Emeryville photographer joSon draws on his time as a Buddhist monk in Vietnam to create intimate portraits of nature.
By Sam Levin
When joSon sees beautiful flowers in the backyards of his neighbors, he’ll knock on their doors, clippers in hand, and politely ask if he can snip the plants and take them home. “Most of the time people say yes,” said the Emeryville-based photographer, who goes by the single name of joSon. “I just can’t control myself,” he said, calling his love of flowers an “addiction.”
At quick glance, it would seem that his latest project, a breathtaking 208-page collection of flower photography, is a simple manifestation of this obsession. But, as joSon said, “This book is not about flowers.” joSon Intimate Portrait of Nature — which features hundreds of striking, up-close images of flowers against black-and-white backdrops — “is about memories,” he said. And it’s not meant for a quick glance. Though the artist is now a busy and successful commercial photographer, the book, eight years in the making, reflects his deeply meditative and contemplative nature — a quality he traces to his unique upbringing as a Buddhist monk in a Vietnamese temple.
At age ten, joSon, who was born in the Philippines and is half-Filipino and half-black, told his mother he did not want to be Catholic anymore. “So I moved to Vietnam to live in the temple. I thought my life was to become a monk. That was my only intention.”
He lived and studied at a temple called Long Son Pagoda on the south central coast of Vietnam. Given his multiethnic background, he often felt ostracized as a young child in the Philippines — which made the accepting environment of the temple all the more important to him. “The temple is a safe place for me,” joSon said. “I find peace and tranquility within the walls of the temple. There is no judgment of the color of my skin or the texture of my hair.” At age eighteen, however, joSon’s masters told him that he had a different path set out for him: It was time for him to leave.