About Josh Mason-Barkin

My name is Josh Mason-Barkin. I got into photography in tenth grade. Being enrolled in my school’s photography class meant I was entitled to receive (on loan) a Canon SLR for the semester, along with two rolls of black-and-white film per week (and the supplies to develop it in the school darkroom). The last image from my final project photo essay still hangs on my office wall.

[That class was also my first exposure to Photoshop (version 3.0, running on a PowerMac 8100) and digital cameras (a Quicktake 100).]

For me, what makes photography special is that its creativity is forced to coexist with reality. Ansel Adams once said, “Photography is an austere and blazing poetry of the real.” I’m drawn to that juxtaposition – the poetry of the real.

I also connect with the idea that photographs possess a unique capability to tell stories. There are lots of ways we pass along narrative — books, plays, films, the spoken word — but there’s something amazing about capturing that specific micro-second in time that gives a viewer a special window into what’s happening in that scene, or what it felt like to stand in that spot.

In addition to working as a photographer, I’m the founder and principal of the Motech Agency, a design and technological strategy firm that specializes in working with synagogues and other Jewish non-profit agencies. Before that (in backwards order), I served as an educator at synagogues in Los Angeles and San Jose; worked as a teacher trainer, curriculum developer, school consultant, and graphic designer at a Jewish educational publishing company; went to grad school to receive masters degrees in Jewish education and non-profit management; and worked as a reporter, copy editor, and page designer at the daily newspaper in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

I now live in San Mateo, California with my wife (a rabbi at Peninsula Temple Beth El) and son (who is very much a two-year-old). I work out of a home studio/office.

The best way to get a feel for my photographic style is to check out the pictures on this site. But in case you want to know a few things that are harder to glean from my work, here’s a little about how I work:

  • Photographers should be like umpires (and makeup). Any baseball fan can tell you that umpires should be like makeup: If people notice it, there’s a good chance it’s being over-applied. If the umpire is the thing that fans and players remember about the game, he or she probably got in the way by making unnecessary controversial calls, flamboyantly calling balls and strikes, or being literally in the way of the flow of play.

    Whether I’m there to shoot an event or taking a portrait of your family, my goal is to be as unnoticeable as possible. My specialty is taking pictures of people being themselves, of the naturally magical moments that occur at an event, and of natural environments as they actually exist. So I think it’s my job to stay out of the way, take pictures, and avoid being noticed.

    That’s one of the reasons I almost never use a tripod at a shoot, and why you might mistake me for a shy person when I’m there to work. Tripods and gregariousness are both hard to avoid noticing.

  • The best story is often the less-obvious one. Sure… I might get a better shot of someone’s face by getting up close, or using a giant zoom lens. But I’m also interested in giving a true sense of what it felt like to be there. I like to take pictures at wide angles to get the “big picture,” or of the seemingly-ordinary objects and interactions that might not be on the “shot list.” Don’t worry: I’ll get the shots you hired me to get. But when possible, I like to shoot from the less-expected spots. (And I hope you don’t mind.)
  • It’s a digital world. If it’s what you want, I’ll make sure you get gorgeous, frame-able, high-quality prints. But these days, lots of us place just as much value (if not more!) on having pictures we can share on Facebook, post on our blogs, and email to friends and family. And for organizational and corporate clients, many more people see photos on a homepage than framed beautifully in the office. Though I learned how to use a darkroom when I first took up photography (and I’m sure I’ve forgotten most of it by now), my interest in this field is deeply tied to the power and possibility offered by the digital medium. (Though I’m always impressed by my friends who do some awesome things that only film can do. I’m glad to make a referral if you’re looking for a film photographer.)

    I see my computer as a fundamental part of my toolkit, both for processing photos and for sharing them. And I love working with clients who are excited about the opportunities presented by innovative uses of digital tech.