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Julia Fullerton-Batten is predominantly a fine-art photographer, exhibiting her work worldwide to wide acclaim. She has won several awards, including the HSBC award for her fine-art series Teenage Stories, on the early stages of the transition of teenage girls from puberty to womanhood, and is a Hasselblad Master in Fine Art. She has permanent collections of her work at the National Portrait Gallery, London and the Musee de l'Eysee, Lausanne. Her fine-art projects include School Play (2007), a comparison of school girls from different cultural backgrounds; In Between (2008/2009), the middle stages of the transition to womanhood; Awkward (2011), on adolescent relationships; Mother and Daughter (2012), on dependence in this relationship; Unadorned (2012), a social commentary on obesity; and Blind (2013), a study of people without sight.

05.07.13

Subjects of Fascination

How did you get started in photography? My father is a keen photographer. He continuously photographed us as children and always had his camera with him, even on business trips to other countries. It was fascinating for me to see him developing and printing his black-and-white negatives, or mounting slides, and seeing the results of what he did. Soon, photography became of greater interest to me, and I would borrow one of his cameras, until it became mine.

I studied photography at a college in the south of England. After graduation I became a freelance assistant to a lot of professional photographers, covering many different types of work. During the five years that I assisted I learned a great deal, both technical and business-related matters, that have benefited me ever since. It was during this time, too, that I developed built up my own style of photography and built up a sizeable portfolio.

It was during this time, too, that I took six-week breaks in the slow time of the year to visit distant foreign countries—Vietnam, China, India, Australia, Chile, Mexico, etc.—photographing wherever I went. After my visit to Vietnam, I entered photographs taken during my stay into competitions and won several prizes. A German agency noticed this and signed me up. Within a month, the agency gave me my first commercial assignment, in Australia. I haven’t looked back since.

Aside from your camera and lighting, what item could you not work without? My latest assignment was to photograph blind people, so with their handicap presently uppermost in my mind, I have to say my eyesight. But, as all of my images are very studied, I always work with a tripod. Another very useful, if somewhat mundane, item is a penknife (Leatherman). It always comes in handy.

What is the weirdest thing that happened on a shoot and how did you handle it? On an editorial shoot photographing boys in a communal shower, I wanted to add a touch of mistiness and used my smoke machine. I blasted the room with smoke, then let it settle. What I didn’t realise was that I had set off the smoke alarm in the building until I turned round and was confronted by five firemen, fully equipped and brandishing a fire-hose, ready to extinguish my smoke machine. On another occasion, I was photographing a very prominent personality in the Kings College Library, London. My assistant accidentally left a modelling bulb on with a diffuser and gel over the light. It started smoking, again setting off the fire-alarm. This time, panic ensued and the whole College was evacuated.

Is there anybody or anything you would love to photograph? Why? Oh, I’d love to photograph Madonna. I know it sounds clichéd, but I think she is a striking and interesting woman.

How do you keep yourself inspired? Quite simply, waking up in the morning is for me inspirational. I don’t seem to have any problem in remaining inspirational. Nowadays my main problem is to find the time to do all that I’d like to do.

Do you have creative pursuits other than photography? At one time, I was into pottery and jewelry making, but now my passion is mostly photography, although I have become interested in moving images as well.

What’s your favorite quote? When any of my assistants says: "the problem is...," I retort with either “the challenge is …," or "the solution is...."

What is your biggest challenge as a photographer? As a photographer one has to be able to control many things. First of all one has to be inspired, then be able to project that inspiration into reality. Next one has to have an excellent eye and be able to take great photographs. One also needs to be the decision-maker on everything—from locations, models, styling, set design, hair and make-up artist, as well as choice of assistants, then the set-up of the scene and the lighting to match one’s inspirational idea. But possibly above all it is to ensure that the budget is not overspent, to make the team feel relaxed and be the entertainer so that everyone is happy, including oneself.

You do also do gallery exhibitions. How do you balance between the fine-art and commercial work? Is the work itself different? Or does it all feel the same to you? I prefer the fine-art work because it is all my own creation. Commercial work can be very pleasurable if I am working with a pleasant creative team. But I have a client who pays, and an art director who tells me what he wants. But my approach is the same with regards to planning the production, when I spend time viewing the location, briefing the stylist, getting my equipment and team sorted out and transported to the shoot, etc.

With my own work though, the idea is my own and my pre-production phase is very detailed. I make all of the decisions. Planning is all important, so that when I come to the shoot on the day I know exactly how I want to light it and what message I want to say. Nowadays, my team is nearly as big as that for the advertising shoots and, if anything, the lighting even more technically demanding. 

Which photographer/s do you most admire and why? I admire the work of Guy Bourdin very much. Although I am not crazy about fashion photography, I love his sense of composition and, especially, his use of colour.

What has been inspiring you lately? I have been working on my most recent project for the past few months. This is to interview and photograph blind people. It has been the most insightful and awe-inspiring experience for me to meet and talk with people who were either born blind, or lost their sight later in life, but are all so positive in their approach to life.

What excites you about photography right now? During the past few years, I've been asked to judge photography competitions, and am amazed by the amount of fresh young talent there is from all over the world. Almost every day I find a photographer who inspires me in one way or the other and whose names I have never heard of before.

What do you think of the photography industry at the moment and where do you see it headed five years from now? I think that this is the most difficult time any professional photographer has experienced. Not only is the economy having a marked effect, but also the structure of the industry is changing markedly, with online advertising and availability of digital images from almost any source. Every photographer I speak to is going through a difficult time. Budgets are tight for advertising commissions, there are fewer of them and the competition is high. The economy downturn has even affected fine-art print sales.

Do you have any advice for people just entering the profession? It is really difficult to give any advice at all to young photographers, who wish to make this their career in this business environment. There is little work around, and the competition is very high. It doesn’t seem to offer a very secure future right now, but there are always the shining stars who will succeed! My advice to a newcomer is to be totally realistic about one’s abilities, and then really believe in oneself. Work hard and devotedly at one’s area of competence, and always work on developing a powerful portfolio for presenting whenever the opportunity arises.

What's one thing you wish you knew when you started your career? It would have been nice to have known that I would finally succeed. It would have removed all those sleepless nights of uncertainty and doubt. Throughout all these years, and still today, I just followed my dream, let my instincts guide me and kept my passion and belief alive for what I am doing as a photographer.