About Me


JOEL SIMPSON began conscious life enamored of nature, collecting and studying rocks, fossils, insects and seashells. He taught himself photography starting at age 13, beginning with a fascination with landscapes. His formal studies broadened out into literature, music, psychology, history, languages, and modern and contemporary art, including a PhD from Brown in comparative literature (1976)  and  a Master of Music from Loyola (New Orleans, 1994), with a focus on theory and criticism. He was also a performing and composing jazz pianist for 22 years, based in New Orleans. 

      Since returning to photography as a professional in 2002, he explored a number of photographic genres, but found himself drawn back to his childhood passion, rocks. Having immersed himself in 20th Century art, he discovered formal resonances in geological subjects with stylistic gestures and aesthetic approaches of Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist painters. The resulting rock images barely fit into standard landscape categories—so he invented his own: geological photography. 

       Simpson’s work has been exhibited in Paris (Musée de l’érotisme), Tours, Rome, Barcelona, and many US galleries and art fairs. His images have been published in Silvershotz (Australia), View Magazine (Brussels), Camera Arts (Boulder, CO) and Focus Exposures (online). Having explored many photographic modes (e.g. social documentary, figure studies, scrap metal, portraiture, fashion, archeology), he now focuses on geological and landscape photography. He went around the world in 2014 and continues to travel extensively in search of provocative mineral formations. 

   In 2007 Simpson curated a 125-artist photography show at the Williamsburg Art and Historical (WAH) Center in Brooklyn, Sun Pictures to Mega-Pixels, focusing on non-silver-based photography. The WAH Center continues to show and collect his work. He has lectured and taught photography extensively, including  seminars on the Colorado Plateau. His awards include ten Black and White Spider Awards (2012–2020, UK), and was named one of the “10 Best Landscape Photographers of 2019” by One Eyeland (India). His 168-pp 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 of geological photography will come out soon, Playgrounds for the Mind: The Art of Geological Photography.

Earthforms can be seen on its own website, earthforms.net.

My Process

My Work

If landscape photography is about places—real, ideal, or semi-imaginary—geological photography when it’s not geology in a landscape, is about form. It is about finding meaningful, provocative, exhilarating form in rock formations. Parks and protected areas around the world feature elaborate and bizarre rock formations, that attract a large public. I have turned the most provocative ones into my art. Many fascinating formations also lie outside designated parks. 

I take these form-rich environments as sources of raw materials from which I can realize latent visions, ranging from abstract compositions to evocations of a broad array of high and low cultural references. Of course, I cannot assert as much control over my content as painters do. But painters create fictions, invented objects; I record fact—and turn it into art. As photographs, the are highly selected literal transcriptions of real surfaces and mineral objects, edited to render salient the forms I see in them. This way they operate on multiple formal levels, from the minute detail of rock grain to the overall design of the composition.

I also apply this same approach to other subject areas, including botanicals, ice-water-clouds, and scrap metal, as illustrated in the galleries on this website.


Playgrounds of the Mind: The Art of Geological Photography, Union, NJ: JSS Books LLC, 2021

How to Put the “WOW” into Your Landscapes: How to ExplandYour Landscape Creativity through Geological Photography, (eBook), Union, NJ: JSS Books, 2020. For more seeearthforms.net.

 Earthforms: Intimate Portraits of Our Planet, Union, NJ: JSS Books,2019. Nautilus Gold Award for Art and Photography.
“...an outstanding and beautiful compendium of landscapephotography that borders on fine art.”—Midwest BookReview. For more see earthforms.net.

Dick Hyman’s Century of Jazz Piano CD-ROM, Encyclopedicinteractive history of jazz piano. Union, NJ: JSS Music,1999 (no longer available. Now an audio-CD set onArbors Records).

Blues—By You: The Direct Route to Piano Improvisation, New York:Cherry Lane Music, 1998. 

This example portfolio website features work from the following photographers:

Action Vance, Andrea Leopardi, Augustine Wong, Marjan Blan, Pawl Czerwinski, Philipp Berndt

Using Format