How The Pros Do It: 10 Questions With Josh S. Rose

The only way to reach your targets in life is to get to work. But it’s easier said than done. Only a fraction of people in life are actively working towards their goals. They know how to create and use the right tools and processes to generate progress for themselves. A lot of these people have a ton of interesting things to say. So I thought I’d interview them.

Most of my weekly guests created their own business, and they got where they are today by successfully implementing self-discipline in their life. To each one of them, I ask questions about their life, their learnings, their tools, and sometimes about which celebrity they would like to have coffee with.

There are no rules for success, only consistency in the work you do. None of the people I interviewed are super-humans. They’re just dedicated, and they have a lot of awesome things to teach us.

Let’s get to it.

This week, my guest is Josh S. Rose. In his own words, Josh is “a photographer who does other stuff, getting hired for a variety of creative projects: branding work, videos, copywriting, conceptual development and social media.” His mainstay remains photography. But Josh is also a top writer in Photography and Creativity on Medium, where he shares his views, tips and tricks on those 2 domains. He also worked with Medium on the series America At Work, where he was sent across the country to photograph and interview people about their jobs. You can find out more about Josh’s work on his website. This interview also features some of Josh’s photos.

You come from the agency life, which you’ve described as soul crushing. You decided to go your own way and now have your own business. What made you take the leap?

A push and a pull. I was part of downsizing at the agency I was at for seven years, and a holding company that I was at for 17 years. But this happens all the time at agencies. The insecurity of advertising is part of what you sign up for.

When I say it’s a soul-crushing line of work, I don’t mean commercial art itself or the hours. I mean this underlying sense that all this incredibly laborious and difficult work is not leading to anything deeper or more fulfilling. I believe creative people are meant for more than that. And so it starts to weigh on you over time that you’re doing work that doesn’t last. That was the push.

The pull was toward the work I truly love, which is photography. I absolutely love doing it. I love making imagery. I love cameras. I love the pre-production process of figuring out a concept and a look. I love casting and location scouting. I love lighting and grip equipment. But most of all, I love being on set with talented people. That is my absolute happy place.

To be clear, I’ve been a photographer most of my life, but I’d always talked about it as my “minor.” All I did was switch my major and my minor. I major in photography now and minor in the other areas of commercial art.

Photograph by Josh S. Rose

You now do “non-friction marketing.” Can you elaborate on that term?

Thank you for asking about that. A friend of mine suggested I figure out a way to talk about what I do and how it makes me different than others out there doing similar things. That’s the term I came up with. I guess it’s working!

“Non-Friction Marketing” is meant to convey a new way of branding yourself, as either a person or company. It used to be that “building your brand” was one thing and creating your content was another thing. Today, it happens simultaneously and seamlessly.

The way I work with clients eliminates the tension points that occur when two big organisations (or more) claim ownership of a brand. I’m somewhere between an agency creative and an in-house creative, so the work flows more organically and easily — no friction. We schedule shoots and all our decisions along the way are reflective of the brand’s values; from our concept to our casting. I’m finding that companies and people alike love working like this. It creates such a different vibe and a far more creative and collaborative atmosphere among everyone.

I’m a top writer for the subject of Photography on Medium, but that grew out of a dedication to writing more deeply on the subject for a long time. I actually care more about creating quality articles than I do about how well those articles help market me as a professional. I will say that it’s panned out for me though, because a good article will get good SEO and a few clients have found me that way. A few others have found it validating that I care so much about quality photography and think a lot about it.

Also, having worked with the editors at Medium for years now, I’ve come to appreciate what they are doing and the collaboration with them has been valuable to me on many levels. I’m extremely proud of the series we did together called America At Work, where they sent me across the country to photograph and interview people about their jobs.

What is the number one habit/routine you attribute the most to your success?

There’s one question I ask myself all the time: ​how are people changed by what I do? ​As creators we should always have a sense of how our work affects others. I believe in being focused and satisfied when I’ve created something of value. In my photography, when it’s working well, I offer a touch-in with real human emotion. And in my writing, I like to think that I’m helping people be better at their craft. I only know this of myself and my work because I continue to ask that question and then see how it works.

But this habit of positioning myself at the service of an audience and assuming there must be some kind of value exchange — this has helped me grow more than anything.

Photograph by Josh S. Rose

What is the number one productivity item you can’t live without?

