JOE MIRANDA: A Matter of Perception
Leaving school early and starting work at a young age, Joe Miranda fully embodies the 'Just Do It' attitude of a person with constant vision.
Inspired by the people, places and structureS that surround him in contemporary society, the London-born photography hobbyist is far from complacent.
From cafe culture to curation Joe Miranda can be found everywhere.
THE PIN: Can you tell us a bit about yourself - your childhood and what growing up was like?
JOE MIRANDA. I grew up in Lewisham, South East London and emigrated to Australia when I was 19 in 2007. I grew up in a basement flat with a 120 ft garden that backed on to New Cross Bus Garage with my mum, dad and younger sister for 11 years. My parents separated 6 years after we moved into a terraced house in Ladywell and I left for Melbourne shortly afterward.
My childhood (up til 14) was fun and fraught, full of football, fights, and video games, MiniDiscs and Pokemon, Power Rangers, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, weird mainstream English soaps and dope independent British cinema. I started work and smoking cigarettes at 14. Around then I had my first “long-term relationship” (9 months), but my teens were similar to my childhood, only more (live) music, and less football, more drugs and way more mental and emotional trauma than all those high-school blows to the face.
What were your impression of Australia and how did it compare to the UK? What were some of your first memories/thoughts when you moved here?
J. Oh wow. I mean, London is inherently cold and grey and small and full of people and you get paid shit all and even though, at the time, it had all my loved ones in it and was all I ever knew, I guess I was stoked to be in warm weather, near what seemed like a beach (I lived in St Kilda of course), with heaps more disposable time and income, but there was always this one thing that I kept thinking: “Where are all the Black people?”
This is so much down to me and where I was positioning myself - geographically and societally - but I was asking around and looking around and all the while this very heavy feeling of being surrounded by a people claiming, in a city that also claims, diversity, multiculturalism, “most liveable city” type shit is such a funny thing to try to accommodate when there's just such little visibility/presence of actual racial and cultural identity in the spaces that are the references for what this city is/is about...
I still like the sun and nice weather and that I can kinda thrive (financially-emotionally at least), and have used the stark differences of life here to London to identify and better understand some more of the uniquely British methods of oppression doing the rounds in London, as well as very gratefully finding and spending more time and energy with black and brown folks here in Melbourne, but yeah still shook in general and worse that it doesn't feel like physical danger the majority of the time...
When did your interest in photography start?
J. I got interested in photography out of my time at the London College of Communication. I had previously been certain I wanted to be a Graphic Designer because of some work experience in a *successful* advertising agency at 15 and like Kate Moross probably, and anyway a little later, I wasn’t good enough at drawing but liked computers and cameras and could get them kinda and I started shooting some of the local gigs going on in London.
Really I identify as a hobbyist photographer now. I’ve had a fair go at cracking the industry - working commercially, developing art practices, and trying to find a foothold/community/approach that resonates - but to be honest, it's just not really for me I don't think.
Can you tell me what photography allows you to express and/or explore, creatively or otherwise...?
J. In my role as Coordinator/Curator of IPF, I've embraced my strengths in facilitating, mediating,composing and administration for service to the arts and community, but in terms of an expressive art practice, where artists like Atong Atem and Benjamin Lichtenstein for example, really run the game when it comes to this, I'm nowhere near, and without the desire to be, anything other than a support for that brilliance.
Who and what inspires you?
J. People involved in taking space to make space for people, groups, organisations and causes that are owed so much space, gratitude and basic equality in this world. People that use their interpretation of why they are here to navigate why they are here, who they are here, how they're treated and how they wish to be treated (and by who). People that are sceptical as fuck but with good reason and who, if they can, seek to share that reasoning. Black, brown, PoC, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming, able-bodied less-abled bodied and minded LGQTBI people surviving, thriving, making waves and/or getting on with it.
Also the frustration of humans outside of these identifiers doing fucking nothing and thinking that's enough, or policing and shutting down any bodies inside these spectrums as though that's not less than nothing and so less than the bare minimum - I'm inspired by this frustration, by feeling surrounded by this type of person.
I feel like I'm inspired by things and people I wish I was/could do (amazing athletes, artists, etc) but also I'm more convinced this is a trick..? Like I'm responding to general western/capitalist performance, work and success standards..? Come back to me on this, because still love Michael Jordan and Football compilations and Jay Z as inspo so often so..
How do you identify yourself?
J. I am uninvited guest living and working on unceded Aboriginal land. I am originally from Lewisham, London. I am mixed race. My father’s parents are from Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana. My mother is white British. I am a man and I am 28 so I am an adult man. Although I am from London I do not identify as English or British. Although I am currently and most often in heterosexual relationships I do not identify as Straight or Cis(het). I do not identify as Queer.
I find it hard not to note or include my hair colouring, but there’s still some unpacking to do and that’s largely conversational and I wait til someone asks specifically usually haha
Can you tell us the story behind I.P.F., where did it all began ad where is it heading?
J. In the very beginning, the idea was to show a heap of ways that creative practice - focussing on photography - can be applied collaboratively. I had a sense of a community but didn’t feel like they were working cohesively hardly at all. I wanted to try to bring them together more and to force infrastructure to shift, to open access to greater resources, and to help self-determine how community arts practices can work in Melbourne.
I also wanted to show how much great work was being made here as much as internationally; I wanted to help motivate a type of open interpretation and expression of creative practice that spoke less to the institutions (who mainly don’t do shit except influence each other - galleries into universities into galleries into public perception, ad nauseum) and how they kind of set the bar for what can be made and then so what is made and so on like this, but instead encouraged using available spaces, materials, services, resources and bringing together new sets of people for new ways of thinking and making.
