Feature: Freelance Creative Joelyn Dalit on Storytelling Across Mediums
Interview by Hannah Truby
This story was originally featured in the Mountain Gazette Sunday email — our weekly newsletter. Subscribe to the newsletter here
Joelyn Dalit is a writer, photographer, and graphic designer. He was born and raised in the Philippines, immigrated to California at the tender age of 10, onto Hawaii for college, and then to New York City postgrad. Joelyn’s upbringing granted him with a diverse range of perspectives and an inquisitive and curious nature, with a special interest in learning how different people exist in the world, and the stories they tell.
More than a freelancer though, Joelyn is, at his core, a storyteller, implementing the art across his various mediums.
Reaching out to this week's interviewee was, at first, a little selfish, I admit; Joelyn is a freelance creative, wearing many different hats and is skilled at various trades. He gets to travel and capture the stories he thinks should be told - and make a living doing it! I had to know how he does it.
“It's funny. People ask me and sometimes I don't even know what I do,” laughs Joe. “But right now, I’m a full-time art director at Bespoke Post. On the side, I do a few things: I am a freelance photographer, I do editorial assignments and photo essays on certain subjects that I’m interested in. It’s all just kind of a culmination of different lifestyles manifesting into visual campaigns."
No matter the project, Joelyn pursues storytelling first and foremost. Across graphic design projects, photography gigs, brand identity contracts, for Joelyn, “story” is the foundation, the bones around which he creates.
Q: I reached out to you after I got your email about the “different types of hills” you’re riding this winter – I didn’t know New York had such a surf culture!
A: Yeah, surfing in the Rockaways is something I’m very passionate about. I've been doing a lot of photo essays on that surf culture because that is something that is just pure passion. Waking up at 7, even 5 o'clock in the morning, right before work, and going with a bunch of guys into 30 or 40 degree water and making that fun, making the best of it – that culture is really hardcore. We see that a lot from the ski and snow sports world, but not many people get a chance to see this side. The beauty of watching the sunrise on the East Coast, that cold in the morning, it’s a very special and intimate thing. Capturing some of that stuff has always been something that I've been super proud of.
Q: I saw you offer brand identity as part of your graphic design services. What’s some of the work that you do when a company hires you on for brand consulting?
A: That’s actually how I got started with Bespoke a few years back – they brought me on as a freelancer to rebrand their entire system. And I told them what I usually tell a lot of clients of mine whenever I take on brand identity projects: you really need to figure out why you're doing identity revamp. And I think once you establish who you want to be and who you aspire to be as a company, that helps formulate what design elements we can factor into the whole piece.
A lot of times, brands don't know what they want to stand for. You can create the most beautiful design identity, but if you don't have a solid positioning statement, a story that says why you exist as opposed to competitors, then you're kind of just doing it for vanity's sake. And people today are oversaturated; there's so many different companies doing similar things. So what internally and existentially separates you from all the other brands that are in the same vein? And then after that, we work on consistency, and then stories. The top funnel of storytelling that you have will be what cements your newly established identity into place. Brand identities can be fun and intriguing in the beginning, but keeping it up with emotional inspirational stories is really kind what drives it into people's hearts and minds.
Q: Storytelling is such a crucial skill to have in your tool belt, in my opinion. As a writer and photographer, I’m sure you value storytelling highly.
A: Absolutely. I think my job is kind of like yours where I go in and try to search for stories with real people. Most of the time it's things that I'm passionate about because, personally, I believe you don't produce your best work unless you really believe in something.
Q: Can you share a little bit about the stories you tell through your photography?
A: I have a foot in a lot of different worlds, and that translates to my photography. I was raised in Hawaii and California, and a lot of my childhood was surfing and backpacking in the Sierras, a lot of my photography revolves around that. I also have friends of mine in the agricultural and cattle ranching world, so I play around with that. It’s kind of random, sometimes. I'll look around for any kind of assignments that are out there that pertain to something I'm interested in, or I kind of just go in and investigate myself.
Q: I love that – there’s so many things to learn and stories that often go untold. Do all of your stories get published by Bespoke, or do you pitch them elsewhere?
A: I’ll pitch it sometimes, but whether or not somebody picks it up, I don't mind. Having the amplification of an editorial picking it up is great, but that’s not necessarily why I do it. I come from a culture that kind of storytelling is really all we have, and I think that's what brings a lot of people together. And so naturally, I'm just very curious about things. So I'll deep dive and use my camera to do so as more of a key to access a certain lifestyle or culture or community that isn't normally open to the public. And from there I interview and do my own investigation and maybe do a writeup, and then see if anybody wants to pick it up. But my goal is just really to tell these stories because at the end of the day that's what I value.
Q: When I was scrolling through your portfolio, the photos you took of the Portuguese women really caught my eye; what inspired that story?
A: I was traveling through Portugal for a bit a few weeks ago, and I was really interested in Nazare, mostly for the big waves. One of the biggest swells was coming through around that time, and while I was there, I was just observing the town and the people and I found it all so interesting. So I started looking into why this town exists in the first place, what its history is, and how it connects to the big waves.
I ended up meeting these women on the beach. They dress in all black, and have the seven traditional skirts representing the seven seas. I ended up learning about the relationship between the big waves and this small town of 16,000 people, and the duality of Nazare. They’ve struggled with this kind of identity crisis, because for hundreds of years, they were a fishermen community, and now they’re trying to be this surfing community as more people hear about the big swells. So I was interested in how we can embrace the future, but also preserve the past, and I wanted to be able to photograph that in a way that shows the beauty in these old relics, so to say.
Q: Are you able to bring in your passion for storytelling to your work in graphic design?
Definitely. I got my BFA out of the University of Hawaii, and my professors were brilliant – they really instilled in me the need to investigate every little aspect of something before you can even try to design for something. So when I first started doing brand identity design in Hawaii, I was also working for a few newspapers out there, and those two things kind of naturally coincided together. So the idea of being journalistic and investigating went hand in hand. And I think that helps me as a creative here in New York because it enhances the brand's story, and leaves people having something to walk away with.
Joelyn plans to one day submit to Mountain Gazette – until then, check out the different kinds of slopes he’s been enjoying this winter in the Rockaways, as well as the giant seasonal swells in Portugal.