The New York-based photographer who treats running as a socio-anthropological subject

Joe Hale’s shots pulsate an absolute passion born and developed around athletic tracks. Running is at the heart of the artistic pursuit of this New York-based athlete, student and (above all) photographer.

His visual gallery, populated with narrow lanes and wide stride, contracted faces and triumphant arms, shows us unusual perspectives and situations, emotions and states: unique narrative traits that can be recognized only by those who choose to devote themselves to the art of speed, to the as much philosophical as concrete and constant search for the best time.

“I started running at age 12 and haven’t stopped since. I did everything, from cross country to indoor races. I ran in high school first and then at Manhattan College, which boasts a Division 1 team. Through athletics I also discovered photography. It was a chance encounter. Back in my high school years I decided to borrow a camera from a friend and started shooting in the middle of a meeting. I loved it so much. From that moment on, the desire to photograph has only grown. During my senior year I used to take the camera with me to every event, I loved the fact that I was documenting everything: I was portraying my teammates and the details around us, but also friends from other schools”

Between photo classes and sporting events, Joe discovers one of the greatest powers of photography: the ability to create human connections. His lens turns into a tool to share and enhance a vibrant common interest, to weave social relationships, to become even more actively part of a cross-community, playing a dual role: runner and portrait photographer.

“Every weekend I was on the track, ready to follow and document even the worst meetings. For me, photographing meant doing something different. It was extremely challenging. I’ve always been a people person, I like being around others, talking, sharing, and the camera gave me the opportunity to penetrate even more into the running community. My works reflect all this: so many shots are close portraits, because I’ve always found it interesting to see how many faces show up at each race, to capture the personalities of the various athletes, to portrait their emotional moments using particular angles. All runners are united by the same desires and goals, but they have different backgrounds and histories…. This is what interests me most: the teeming social movement built around the sporting challenge. Just think about a marathon, for example, and the number of individuals involved. Or just think about one of the many New York City crews made up of runners of all nationalities, of professionals of all kinds…”

Through this anthropological research, Joe comes into contact with the most diverse realities, and begins to collaborate with specialized brands (Adidas, Nike, Under Armour, Diadora, On Running…), national squads (he is the official photographer of the Portuguese selection) and progressive teams such as the Tinman Elite. Joe got to spend over a year of his life with this Colorado based team, reaching the the Rocky Mountain region during the pandemic period to closely follow the Olympic preparation of some of its members.

“It was a magnificent experience. I had the opportunity to live together with these top-level athletes, to photograph them day after day, and to get involved in a project organized by Adidas, which was developing a new shoe thanks to the Tinman Elite team’s help. The biggest thrill I experienced was when I saw one of my pictures displayed in an Adidas store in the middle of downtown New York City…”

It is no coincidence that Joe Hale’s name nowadays is one of the most renowned within the ‘performance running’ scene. After all, there are no secrets in his original visual expression: everything revolves around the understanding of the moment, the knowledge of the individual athletic gesture, the awareness of a work that draws from his own sporting love, and vice versa.

Joe’s work currently divides between projects on the track, studio shoots, and editorials with an international scope, and in all likelihood could lead him to the great stadiums of Paris and Los Angeles: the next theaters of Olympic dreams, the next stages for the fastest legs in the world. Places where Joe’s artistic-sports vision will surely be able to sublimate, getting in touch with the ultimate concept of athletic legend and mythology.

Credits: Joe Hale
IG @jkh_photo
Text by Gianmarco Pacione