Joshua Irving: Borrowing Moments

The Human Experience

Storyteller: Joshua Irving, NZ

Man holding umbrella above himself and woman taking photo

What inspires you to take photos?

Taking pictures is like borrowing books from the library—sometimes you find a classic, other times you try a new one, and occasionally you blow the dust off something few would notice. I guess it’s reading that I enjoy, borrowed moments of real life.

Man smoking a cigarette

Why did you create your first photo book?

For one thing, I’m too lazy to write. And another, I’m good at forgetting things. I wanted to capture my experience overseas such that I could return there anytime, and bring my friends with me.

Man sitting and reading newspaper outside shop

What themes do you create for?

People doing people-things in places where I visit. Nothing very scientific. I usually get stuck with countless photos of old folks eating their lunch! My next thought is to document home a little better, the people, places and goings-on I witness everyday in New Zealand.

Man riding bike with cigarette in mouth

Why do you continue to create?

I love browsing the shelves of human experience. There’s always more and different out there. At the same time, what I choose to photograph—even more so what I choose to print— says something about who I am. It helps me reflect.

Left, sign showing advertisement. Right, woman in street.

How do you select what photos make it into your books?

Is there a clear subject; a story; a habit or a quirk; someone relating, reacting, thinking, feeling? Importantly, is my portrayal honest and fair? I then try to consider which photos will sit alongside. Publishing my shots in pairs allows me to deepen the mood, broaden the context, or raise questions through juxtaposition.

Two people eating at food court

What are some of your favourite images from your books?

Probably ones with a face front and centre. Or someone who appears totally at home. Equally, I get a kick from seeing people stand out for all the right reasons, say, for taking the stairs.

Man feeding sparrows a Pocky stick on Hiroshima's Aioi Bridge

What is your favourite story behind an image in your book?

The final image in my ‘Japan’ book was taken on Hiroshima’s Aioi Bridge, the aiming point for the 1945 atom bomb. Although the bridge is a replica of its predecessor, it maintains an acute sense of gravity given its history. My work pictures a man’s hand extending from a car window. He’s parked, feeding the sparrows a Pocky stick. The man’s eyes gave me permission to approach, which I did, close enough to detail the crumbs falling and the apparent levitation of one bird who’d had her fill. A simple gesture, but I feel it’s a story which both honours the past and hopes for the future.

Man doing peace sign in mirror at market

What do photos mean to you?

I don’t pretend that my photos will last forever, or that more than a few people will ever see, let alone appreciate, any of them. It seems to me more honest to think of photos as borrowed moments, compendiums of ordinary life issued to the artist for a time. If others choose to loan them later, that’s a bonus on all sides.



Joshua Irving is a former high school teacher, now theology student in Auckland, New Zealand.

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