Photographing your friends for Billboard magazine’s cover is no big deal right? Well, Julian Berman has done it (above). At only 21, Julian Berman has been fortunate to have accomplished some great things. Julian Berman has been published by the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and The Source. Not to mention, his friends that Julian Berman photographed for Billboard are the crew over at Odd Future.
So how did Julian Berman get to where’s at? By exploring his visual voice and trying to nail it down, knowing there’s always room for improvement, and never quitting on his own personal style.
In this interview, Julian Berman talks about his experience with Odd Future, how Los Angeles has influenced him, and how important personal expression is to a photographer’s work.
How did you first get into photography? How would you describe your work?
I got into photography in High School, took a beginner class and was instantly hooked. Always had been interested due to my interest in such magazines as Thrasher or Transworld Skateboarding. My work itself, I just try to maintain a sense of realism throughout it for the most part. I love experimenting with different camera systems, processing techniques, etc. But in the end I will always just fancy photographs that maintain some sort of relevance to my real life.
For those that don’t know, you’ve been photographing your friends in Odd Future for a while now. How has this experience been?
Shooting with the Odd Future guys has been a delightful experience. Each of the individuals in that crew are full of such character and make for the ideal subject matter. No matter the situation or scenario, the body language and physical humor will always make for an interesting, yet unique photograph. I can take hundreds upon hundreds of photos of Tyler [The Creator], and each will remain unique, at least I hope…..
You’re fortunate in having achieved so much at an early age. What you would say to any other aspiring photographer struggling to make a name for themselves?
With so many photographers out there, it is definitely hard to make a name for yourself. I’d say that you really need to identify with your personal style, keep shooting, and just market yourself. We live in such a fast paced digital age, that you really need to keep up and network yourself vigorously in order to survive. Definitely take advantage of social networking, it is out there for you for a reason. Tumblr and other photo communities are great for meeting like-minds, gaining inspiration, and just overall getting your name out there. It may take some time to gain recognition, but everybody will have their time. Also, maintaining some sort of individual style I feel is extremely important as well. What sets you apart from the rest will eventually cause the client’s selection or your commission to a project.
Who or what has most influenced your work?
I find so much inspiration from those around me. My talented friends around the world, the select photographer’s blogs that I seem to check every waking moment of the day. I am always gaining inspiration. Every single day I’ll find a new photographer that I’ve fallen in love with. I guess for specifics though, lately, Mark Peckmezian, Thomas Prior, Daniel Shea, Jason Henry, Justin Guthrie, Jody Rogac, Andres Vargas, Eric Helgas, Kenny Hurtado. I’m sure I will have a different answer for you next week, though.
There seems to be a genuine thirst for life oozing out of your photography despite some of the barren imagery. Which feelings would you say are most dominant within your photography?
I’ve been so into documenting those around me lately. Los Angeles definitely has a huge influence on that. There is a certain quality of light and a sense of atmosphere around me here that I have never seen replicated elsewhere. With my photographs, I am really just seeking that sense of overall achievement. Scanning that perfect negative, there is no single better feeling in this universe. Within my photographs, if I can display an accurate portrayal of a scene, whether it’s showcasing the overall character of an individual, or making a surreal image in my head come to life, then I am at ease.
Speaking about the barren imagery, some of your photos focus on architecture and cityscapes to communicate. Why do you think you are fond of concrete backgrounds, sides of buildings, distant skylines, etc.?
I am in no way any sort of architectural photographer, but I have always been interested in a sense of geometry and simplicity within buildings and such. Being an artist, it’s silly but I just have the ability to geek out over a scene, like “oh, these leading lines look cool, or the way the light falls on structure looks awesome”, you know? Just geeking out over light. From an outsider perspective, it probably sounds downright ridiculous, but being an artist . . . it just makes sense. Maybe because I have lived in the same house for twenty one years, I’ve ran out of things to look at, so I’ll find pleasure these days in noticing an obtuse crack in the pavement or something else that only a like-minded individual would understand (partially joking).
Your photographs seem spontaneous but are at the same time highly conceptual. How do you approach every photograph you take?
Prior to photography, I was really into mathematics. Most of my photos, whether it be portrait work, still life work, or environmental work, I try to maintain a sense of geometry. Composition, leading lines, cropping, it all plays an important role visually to me. I enjoy utilizing the scene or environment around me to produce a photograph that just ‘works’, but of course that is not always the case. Sometimes I’ll setup a shot and just be like okay, this does not work, and walk away from the scene. It’s unfortunate, because I really should just be shooting a ton in order to have a sense of variety and freedom, but I’ve become more and more particular these days. I am my own worst critic.
You have also worked with some well-known magazines. How did you secure your first commercial project?
I have been lucky enough to be approached for most if not all of these editorial jobs, and I am extremely grateful for that. I cannot recall my first published piece, definitely Odd Future related, but I do not remember for whom. Probably the biggest shoot to date, and more than likely for the rest of my career, was the commission for the cover of Billboard Magazine. When I got asked to shoot the photo, I did not think much of it and just went along with it. I was young, naive, and just excited to shoot photos of my friends for an apparently well-known publication. I did not know anything about the ‘magazine world’ at that point, and I would have probably handled things differently these days, but what can you do? When the issue was released, I was at a loss for words. At the time I was nineteen years old, shooting one of the biggest music magazines ever, it was a real eye opener. At that very moment I knew that anything was possible, it was very surreal.
What would you consider the most important advice for any photography hoping to keep their photography personally expressive?
Straight up, shoot however you’d like to shoot. Photography is a rather personal thing, so it is extremely important to maintain that sense of self expression. Obviously, pretty much everything under the sun has been done ‘at least once’, and it is okay to draw inspiration from other individuals, but just nail down your own style. Your own photographic style will be what separates you from the rest, and will eventually be the deal breaker when the client makes their selection. All in all, I just feel it is extremely important to find what works for you, whether it be camera systems, location, subject matter, or editing process. Hell, I am learning something new about myself every single day, and will continue to nail my personal style down until the end of time. There is plenty of room for improvement, and though you will more than likely get discouraged at one point in time, you’ve got to keep grinding and making a name for yourself. I am lucky enough to have met some of the right people at the right time, and have had a few big projects just handed to me, but it is now time to grind out and network even further, beyond this familiar niche I have become acquainted with.