Joshua Owens Q&A
Day in the life routine/daily habits?
This is a funny question at this particular period in my life because it’s one I’m contemplating everyday. I’m slowly transitioning away from a decade long career as a pro athlete abroad (and an even longer time having basketball be such a big, dominant force in my life). In a lot of ways I’m reclaiming control and redesigning different components of my everyday life that my career previously spoke for. What has stayed consistent is my relationship with my mornings. I wake up relatively early and really appreciate a quiet, centering start. My routine begins with drinking a bottle of water I keep by my bedside. Then I like to read something inspirational before getting up to perform a 10min series of functional mobility exercises. After the short stretch, I hop in a cold shower. For whatever reason I like to immediately follow with a 10min meditation session. After, I’ll write in my journal then make tea or, if I’m already hungry, a smoothie. I drink, wrap my head around my day, and finally start engaging with the world and my electronics. Lastly, before I jump into getting things done, I spend some time on a video call with my girlfriend and we compete against each other in one of two of the New York Times App games—usually Worldle or the Mini Crossword. Lately this routine has been an anchor for me, my peace, and mental clarity.
What are some of your sources for creative inspiration?
As cliche as it may sound, the journey of life and the shared human experience are my ultimate sources of creative inspiration. For me, there is something about the improbability of arriving at a moment. I think about all the things that had to go exactly right (or exactly wrong) for the present (yea, you reading this) to occur. In the case of my photography, when I started my career abroad playing basketball, I never imagined I would live so many different experiences around the world. Very early on, I knew I wanted to document my travels not only for me to remember, but for my family. I knew they would never visit many of the places an orange ball had given me the privilege of seeing. For that reason, my photography is often a reflection of what I feel in a moment. When my camera is handy and I see something that embodies that feeling, I try to capture it. There is a seemingly random sequence of individual passions and curiosities that pushed and pulled the subject and I to that moment. I think there is beauty in the overlapping of disparate experiences even if it’s just for the fraction of a second while a shutter snaps closed.
What do you look for when you’re shooting? Must-haves (tools, etc.)?
I travel as light as possible--usually just a standard 28-75mm zoom or a 35mm prime. When I was purchasing my first camera, my dad encouraged me to think of it as an investment and not purely an expense. He introduced me to photography when I was much younger and he thought I should get something nice for myself. I optimized for a full-frame camera that I could easily stuff in my gym bag. I wanted the convenience of taking my camera on the road for away games. At the time Sony was releasing the A7, their first mirrorless kit, and they preached small size without sacrificing quality. I’ve been hooked on their cameras ever since.
A majority of the time, I’m not looking for anything in particular. Since I like to shoot in natural light and from my experience, it’s rare that I go out with the objective of getting “the shot”. From a content perspective, I think people are fascinating and I’m always curious about their stories. If I weren’t an imposing 6’8”, I think I’d be more comfortable exploring an intimate style of street photography. Because I draw so much attention (especially with a camera), I end up shooting at a distance and capturing scenes that depict people in the context of the larger environment. Many of my shots have a minimal and solitary tone. If there are no people, I enjoy snapping the timelessness of nature.
Advice to the budding creative and/or your younger self?
My biggest advice would be to find comfort in the ebbs and flows of creativity. I think when I was younger, I negatively viewed any lack of inspiration. I would tell myself the well should always be full and that I should always have something to draw from. Sometimes that would manifest in me trying to over engineer my creative process. I would go out with my camera expecting, or even telling myself I had to find an interesting shot. In a way I’d put pressure on myself to be creative. It’s funny the way chasing after something just makes it that much more elusive. Those times were very frustrating and often squeezed much of the joy out of the creative process. As I got older, I started to appreciate the nothingness of boredom. In some ways theres a randomness to creativity that you need to let sneak up on you. I learned you have to create the space, allow the well to empty a bit, for that new creativity to find its way in. That said, when you experience that flow, submit to it and create.
Story behind the shots featured in release 2?
During my playing career, off days were always very special. In the traditional work world, you can regularly look forward to the two day weekend. In my profession, you generally received one free day per week and there were no promises that that “off-day” wouldn’t be spent in an airport, on a bus, or at a physiotherapist’s office. When it was a proper day off with no obligations, I liked to get out and explore. Even if my body was physically tired and beat from a week of competition, a day of wandering could do a lot for my mind. On this day, my girlfriend at the time and I had driven from Veneto to Lago di Garda. She was also playing professional sports in Italy and enjoyed getting out her apartment every chance she could. We spent the morning walking the small villages along the lake before finding a cable car that could take us to the top of Monte Baldo. We were a bit underdressed for the colder weather and snow atop the mountain, but we were happy to be on an aimless adventure. As we were leaving we were recounting to each other how incredible the unplanned day had unfolded. Then we were silent for a while, walking at a distance and there was this moment when she was walking with this joyful bounce. From my vantage point it was a visual play of walking on clouds.
As I mentioned before, morning is my favorite time of the day. For this shot, I was out west in Los Angeles on the tail end of a busy offseason visiting family and friends. I had added a couple of extra days to my stay and booked a quiet studio one block from Manhattan Beach. It was supposed to be a vacation away from my vacation with the vision that I’d spend some alone time by the water. During the season, I’d spend long stretches alone overseas so it felt odd to crave it back in the United States. After sleeping in my first morning, I told myself I wasn’t leaving without a sunrise walk along the water. I woke up while it was still dark and wandered in the direction of the pier. I watched the beach come alive. One by one, surfers emerged wetsuits half zipped and board under arm. I remember being a bit startled by the headlights of big CAT machines crawling along the sand. I imagined sea turtles hatching under the cover of moonlight, avoiding predators, and flapping towards the waves. By the time I reached the pier, the sun was just breaking over the beachfront homes and there was this final glow devouring the darkness. I felt some kinship with surfers up early, alone, and patiently waiting for the next wave.
Hometown favorite (place, restaurant, anything)
Over the years, I’ve moved around quite a bit. I’ve made a habit of adapting, learning, and finding beauty in so many different places (especially in the last ten years) and that has detached me from a physical interpretation of home. Instead, I consider it wherever my family and loved ones are. That said, there is one tradition I developed that has grown to feel like home. Whenever I’d finish a season abroad, I’d give my mom a fake return date then coordinate with one of my siblings to pick me up at the airport and surprise her. They’d welcome me back with Chick-Fil-A (the only restaurants I craved while overseas) and we’d go make my mom really happy. That tradition always feels like home.