Deceitful by Nature

Joshua H Phelps

Deceitful by Nature questions humanity’s conception of its relationship to nature. Whether as symbol, plaything, sculpture, or even photograph, the notion of representation contains an element of control. The use of multiple genres of photography within the project serves to demonstrate how this mode of thinking has impacted multiple levels of our culture over time. Through the use of irony, Deceitful by Nature also employs natural imagery to question the contemporary discourse around reality. Nature often stands as the ultimate arbiter of reality in Western thinking, yet by explicating some of the rules, Deceitful by Nature shows the game we are ultimately playing.

Joshua H Phelps

Joshua H. Phelps is a writer and photographer based in Seattle, Washington. His works investigate subjects including nature and cultural identity. While studying photography at the University of Applied Sciences Europe’s Berlin campus, he became the first concurrently enrolled student to hold a solo exhibition in the school’s gallery. His book of photography and poems, We Are the Real You, was shortlisted for the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis 19/20 and has been exhibited in Germany and Hong Kong, as well as added to the Museum of Modern Art’s Library.

Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

A published author and photographer.

What is a good design for you?

Good design rewards those who spend time with it. Oftentimes I am drawn to works that have some kind of subtle cleverness or humor or harmony in them, the kind that speaks to the effort the designer made without being overly explicit about it.

What was the most challenging experience during your studies?

My fourth semester pushed me in a lot of new ways. My free project involved a photobook and personal exhibition, neither of which I had done before. For the documentary photography class, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to ask strangers if I could take their picture. I took one of the illustration classes, which was conducted in German. So I had a lot on my plate, but throughout the whole of it, I found those challenges yielded a lot of growth. I had the good fortune to be in supportive environments at the time. Working with Thomas and Michael helped me discover new ways to push my photographic projects further.

Who or what inspires you?

I tend to find a lot of inspiration in the quirky and the offbeat or humorously eccentric. That was one of the fun parts of working on Deceitful by Nature, going around trying to find these things or merely stumbling upon them.

How do you approach a new project?

Oftentimes it starts with a small observation or an idea that strikes my interest. My free project at UE, We Are the Real You, began years earlier when I read a few lines in a book of literary criticism. Deceitful by Nature started with an interest in landscapes and natural phenomena painted onto buildings. I'm kind of an intellectual magpie, so once I have the idea, I start researching, gathering material, and trying to broaden the concept further. With Deceitful by Nature, there were some specific things I wanted to photograph, such as the chainsaw carver and the "mountain" salt and pepper shaker here. Other times I happened upon them by chance, like the deer head mounted on the telephone pole or the people in shark costumes. I try to keep the structure of a project loose enough to accommodate serendipity but strong enough to support what might seem disparate at first glance.

What advice would you give to students who just started studying in your programme?

Learn how to give and receive constructive feedback.

Have you changed during your studies? How?

I feel I've become more confident. Looking at pictures I took at the beginning of the program and comparing them to the ones I take now, I can see the development. As well, I have a better sense of the photographic traditions I place myself into, as well as what interests me photographically, and how I can bounce the two off of one another.

Why did you choose to study in your programme?

Photography had been a hobby for several years prior to starting the program, one I was becoming increasingly interested in. After coming back to the US from a quarter studying abroad while earning my first BA, I knew I wanted to spend more time living in Europe. The program offered me a way to combine those two interests.

What are you not going to miss in your studies?

The inevitable frustrations of printing pictures before class.

How are you going to celebrate your graduation?

I met with some friends and teachers for coffee. I liked keeping it low key. I also took a few days after I was done in Berlin to travel a bit more before returning to the US.

Say hi!

Nina Eloise Zeisler