Celebrity Photographer Joe Buissink Gets RAW

This past fall I had the pleasure to produce another series of short films for Pictage’s ParnterConference in New Orleans. The ones I shot last year were the most rewarding filmmaking experience I had in 2009, allowing me to delve into topics that inspired and provoked thought. The series I got to produce this year was equally, if not more fulfilling. A series of four short documentary films profiling people in the photography world, most of whom I’m sure you have never heard of; but whose openness and honesty left an indelible effect on the 500+ attendees at PartnerCon: and one story in particular that changed people’s lives (more on that in a few weeks). I’ve gotten the okay to start blogging about them and share my insight behind their creation.

[This video (and the other ones I created for ParnterCon) will be part of Pictage’s new education and inspiration site The Photo Life. Very cool! Check it out for some great articles, as well as intriguing podcast interviews. Oh, and it’ll be the first place you’ll see the other films I shot for PartnerCon. Go there to see them first, then come back here to read my back story on their creation.]

I Thought I Knew Joe Buissink

Joe Buissink is arguably one of the top ten most successful celebrity wedding and portrait photographers around. He’s shot for Kelsey Grammar, J-Lo, Bishop TD Jake’s, Christine Aguillera, and Stephen Speilberg just to name a few. He’s also one of the most down to earth, honest, and authentic people I’ve met. Some how, despite Joe’s fame, he’s been able to elude the whole “rock star” photographer image. He doesn’t boast on Twitter or Facebook about his work; he doesn’t blog; he doesn’t bad mouth anyone; and he sports regular t-shirts, jeans and sneakers vs. Marc Ecko designer shirts and points shoes. He’s “just Joe.” If you’ve ever heard any of his talks at any number of photography expos, you also know that he’s open and forthright. (Arguably more so than ever in this last PartnerCon as he shared about his own challenges in this tough industry and economy).

In this PartnerCon film series, we wanted to explore the trial and tribulations that occur among “newbie” photographers and old-timers like Joe. After a week-long stint shooting for three other clients in Northern California, I took a 24 hour detour to Southern California to grab some time with Joe and create the film below. I knew I would want to touch on his work with autistic children (he has two himself) and the affect that’s had on him. But as we rode from his home in Marina del Rey to is Beverly Hills office, he started sharing about his childhood and early adult life.

My jaw just hung in disbelief as he shared what it was like being left on a door step at age 4.5 by his biological mother who left his dad; about having an abusive stepmother; and about being called the N-word (yes, THAT word). About drugs, racism, alcohol. My mind was racing. How in the world was I going to capture all this information AND make it relevant to photographers? I think what we ended up with worked out just fine. But you be the judge.

Thank you Joe for your vulnerability, your openness, your compassionate nature, and your willingness to give back to this industry. You are what’s best about this business. You da real deal my friend!

If you thought you knew Joe Buissink, think again.

Some back-story

  • In the film Joe talks about being in the army. What I didn’t have time to include was that he intended to go to Vietnam with hopes he’d die. Instead he was shamed and frustrated when his dad pulled some strings to pull him off the plane before it was meant to take off. It deeply affected Joe for years after that and was largely responsible for him going into therapy.
  • Joe was part of a racially diverse gang in the South Central L.A. area that would go around trying to break up fights by the other black and Hispanic gangs. After a year of being beat up by those gangs, they decided to give up.
  • It was easily in the mid- to high 90s the day we shot this. Joe was a trooper as I shot him walking up and down the alley behind his office. I’m surprised his head didn’t fry.
  • Shot with a Canon T2i, a Steady Tracker for walking shots, a Lensbaby Composer, a Canon 50mm f1.8, a Canon 35mm f1.4L, and a Tokina 12-24 f4. (Funny side note. The aperture on a Lensbaby cannot be controlled by the camera. You have to use a set of manual aperture rings that come with the lens. You drop them in the front of the lens and take them out with a little magnet hook. This was my first time using a Lensbaby, so I hadn’t yet that figured. So the Lensbaby scenes were shot fully open. I had to adjust shutter speed to compensate. But the high exposure actually worked well for the look I was going for.)
  • The beach scenes are out behind the condo’s where Joe lives in Marina del Rey, CA. He walks his son Sebastian out there on many a morning.
  • The songs are from Triple Scoop Music. Opening song “Hall Mongers” by Shotgun Radio. Ending song “Gooding” by Marie Laveaux. I was looking for something hard-hitting with a Trent Reznor/NIN feel to it.
  • Big thanks to friend and colleague David Robin for picking me up at LAX and dropping me off both to Joe’s place and later my luxurious motel digs.
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22 thoughts on “Celebrity Photographer Joe Buissink Gets RAW

