Joel Carillet is a master of street photography. His captures are a glimpse at places and faces most will never see. In 2003, he embarked on a year-long overland journey starting in China, and finishing in Turkey. His images from this epic trip are nothing short of stellar. Packed with emotion and insight, his images capture people from around the world in candid moments, transporting the reader to another place. Joel is a travel correspondent for gather.com (http://jcarillet.gather.com). Here is part one of our two-part interview.
Tell me some basic information about yourself: ie. age, location, education, etc.
Here’s a rough sketch of who I am…or at least where I’ve done my “growin’ up”: I spent the first half of my childhood in Atlanta, GA, where my dad pastored a church in the suburbs. When I was 12 my family moved to Papua New Guinea, where dad directed a Bible translation organization, which meant I spent my teenage years in a very small — and astoundingly beautiful — coastal town in the developing world. I returned to the U.S. for my final year of high school and, after two years of college in Atlanta, transferred to a wonderful school in the mountains of Tennessee. In 1996 I graduated Milligan College with a degree in political science and sociology. Tempted to go to Georgetown to study international affairs, in the end I decided to stay in Tennessee to attend seminary, graduating in ’99 later with a masters in Church History. (But I still found a way to study international things: my thesis was entitled “The Palestinian Church: an Ancient Body and its Modern Challenge”).
Since graduating, I’ve taught at a college in Ukraine, worked on the staff of a study abroad program in Egypt, answered telephones at the Smithsonian and Washington DC, and volunteered with an organization in the West Bank doing peace and advocacy work.
I’m 33 years old.
What first sparked your interest in photography?
My dad enjoyed photography as a hobby and took good photos, and we always had a National Geographic in our house, which as a kid I would marvel at. As a teenager I began consciously taking photos to “preserve memories.”
How did you learn your trade?
Practice, I guess; I never took a class.
Tell me about your world travels? You did a Middle-east to Asia tour a few years ago, and a recent trip to Israel and Palestine?
Right. In October 2003 I set off from Beijing on a 14-month overland journey through 17 Asian countries, ending in Istanbul in December 2004. (For those who are curious about costs, I spent just under 10,000 on the trip; less than what some of my friends in D.C. paid in rent during the same period.) Since returning to the U.S. I have been working on a book about the journey, the theme of which is something like, “Traveling, when done well, is about learning to love.”
I’ve been to the Middle East several times in the past decade, but in December I returned from a seven-week trip to Israel and the West Bank, where I was working on a photo essay about Palestinian Christian communities (plus some other minor projects). After three years of using a camcorder with a still capability of 1.5 megapixels, I finally invested in a good camera — a Nikon D80 — in October 2006. The trip to Palestine was my first experiment with it, and I love the upgrade. I hope to do a photo exhibit in Tennessee later this winter.
Have you ever found yourself in hot water during one of your trips?
Several times, though it is the more positive experiences I tend to remember.
Muggists and mosquitoes and have landed me in the hospital on a couple occasions. In Istanbul five years ago I accepted a cookie from a stranger I had been talking with for 45 minutes. Immediately I began to feel sleepy, and the next thing I know I’m waking up in a hospital 18 hours later with blood on my clothes and an IV in my arm. He was after my passport, which, according to the U.S. consulate at the time, could catch $4,000 on the black market.
As for the mosquito, I think that happened in Cambodia — though I didn’t get the effect until a week later in Bangkok. It was the night before my flight back to the US and, out of the blue, I went from feeling great to shaking and nauseous within an hour. I actually collapsed on the way to the hotel but managed to make it back. I’ve had malaria before, but this was malaria x10. By the time my plane landed in Atlanta two days later, I was taken straight to the hospital, where I spent the next five days recovering from an acute case of Dengue Fever.
There are several “got attacked by dogs” or “was in a bus that just missed plunging into a gorge” sort of stories, but the two incidents above were the worst.
What do think about when setting up a scene? What thoughts go into the composition, lighting, scene, etc.
Now you’re asking the hard questions, Steve. I don’t usually articulate these thoughts to myself, but I guess I can say I am a lover of late afternoon light, eyes, and skin texture.
Written and Transcribed by Steve Peer
Photography by Joel Carillet
Photos: Sikh boy in the Golden Temple (Amritsar, India).
An Israeli border policeman keeps a photographer back as others demolish a Palestinian’s home on the Mount of Olives.
For part two of this interview