“This summer I worked with Mary Ellen Mark during one of her photography workshops. She told me I have an excellent whimsical street eye!”
Julie Grace Immink (born 1979) is a social documentary photographer from the US presently residing in Los Angeles, California (USA). She studied photography at “The Art Institute of Philadelphia”. For Julie Grace Immink photography is a passport to unknown world’s she would have otherwise not been able to explore.
Interview with Julie Grace Immink
Julie, your portfolio shows a great variety. From landscapes and street photography to portraiture. What does each genre mean to you and how would you describe yourself as an artist?
I work on multiple photo projects simultaneously to keep myself engaged and it prevents the work from becoming lackluster. Thou a great variety, my photographs are tied together with a thread. All of my projects incorporate an odd edge and the off beaten moments in life. When I published my first book “Waiting for the Sun”, I wanted to celebrate the diversity of my work. The book title comes from The Doors song about life being strange.
What reaction is it that you’d like to provoke in people looking at your images?
I want my photographs to be a catalyst to evoke a feeling, a moment or a question.
What do you think is important to stand out with one’s work? Especially keeping in mind the over abundance of photographic imagery in today’s society.
Working hard to take the best pictures possible is the ideal goal for a photographer. Ones focus should not be to try to stand out from others.
If you are working hard at your own vision through photography your work will naturally have its own voice.
Do you think it’s possible as a photographer to still be unique these days? Or do you rather consider it to be more important to create an own style adding your personal twist to something that has already been done before?
Certain photographers work is as unique as their fingerprints. Their work has a signature style to each image. This is very hard to accomplish but I think it is possible.
What qualities and characteristics does a good photographer need?
“My fearless street gut leads me into potentially dangerous situations.”
Good instincts. I wander the streets alone and talk to strangers in different neighborhoods and countries. My fearless street gut leads me into potentially dangerous situations that my inner wisdom keep me out of.
The same intuition also guides me to know when to ask someone to pose a certain way or to allow the situation to unfold naturally.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
Impact. Great art should stop your heart or make it beat faster.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
The bipolarity of life’s darkness and light inspires me. Simply put there are days when life is grand and people are amazing. Then there are moments when life is tragic. People hurt me/others and I feel the weight of the struggle. The dichotomy of those feelings is infused in my photographs.
Susan Sontag once said “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own”. How has photography changed the way you look at the world and what have you learned about yourself?
I am intellectually and emotionally driven by being connected and separated to the world simultaneously. Subcultures inspire me but I have never been part of one. I have always been on the outskirts looking in, even before I owned a camera.
That is why photography came so natural to me. It is a privilege to be allowed to photograph other people’s worlds.
Every photographer is going through different stages in her or his formation. Which “landmarks” do you recall that have marked you and brought you to the place where you are today as a photographer?
“I am much happier and healthier when I am doing the best work I can for myself.”
One of the monumental hurdles in my photographic journey was to become secure in my work. When I began taking photos at age 14 I shot whatever I wanted with no judgment. I wandered the streets, dressed people up and took self portraits. Then I went to art school and was trying to make a living taking pictures for other people via weddings, events, etc.
Trying to please other people with my images crippled me with anxiety. Years later I stopped worrying what other people thought and started shooting personal work again. I am much happier and healthier when I am doing the best work I can for myself.
Last but not least, let’s switch roles: Which question(s) would you have liked to be asked in this interview about your work that I didn’t ask? Please feel free to add it – as well as the answer.
Q: What moment as a photographer did feel a real connection with your subject?
“It was a magical moment that only a camera can create.”
A: About nine years ago in Southern India I was staying in a school-house doing volunteer work. Some gypsies traveling through town set up camp outside the school. Not one word was understood between us. I sat on the ground in a circle with them and we came to understand each other because of my camera. I took their portraits and showed them instantly on the digital screen.
This was the first time some of them had ever seen a photograph of themselves. It was a magical moment that only a camera can create. The next morning the gypsies were gone. I am grateful I have those pictures as my memento.
Q: Your camera has guided you on many adventures. What was one of the most memorable moments?
A: This summer I spent the night photographing in a slaughterhouse in Oaxaca. I watched hundreds of pigs and cows get shot, skinned and cut into pieces. I am so grateful the workers allowed me to weave in and out of their workspace.
I was splattered with blood and the carcasses where flying around me on hooks from the ceiling. It was the most tragic and poetic moment of my life.