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Joey L Beckham 021

From a portrait of Ethiopia to kicking about with Beckham

Acclaimed photographer Joey L explains how his personal work and commercial commissions borrow ‘helpful elements’ from each other

David Beckham on location in Bangkok, Thailand, by Joey L


Canadian photographer Joey Lawrence, or Joey L, has taken portraits of Hollywood A-listers and worked on major advertising campaigns, as well as working in conflict zones and collaborating on charity fundraising campaigns.  

For his personal projects he has photographed people and cultures around the world, including his adopted African homeland – the subject of his forthcoming book Ethiopia – and his other home, Brooklyn, New York. Each project has different demands, but Lawrence sees connections and ways for each piece of work to feed into, and improve, the next, whether he or someone else is setting the brief.  

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From the series Ethiopia by Joey L


“Personal projects, where I’m photographing cultures, or commercial work where I’m producing something for a film campaign, are very different,” he says. “But you can borrow helpful elements from each sphere. When I work on commercial shoots, a lot of the times they want me to do some of the fine art elements that I do with my personal work. That’s the only reason I got hired in the first place, by having my own specific style. Typically, the client says: ‘We need to get away from the commercial look. Please don’t let us direct you too much. Just do your thing.’  

“You can learn a lot of helpful stuff from the commercial side too, like production, travelling and working in a more sophisticated way, using different equipment, working with assistants and talent. You can bring that to a project or book, like I did with the portable studio tent I used for the photos in Ethiopia. You can have a unique approach but with a mindset that also comes from advertising or commercial work.” 

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From the series Ethiopia by Joey L


While he has worked in some of the most challenging environments in the world, Lawrence can still feel anxious about walking on set for a film shoot. “One of my favourite commercial shoots I’ve done was the movie poster for the film Hostiles (2017),” he recalls. “I’d gone on set. I was nervous to photograph Christian Bale. They brought me to where he was filming a scene. On screen, he’s killing someone. I was intimidated. But then he turned up to the photo shoot, speaking with his nice English accent, and he was a complete pro. He was talking to me about Syria and ISIS and the Kurdish fight that I’d been working on. I really like how those photos look for that film, as I was able to use my personal fine art style for a movie promo.” 

Some shoots have even forged new friendships. “David Beckham is really cool,” he says. “This is really embarrassing – I didn’t even know what team he played for. But since he retired, he’s done a lot of really meaningful work in Africa. When I met him I just talked about that stuff. He stayed in touch after the shoot, just for the love of Africa and photography. I think he liked the fact that that I don’t know or never asked about football.” 

Joey L Kurdistan 002 ‘The Dusty Streets Of Kobane With YPJ Martyr Statue’

‘The dusty streets of Kobanê with YPJ martyr statue’ from the series Guerrilla Fighters of Kurdistan by Joey L


Ethiopia: 13 Years of Photographs from the Horn of Africa by Joey L is published January 2023 by Earth Aware Editions 

Joey Lawrence is interviewed in the September/October 2022 issue of the RPS Journal