Josh Fassbind recently left one metropolis known for its vibrant international citizenry — Geneva — for another: our own Los Angeles. A professional photographer with years of success in both commercial and fine art work, Josh has made a mark with his special eye for portraits. Combining heartfelt inspiration from his multicultural surroundings with his gift for connecting with those surroundings’ subjects, he created his critically acclaimed project “Faces of Geneva.”
The collection is grand in scope — to amass a portrait and single-word story from one Genevan citizen from every country in the world — yet the individual photographs feel immediately recognizable, almost familiar. The portraits are intimate, but still reserved; the viewer is aware they are only getting a gorgeous glimpse into the wide inner world of the subjects. Seen all together, the photos build a landscape of unique similarities that any citizen of any country would feel kinship with. The project is a beautiful representation of what it is to live within a swirling chorus of cultures, fascinating yet wonderfully ordinary people, all together in a single city that may as well be the entire world.
He describes his goal for “Faces of Los Angeles” as such: “I will photograph and select one person from every United Nations’ 193 countries. Each photograph will be taken in the participants’ chosen location in Los Angeles. Everyone will also have to choose one word that best describes their feeling about LA.”
We at Enclave LA are quite excited for Josh’s project — so much so, that our own founder and editor, Tom, is one of Josh’s possible picks for Vietnam’s Face of Los Angeles! Tom chose the word ‘Rebirth’ as his descriptor of our fair city.
Josh was kind enough to chat with us about his project, and share some insights. (All black and white portraits in this article are from “Faces of Geneva.” The entire collection is available as a beautiful book, which you can order directly from Josh here.)
EnClave LA: What drew you to Los Angeles from Geneva?
Josh: I was born and raised in Geneva and although it’s an amazing city, I felt I needed to get out and experience something new, something different. My wife and I traveled around the world in 2012 and it was during that trip that we fell in love with California and Los Angeles. We’ve now been here 18 months; it’s been an incredible adventure and by the looks of it, it’s not about to stop.
EnClave LA: What about the city and its people has surprised you?
Josh: The main thing that surprised me, in a good way, about LA and its people is how everybody seems to be doing several things to make ends meet. It’s a nice change from Geneva where most people are tagged with a job description. LA forces you to constantly reinvent yourself and stay on your toes.
EnClave LA: Why portraits? What that draws you to creating them?
Josh: I love connecting with my subject, even if it’s for a short time only. That’s what draws me to portraiture: that connection, the collaboration between the subject and me, the photographer. It’s a team effort and if one or the other is having an off day, the magic can’t really happen.
EnClaveLA: What is the process like for your portrait shoots? Do you get to know your subject beforehand, or do you leave that for the actual shoot?
Josh: I do not typically meet my subjects before hand. For this project in particular, the shoots generally last 45 minutes. I meet the participants, talk to them as I setup my gear and try to learn a bit about who they are. I give them a bit of direction and start shooting.
EnClave LA: What would you say is the most important factor in capturing a true portrait?
Josh: I think the subject sharing something more than a smile with the photographer is the main ingredient for a good portrait. Their gesture is also important as it reveals more than one might want to say. So it’s probably a question of timing, direction from my part and willingness of the model to let go that will produce a true portrait.
EnClave LA: Are you hoping to get a certain message across with this project? Or are you capturing something about Angelenos and our city?
Josh: I think “Faces of LA” is a very unifying project, dealing with the diversity of people living in a city and how they perceive their life here. I grew up in an international environment, not only in Geneva but at home: my Mom is American and my Dad was Swiss. And it’s kind of funny because back in Switzerland, I was considered more American and here, in LA, I am considered more Swiss. I believe this project is about people with different backgrounds and cultures sharing a common place of living. It’s about individuality, culture, respect and tolerance. And in the light of recent world events it’s definitely an important message.
EnClave LA: Could you tell us about some of your favorite moments with this project?
Josh: I’m only in the beginning stages of the project but so far, every encounter has been a special moment. I know it sounds cheesy but it’s true. Meeting all these Angelenos who are willing to share their stories with me is something magical that I can’t really describe. I have photographed 30 people so far and still have some ways to go, 163 people to be precise, so that means many more stories and experiences to be shared.
If you are interested in participating in “Faces of Los Angeles,” we encourage you to check out Josh’s website for his contact information. A map will show which countries are still waiting to be represented, and provide further details for applicants. Go forth and rep our city, readers, and let us know if you participate!