Shoestring Warrior Justin Sullivan is a photographer and a curator of things and experiences, from collecting bespoke objects from around the world for his online store The Black Atlas to hosting legendary dinner parties in his rooftop garden in Los Angeles.
Justin discovered his love for photography in high school when he started shooting black and white film on a SLR 35mm camera his mother brought home from Germany. While his curiosity has led to other means of expression, including moldmaking and casting, cooking, gardening, painting, sculpture, welding and lighting design, photography was the first creative medium he felt mastery with.
There’s a strange ballet in my mind between my fierce desire to experience a moment fully and to capture it in order to share that experience with others.
I can’t think of a better story to encapsulate those words than when Justin joined us as a Triptographer on a Shoestring Adventure in Yosemite National Park. Not having the proper gear, Justin improvised by strapping his camera equipment with bungee cords to the outside of his daypack for a 3-day overnight backpacking trip. Against all odds, Justin bounced from tree stump to rock capturing the moment, stopping for a cat nap in the shade before I caught up. I can only aspire to be as graceful a dancer as Justin one day.
Check out our interview with Justin to learn more, including his advice for adventurers wanting to improve their outdoor photography skills! You can peep more of his work at JustinSullivanPhoto.com, and follow his adventures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!
Shoestring Warrior: Justin Sullivan
Los Angeles, CA
Photographer + Creative Director
What are your passions outside of work?
Photography was the first creative medium I felt mastery with, and it led me to explore other means of expression that were focused on more tactile building than capturing or creating moments for the camera. As I allowed myself to explore other avenues I taught myself moldmaking and casting, painting, sculpture, how to weld, and design lighting. I spent half a decade in the film industry doing a lot of work in the art department, from decorating sets to designing entire productions. That opened my eyes to quite a few skill sets I hadn’t developed and gave me the opportunity to push a lot of boundaries as far as my comfort level was concerned. I also love to cook and find endless fascination with combining flavors, aromas, and textures.
I creatively direct The Black Atlas, a company that collaborates with top designers to create limited edition art objects, home goods and a whole bunch of other treasures. We are a concept boutique showcasing incredible short run bespoke items and hard-to-find antique pieces from around the world. Everything is black, my favorite color, and we’ve done some great pop ups in the past at Palihouse Hollywood, Exalt Venice, and the (now defunct) Comme des Garcons space in Downtown LA. It’s my favorite project at the moment because I get to curate the store and shape the way the brand exists in a very immediate way.
How would you describe your level of camping experience?
Intermediate seems fair. I need to get quite a bit more ground under me before I’d call myself advanced after working with guides like Graham Williams. It’s tough to feel advanced on the trail with someone who has just hiked 250 miles through the wilderness to get to your camping trip! haha
Tell us about yourself!
I’m a human male. I identify as both. I’m originally from LA but have lived a few other places before returning 8 years ago to live and work!
When did you discover your passion for photography?
I credit my mother with introducing me to the possibility of using a camera to create art. She brought home a SLR 35mm camera from a trip to Germany when I was in high school, and I started shooting Ilford black and white film. There was always an element of magic in the darkroom, as I saw my first visually captured moments re-appear before my eyes.
What inspired you to start documenting your travel experiences?
There’s a strange ballet in my mind between my fierce desire to experience a moment fully and to capture it in order to share that experience with others. On the one hand, I want to honor each situation as it is and appreciate it accordingly. On the other, I love to share my perspective on a place and the people and things in it. Philosophically, that’s one of the most interesting parts of the craft to me — sharing the way a scene appears through my eyes, processed through my life experience, and distilled into a single instant.
What do you love most about living in Los Angeles? What is your favorite local spot to take photos?
LA is such an incredible city with so much access that isn’t available anywhere else. Locations abound for photographs, whether in the arid beauty of Joshua Tree or the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean against the rocks. The sea is such a constant source of peace and inspiration for me in the sense that it’s a constant that’s always there but never the same twice.
What is your favorite piece of camera gear when traveling?
I hate traveling with camera gear. I wish I could ship everything everywhere I’m going, but iPhone is always at hand for quick snaps, so it’s the default go-to. But my Pelican case keeps all my camera essentials safe on long flights and in remote locations.
You have a time machine, and you can travel anywhere in the world to shoot the photo of a lifetime. When and where will it be?
When I think about my work over the span of time, I find more interest in viewing it as an ongoing document of unfolding moments in my own existence. But if I were forced into time machine scenario, I’m much more curious about the future than the past. So I imagine I’d like to travel into the future 100 years and see if humans have destroyed our habitat or evolved past the need to have a habitat at all on this planet.
Do you have any advice for adventurers wanting to improve their outdoor photography skills?
Slow down. Truly be where you are, and create from a place of honoring each moment and you might find that you have an entire world of new possibilities for photos you might have otherwise missed.
Now that you have been on a Shoestring Adventure as our official triptographer, can you tell us your favorite memory?
Finding the perfect campsite overlooking a pristine Yosemite backcountry wilderness, right next to a glacial alpine lake was one of my favorite all time adventure memories!
Where to next?
Bed. I just got home from tour with DJ A-Trak shooting photos all over North America, and I’m excited about sleeping in my own place for a second before launching into the next project: long-term travel in Asia documenting the incredible cultures that make up the intricate fabric of humanity.
The perfect s’more (or other campfire dessert)?
Oh man! I love a perfectly golden brown marshmallow with a spicy dark chocolate and sea salt candybar right now, but I rarely eat more than one or two 😉