December 2, 2012

Joel Belmont's Interview

" I am always trying to push the boundaries of what I can do, and this is one way that allows me to show things in a way that is beyond what we are used to seeing."
Joel Belmont


Dear Joel, how did your passion for photography begin ?

I went to college initially with an interest in directing films. But I quickly realized that as much as it costs to make a feature-length film, I would have to work for someone else for most of my life. I came across the idea of photography (I had always enjoyed making images) as a way to own my own equipment, and I liked the challenge of saying the same amount on content in one frame, as film does in 24 frames per second.

Your name sounds french ?

That's an interesting story. My father, Charles Belmont, was an actor, who spent time in productions on Broadway. His last name was originally Bullis, but he had it changed to Belmont for a stage name. He had spent a lot of time in Mount Shasta, CA, which is an amazing place, which I think is where the name might have grown on him, as it translates to 'Beautiful Mountain'.

Series "Light Painting

Series "Light Painting"

"The Light of the World"
Series "Light Painting"

Where did you learn your art ?

I received a BA in Mass Communications from Principia College in Elsah, IL, and studied photography quite incessantly there, however most of my growth as an artist came in subsequent years, learning from colleagues all over the world while honing my creative vision.

How long could you be far from your camera ?

The camera, for me, is just a tool. If I were better at drawing, I could probably get by with a pencil, and still express what needs to come out. To me, the tools we use, whichever medium we work in, are not really that important. Photographers often get too caught up in f stops and lighting arrangements.

The important part to me is not how you get there, but what you have to say.

Photograph by Joel Belmont,
painting by Lili Belmont.

Who are your favorite photographers ?

Wynn Bullock, for the spiritual nature of his photographs. Brett Weston, for his immaculate printing. Duane Michals for his experimentation. Alfred Stieglitz for pushing the barriers, and helping to bring the spotlight to other artists. Most of my favorite photographers are no longer with us.

"Slumber in Shades of Blue"
Photograph by Joel Belmont, painting by Lili Belmont.

"The Crevass"
Photograph by Joel Belmont, painting by Lili Belmont.

It's clear you have your own style. Could you tell me more about these "photo-paintings" ?

It is a technique called Oilgraphy, where a photographic print is mounted on a panel and archivally sealed into an acrylic layer, then painted over abstractly in oil paint.
I am always trying to push the boundaries of what I can do, and this is one way that allows me to show things in a way that is beyond what we are used to seeing. I am always working to capture revelations into the spiritual nature of life, and this allows me to create a new world around people.

I like how the very realistic, monochrome people are living and moving in an abstract world of vivid color. To me, that sums up our existence as mortals. We live in but a shell of the color and grandeur of an everlasting, spiritual life, which is always around us, and which we find when we know where to look.

"The Wind"
Photograph by Joel Belmont, painting by Lili Belmont.


"Untitled 40"
Series "Where we look for truth"

Is your photography mostly about nudes ?

My work isn't about nudes, but about ideas.
The figures are the vehicle for delivering the ideas.

There are four main advantages to working with the figure as it relates to my work :

One, I am always working with specific ideas, and with a landscape, I can't say to a tree or a river "here is what I am trying to capture... try to help convey this specific feeling..." So I work with people, with whom I can communicate, and who can understand what I am trying to work towards, and who can help achieve that.

"Untitled 37"
Series "Where we look for truth"

Two, I am always trying to capture elements of truth, and it is the most honest way for me to capture people. There is literally nothing for them to hide behind. It takes the ability to make people feel very comfortable posing nude in an unfamiliar setting, but once they are comfortable, I find it easy to see through to the core of the person in the image. And if I can capture the core of who they are - beneath the skin - I can strike a common chord that often resonates with the audience that see the final image.

"Untitled 41"
Series "Where we look for truth"

Three, it removes the concept of trend which comes with clothes.

I try to make images that appear timeless... that could have been made at any time.

Bringing clothes into the equation only clutters the image, and brings the baggage of social stature and trend.

And four, I like the challenge of working with the figure in a completely objective manner. Most photographers associate the figure with ideas of sexuality, even if subconsciously, and consequently most of the fine art nude images in the world are seen through the lens of looking at the body as an item of desire or physical beauty.

