Joshua Kristal addresses RCAH community on the power of photography and life as a creative

March 17, 2017

On February 22nd, 2017, photographer and videographer Joshua Kristal visited Associate Professor David Sheridan’s RCAH 112 class and presented at RCAH’s Wednesday Night Live. “He embodies photography,” said Steve Baibak, RCAH Academic Specialist and LookOut! Preparator, when introducing Kristal to the assembled RCAH students and faculty. Kristal has been practicing photography for over 20 years and has spent much of that time shooting for nonprofits.

joshua kristal

Kristal is a Michigan native, born and raised in Huntington Woods, however, he’s been living and working as a photographer in Brooklyn for the past 11 years. When he is not in Brooklyn he is traveling the world and assisting non-profits through his expertise in photography. Most recently he traveled to Madagascar for the New York based non-profit organization, Kulanu, which works to support isolated Jewish communities around the world.

“My art form is documenting what I put in front of me,” Kristal said about his art. “I do not try to make things attractive.” Instead, Kristal seems much more interested in what he calls “the ugly beautiful,” or the real and marginalized people and spaces that go largely undocumented. While addressing RCAH students, Kristal made it clear that photography “is a powerful tool” and has the “power to make positive change in society.” In working with non-profits, Kristal has had the ability to take his work all over the world. During his presentation, RCAH students and faculty saw the vast variety of work Kristal has done from documenting Stevie Nicks tribute nights to being able to draw attention to marginalized Ethiopian Jews suffering from an eye disease affecting their rural area and cataracts. While he calls himself a “visual storyteller,” he also is a storyteller with his words as well. Kristal captivated all those in attendance with retellings of his adventures in Ethiopia and Mongolia.

Kristal was also able to provide RCAH students with some advice on living as a creative. On being a photographer in New York, Kristal says, “the freelance lifestyle is quite arduous.” In the age of digital photography, he claims that the market is saturated with mediocre photographers. In saying this, Kristal gives students pursuing careers in the art world a cause to consider “the realities of work in that sphere.” Work as a creative is “an interesting and worthy lifestyle,” Kristal said, “but it comes with its costs and those costs can be it’s not easy to make a living.” When he’s not traveling and working on his passion projects, Kristal is a freelancer working with several clients in New York City including the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Housing Works.

RCAH senior, Kaitlyn Heriford, attended Kristal’s WNL presentation and expressed surprise at how much the event correlated with her learning in Candace Keller’s senior seminar that she is taking on the history of photography. “Lately we have been discussing the role photographers have in creating social change and making viewers feel empowered to take action for important issues,” Heriford said. “He brought up many issues that we continuously discuss.” Heriford said that her greatest takeaway from the night was Kristal’s perspective on “using one's passion for humanity's sake and history's sake” was key. “I think this perspective can be really beneficial for creatives wanting to do good for others and for society, so that we do not get hung up on not seeing our huge impacts immediately. Change takes time and dedication will get us there.”

RCAH’s next Wednesday Night Live will take place in the RCAH Theater at 7 p.m. on March 22, 2017, featuring Detroit techno artists Cornelius Harris and DJ Mark Flash.

Story by RCAH student Caileigh Grant. Photos by RCAH student Samantha Kinjorski.