Behind The Interview

Joel Yum finally knows how hard it is to fill out his trusty blank cue cards.

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Over the past year-and-a-half, Joel Yum has interviewed and photographed over 60 subjects – all emerging artists in Toronto – as part of his blog, The Image Interview. Unlike the traditional Q&A interview, Joel arms each subject with coloured Sharpies and sets them loose onto 3” x 5” blank cards. To complete his tableau, these hand-written comments are placed next to a mix of still life and portrait photographs.

Stemming from the idea that beauty is a reflection of your individuality, the blog started off as a personal project, shooting portraits. Like all things Darwinian, The Image Interview evolved into a platform for promoting creativity, while capturing great people behind great work.

Joel’s unique interview approach, along with his innate ability to capture his subject’s personality, has garnered notable buzz throughout the blogosphere. I recently sat down to pick at Joel’s brain, where he gave insight into The Image Interview, Joel Yum: the man and the meaning of life.

Layton Wu: Do you think you have your look and style locked down?
Joel Yum: I mean, with art, everything progresses, and you get bored of something or you feel like you want to go with something else. So for now, I like it. It’s pretty simple: you got the still life – people’s character lying around – and then you have pictures of them and then you have the thoughts in their head. Like, I don’t ask questions; they just write down whatever they feel is going on in their head.

LW: So you just dive right in to the interview?
JY: I usually sit down with them, see what they’re about, and then I’m like “Okay, just write whatever you want. It can make sense or not. It could be an experience or it could just be a random thought and then when people start writing it just starts coming out. Some people just write “hahahaha”. It’s purely their own character. It’s not influenced by the questions I’m asking them.

LW: What happens if they get stuck?
JY: It doesn’t happen as much as you would think.

Sometimes I’m like “Okay, fine. I’ll write down a single word and you can respond to it any way you want”. If I need to, I can go that route. It gets the mind working: “Okay, creativity – what comes out of my head when I think of the word creativity?” It’s all about them, right? “This is me and I’m goofy and I’m going to write it all out.”

LW: Creativity.
JY: For me? You want me to define creativity?
LW: Yeah.
JY: Creativity to me is someone’s personality through external forms. So it’s your writing, your painting, your music, whatever.

LW: Describe your process.
JY: I don’t even read the cards, the comments that people write, until I get home. I don’t really analyze the pictures so much, and I know it’s not really the greatest thing. I know you should come in with a certain mindset, like, “Here’s how I want the photo shoot to look; here’s what I want you to wear,” but I love just leaving things on the spot and having everything happen spontaneously.

I go home and a lot of the time I’ll read the comment cards and I’ll look at the photos and go, “Holy crap this storyboard just matches up now.” It’s funny how that happens, right?

LW: Are there certain areas in Toronto where we might find you?
JY: It’s not really geographic because my whole focus is emerging artists so a lot of them can’t afford to live in Toronto. I try to make an effort to go out to wherever they are to give them the exposure. Everywhere and anywhere. There’s no specific area I’m really drawn to.

LW: Quick, what’s the meaning of life?
JY: Go out, do what you want to do, treat people the way you want to be treated and that’s it. Keep it simple.
LW: You’ve passed the test.