Coca-Cola sends Cranbrook photographer to FIFA World Cup

Works by self-taught photographer Joel Robison are displayed at the World of Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta, Georgia

At 29 years old, Joel Robison is living an unexpected life. While attending College of the Rockies in his hometown of Cranbrook, B.C., Robison’s unsatisfied creativity finally found an outlet when he discovered a then-new photography website called Flickr.com. Intrigued by the artistry he saw there, he bought a used DSLR camera on eBay and taught himself how to use it. He acknowledges that his technique may be questionable, but it’s working for him.

Robison has worked as a human services worker at the Cranbrook Society for Community Living and as an educational assistant at Laurie Middle School and Mount Baker Senior Secondary School in Cranbrook. He found the work enjoyable and satisfying, but photography increasingly fascinated and absorbed him, and early in 2013 he began to consider working full time as a photographer.

Discovered

Out of the blue, Robison got an email from a photographer who worked for Coca-Cola, asking if Coke could tweet a Coke-bottles-in-the-snow photo that Robison had posted on Flickr about a year earlier. Pleased and flattered, he gave his consent.

Three weeks later, Coke called again, this time to ask if Robison would moderate Coca-Cola’s Flickr community and use his photos to encourage people to submit pictures based on positive themes. Robison accepted the work and enjoyed spending time with people who share his passion; at the same time, his admiration and respect for Coca-Cola’s advertising themes and strategies grew.

A life-changing offer

About a year and a half later, Coca-Cola offered Robison the opportunity to be the photographer and voice of social media during the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour (FWCTT), a nine-month tour taking in 90 countries.

“That changed my life,” Robison said. “I quit my job and accepted photography as my full-time career and my full-time life.”

When the FWCTT wrapped up in April 2014, Coca-Cola had another offer for Robison. The company planned to fly 126 teenagers from around the world to Brazil one week prior to the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, to attend a football skills camp. The youth will be coached by former winners and participate in Brazilian football culture, while being protected from drugs and other negative influences.

“I was hired to be the main photographer for the football skills camp,” Robison said. “There will be about 150 of us spending the week together and going to the opening ceremonies and the opening game, to show that it is the world’s cup.”

Robison will also be the voice of social media for Coca-Cola during the camp. He’ll be responsible for the Twitter account, live-tweeting during the tour and providing positive images for the Copa Coca Cola Facebook page, where the content will be shared with every country and its own social media. He will include pictures taken by the young players on the cellphones given to them by Coca-Cola.

“I will get to moderate those and push them forward so they have an opportunity to tell their stories, too,” Robison said.

Telling stories is the thread that runs through all of Robison’s work. He calls himself a conceptual photographer, defining that as someone who tells stories through images.

“I’ve always wanted to explore different things,” he said. “I think my photography is a blend of what the world is and what I wish it was.”

After the games

Once the FIFA World Cup games are over, Robison has another project that he’s looking forward to. For the second summer in a row, he and a few photographer friends are going on the road to teach a series of photography workshops. This year the group will make 15 stops across the U.S. and Canada, including a stop in Cranbrook on August 11.

“I’m excited to come to Cranbrook to showcase the talent here,” Robison said. “For the rest of the workshops we’re charging a fee, but I made a bet that the one in Cranbrook will be the biggest one, with at least 30 photographers enrolled, and if it is then it will be free. If it isn’t, then the other guys will dream up a penalty for me, but I’m confident that I’ll win.”

The projects with Coca-Cola have, of course, given Robison a boost of confidence.

“Thankfully, the work keeps coming in and I’m signing contracts almost every other day,” he said. “I’m comfortable. I’m not worried at all about what I’m going to do. This project with Coca-Cola has given me the confidence to know I can do this, and if I believe in myself it will be OK. I really believe that our biggest setback is self-doubt.

“The words ‘why not?’ are the words that will motivate me more than anything else. You’re always going to encounter critics, but you just have to accept that and focus on the people who appreciate what you’re doing. Those are the ones who are worth spending the energy thinking about.”

Marie Milner

Marie Milner is a writer and photographer for Kootenay Business magazine and several other publications. She appreciates the inspiration that she gets during her interviews and hopes to share that inspiration with you. View all of Marie Milner’s articles

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