Carol Julien captures the surprising, unscripted, fleeting moments of urban life in her daily street photography practice. By placing herself in the center of an explosion of city streets and people, she and her camera connect to the multitudes, to the range of human condition, to the whimsical, the unexpected and yet somehow familiar.
“I’m usually most captivated by the humor and diversity I encounter on the streets, the feeling of solitude in the multitude, and the freedom with which emotion can be displayed in public,” she explains. “I find it inspiring to be in cities where I’m constantly immersed in a mixture of cultures, both familiar and foreign. It reinforces my belief that the similarities are so much stronger than the differences.”
ASMP: How long have you been in business?
Carol Julien: I was a commercial photographer in the 1980s and early ’90s. After a long hiatus, I returned to photography, and now work solely from a fine arts perspective.
ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?
CJ: I was member in my first incarnation as a photographer, and joined again early this year.
ASMP: What initially prompted you to join ASMP?
CJ: I was looking to find a community of peers.
ASMP: What do you consider the most valuable aspect of your ASMP membership?
CJ: I find ASMP to be a valuable resource for information, and I enjoy having a network of fellow photographers.
ASMP: What is the most important relationship you’ve formed through your ASMP membership?
CJ: I’ve joined a team of fellow members in an effort to launch an online magazine catering to the ASMP NYC community.
ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?
CJ: Fine Arts — Street Photography
ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable tool or piece of equipment?
CJ: Besides my laser-like intensity and determination, my Olympus OMD EM1 mirrorless camera. It’s light and I can carry it with me everywhere at all times.
ASMP: What is unique about your approach? What sets you and your work apart from other photographers?
CJ: I work in high-contrast black-and-white, which mirrors the contrast I often find between people and place. I’m drawn to situations that highlight the disparity between distinctive characters and their surroundings, which lends my images a spontaneous, whimsical and often-dramatic look that’s recognizable.
ASMP: You were born in Cairo and lived in the Middle East and North Africa before moving to the United States. How has your upbringing and residence in various locations influenced your photography?
CJ: My frequent moves and exposure to multiple cultures early in life taught me to adapt quickly, appreciate the wonders of diversity and always look for a common ground. My father travelled quite a bit for his work and was an amateur street photographer. After every trip, he would put together a slide show and I always looked forward to those moments, sitting in the dark with my family, listening to my father talk about what caught his attention. I would giggle at the differences in fashion and look for the similarities in the daily life of people in different places in the world. I feel at ease in public places with a camera around my neck and seem to adapt and blend into the scenery.
ASMP: How long have you lived in NYC and what prompted you to move there?
CJ: I came to New York City to go to college. I’ve lived here since I graduated, with the exception of a few years of travel in Europe in the early ’80s.
ASMP: Your statement notes that you took a twenty-year hiatus from the camera. When was that and what did you do during that time?
CJ: In early nineties, as a single mother, I opted to transition to a more financially secure career to raise my daughter and put her through college.
ASMP: There have been countless technological advances with photo equipment and digital capture in the past 20 years. What did you find to be most difficult in returning to photography, given all these changes? What methods did you use to catch yourself up?
CJ: The first challenge was to find the right camera. I was looking for something very light with a viewfinder, exchangeable lenses and a decent set of customizable manual control buttons. After quite a bit of research I settled on a mirrorless camera. I then attended a variety of workshops, did a lot of online research and watched many YouTube videos. I’m very touched by the generosity of all of those who so freely share their knowledge online!
ASMP: Please talk about the work you were doing before your hiatus. What do those pictures look like? Did your style or approach change after returning to photography?
CJ: I started out as a portrait and street photographer, both in black-and-white and color, and then moved into commercial photography as opportunities arose. My commercial work was mostly in still life product photography using large-format cameras. My fine art work has always been about street photography. One of the main differences between my current work and earlier fine art work is that I’ve incorporated motion in some of my images. I now also only use black-and-white and my work has shed shades of grey along the way. The higher contrast appeals to me, as it minimizes the details and focuses on the core. I love the mix of modern technology, old film noir tones and current content. And of course, life experience and maturity have made me more aware of what I’m looking for and made my style more defined.
ASMP: Do you currently shoot film, digital, or both?
CJ: When I decided to start shooting again, I wanted to start anew with the current technology. I now shoot only digital and have not touched film in years. A lot of people think my pictures are taken with film, but I’m actually a big fan of digital photography and the advances in technology. The digital world allows for an enormous level of creativity and provides an immediacy that is not only convenient, but also thrilling. When I first started printing my own black-and-whites, I loved the magic of an image coming to life in the darkroom. Today, however, I have to admit that I miss neither the darkness nor the chemicals nor the frequent trips to the lab at crazy hours required by my commercial work.
ASMP: Your street photography is primarily in black and white, with a rather grainy and contrasty style. Why do you choose to photograph in black and white and how do you feel that affects your images? What processes or camera functions do you use to achieve B&W?
CJ: I’ve always instinctively leaned towards black-and-white, and today I exclusively process for black-and-white. I like its graphic nature and dramatic effect, and I find that the black-and-white abstraction of an image helps cut to the emotion of a scene more quickly and deeply. A fellow street photographer recently suggested that I give color another try, so I’m thinking about it. As for the grainy style, I often work after sundown and I only use available light, so I’m confined to the high ISO of low light conditions. I usually first process my images in Lightroom to catalogue and convert to black-and-white, and then use Photoshop, among other photo-editing tools, for additional tweaking if necessary. Most often, I can edit to my satisfaction in Lightroom alone.
ASMP: Motion is an important element in your image making. What kinds of techniques and processes do you rely on for this?
CJ: Sometimes I move the camera manually to create this effect. However, it’s usually produced in-camera, simply by using varying combinations of ND filters, ISO, shutter and aperture settings.
