Photo by JEFF FUSCO
BY N.A. POE F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American life but he never saw the photographs of pariah-turned-photographer Joshua Scott Albert. A few years back, Albert became notorious for his muck-raking service-industry blog Staph Meal, now defunct, in which he posted sometimes dubious and nearly always salacious claims about local restaurant owners, and later public officials. Albert spent eight months in jail on trumped up charges after creating a “Kill Mitt Romney” Facebook page and is currently serving a term of probation. These days, Joshua is the staff photographer for the local news site The Philly Declaration, and also works as a freelance photographer. His debut photography exhibition, Salvage, opens tonight at The Fire at 412 West Girard Ave, from 6 PM to 9PM.
PHAWKER: We first met at Occupy Philly when you were fairly vocal and more radical, was this your first activist experience? What did you take away from it?
JOSHUA SCOTT ALBERT: I had been participating in rallies and activism for a few years, I saw what they were doing down at Occupy Philly and I decided to check it out. I saw the first big march in Philadelphia on Black Friday, a group of about 100 anarchists screaming and running through the streets. That piqued my interest. It was in participating in Occupy that I saw how the city lied to people, lied to us. I learned about this city and how things really work. I always spend time observing, sometimes a long time observing, before jumping into an activity. I was a student of activism before I was an activist, and I’m still a student of activism. Like with taking pictures, I’m a student of photography.
PHAWKER: For all the trouble Staph Meal caused you, it did expose the seedy underbelly of Philly restaurants. What were the high points of Staph Meal? When did it jump the shark?
JOSHUA SCOTT ALBERT: The first three months running the Staph Meal blog were great. I exposed some people for being unfair that deserved it. I think it was fine when I was concentrating on restaurants and DJs, it was around Occupy when things got dirty, when I started the more aggressive, venomous attacks, the personal attacks. But again, I learned a lot. I learned that people have a limit, life has limits. But that doesn’t mean I stop pushing and testing those limits
PHAWKER: You spent eight months in jail – how did that experience change the way you approach your work? Was there a specific moment when you decided to leave the old Josh behind?
JOSHUA SCOTT ALBERT: I used my time there to learn, too, and it taught me about how fucked the justice system is. I read a lot. There was no specific moment, there’s no ‘Old Josh,’ or ‘New Josh.’ There is me doing what I do now, which I think speaks for itself.
PHAWKER: Have you found it hard to shake the stigma of your past work? Do you believe in second chances?
JOSHUA SCOTT ALBERT: I do believe in the idea of second chances, it’s very marketable. Look, I’m still here, and my work is good. If you want to attack me, that’s one thing, but let my work speak for itself.
PHAWKER: At what point did you realize you can work more effectively from behind the lens?
JOSHUA SCOTT ALBERT: I’ve always been interested in photography, always wanted to travel and take pictures. I realized that my camera could be, that my camera is a weapon. It’s been a matter of honing it as a craft. I plan to travel soon and embed myself somewhere, just to learn the terrain and people. Eventually I’ll be ready to cover it as a photojournalist.
PHAWKER: Your upcoming show is called Salvage. What can we expect? How did you arrive at the title?
JOSHUA SCOTT ALBERT: To be honest, I hate the title. In any case, it’s Friday night at The Fire. My exhibit itself is free and starts at 6. For $10, we’ve also got four great bands playing – Thorazine, the Posers, Cheerbleeders, and McRad. We’re projecting Forrest Gump and Class of 1984 on a wall outside. I want people to see my Philadelphia, to see the Philly that I see. I’ll be showing pictures from my work covering events for a local news site. There’s a picture of a man standing on an Israeli flag, from a Palestinian rally over the summer. I want people to see things that are here in our city that they’re missing. There’s strife, there’s broken people and poverty.
PHAWKER: You chose punk bands for your show, do you consider yourself a punk photographer?
JOSHUA SCOTT ALBERT: Yes. I mean, it’s not so much that I’m into punk music, but I think I bring a punk rock mentality to my art.
PHAWKER: Your photos have received a lot of praise recently, and have been featured in Philadelphia Magazine and elsewhere. My favorite of your work is candid still photos from your news coverage. What makes your photos unique?
JOSHUA SCOTT ALBERT: Never have I asked for someone’s permission to photograph them, except sometimes with children because you can capture some amazing expressions. That allows me to capture people in a great way because they rarely have time to pose.
PHAWKER: You are selling the most expensive photo ever ($4,338,500.) What’s the strategy there? Can you really put a value on art?
JOSHUA SCOTT ALBERT: Ninety-five percent of proceeds of The Most Expensive Photo Ever will go to support the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. I don’t get the whole ‘art world,’ and art history. I mean I get it, you’re in college, you like art, it’s cute. It’s a gag, it’s clearly a joke. I mean, I think artists should be paid for their work, but I don’t understand how a digital print, that has been altered in PhotoShop, can be worth $4.5 million dollars.
PHAWKER: Why should Philly take you seriously as a photographer and journalist?
JOSHUA SCOTT ALBERT: Why shouldn’t they? Good work is good work. I’m not being arrogant I don’t think, I know my photography is good because I put the work into making it good, I keep learning. And I just take pictures. I don’t even own a lens cap.
PHAWKER: Are you ever tempted to go back to yer old ways? Will that devil always be on your shoulder pushing you?
JOSHUA SCOTT ALBERT: That devil will always be there.