The Joy of Making a Difference

Joseph DEGBADJO | Photography

Joseph Degbadjo is a photographer born in Benin, West Africa, and raised in France. He quickly established himself as one of fashion’s new and hot photographers, renowned for the unique precision of his compositions and lightning. Joseph's photography carries an elegance and an affinity to capture the natural aesthetic in his images.​
SCHIERKE Artists: You already worked for so many industry legends like Vogue Italia, Harper’s Bazaar, American Vogue, Rolls Royce, Lacoste, and Dior. But you were not immediately drawn to photography. During your studies in tax law you decided to practice by shooting some of your university friends during school sessions. Did you teach yourself everything? And how exactly did you do that?
JOSEPH: to be honest I am a self-educated person. I think it's something that's just in me. The constant search for beauty and the striving to create something. And I couldn't really stop with it once I started. 
SCHIERKE Artists: So you always had this sense of creativity in you?
JOSEPH: In everything I made. I've always loved creating and even crafting things at home, like a little box to put something in. My lens through which I look at the world and how I shape things is purely creative. 
SCHIERKE Artist: But the profession of photography is also a technical one, right. So how exactly did you teach yourself how everything works?
JOSEPH: I love science and I read a lot about planets and the sun. I was always fascinated by light and how the sunlight can affect the other planets. In the studio the subject changes and sometimes you have more than one sun which you have to take care of.  I remember when I started taking pictures in my room, I used a lot of candles to play with light.
Today I would say that photography is a talent in me and it had to come out.

SCHIERKE Artists: What were the biggest challenges when you started photography?
JOSEPH: In the beginning it was very difficult. I studied something completely different, I actually wanted to be a tax lawyer and for my family it was a bit strange. I come from a very poor family, school was very important for my mother and she was very proud of all the steps I made so far. When I got my license and my master's, it was a shock for her. She was more worried because it was a new world for her and she wondered how I was going to make money doing this and how I was going to do without so many things. And she had a lot of questions.
SCHIERKE Artists: Interesting. Your photography style can be described as a mix of elegance and an affinity to capture the natural aesthetic in the images. ​Where do you get your inspiration from?

JOSEPH: I get my inspiration from nature and from life. I also love to keep the cinema aesthetic in all my films, because for me cinema is really beautiful. It's the way it's built to inspire people. I love the power of cinema very much. How you can talk about serious subjects, romance, life, love and betrayal. For me, it's something magical. And I would say one of my favourite Directors is Jean-Luc Godard. In the sixties, he talked about war in films and at the same time about love and shame. I love that balance between serious topics and the moments of life. So editorials are also a big theme for. They are very important to me. Even more important to me than commercials. Of course I have to do commercials, but nowadays it's also a bit complicated because we are too much in the speed rush. Everybody has to do it fast, fast, fast.
I think sometimes it is good to come to rest and recognise the beauty of what we have created.

SCHIERKE Artists: Yeah, I am with you. To feel and enjoy the joy of your work, to enjoy the moment, to enjoy the shooting and not to think about the end before the shooting starts. Which of your jobs have had a particular impact on you?
JOSEPH: : All my jobs. I also really love all my personal projects, but I have met and photographed very, I would say, very famous people like Zlatan Ibrahimović and Naomi Campbell. I call them aliens because these people are not normal. People say: oh, see, this person is very complicated. But every time more people talk like that about a certain person, I get interested because I think: there must be a reason why these people are like that. Like I said, I don't like to follow trends. I like to discover the person themselves. But every time people say they are difficult, when I meet them, they are not difficult at all. In fact, they were easy and very interesting. In the end it's also a dynamic between two people, a dynamic or a relationship. So I think if you're open to someone else, the reaction will be different. But if you're really stacked up and not open-minded you get a similar reaction. You have to create the creativity and positive will things will come back.
That was the case with Zlatan because after our shoot I had a strong and different attitude. It was a really really special moment in my life. I felt that I had to meet this person to grow again. I always say I grow with age, but I also grow in my soul too. I feel like a video game character that grows with each level, with the people. And when I met Zlatan, it was like on level two and after our shooting I was on level three, because his mentality is incredible. So again I would call them aliens because the way they think is very different. And maybe that's why I have this connection with them, because sometimes I feel that I'm also not a normal person. I am very out of line. I don't like to be pinned down to anything. I really want to feel free and stand behind myself. I don't like to just follow. Sometimes it's complicated because you have to be natural but also pay attention to your surroundings and take care of them, but you also have to pay attention to yourself and be authentic. But of course you have to coordinate and work with others. But at the same time the most important thing for me is to be myself. A long time ago I realised that we are all different. That's human. We can't all be the same. That's normal.
I can't try to be someone else to please someone else because we are all different. So it's very important to be myself.

SCHIERKE Artists: Where do you get this  way of thinking from?
JOSEPH: I think it's also because of my background. As I said, my family had nothing, and you have two choices in life. Either you do something bad or you do something good. If you do bad, you won't be happy anymore. The good way also takes time because it is not easy. So I just decided to think differently and accept that there are good and bad people in the world. In every good there is bad. And in every bad there is good. For me, it's very simple. That's why I don't judge people. Even if someone does something bad to me, there is always a reason, because you never know the background of the person and what they experienced.
SCHIERKE Artists: Really interesting how you see the world. Thanks for sharing this. What big project is planned next?
JOSEPH: A big documentary is planned next with a friend of mine called Sophie. My meeting with Sophie was incredible because the situation and context in which we met is hilarious as we start talking about saving the planet at an afterparty with Leonardo Dicaprio while people were dancing. It is extraordinary. We will document 16 countries and the documentary is made according to the principles of Ikigai, which is the Japanese equivalent of the concept of "joy of life" or "meaning of life". Finding one's own ikigai can take time. For me it has become a reality, a principle of life. Today, each of my projects responds or tries to correspond to this concept. I could present this concept to you as follows.
1. what I like to do
2. what I am good at
3. what I can get paid for
4. what the world needs
For me, this means that the goal of the documentary is to show people doing something and having a real impact on the preservation of our lives and nature. My big goal is also to show the positive and that every person can make it. You don't have to be the richest person in the world to make a difference. Everyone can do a little bit. 
SCHIERKE Artists: Last but not least I would like to know: What are your visions, wishes and the next big goals?

JOSEPH: My goal is that I want to have more influence. Not just for myself. I feel like I'm special and I have something to give to the world. Maybe that's my destiny and I want to share that more. And even though I'm still very young, I've already experienced a lot and learned a lot. And what I see at the end of the day is that I'm there for a purpose, to maybe make a difference. And I think my purpose is my goal.
My purpose is to give people emotions and to help where I can. I don't know how I'm going to do that, but I feel it.

Thank you for this inspiring interview, Joseph!



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