I asked Rob Cordiner and Penny Modra to help (2012) and we made the 7 day, 8 event program that looked to present established and emergent artists and practices across shooting, publishing, film, and other areas of photo-relevant discipline. This year (2017) will be the 6th annual melbourne program and we’ll also be back in London for the second IPF LDN.
We’ve featured 50+ artists in solo and group shows, AU premier screenings, and publication launches; we’ve worked with 30 or so galleries and spaces, heeeaps of contributors, supporters and volunteers, about 100 sponsors, and when you add in the 6 Photo Prize exhibition/competitions, we’ve put nearly 2,000 prints on the walls of Melbourne. It’s all been such hard work, with a fair pay off (not financially hahaha *crying*), and some really great collaborations have taken place, relationships formed, and a slight shift maybe?
As for where we’re going, we’re still trying to shift institutional spaces and practices (and even the broad *anti-institutional* scene co-opting DIY practice and language) and keep taking space to make space for under-represented people - artists or otherwise.
I think, in honesty, lately my own understanding of this has changed and in the past couple years, trying to move IPF into a space/movement that aligns and represents the learning, growing, ever-more-sceptical that I feel I’m going through personally has been difficult. I feel like I need/want to de-centre myself from the role I have, but for many reasons (as well as not having found anyone!), it’s been hard to feel as though it is separable from me.. Each year is nearly my/the last so we’ll see.
In an interview I read you talked about the 'Do It Yourself, Get It Done' ethos that is rife in creative culture, can you explain it a little more for us?
J. I guess at the time I said that I was interpreting the production - in spite of the infrastructural odds - that is just always been created. It felt like holes were being made and then filled with resource; it felt like lots of people were doing lots of new things. I’m not so sure anymore.
I feel like I’ve begun to see and feel the hollow nature of “support” and “community” from the crowd that is only once or twice removed from institutions here in Melbourne. Like, I’m wondering, if you didn’t go to RMIT or VCA or don’t mainly fuck with that massive crowd that did, do you even exist in the “Photography community”? And where is the real creation in that echo chamber? Constantly improving by a degree of 1 when maybe, hopefully, please, someone realises we actually have had enough of white Australians in Japan as an exhibition. And also please also just do that and be that if you really want to but with the absolute non-transferral of critique from person to person, group to group in this “community”, literally this is what we have. And America. White Aussie in America taking pics of America. Like, really? I don’t really have the answer for what I’d rather see or what else this person can be doing, but nothing is going anywhere, that group and its counter group isn’t doing anything, and personally, I’m bored. I should just say it here because I’m feeling it and saying it IRL (in real life) for sure.
I’ve been cataloguing how many people I’ve heard complain of the inability to access progress in photography because of so-and-so other’s inherited money or this one other’s proximity to fame and it was only last year that it fully struck me why I couldn’t find parallel with most the mouths saying it, which is that, from them, it still didn’t speak to the fact that they are already such greater access and mobility and yeah sure life’s hard, hustle’s are hard - all that - but the level of comfort is immense and doesn’t (can’t) speak outside of white gaze which is already cushioned with SO MUCH ACCESS omg.
I think that (and as I say it, it’s a plain obviousness, but it’s an obviousness I hadn’t been able to articulate before the inception of IPF, so…) the most exciting, progressive, and worthwhile work is being made by such a small handful of people in the photographic community and the best of the best (subjective) is mainly by Black and NBPoC either fucking with the scene directly or all the way out of it making the most amazing independent scenes and spaces.
I think with one temporal view, it’s unfair that the greatest creators of any time have (had) to make whilst under oppression. I can hear arguments flaring that it’s those very oppressions that make forge the creations, but I feel like that’s bullshit (though have very little evidence to back it up other than that oppression is not as old as art (necessarily)lol) but that, for now at least, that DIY, GID attitude mentioned above actually belongs to marginalised and disenfranchised groups and individuals. I wouldn’t really know where to draw lines on who or what the AU/MEL DIY Community is, but the groups I’m vexing about (above) are more likely to appropriate or hype when already *famous* from local & international Black and Brown folk than risk their figurative safety to make something that’s missing from their community (especially if they can’t be the full FIRST or cop mad fame), I think.
Do you think that something that you live by? Have you always done so, or is that something that you have had to develop (AND if you have had to develop it how did you go about that?)?
J. I think I’ve afforded creativity too much in this. I mean, it can be defined as creativity still, but I think my drive to create the things that are missing from the world around me feels more likely to come from having (access to) very little spaces that could/can do this for me.
It’s definitely been developing, but I think mainly in accordance/relation to navigating spaces that tell me they want me to succeed and create and have a great life and that, but actually don’t.
Do you think it is important that we have diversity in media and art?
I think it’s there though. I mean, as we *know*, all art comes from non-white practice. This might not be your inference, but I feel like, mostly, when we talk of “diversity”, we mean “inclusion of non-white in white spaces” and so media like The News and other mainstream media will be how they are - all whack and white and boring and lies and control - meanwhile independent media and art pops off and is diverse as, but I’m really not about to start giving up the goods on that in public so lurkers and allies can undo that no thanks :)
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you're in, what would it be?
JOE MIRANDA. This will sound weird and arrogant (and probably is) but I think I would tell myself to hold tight and keep it up.
I’m by no means as woke or educated or compassionate or experienced as I would like to be, let me just say that. It’s not because I think I’m “The One” or that I’m dope or whatever, but I feel like for the really gnarly times when I could’ve done with some supernatural help from the universe, that shit just happened and hopefully none of us is too fucked up from it and if life is a forward trajectory (trying to understand different theories on this btw) then, if I’m still about on the other side of anything that happens in my world, I can look to remedy/fix it.
*This interview has been edited and condensed
Photo credit: Provided by Joe Miranda