Some people have interesting stories and Justin Rosenberg is definitely one of them. It all started in 2001 when he got diagnosed with Chrohn’s disease obligating him to go to the hospital very often. Over time he got addicted to opiates and struggled hard to get his life back on track. Seeking for help he moved to Los Angeles in 2011 to get sober and has been up to now for over 7 years. These pictures are his expression of a difficult period where he has now made his peace with.
What did you want to represent with these series?
This series is a reflection of my internal struggles with staying sober and living well. I’ll have 7 years of sobriety from drugs and alcohol on January 17th, 2018. Although I am proud of this, and my life is immeasurably better because of it, I’m human and I still struggle. I believe that true sobriety is more than just not using/drinking. I was taught that sobriety equates to living well. This series represents my internal dialogue between the parts of myself that want to live well and the parts of myself that want to say “fuck it” and throw it all away.
You struggled with addiction yourself. Could you say photography was like a kind of therapy for you?
Photography is a major form of therapy for me, and in so many different ways. The biggest, of course, being an outlet to externalize my inner thoughts/hopes/struggles, etc ... Photography is also an important part of how I build connection in this world, both to the environment, as well as other humans. Not so much with the series presented here, but much of my work is set in the natural environment. Often times, this requires long drives to places I wouldn’t otherwise get to see if I sat in an office cubicle all day. The drive itself is a form of therapy for me. I feel truly alive and in the present moment when I’m driving 6000ft up a curvy narrow mountain road surrounded by fog and steep cliffs. I’m not an adrenaline junky, so I’m not ripping around the corners like an idiot. To the contrary, I get in this almost meditative state on these drives and that forced focus carries over to other aspects of my life. There’s also the people-element as well. Naturally, since I photograph humans, I get to connect with them, and many have become some of my closest friends over the years. But beyond that, since I make photographs with the intent on sharing with the world (often via online venues), I have made very real and important connections, both online/offline, because of some of the people I have met just by posting a photo to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc ...
❝ For the first time in my adult life, I sought to embrace the hope in the struggle. That’s exactly what I’m aiming for in my images. Therefore, I like to use the natural aspect of fog. Though fog is not in all of my work, whenever possible, I try to incorporate it. Fog forces you to be in the present moment. In any direction, you can only see for a just a little bit, so all you’re left with is exactly what is happening in that moment. You can look in front of you, but you can’t see the future. You can look behind you, and you’re not defined by the past. You’re just exactly where you are, right where you need to be, right when you need to be there. ❞
How does photography influence your daily life? Do you think you pay more attention to detail in general?
For many years now, photography has been part of and has influenced, my daily life. Although I’d love to say that I’m out shooting every single day, that’s just not the case. That being said, not a day goes by where I’m not at least editing (which is very much part of my process). And often times, a day includes shooting and editing. As far as influencing my daily life “outside” of photography, that happens too. It could be something as simple as getting mentally lost admiring the morning light hits a tree in my neighborhood, or as complex as noticing there’s some coastal fog which ends with me driving around for hours just to be in fog (without even photographing it).
What kind of gear do you use? Which is your favorite lens and why?
These days, I primarily use a Sony A7RII and Sony lenses. I don’t really have a favorite lens, per se, but much of my work is done with the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, so I guess that lens, by usage statistics. Much of the work in the series presented here was shot while I was still using a Canon 5dMkIII and Canon 24-27 f/2.8 L. I’m one of those “the camera doesn’t really matter” people, so I’m probably not the best to answer gear questions.
"To that end, in my images, I want to convey a sense of visceral presence. I am not concerned with the narrative relating to the before and after. I am concerned with the present moment. I want the viewer to experience a momentary ineffable catharsis, forgetting their past, while simultaneously not projecting themselves into an uncertain future. I want the viewer to be hopeful in the present struggle."
You have a personal way to photograph people, how would you describe it? How do you make people feel comfortable in front of the camera?
It’s funny, I don’t feel like I have a particular style of photographing people. The whole process has been super organic over the past few years. So many of my photoshoots involve long drives to get to the locations. When you’re driving a few hours with someone, you have a lot of time to build rapport. By the time you’re 6000ft up in a foggy forest, it already feels like you're old friends. As far as during the actual shoot, I try to balance playing director and just letting someone do their thing. A lot of times, we’ll just go a bit free-form, and if a pose seems to be working more than another, we can hone in on specifics and tweak it a bit. With regards to someone feeling comfortable, it’s not all that complex. Don’t be a creepy shitty human being. Look people in the eye when you’re talking to them. Treat them like you would want to be treated if you were on the other side of the camera.
How did you manage to stay clean after all these years? Does it get easier or will there always be a temptation?
With regards to staying clean and sober for this long. It’s a combination of so many things. Although I don’t attend all that many AA meetings these days, for the first few years being “in the rooms” and after meeting fellowship were a lifeblood for me (and has led to many wonderful friendships). Similarly, while I’m long “graduated” from rehab, the community aspect of where I got clean has stuck with me all these years. I still go to a weekly book study there, even after all these years later. I’d also be remiss to not mention my love of Stoicism. While I’m not as well versed as actual Stoic scholars, the ancient philosophy has become a large part of my sobriety and how I handle life’s challenges in general. Does it get easier over time? Yes, absolutely. And, there are certainly challenges/temptations/obstacles, etc ... You just learn to walk through them, and it’s that walk that gets a little bit easier over time.
Your favorite waste of time?
What’s my favorite waste of time? I’m in this private/exclusive cat lovers Facebook group. It’s all about cats, but it’s mostly comprised of fellow folks from the creative industry. If they’re reading this and see this statement, I hope they don’t kill me … but I’m 73% sure many in the group would answer the same to this question. I think it’s our daily fuzzy and adorable digital distraction.