JULIA FULLERTON BATTEN IS A SPECIAL PHOTOGRAPHER: SHE TALKS WITH US ABOUT HER PASSION, PROJECTS, DREAMS AND MUCH MORE.
Describe yourself with a garment.
I love vintage garments as they ask questions about the history of their wearer and the art of fashion through the ages. I can easily imagine myself on a shoot wearing a vintage emerald green cashmere v- neck sweater over a T-shirt rolling my sleeves up to shift things on the set during a shoot. Later, I wear it for a special meal out, with a skirt and heels. It would complement both my masculine and the feminine sides of my character as well as match the colour of my eyes.
Is fashion relevant for your works?
Fashion, in the form of choice of clothing, is exceedingly important for my works. Essentially my fine-art photography is a series of projects involving visual narratives of events both current and historical – or ‘story-telling’ as I like to call it. As well as the models and location, the choice of clothing and props are equally important ingredients to the success of my images. My choice of clothing has varied from none (‘The Act’ and ‘Unadorned’), through scanty (‘Feral Children’) to ultra-traditional (‘Korea’), authentic vintage (‘In Service’ and ‘Old Father Thames’) and high fashion. The last instance arose for a project to celebrate 100 years of the vote for women in the UK, 209 women photographers were asked to shoot portraits of the same number of women MPs sitting in the Commons of the Houses of Parliament. The lady MP I chose to photograph is attractive and petite, so I finally chose to dress her in a Vivian Westwood costume against the highly historical background of St Stephens’ Hall in the Parliament buildings. The combination worked very well, marrying the elegance of the MP, the fashion she wore and the historical and social significance of the background.
Your photos are certainly a bridge between reality and fairy tale, where the truth lies?
My imagery is based on taking real subject matters and making them into stories to illustrate a point or make social comments about matters to which I want to express an opinion. All of my images are based on semi-autobiographical real life experiences, real people or real events but narrated as an allegory. With my current ‘Old Father Thames’ project I have taken ‘real life’ events and tried to replicate them as authentically as possible. On occasion this is difficult when the backdrop of modern London architecture imposes on a Dickensian scene of boys and girls from London’s East End slums mudlarking on the foreshore of the River Thames to find something of value to sell to eke out their existence or supplement the income of their impoverished family.
The use of the light in your pics is sophisticated but decisive, how do you create that?
My lighting technique is one of the most important facet of my photographic style. I have developed it continuously ever since I assiduously took notes on the various techniques used by the professional photographers whom I assisted before myself turning professional. I use a mixture of daylight, artificial light (multiple and wide variety of flash heads), ambient light and cross-lighting that I have learned by studying the Old Masters. I use my lighting to create a cinematically dramatic atmosphere that enhance the visual story-telling I can also emphasise certain parts of the image and control the way the viewer reads the story. My lighting enhances my choice of setting, the poses, use of colours and props to heighten the viewer’s curiosity and understanding of the message I’m trying to put across in my image.
Does the adolescence shape people in their future?
As I reflect back on the changes in my own life, shy as a young girl, becoming more extrovert as a teenager, then achieving my teenage ambitions as a woman I recognise that it’s not only the rites-of-passage that shape how we develop, but also the events that take place during those years. This applies especially during those relatively few years of adolescence. In my case, the most significant event that happened to me during my adolescence was probably my parent’s separation and divorce. This was quite a traumatic event for me, the major feeling was that the loss of comfortable emotional security of the family unit from which I and my siblings had benefited from our respective births. It could have caused a negative effect on my development, but, despite everything, it appears to have both shaped my life and my future positively.
What do you think about dreams?
Dreams are an important aspect in anybody’s life; Not only night dreams but also day-dreaming can be important. Dreams are times when we briefly enter a fantasy world that if we bother to try to remember and analyse them can frequently give us a good idea of our state of mind at that stage in our life. For me the best dreams are those where I wake up refreshed and invigorated with new ideas. Sometimes, I enjoy revisiting pleasant episodes from the past, especially my childhood. I find daydreaming important, I let my minds wander and find that I’m entertaining new thoughts and ideas. It can inspire inspiration and creativity. Some people use cat-naps to achieve similarly positive results. Sadly, I fear that today’s over-kill of social media is acting as a replacement for the far more beneficial day-dreaming and boredom, especially among children and teenagers armed with a mobile. The trend is to spend those few moments of ‘peace and quiet’ looking at the small screen for the latest gossip, news or images.
Some tips for those who want to become a photographer.
To have the initiative, the drive, be prepared to work hard and be able to withstand set-backs are essential. The other priority is to concentrate on developing your own style, take inspiration from others but do not copy. Forget slavishly following the latest technology, remember that we admire the images of photographers throughout the ages who very successfully used primitive equipment compared with that available today. On the more practical side, enter competitions and have and continuously up-date your portfolio. Have ideas for projects from which you produce a series of photos about a specific subject matter. Continuously criticize your own work and ask others to do so. Have the confidence to proceed with a shoot, having ideas alone is not enough.
Are you working on a new project?
I’m still working on my long term ‘Old Father Thames’ project, a series of images documenting real life historical events, customs and traditions along the River Thames throughout the millennia. After now nearly three years work, I have not only produced a body of work that is finding public acclaim but has also enriched my life in many various ways. It has been so all-absorbing that I may force myself to take a break to shoot another project, before returning to continue it. Goodness knows, I have enough new ideas buzzing around in my head to decide to do that.
What’s coming up for you in 2019?
I am working on trying to get a book publisher and shooting a short film for the first time.
mc2gallery presents the exhibition THE SHOW (until March 23rd) by Julia Fullerton-Batten curated by Claudio Composti. A sort of anthology that contains various series, from Testament to love (2013) to Korea (2013), The Act (2016) to the last series Old Father Thames (2018). The stories of Julia Fullerton-Batten are a built as a staged photography: for each of the subjects portrayed and based on their stories, the artist meticulously recreates sophisticated sets. The mood of fiction is emphasized by the use of movie-lights that place it in the wake of big names such as Gregory Crewdson or Erwin Olaf, but each series is inspired by a period or event historically accurate, often with a social implication and documented by studies and research that makes her an anthropologist, interested in telling the stories of Man, even if in a strong aesthetic imprint between art, cinema and fashion.
Photos courtesy of the artist