Josh S. Rose began spent the first part of his career as one of the most sought-after creative directors in the country building some of the largest brands in the world. Rose pitched, won and brought his creative leadership to accounts such as Volkswagen, GM, Fisher-Price, Playstation, HTC, DIRECTV, Samsung, Milk, Dr. Pepper, and Old Navy. Rose was the creative force behind the launch of The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) across the entire country and lead all social media for the U.S. Army in 2017-18.
Rose now brings big agency branding experience to individuals, causes and concept-oriented companies looking to define themselves through their image, visual narrative, and identity in social media and beyond. Rose works directly with a select set of clients to build the kind of modern, defining content that engages audiences and grows brands. Clients have included Nike, Ford, Porsche, Leica, Homeless Healthcare LA as well as a host of celebrity clients, like Nafessa Williams, Christine Adams, Yoshiki, Colbie Caillat, Ndamukong Suh, and many others. Rose’s work developing ongoing content for Ember has helped lift them to one of the hottest new brands to appear on the market in 2018-19, now on the shelves of every Starbucks and Apple store in the world.
Rose is also a Leica Akademie Instructor and was recently selected to be a Visiting Artist at the prestigious CalArts School of Dance.
Hey Josh, can you introduce yourself to us?
I’m Josh S. Rose, a creative director and photographer living in Los Angeles. Thanks for having me come do a Q&A with you!
Great to have you, so can you take us through a summary of your journey to where you are now?
I was that kid who spent a lot of time in his head – reading, drawing, sitting in my room and making up imaginary worlds. I got a camera when I was about 12 years old and it was like I found my place in the world behind the lens. It was pretty much all I wanted to do. I got my degree in fine art but then fell into commercial art for about twenty years. It’s a thing that has happened to creative people for ages. You don’t expect that anyone is going to pay you for your creativity, so you think you have to be poor to be an artist.
Then it turns out that there are these funny jobs where creativity not only pays but can be very exciting. It entices you away from doing your own themes or even working in the medium you love most, but it’s an interesting and provocative trade-off that is hard to pass up. And there’s plenty to be learned there. I climbed up the ranks of the ad world – creative director, executive creative director, chief creative officer. I got about as high as you can go to an agency as a creative but always had the urge to return to my original love and my own themes. I figured I better do it before it’s too late, so I made the leap to full-time photography in April last year and have been working in it ever since.
What about your cultivated photography career?
Two things have provided me with good direction over the years: one is something Steve Martin likes to talk about when asked about how to become successful. He says, “be so good they can’t ignore you.” I like approaching work this way; it helps me focus on the process above all else. I try to have everything I’m about to be expressed through the images.
And the other thing is something a pro once told me, while I was still in commercial art. I asked him how he became a pro and his response was, “I didn’t give myself any other options.” I thought about this a lot. I had tried to cultivate my photography while embroiled in another career path and it just yielded very slow results. What happens when you commit to something – and make it the source of your livelihood – is that you make yourself available to opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t get. You’re able to say ‘yes’ to things that lead to other things and that eventually turn into relationships and clients.
Take us through your approach to landing big commercial clients such as Nike and Porsche on your roster?
The approach to working with bigger brands is to be as big as they are. Woking with huge brands, like Volkswagen, PlayStation or Fisher-Price, over the years has given me a unique perspective on establishing a voice. It’s about a defined set of values that comes across in everything you put out there. It doesn’t always have to look the same, but it always has to convey and be true to your value system. Because I have that defined in my own work, a brand can look at my work and see where my chocolate can work with their peanut butter.
Now, 3 solid tips for aspiring photographers out there wanting to get their foot in the door?
- Understand who’s hiring you. One of the most common pieces of advice on being professional in photography is choosing a genre or focus for your work. And while I wouldn’t argue the value of being focused and learning your craft, you have to go beyond that when you get into the business. You have to understand who’s hiring you. Every genre of photography has a different hiring person or benefactor, whether that’s a photo editor at a magazine, a creative director at an agency or a curator at a gallery. Don’t think of the general public as your audience, think of who’s hiring you as your audience and gear your work toward them.
- Create your “impossible world.” When you really look at very successful professional photographers’ work, they seem to have created what I like to call an “impossible world;” a place where light behaves differently or things are framed a certain way. Where people have a unique look or move a certain way. Even a world of a defined emotional territory. These invented worlds of photographers become your owned property and, in fact, are often what you get hired for. Far more for that than for your technical skills. Think about the rules of your impossible world and it will guide decisions, like lenses, lighting, styling, art direction, composition, and post.
