Joey Trisolini

Kaʻaʻawa native turned New York city photographer Joey Trisolini speaks to us about skating, reconnecting with family in Italy, and finding himself through his work.

Words: Annie Nguyen | Photography: Joey Trisolini

SIL_Y: Joey, Where did it all start for you?

Joey:  My first pictures were in my backyard with my brothers, this kid Stevie and myself. We were all skateboarding. It was our only real way to record our progress skating. We would take turns shooting photos, develop them and go "Oh that's how high you got off that quarter pipe." I'd shoot a photo one week and we'd compare our progress. Then after that, I realized I liked taking photos of people just hanging out, not doing tricks. That's what really pulls me into photography. It records things for me. If it's not to look instantly at what happened, it's to look back 10 years later.

SIL_Y: While we are speaking, you are in the living room you grew up in Kaʻaʻawa located  on the North East Side of O‘ahu. Does the environment you're in have an impact on your creative process?

Joey: My home is what inspired me to take the photos. Half of photography is the environment, and half of it is who is in it. When I took pictures in Hawai‘i while growing up, I had no idea of the context. I just wanted things to look cool and as modern and “non Hawaiian” as possible. When I was originally taking pictures, I had no idea how important the setting was. I was working to strip away what made it unique, which looking back was completely wrong. Now, especially moving away from Hawai‘i and being in New York, I definitely look to bring back some kind of history into my work. My own history. I feel most comfortable with photos that remind me of the wild nature aspects that I grew up in. I grew up very close to the water...seeing the sheer power of nature. There are powerful moments equal parts terrifying and sublime, I have stuck in my head growing up. In a way, that's how I view the world. A powerful place, always moving.

SIL_Y: When we first met, I remember that you were about to travel to Italy. Can you please talk about that?

Joey: I had the summer to do whatever. I wanted to take the study abroad class in Italy. I went over to Italy, took a month of classes. I called my grandpa and asked where we had relatives in Italy. He gave me a number and I called. I called and asked if I could come visit and the voice on the other side of the line could barely speak English. I got a name of a town. (Taranto.) I was staying in the north of Italy and the time so I bought  a train ticket and went down to visit. Getting off the train in Taranto I stuck out like a sore thumb, looked completely American- shaggy hair and my non Euro fashions. My uncle Rocco and two of my aunts picked me out right away and drive me to Palagiano. That's how that all started.

“I don't want to photograph a boxer or a pretty beach because I've done that a thousand times. I've been trying to dig a little deeper.”

SIL_Y: The easy answer was to leave the country to get inspired. But how do I find it everyday? Or do you want to find it everyday?

Joey: Working in commercial photography, you figure out the recipe for that. You can kind of be a chameleon. But then comes a time when you write your own thesis and tell people what makes your photography special. That's such a big jump. Where's the heart in it? How do you tie it together with an aesthetic that people can relate to? The inspiration comes from not knowing what is gonna happen next. You put together the right people and the right place and then the beautiful thing is seeing what happens with all of that.

SIL_Y: What are some of your influences?

Joey: There are so many photographers that I love...If I wasn't shooting photography, I would definitely want to be a photo professor. It's weird, I've been through different phases..I guess it's not crazy but there are photo books I had, I was into Chinese landscape photography. It's kind of banal, but very historical but I ask myself why it's even on my shelf now. It really resonated with me back then. I remember looking at 8x10 film plates and that really speaking to me. I've pursued large format for a while, then I went back to 35mm like Robert Frank. I still love him and people like Jim Goldberg.

But now I feel like, commercial photography can become more interesting. I think more and more consumers want brands to have a stance and voice. How commercial entities represent themselves is most clearly apparent in their image and photography is a huge part of that.

Photography was a little bit more of an art when you didn't see much of it. Now it's very message centric. I hope photo art books make the transition and don't get left behind as production of images gets faster and everything becomes much more direct and matter of fact. It costs ten grand to get a nice book printed and distributed it costs nearly nothing to put the same pictures on the Internet. The commercial photo world draws so much inspiration from the art world though and without them, wouldn't have much to rip off.


SIL_Y: What motivates you to create?

Joey: Motivation has definitely changed over the time for me. When I was living in Hawai‘i, I wanted to photograph my family in Italy. I had to organize and plan. I start projects with a mission, no inhibitions. I knew I had to take photos for myself, to have a collection of my family's faces, but I also wanted to take photos for them. I came home, made a book and gave it to them. Versus going to India, you can't read enough about it to be prepared. The magic happens when you're there, a spur of the moment, a color..but the challenge for me is putting it together in a book or a series of images. I want to insert my own experience into the world and finding out what makes your experience unique is probably one of the harder things. I find myself slowly putting chains on my work...I don't want to photograph a boxer or a pretty beach because I've done it a thousand times. I've been trying to dig a little deeper. Talking with friends is probably the most helpful to take me to those ideas.

SIL_Y: Photography has been going through some interesting shifts in recent years. What are your thoughts on the change?

Joey: What am I doing with this photo stuff? I ask myself that all the time. I think really, it's just about getting to the heart of stuff. Letting yourself be that vulnerable to get those kinds of photos. Sometimes you take a mediocre picture and sometimes you take those risks and get something better.

It makes me self conscious sometimes. Last time I came home, I just sat on my phone and scrolled. This time I came home, I freaked out. I just wanted to shoot photos, surf, etc. I tried to put myself on more of a mission. It's such a blessing to be able to make the trip back to Hawai‘i and get on with the basket of ideas I would like to dip into.

SIL_Y: Lastly, what's next for you?

Joey: I think becoming more true to my work. Not worrying so much about shooting photos to a certain standard, but just to do work that makes me happy. Professionally, that's all I want to do. I just want to shoot photos that are more honest and a little bit more organic. I did a job with Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent and he rented a place upstate and all he did for two days was chase 4 teens around and that was the whole campaign. I think Hedi is genius for being able to pull that off especially in an age where most campaigns have 30 people looking at a monitor on set as each photo comes in and everyone is hyper analytical. You end up with some Frankenstein photo out of that a good bit of the time.

I just want to be open to more opportunities. It's weird, because I don't want it to be a display of my life in the sense of a diary but hopefully the work that I make has a little bit more insight to the human condition.

Find Joey Trisolini online at his website and Instagram.

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