Art & Photography / Culture Talks

Photographer Joss McKinley Talks Mortality and Tilapia Fish

We catch up with the Brooklyn-based photographer as he launches three new limited-edition prints with PRIZE Editions to discuss the beauty that can be found in a dying breath

Photographer Joss McKinley’s painterly practice spans landscape, portrait and still life imagery, exploring the strange magic of half-light to captivating effect. Today, three of McKinley’s sumptuous prints launch on PRIZE Editions, a brilliant artist’s initiative founded by Stephen Ledger-Lomas which sells printed editions from emerging photographers who operate along the peripheries between art and fashion – accompanied by a beautiful new film. The likes of Zoe Ghertner, Jack Davison and Mark Peckmezian are already selling limited edition prints through PRIZE, so we pricked our ears when we learned that there was a new talent joining this esteemed roster of image-makers. AnOther caught up with McKinley to find out about the various themes influencing his work, the time he narrowly escaped a lioness, and the tale behind that tilapia fish.

On the death of a bird…
“There was a bang at my window, very loudly. I looked down and I see a thrush on the ground, so I went outside to go and get it. I brought it inside and made it comfortable in a box, hoping that it would pick up some energy. And it didn’t. It died in front of us. It was the first time I’ve seen an animal’s – or anything’s – last breath. It gave out this really small yelp. It was a very sad, yet beautiful moment and I had to photograph it. That’s what you see here – the bird lying in the box, just after it has died.”

On temperature…
“The fish in the film is a tilapia: it’s the worst fish in the world. They’re bred in these giant tanks, are pumped full of chemicals and never see daylight. I bought it from Chinatown and they allowed me to take it home. And then I filmed it, taking it out of water to try and catch it gasping for air. My work comes in waves of temperatures: sometimes I’m doing cold work and sometimes I’m doing warmer work. It is definitely colder in the video and I think the lighting and the colours of the film have made the fish in particular appear very painterly, but also a bit plastic. And I think, in a way, the slow movement as well makes it look almost computer-generated. I shot the fish on an iPhone for this reason.”

On self-portraiture…
“The image of the window was intended to be a subtle self-portrait; if you look closely you can see me in it. I am holding a camera down, reflected in the open window. I don’t regularly take self-portraits, but there’s one on my website that is quite blatant, because I took it directly after a life-changing moment. I was on a safari and a lioness stalked me – but I escaped. We were stupidly cooking a steak on a barbeque at midnight, in the middle of the safari park, alone. We were by the grass which is ten metres high and all of a sudden there was this lioness just sat there staring at me. I took my portrait directly after this incident – I felt lucky to escape intact.”

On the relationship between film and photography…
“Stephen [Ledger-Lomas] had always included an accompanying piece of text with the other artists PRIZE Editions represent; an interview or piece of text, for example. I’ve always been really interested in film, so wanted to make something for the occasion. I’ve done a little bit of video work in the past, but not that much. I find film more engaging – and my work is very filmic anyway. There’s not much photography that excites me, especially contemporary photography; so the idea of being able to mix some of those ideas together and also work with sound and installation feels far more exciting to me.”

Joss McKinley's limited edition prints are availiable to purchase now through PRIZE Editions.