- Become an expert in what you shoot. One of the most interesting shifts I experienced in becoming a professional photographer was how I changed my opinion of what I was an expert in. In the beginning, I felt my expertise was in equipment and framing shots. I followed along with updates in firmware, new camera models and every new technique and trend in photography. But when it really got serious, I found that that wasn’t what clients cared about. They care far more about how they, or their products, are being represented. And because I wanted to be able to converse with them in their language, I found myself becoming more of an expert in their business than in photography itself. The car photographers I know are experts in cars. Sports photographers can converse deeply on rosters, teams and the technical parts of the game. Beauty photographers know the latest trends in fashion. Going deep into the industry that surrounds photography makes you valuable not just as a photographer, but as a person who is helping someone else’s business.
Where do you draw your creative energy and inspiration from?
- Other very creative people, of all fields.
- My insatiable desire to develop new ideas and themes.
- The energy of the people I shoot.
How do you stay motivated?
You know the idea of a know-it-all? That person who can never be surprised and who has developed a ho-hum attitude toward life and other people’s accomplishments? I’m the opposite of that. I reject jadedness and anything that smacks remotely of “been-there-done-that.”
Instead, I love to laugh at other people’s jokes, delve into other people’s ideas and thoughts and probe into the human condition deeper and deeper. That’s how I stay motivated. Because if you remain curious and awestruck before the beauty of life and the world, then life and the world returns that energy to keep pushing you forward.
Is there a creative team behind you?
I fully embrace the idea that every shoot is a co-creation with everyone involved. From the management team, clients, crew and talent – we are all doing it together, every time. There are sometimes when it’s just me, my camera and the talent – but even then, I feel it’s more of a collaboration with whomever I’m shooting. And I’d even go so far as to say that the people and experiences that influenced me are with me when I’m shooting, too.
Where can you see yourself within the next 3-5 years?
I see a shift happening in the world of lifestyle and editorial photography. It’s similar to what’s happening on the agency side, where brands are working directly with creatives, often bringing them in-house. I think talent is already starting to establish more direct relationships with photographers who they trust and who can capture them with good editorial sense – and that that’s going to become the norm. So, for me, I think where I’ll be is with a select group of folks and brands who trust me to capture them in a more ongoing and natural way. Pete Souza’s 8-year, inextricable link to President Obama is the model I’m interested in.
What are the key tools that you use for your trade?
- Nikon D800 and D850 + a bunch of Nikon lenses.
- Two Leica M’s – a digital M-P and a film M6 + a bunch of M lenses.
- Fujifilm X-H1 and three Fuji lenses and an M adapter to use my M lenses here, too.
- Pelican hard case.
- Think Tank Commuter backpack.
- Profoto B2.
- iMac, running the Adobe Suite.
- FreshBooks for accounting, estimates, invoicing, etc.
- Dropbox Business for cloud access to images.
- Portable black backdrop.
- Portable foldable beauty dish.
- Duffle full of stands and tripods
- A good relationship with the rental folks at my local pro camera shop
What barriers have you had to overcome in your career so far?
There’s was this period of time – I have to believe most photographers go through this – where I became aware of how good I wasn’t. The more I got into it, the more I truly understood the depth of knowledge that other photographers have, the way they’ve established themselves, honed their craft and learned the trade. I went from feeling good at something to being more cognizant of what I was lacking. I got overwhelmed, even depressed over that.
That mental barrier is really real and can break you. I say this a lot to other photographers going through it – but this is where love comes in handy. Only love will motivate you to keep going, keep learning, watch another tutorial and stay hungry for it. That’s what pulled me through.
A highlight in your career you are most proud of so far?
It’s hard to choose a moment I’m most proud of. Anytime someone trusts me to take a photo, it touches in on the same sense of pride for me – it doesn’t matter if it’s an up-and-comer artist or a major shoe brand. I will say, though, when Porsche decided to put my image of the new 911 on their feed, I was like, “wow, okay.” It’s just such an iconic brand and car (and one I’m super into, as I was obsessed with the 911 as a kid and own a 1978 SC, myself). And if you scroll through the Porsche Instagram feed, you can pick my shot out immediately – it’s very much my style applied to their brand and doesn’t look anything like their usual shot. So, that felt pretty good and was a good sign that I was on the right track – pardon the pun.
How do you define your own success?
By the level of creativity of the people, I work with.
What does #BEYOUROWN MAN mean to you?
#BEYOUROWNMAN to me is about finding your own voice. At the beginning of a career, you’re assisting and implementing other people’s visions and ideas. That’s great and it grows your technique and skill. But you can get lost in that role player position and forget that you also have to cultivate your own voice. #BEYOUROWNMAN is a reminder to pursue the work that will define you as an artist.
Finally, what are you working on throughout 2019?
This year has two tracks: meet new artists and push the quality and creativity of the shoots we do. But I’m also a visiting artist at CalArts, here in Los Angeles, with their renowned dance program. With them, I’ll be working on new themes with a set of dancers all year, which will allow me to iterate and do work that evolves, conceptually. I’m excited about all of it!