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This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
My name is Lou Noble. I work as a medic on film sets and in my spare time, I run a site called The Photographic Journal and take pictures.
I got interested in photography in college just as a hobby. I’d read a Stephen King story about a haunted Polaroid, so I started taking Polaroids. Then, probably in 2006, I got on Flickr. That’s when I really became passionate about photography. Started meeting a bunch of other people who were into Polaroids—you could talk to them, you could meet up with them… I had never really had that experience. I always kind of created art in a vacuum before that. Meeting other people around 2005-2006 is when I really started getting passionate about photography.
When did you know you could do this for real?
You know, looking back, every time I thought I was really good, I wasn’t. But you start getting a little bit of attention and you think you’re better than you are. I started getting attention on Flickr probably around 2007-2008. There weren’t a lot of people taking Polaroid portraits, and I’d also write a bit about the photo. People tended to like that. I started to realize that people were into the photos I made and the writing I did.
Then, in those early internet days, I sold a book that I made from Blurb. I think it was the first year of Kickstarter, like 2011. I did a Kickstarter project where I went around the country taking pictures of people.
“...in 2006, I got on Flickr. That’s when I really became passionate about photography. Started meeting a bunch of other people who were into Polaroids—you could talk to them, you could meet up with them… I had never really had that experience.”
Could you imagine a life without creativity?
I cannot imagine a life without artistic expression. I wouldn’t be able to do that. There are many days—many weeks—where I don’t actually take much in the way of photos. But I’ve still got The Photographic Journal, so I’m still engaging with photographers. I’m still looking at art all the time. I pretty much engage with photography daily—Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, and corresponding with the people we work with on TPJ.
A life that didn’t include that wouldn’t be any fun. I refuse to live a life that’s not any fun. My life is pretty much as hedonistic as I can get while still making money and not, you know, selling my body for porn or something like that.
What was your first real break and who gave it to you?
I can’t say I ever had any particular big break. There have been moments that I look back and think of as inflection points. In 2005, a photographer on Flickr suggested I use a particular camera, and that camera I’ve carried around with me ever since. It changed the way I took pictures. It changed what I took pictures of.
There was a point in 2007 when a guy came into the ambulance company I was working at and asked me if I wanted to work on a film set. That was the beginning of my set medic career. There was no moment at which I became suddenly more successful or had an aha-moment. It was more like periods where I was able to take an opportunity, and that opportunity led to another opportunity, and that opportunity led to this life that I find very enjoyable.
“I refuse to live a life that’s not any fun. My life is pretty much as hedonistic as I can get while still making money and not, you know, selling my body...”
How has the internet affected your work?
The internet is responsible for me being a photographer, for me being passionate about photography, for me knowing photographers, and for me working with photographers. Everything I do that’s art-related has been catalyzed by the internet.
I was working as a nanny and my friends had a website, a blog, where they would write stuff. So I started writing stuff with them as the nanny guy—“The Manny.” We went on Flickr to promote the site and that’s when met all these other photographers. And I wanted to do photography all the time.
Then I met a guy who liked my photography and wanted to interview me. We kept talking and then I started doing interviews. Next thing you know, I’m helping him run his website, The Photographic Journal.
Getting to travel for photography is because of the internet. Meeting most of the people I took pictures of was because of the internet. Meeting models on various sites, meeting other photographers, meeting friends, all the writing I did, the Kickstarter trip, judging on Flickr, books… Without the internet, I would still just be taking pictures of friends at parties—which was fun, but different.
What would you say to young Lou?
If I could go back in time, I would try to shortcut everything so I could get to where I was going faster, I suppose. That’s what I’ve always thought about. If I could go back in time, to maybe 14-year-old me? Pick up a camera. Don’t wait a few years. And hey, also invest in Apple. I definitely feel like I took the long way to get to all of my interests, to reach the kind of worldview that I’m happiest in. So I’d probably find myself as a teenager somewhere and just tell him to get started on a lot of stuff. Save some time.
What does creativity mean to you?
To me, creativity is very broad. I think it has become more broad over the past five to ten years. I think everyone can be creative. I think creativity is the ability to think about art, to think artistically. I also believe that these terms—creativity, creative—have been co-opted by more professional modes to the point where everyone thinks creativity is something they should monetize in some way, or that they should make work for them. I still believe there’s a place where art is satisfying just because you made it. Like, you don’t have to do anything with it.
People used to ask me all the time, “Oh, you’re doing photography? Why don’t you become a professional photographer?” I would explain to them that just because you are good at something or enjoy something, it doesn’t mean you have to make it your job. That’s a different relationship to art. So, creativity is being able to access the artistic part of yourself.
“I think what makes you come alive is something you should do as often as you can, but don’t make your job. Because making it your job will cease making it the thing that makes you feel alive.”
What makes you come alive?
Over time, what makes me come alive has changed as what I need emotionally has changed. Photography for so long was what made me come alive. It was the only thing that I was both passionate about and good at to the point where I really got some satisfaction out of it. As I get older, I’ve become good at other things. Surfing makes me come alive, but I wouldn’t want to make a job out of it.
I think that what makes you come alive is something you should do as often as you can, but should not do as your job. I know that this is outsider thinking, but again: I think what makes you come alive is something you should do as often as you can, but don’t make your job. Because making it your job will cease making it the thing that makes you feel alive. Putting it in a cage like that will temper its utility to you.
I am of the opinion that you should find a hobby that is very enriching, and you should find a job that you enjoy. The two don’t have to meet. If you’re not happy with the job, you can go do this thing you like. If you don’t like this thing, you can go to work. I think making your passion your profession is a trick that capitalism has pulled.
This interview was conducted on November 3rd, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.