ASMP: Which aspects of urban street life most capture your attention? Are there particular neighborhoods or activities within the city that are your favorite to photograph?
CJ: I’m usually most captivated by the humor and diversity I encounter on the streets, the feeling of solitude in the multitude, and I’m fascinated by the freedom with which emotion can be displayed in public. I always carry my camera with me, so that I may be ready to capture the unexpected. I love finding new corners of the city that are visually interesting, and I will often wait there until I find the right frame. I also like to walk around the city after large public events to capture the side stories.
ASMP: Do you have an advance plan for where or what to photograph or do you play this by ear? On average, how much time do you spend on the street during a normal shoot?
CJ: I usually play it by ear and work daily. It is the Zen in my life and I try to dedicate as much time as I have available. I might take a different set of lenses each day, depending on how much I’m willing to carry and where I’m going that day.
ASMP: Do you ever interact or converse with the people you’re photographing? Why or why not?
CJ: Almost never. To me, the joy is in capturing a moment that actually happened independently of my presence. If, by chance, I catch the eye of my subject, I smile and swiftly move on.
ASMP: Is there a certain distance or vantage point that you prefer to shoot from?
CJ: I prefer not to be too close, and I often use long or zoom lenses. If I happen to be in a large, crowded public gathering or event, I might use a wider-angle lens, but for daily slices of life, I use longer lenses.
ASMP: Your bio mentions that you never leave home without your camera. Do you make photographs every day? Is there a certain type of weather, time of day, day of the week, you prefer for working?
CJ: Yes, pretty much every day. I definitely prefer warm, sunny days. Living in New York City, those types of days are rationed, but neither the cold nor the rain stops me from going out, camera in tow.
ASMP: You note in your artist statement, “By placing myself in the center of the explosion of city streets and people, I feel I can participate in a larger community, be a part of a larger family.” Given the random and fleeting nature of the activity around you, what aspects of community or family are you drawn to the most?
CJ: I find it inspiring to be in cities where I’m constantly immersed in a mixture of cultures, both familiar and foreign. It reinforces my belief that the similarities are so much stronger than the differences. As someone who grew up in many different countries, this keeps me grounded and connected to my surroundings.
ASMP: Street photography is a subject one can explore endlessly, as it is an ever-changing environment. With that in mind, have you noted your work or style changing over time?
CJ: That’s one of the things I love about street photography. All you need is a camera, a lens or two and free time. It doesn’t matter where you are; you’re always embedded with the rest of the human race. In the past year, I’ve seen my process become more agile and my style more defined. I’m more aware of what speaks to me and I’m more patient. I take the time and wait for that right moment.
ASMP: Do you have a favorite image that you’ve captured in your photography to date?
CJ: I took a black-and-white image of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge from under the Manhattan Bridge while on a shoot as a young photographer’s assistant. I remember spending hours in the darkroom making it just right. It was the first image I was really proud of. It made me feel like a “real” photographer. It’s the most meaningful image I’ve taken to date, as it was the only good image I took of the city’s skyline with the twin towers. I was on the 34th floor of a midtown building with southern view of Manhattan on the morning of 9/11.
ASMP: Are there other cities other than New York represented in your current series?
CJ: My current work is mostly from New York City, but I do have a few images from Paris, Venice and Palma de Mallorca from a trip last winter. I love to travel and there are so many places I’d love to explore with my camera, ranging from the cities of my childhood to completely foreign territories, such as Tokyo or Shanghai.
ASMP: Please talk about the various distribution channels you’ve employed to build awareness and market your images.
CJ: Since I’ve only returned to photography recently, I’m still in the process of building my networks. I’ve started by creating a presence in the basic social network sites and am working my way to expanding my reach.
ASMP: Earlier this year, your images were featured in L’Oeil de la Photographie. Did this opportunity come about as a result of the ASMP NY portfolio review?
CJ: Yes, the L’Oeil de la Photographie feature came out of the ASMP New York Portfolio review. It was my first portfolio review of this kind and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. It was fascinating and very eye-opening to discuss my work with gallerists, curators, collectors and publishers who had such specific and different points of view. My aim in going was to receive unbiased feedback about my work, to better understand the fine art photography market, and hear what reviewers had to say about what constitutes cohesiveness of subject matter and aesthetics in street photography. After digesting all the feedback, I was able to go through my work and solidify my portfolios.
ASMP: Have you participated in many portfolio reviews to date?
CJ: This time around was my first review and I’ll most certainly incorporate the feedback I received in my work for the next reviews.
ASMP: Do you have gallery representation for your work?
CJ: I’ve recently become a member of the Soho Photo Gallery in New York City, and I am constantly looking for opportunities to show and market my work.
ASMP: Are you seeking to publish a book as an outlet for your work?
CJ: Yes, absolutely. I have lots of ideas. I’m currently working on a project in collaboration with my daughter Dea Julien to create a book of street images and poetry.
ASMP: Are there certain photographers, artists, writers or philosophers who inspire and influence your work and style?
CJ: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt and Robert Doisneau. These are three artists who take my breath away. Just looking at their work sharpens my eye and inspires me to simplify.
ASMP: What is the most important advice that you’d give a young photographer starting out now?
CJ: Stay true to your own voice, hone your craft, and take pictures as often as humanly possible!
ASMP: Where do you ideally see yourself in five years time? Have you set any personal or professional goals for yourself in the years ahead?
CJ: My goal is to work as a street photographer in different urban environments, publish my work in books and magazines and collaborate with galleries internationally. I’m also interested in finding ways to incorporate street photography in general as public art in city landscapes. Ideally, I’d like to regularly work in New York, Los Angeles and Paris, the three cities that most energize me and keep me close to family and friends.