"Mentorship is incredibly important in this industry, as are the people with whom you choose to surround yourself, both personally and professionally." - Joe Van Eeckhout
Photographer and documentary filmmaker Joe Van Eeckhout is an explorer of place and purpose. As he gives voice — frame by frame — to unheard stories spanning the globe, he creates sweeping narratives, inviting empathy and compassion, distilling a sense of connected humanity between subject and audience that transcends geography.
Born in Jackson, Wyoming and growing up in rural areas throughout Washington state and Alaska, Joe enjoyed a childhood immersed in the outdoors and grounded by the hardworking, modest ethos of his parents. He attended a small alternative high school with a curriculum defined by travel abroad and artistic development. There, he discovered a budding love of photography — specifically documentary — and a passion for travel. During one final high school trip to India, Joe completed a documentary photo project about a labor camp in the Himalayan foothills, and a unique amalgamation of all his sociological and creative interests solidified.
After graduating, Joe attended Macalester College, a small liberal arts campus where he studied media and culture, with a focus on photojournalism. Graduate school ushered in a shifting focus to filmmaking. Joe obtained a Masters in New Media Photojournalism, while working with a production company that nurtured his interest in all the different layers — motion, sound, voice — that create depth in the video storytelling process. Joe credits genuinely engaging with people and leaning into insightful mentors for his diligence and direction: “Mentorship is incredibly important in this industry, as are the people with whom you choose to surround yourself, both personally and professionally"
“I’ve cried behind the camera multiple times and I’m not ashamed to say it. Secondary trauma is a very real thing and it’s something that a lot of journalists and visual storytellers deal with.” - Joe Van Eeckhout
His time working in East Africa as a freelance cinematographer and photographer was also deeply formative. “I worked across the broad range of projects focused on conflict, human rights, and climate change in areas throughout Africa, including Nairobi, South Sudan, DR Congo, Ethiopia, and Somalia,” Joe recalls. “It opened my eyes to what is really happening on the ground there, and not through the lens of global media gatekeepers.” Recognizing the schism between the version that is told and the reality that is, Joe dedicates himself to using his lens to unfold stories in as authentic and unbiased a manner possible, to do justice to the people that live them.
As his focus recently shifted back to the U.S., Joe has found new curiosity regarding conservation, rural culture, and the West. “Rural America is where the really important stories are happening and they need to be explored,” he says. “I’m currently working on a hunting- and conservation-focused film, but I am also interested in the future of farming and ranching in the American West.”
Traveling and working in communities that he wouldn’t likely encounter otherwise, Joe is able to explore new places and meet fascinating people, “teasing out those empathetic links in the story” to create connection. And persisting even when that connection is hard to process. “I’ve cried behind the camera multiple times and I’m not ashamed to say it,” Joe remarks. “Secondary trauma is a very real thing and it’s something that a lot of journalists and visual storytellers deal with.” But, these stories are “part of the historical record of our times,” and they need to be told, even when our voices break.
“Through my work, I just hope to engage with as many people as possible, just connecting as humans. I think elk & HAMMER is all about that simplicity, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”