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18 January 2011

Baltimore Favorites: Josh Sisk

Photography isn't new to me but is something I have been recently obsessing about. Being hands on with photography in the last four months has made me respect and appreciate photography more. Details and skill are qualities I notice much more often. There are certain photographers that are the ultimate in inspiration, innovation, and panache. (Panache is something you are born with.) This includes Baltimore photographer Josh Sisk whose work I have been aware of since high school. Since 2005 he has been a sort of authority on nightlife and live performance photography in Baltimore. Everyone knows who he is and his work speaks for itself. He has contributed to magazines and major newspapers such as Washington Post, Baltimore Sun,, and XLR8R magazine. A few years ago it sued to go without saying that is Mr. Sisk was at a party it was the best party around. But with all eyes on Baltimore how does one choose which event to cover? I was lucky enough to ask Sisk a few questions and to discover the man behind the camera.

Dan Deacon

1. What influenced you to take photos professionally? I worked my way through college as - among other things - a staff photographer and stringer for various college/local publications, and a darkroom manager and a traditional black and white photo printer. I fell into web development after college, but missed  photography, and dabbled here and there, stringing for the Express, doing some headshots, shooting photos of hardcore bands that were on the record label I ran. That got me shooting a lot more. Then I started
shooting more shows and doing club photography for Cullen Stalin and Simon Phoenix, who do Taxlo. At the same time the Baltimore music scenes were getting a lot of national attention, so it was sort of
the right place at the right time.

2. When did you start to enjoy photography and taking photos? Almost as long as I can recall. I started taking photos of my friends and family with one of those old 110 cameras, the long narrow ones with the weird cube flash that rotated. I enjoyed taking snapshots and trying to make them more interesting than just a basic picture, messing with double exposures, weird lighting, stuff like that. Sometime in high school I managed to get a hold of an old Pentax K-1000 film camera and started learning black and white photography techniques, how to print, how to develop film, and so forth. How to make the images look more like what I imagined they could look like. And I was hooked.

3. What is your favorite band, past or present, to photograph? Why? Hard question. Most of the bands/artists I have shot, I have only shot once, but certain artists are always fun due to the wild things that
happen. I would say perhaps either the Death Set or Dan Deacon, because the performances, even when they are large, always have an intimate feeling to them, like the crowd is a part of the performance. And with both, there is the knowledge that any crazy thing could happen. Both also make really great music.

The Death Set 

4. In 2010 you put together a book called Under the Strobe Light. Why was it important to put a book together? What was the selecting process like? With that book, I wanted to put together a document of the work I had been doing over the last 4-5 years, shooting in nightclubs in Baltimore, documenting the Baltimore dance music scene. I still do this, but a much larger part of my shooting life in those years was in those clubs, so i thought it was time to assemble a body of work. I tried to create a cross section of the people and artists - and places- that felt like a good picture of the scene to me at that time. Not
just the DJs and producers, but the kids too. That book was more of a first shot at it, I am going to be doing an expanded version that will be out late spring/early summer, with extra photos and a better layout. I did the design on the first edition myself, but this time a real designer will be laying it out, thankfully.

5. If you were not a photographer what would you be doing?Not sure. I've always had an interest in film/video. Perhaps I would be a cinematographer, but that's a related field so that's probably cheating to say that! I studied painting in college; maybe that? Or perhaps I would doing a lot more web/interactive projects.

Portrait of Jimmy Joe Roche

6. You are best known for shooting live performances, do you shoot other subjects?Most of what I do is music-oriented - I shoot a lot of album photos, album covers, promo photos. But I also do studio portraits and I love to shoot landscapes. I have an ongoing body of work that is photographs taken in the small North Dakota towns where my father's side of the family is from.

7. What is your favorite part about Baltimore and why? The people, the atmosphere. It's a crazy place, but it seems a lot more of a whole package than some other cities that are more
metropolitan. I like that there is a whole range of experiences, culture, and people here. And a wide range of artistic projects and endeavors. I grew up in a fairly culturally devoid place, and my family currently lives in a very isolated rural community, so living here always feels like something new and interesting is going on.

Dj Scottie B

8. In 2011 what are you looking forward to? Do you have any new endeavors? Every year I try to focus on one area of my work and improve on it. Last year I was really focused on bringing the quality of my live concert work to a higher level. I think I came a long way, and am a lot more happy with what I'm doing with that sort of work now. This year, I want to focus on portraits and I have a few bodies of work in this area I want to develop. I also want to focus more on my web sites and other things. I will
be making my online portfolio and site a bit more in-depth than just
the photoblog and basic portfolio I have now. Learning to get myself
out there more.

9. This is the age old question, how do you stay focused at performances? Hard to really explain this one. It's all instinct. I can't really help but not stay focused. When I am at a show without my camera, I am constantly thinking about composition and exposures and framing anyway. It's not hard to stay in focus, it's harder not to.

Sisk hopes to have his new book, which will focus on live music photography, and the second edition of his first book both available in April. Also in April he hopes to have a gallery show in Baltimore or DC. More news to come! If you would liek to see more of Josh Sisk's work check out his Flickr. If you would like to hire Josh Sisk for your next event or purchase some prints check out is website:

Life is beautiful, let's share a little. 

Joy D.

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Thanks for stopping by, I would love to read what you think. I love responding to your questions. Ask away!