That would be a to-do app on my phone called Things. Lists are everything for me. Without them, I wouldn’t remember anything. I’m very diligent about entering in every single thing I need to do and setting a date for it. And I’m religious about checking it throughout my day

Also, I don’t respond directly to emails. If there’s something I need to do coming out of an email I get, I put that in Things in its proper place among all my other to-do’s. Then I archive the email. This eliminates the ability for email to dictate my day and allows me to stick to things that are a priority for me. Creativity is always my priority. If I’m inspired, everything else can wait.

The One Book you recommend for self-improvement and/or productivity?

Whatever thing you’re not good at, but need to be, buy the book that explains it. Be specific. If you want to be a better writer, buy a book on writing, from someone who is successful at it. If you want to learn to make video, buy a book on cinematography. Always learn the next thing.

Can you tell us about your use of journaling and goal tracking?

I started keeping a journal when I was about 13. I’d draw on one page and write on the facing page. I kept this up for most of my life and found it to be an effective way to deal with emotions and to put myself in a creative mindset. It also helped develop a dual track of visual and written word capabilities. Then I used to blog quite a bit and was early on platforms like Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr.

Goal tracking is more of an internal thing for me. I have a pretty solid grasp on where I am as a photographer, so I don’t set goals so much as have meetings with people. This business is almost entirely built on relationships, so I work on that day in and day out.

Photograph by Josh S. Rose

How do you manage your time between your photography, your writing, and your personal life?

Left to my own devices, I’d probably be in my studio creating until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore. Then, I’d likely sleep on the couch in there. Fortunately, I have a partner who keeps the family in line and who I adore and am happy to come inside to be with. So personal life and my creative endeavours have a very distinct line.

As for the division between writing, photography and the myriad of other projects that happen between 9am and 6pm, I make my own hours. There’s a bit of an internal guide that has come from knowing myself and my flow. I write best in the early morning. Shoots tend to go well if they start around 10am-11am. Editing and learning new things is best in the afternoon for me.

Also, I have a producer who comes to the studio 2 or 3 times a week and that’s very helpful to keep things on track.

You have an instagram account. How do you tie the 2 platforms (Medium and Instagram) together?

The two platforms are not necessarily tied. They are both self-publishing platforms, but I think of Instagram as a kind of sketchpad for themes and ideas I’m working on. A place to engage with others on those ideas (and theirs). Medium is far more one-way, as a platform. So you could say I have an artist’s voice on Instagram and I take more of an author’s voice on Medium, being much more selective of when I post there and only when I have something thought-through and interesting to share.

On Instagram, my posts are much more journalistic than most, as I’m combining a kind-of poetic, freeform, written component that is meant to be inspired by or a companion piece to the image I’m posting. My usual pace is about three posts a week.

I don’t feel at all distracted by social media because my use of it is almost entirely within this role as artist. I think this is the misleading thing about screen time: it’s far too broad a category to make judgments on. If I was spending that time mindlessly scrolling through everything everyone is doing, that would be very distracting. I only spend a few minutes a week actually doing that. I spend almost all of my time on Instagram creating and engaging. So, for me, that’s worthwhile time.

But when I’m in “creation mode”, making something or editing, I don’t touch my phone at all. In fact, I have two desks in my studio: one is my digital desk, with my computer, printer, ipad and drives. My other one is my “analog desk,” and I go there to concentrate, draw, concept or thumb through magazines and get inspired. When I go there, I leave my phone on my digital desk and I listen to albums on a record player.

Photograph by Josh S. Rose

How important is time off for you, and what do you do when you take time off?

I’m more interested in new mindsets than I am in time off. My most common mindsets are as follows:

  • The mindset of a creator/creative
  • The mindset of responsibility
  • The mindset of a worrier

Humans have a strong negativity bias, and mine is about as strong as they come. If I’m not ​doing ​or m​aking ​something, then I’m prone to anxiety, bad dreams and general worry. Consequently, you could put me on vacation and I would still be in one of those three mindsets. What I’m finding more and more important is feeling ​at ease. ​I’m trying to get many more hours of that specific mindset into my day, week and year. If anyone has any ideas on how to achieve that, let me know!

You get $100 to burn, all your friends are busy and you have the whole day to yourself. What do you do?

I would go do a sound bath meditation, go get fish and chips down in Venice Beach, then walk on the beach and take photos.

Photograph by Josh S. Rose

There you have it. I want to personally thank my guest for taking the time to provide me and my readers with really insightful answers. I am deeply grateful to Josh S. Rose. Thanks so much, all the best with your future projects, both in photography and in writing!

And thanks to you for reading my content!

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