-year-old. In taking many of his pictures, he explains, "I've usually climbed out on something, or I'm laying on my back . I'm curious about spaces, crawling into things, the sense of adventure. Photography is an extension of that."
In the summer of 1998, Joseph's adventurous streak -- among other factors -- prompted him to take a road trip. The photos he took along the way comprise the series "Site-Seeing: The Art of Summer," which is on display at City Hall in Hollywood. The term road trip conjures up images of cheap, neon-lit motels, tourist traps, and greasy-spoon diners, but during his travels Joseph captured another side of Americana. He's attracted to big cities, and "Site-Seeing" reflects his fascination with skyscrapers and industry.
Descention was shot in downtown Fort Lauderdale before he hit the road, but Joseph found industrial landscapes all along his route. He emphasized the geometric properties of objects by shooting closeups and framing the scenes in his lens at specific angles. The underside of a radio tower in St. Louis looks like a spider's web in Isosceles. Looming Chicago skyscrapers in Parallax tower over the viewer and appear to lean toward each other. Looking at Ascension, which was shot in Cleveland, the viewer's eyes follow train tracks into a tunnel formed by trestle beams and surrounding white space.
Unlike his calculated use of geometric shapes, Joseph's trip was inspired by happenstance -- a string of bad luck which included the closing of the Fort Lauderdale nightclub Squeeze in May 1998. The club's resident artist, Joseph organized events such as the "Rock and Roll Picture Show," which featured the works of local artists and performances by local bands.
Shortly after the demise of Squeeze, Joseph's Fort Lauderdale apartment building burned down. "It was quite the summer to remember," he says. In an effort to regroup, he decided to take a little trip. "I was just going to get away for a week and figure out the rest when I got back," he recalls. "Well, that week turned into 48 days, 10,000 miles, 23 states, and hundreds of photographs."
Joseph headed north, paralleling the route of the Mississippi River in his jeep. At the Great Lakes, he turned right and drove to New England. Along the way he slept in his jeep, mostly on the top floors of parking garages -- "the best view of the city," he says.
Joseph is originally from Salem, Massachusetts, and had traveled before when he needed to refocus. He moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1991, looking for "a fresh outlook on life." He brought with him an outlook already different than most people's. He was fascinated enough with reflections and light playing off a row of washing machines at a local Laundromat, for example, that he captured the latticework pattern of the sun's rays streaming through the window blinds.
"[Joseph] is great at showing you how the artist notices things that we pass by every single day," says Glenn Lochrie, a Fort Lauderdale art dealer who met the photographer in 1995 through mutual friends from Squeeze. Joseph finds "beautiful little things that are happening in the architecture," says Lochrie, who now represents the artist. "Michael seems to grab it for us . He finds things that aren't supposed to be pretty, pretty."
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