JOEL SIMPSON, found his lifelong interest in landscape photography and geology merging with the Surrealist and abstract art he loves in his most recent body of work, The Surreal in the Real. Over the past two decades he has traveled extensively in search of exceptional geological locations to furnish the raw material for his visions. He believes that powerful images made from provocative details of the Earth's crust can strengthen the aesthetic bond, and therein the spiritual one, between humanity and a Planet in distress.

Simpson’s work has been exhibited in Paris (Musée de l’érotisme), Tours, Rome, Barcelona, and many US galleries and art fairs. Special recognition must be given to the Williamsburg Art and Historical (WAH) Center, with its visionary director, Yuko Nii. The WAH Center in Brooklyn, NY, has consistently supported Simpson's work since 2003, in its two to three exhibitions per year, including a solo show of Simpson's work in September, 2021. In 2007 Simpson curated its first photography show, Sun Pictures to Mega-Pixels, featuring 300 works of 125 photographers, emphasizing non-conventional photographic processes.

Simpson's  images have been published in Silvershotz (Australia), Camera Arts (Boulder, CO), View Magazine (Brussels), and Natural History Magazine; and online in, The Eye of Photography, Focus ExposuresShades of Grey, Inspirational Art, and the PhotoIndependent online exhibition. He went around the world in 2014 and continues to travel extensively. 

Simpson's awards include ten Black and White Spider Awards (2012–2020), and was named one of the "Best Landscape Photographers of 2019” and again in 2021 by One Eyeland (India). His 2019 book, Earthforms: Intimate Portraits of Our Planet, was featured on the cover of Natural History Magazine (June, 2019) and won the 2019 Nautilus Gold Award for Art and Photography. A shorter book, Playgrounds for the Mind (50 pp.)  came out in 2021 and now is in its third edition (See Publications.) His work is collected by the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center in Brooklyn, New York. For a complete C. V. click here.

My Work

Spectacular color landscapes still charm me, although the fine-art photography world has largely moved beyond them, and they have drained into the inventories of stock image companies. In my quest for them over the years, I periodically happened upon sites with particularly bizarre formations—rock, mud, ice—which, rather than evoking an exhilarating location, pointed beyond themselves, perhaps touching something in my unconscious. As visionary photographer Minor White (1908–1976) said, “One should not only photograph things for what they are, but for what else they are.”

This is especially true of these very special places of bizarre geology: Bisti and other badlands (New Mexico, South Dakota), lava fields (Hawai’i), slot canyons (Arizona, Utah), Crack-in-the-Ground (Oregon), Little Finland (Nevada), Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada), Goblin Valley State Park (Utah), Fantasy Canyon (Utah), and also in waterfronts abroad in Ireland, Wales, France’s Ile de Ouessant, and “lunar valleys” in Sardinia and Corsica. In such places competing geological forces of uplift and erosion have left us with acres and acres of mind-boggling shapes, an open invitation for one’s imagination to transcend itself. 

Ice, instantaneous geology, comes in an endless variety of shapes, often evocative ones. I recently returned from two weeks in Iceland, where I was completely seduced by its bizarre forms—in the frozen floor of Kerið Crater, in two glacial ice caves, in streams, waterfalls, and in a huge lava tube. You´ll find them in their own gallery on this site. I also discovered that the most natural use of the 180-degree fisheye lens is to photograph the ceiling of a grotto. The result looks like a heavenly body, since the concave formation can also be read as convex.

The capture process in the field is mostly intuitive. Often I'll discover a visual reference to something in particular only after I've edited the image. However, I refrain from giving (most of) them titles in order to let the viewer's imagination lead the way.

During the initial stages of the pandemic I developed editing techniques to make my visions more explicit and powerful—while not altering the original image through composites or montages. The physical forces that created these forms (plus the incident sky) have a powerful integrity,that usually needs to be made clearer for all the elements to work together for maximum effect.

30-minute slide show-lecture, delivered Feb. 21, 2022 to the Park West Camera Club of New York

Installation Views

Using Format