  1. You’re right, just when you think you know someone, you hear something like this. We all have a story. Our life is what we make of it. I admire Joe, I always have, for talking about the rough times in his life. He’s always been a wedding mentor for me & Bob. And that will never change. We love you Joe!

  2. Thanks Ron for this, I truly needed to hear this! I was humbled to be a part of this project, but also so grateful for people like yourself and Joe who encourage others to be yourself and not compare and worry about what others think. Blessings to you both!!!!!

  3. I agree that we shouldn’t judge the “shoot and burners”. Joe, I loved your openness and willingness to allow your troubled childhood to become a teaching tool for the rest of us! The stark reality of the prejudice you experienced clearly exposes it’s evil.

    Can I encourage you to shoot another video? An enlightening and empowering message to move beyond shooting and burning. Discussing the danger of mentalities that lead to the weakening of one’s ability to soar; and devalue one as an artist. Possibly discovering again that whatever one doesn’t value one will violate (just like prejudice). Consider the impact of wise direction as opposed to judgment. I loved your message to stay focused on self evaluation and self responsibility; and would love to see the next step of individual responsibility of educating newbies about the dangers of devaluing their God-given mission and talent in the name of desperation.

    Thanks, Joe for your message to not judge! I am anticipating the next video on mentoring and guiding our newbies out of the impoverished mindset that devalue themselves and our trade as a whole. With God (and Ron and Joe) all things are possible!! wink, wink!

    Can’t wait to see what’s next!! With love and admiration, Annette

    PS. Ron, what about this concept for an upcoming video: Working FROM victory rather than FOR victory. This alleviates much of our tendency to compete with one another. Keep up the FABULOUS AMAZING work!!

    1. I totally agree Annette!! That’s where we were heading with this, but fell short due to time constraints. I’m forever on this soapbox advocating/preaching education, as a way to self discovery and a mastery of the craft. What say you Ron?

  4. This is just fantastic. Joe, thanks for being so open and honest. And kudos to you for what you’ve walked through to get to where you are today.

    And, Ron, there’s no question that you’re a filmmaker. :-)

  5. I am so humbled whenever I even ‘think’ about Joe Buissink. I am honored to have spent time learning, not only about his photography style, but about life, from him. We should all take the time to listen to Joe and absorb some of his wisdom. In an age of competitive photography it’s important to remember to think and shoot from your heart…..when you do that you will always come out on top of your own world and help to make the world a better place for those around you. It’s all about the love a photographer puts into their work. You will always have a place in my heart Joe……Thank you! Karin

  6. Ron, Amazing work. Felt like a first hand experience/ conversation with Joe instead of a video, delivered an “in the moment” feeling. Besides the visual aspect, there were many take home messages. Vey meaningful. Wonderful to get to know Joe and to learn from him.
    I love it that Joe is promoting being genuine. I strive to be that person. So many have a picture of who they want you to be. Thanks Joe, for not allowing a label to be slapped on you ( after enduring many labels,) & for resisting being packed in a neat little box industry wise. Appreciate your encouragement in understanding each other, newbies and old pros. Wisdom I will remember.

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