"Untitled 4"
Series "Where we look for truth"

"Untitled 6"
Series "Where we look for truth"

What I try to capture is the beauty that you cannot see. Love is very beautiful... but what does it look like ? Trust is beautiful. Honesty is beautiful. Integrity is beautiful. So is a connection to spirit. So is kindness. But these are all qualities that cannot be perceived with the five physical senses. You cannot touch, taste, see, smell or hear these qualities.

So where many people use photography to show what a breast looks like, or to document every nuance of a well-toned figure, I work to capture that which cannot be seen--through a visual medium. I try to capture it through symbols and concepts that people can understand, and hopefully relate to in their own experience.

"Untitled 34"
Series "Where we look for truth"

What a clear vision !... I saw many BW shots followed by these so inspired colored oilgraphs ? Today, what do you prefer ?

I do enjoy creating the oilgraphs, because it is a new way for me to push the boundaries of what I am doing, and show something in a different way. But I don't have any one preference... it is whatever most clearly conveys the ideas I am working with at any given time. It might be an oilgraph today, and a straight black and white print tomorrow. It's always changing, and that always keeps it interesting.

"Untitled 43"

"Untitled 45"


Do you plan every details ?

 It's a mixture of both. I always try to spend time before a photo shoot, sometimes weeks in advance, coming up with ideas that might work well with the person I will be photographing. I always send out a set of questions to people that model for my work, and these help me understand what makes them unique and individual... what they are passionate about in life.


Once I understand more of who they are, I get a better sense of what part of my work they best fit into, and I am able to work with specific ideas that they can more easily relate to.

For example, if someone is passionate about helping others, I might work with content that brings it out. Or if a person is very expressive with words, I might include those words/poetry in the image.

It is important to me that the ideas I work with resonate with the people in the images, because if they can't relate to it, how can they effectively express it ? And if they can't express it, how can the audience understand the original idea ? Connecting the process as best I can usually results in the audience understanding the original message, which is one of my goals.

The other goal is for people to be able to take that message and relate to it in their own way... make it their own. If I am effective, the image holds a mirror to the viewer, and it meets them right where they are at in their life, and allows them to take some truth into their own experience.

"Untitled 27"

So I do work with preconceived ideas a lot, but I also feel it is very important to also be receptive in the moment to what wants to be photographed... to what is presenting itself to the camera.

Sometimes things come up that were no part of my original plan, but I listen to them, and they are often better than the ones I had planned.


I'm impressed. I noticed that your models seem really "natural"... Some words about them ?

Though the majority of the people I work with fit into the typical category of young, slender, and female, I try to find beauty in every person. Unfortunately most of the people that put themselves out there as models fit into the above category. But I can work with a model that is 110 pounds, and one that is 300 pounds, and make equally beautiful and challenging images. I hope to break out of the norm more.

"Untitled 18"

The only advantage I find to working with people that are neither physically excessive nor lacking, i.e. someone that has a figure that is pleasing to the eye, but where no one feature stands out ; someone that is neither young nor old, is that it provides a good medium for conveying ideas where people don't get caught up on the figure rather than the content.

For example, if I worked with super-skinny young women with ridiculously large breast implants, most every person to see the image would get sidetracked by the 'eye-candy' and never even get to the idea I was trying to convey. So it is often important for me to work with people that have somewhat of a neutral figure, so it doesn't detract from the content. There are exceptions to this, usually when I am working with an idea in which an exaggerated figure lends itself to support that idea.


When and where will be your next exhibition ?

I just finished with a show at the Aspen Art Museum, and currently have another gallery show open here in Aspen. Most of my exhibitions have been here in Colorado, but I am starting to branch out into venues across the US.

My work usually finds a more receptive audience in larger and more modern art markets, so I would expect to see shows in Los Angeles, New York and Berlin in the next few years.
I am also working on publishing a book which should be released in 2008.

Keep us informed ! Thanks a lot Joel ! Your work, your vision and your philosophy are impressive. Thanks for your kind and so participative contribution.

"The Saviour"
Photograph by Joel Belmont, painting by Lili Belmont.

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