One of the main challenges in photography is to capture places. What you see with your own eyes, what you’re feeling at a precise moment is never gonna be quite the same on a photo. Unless you have the gift of talent.
When I stumbled upon Julien Talbot’s series of the USA, I was immediately taken back to my own memories. The way he captured the essence of America, the subjects in his photos… It all made me feel like I had seen those places before, even if I didn’t.
Here is what Julien had to say about his art.
A few words about yourself?
I’m an author-photographer, born in Paris in the ’80s. I focus my work on landscape, whether it is urban, natural or more alternative. I started photography seriously five years ago. Back then, I felt I lacked something creative in my life (my job is in e-commerce so not particularly creative), and photography seemed the evidence.
How did you start photography? Do you remember the first picture you ever took?
I would be lying if I said I was born with a camera in my hand. I came pretty late to it, although my father was quite into photography when I was younger. I don’t remember the first picture I took, I do though remember the heavy number of rolls I shot during one semester abroad during my studies. It was in Ireland, and I shot a lot, mostly landscapes. Even though I was surrounded by friends and people during this semester, I didn’t shoot them a lot, I was already more into landscapes (in Ireland, the countryside is so photogenic and beautiful).
A few years later, when I was 25, I went to New York for the first time. I already had a digital camera at the time and I took so MANY pictures, maybe 2 000 in a week. They are filled with emotion and memories, and I still like to look at them, but really, they’re not very good. And then in my late twenties, I went to Cambodia, still with a point-and-shoot digital camera, and I believe this trip was the moment I realized I wanted to take better photos, to get more serious about it. So I got my first DSLR in 2011, studied evening courses in Paris, and here I am!
So really, I would say traveling got me into photography. I wanted to capture these scenes, people and “ambiance” I encountered.
“French people seem to have a love/hate relationship with Los Angeles, because the city is big, with no real city center like we’re used to in Europe. But I was definitely on the “love” side.”
You live in Paris, but you have a strong fascination with the USA. Can you explain your interest for this country? What makes it so different than your own country?
This is true. It’s quite difficult for me to explain and to put words on that, as it really grew a part of me. I believe popular American culture has had a major influence on me. I was a teenager in the ’90s in a western European country, and American culture was huge in Europe at the time. We had TV shows, music, videos and then channels like MTV arrived in France. I started to grow a strong attraction for the USA, to learn English very seriously, and to plan trips.
America, to me, is very photogenic. Whether it’s New York, California, the West Coast, it seems everywhere you lay your eyes is familiar, reminiscent of movies, videos, or TV shows you’ve seen.
Also, the light is different. I went to California last summer, and I was stunned with the light. It may sound silly but really I felt it was different, very strong yet soft, the shades of blue in the sky were different. This was my first trip in California, before that I was more into just New York, like every three months I would say “Let’s go to New York,” but after discovering California and L.A., I really want to go back and shoot more of L.A.
French people seem to have a love/hate relationship with Los Angeles, because the city is big, with no real city center like we’re used to in Europe. But I was definitely on the “love” side.
I’m really not the king of photographers, someone that can shoot a lot in his everyday life. I need to be somewhere different to be inspired.
The “Memories of the Unknown” series was shot in the Deserts of Utah. What did you find inspiring about this location?
Some pictures were indeed shot in Utah, but some others in Nevada, Arizona or California. You may have noticed that there are no indications of places for these pictures. For this series, places don’t matter. What’s important is the feeling of being familiar with these locations, even though you don’t know precisely where they’re from.
What was really inspiring was the constant change of scenery. You drive 100 miles and it’s completely different from what you saw one hour ago, and it keeps changing. You switch from gorgeous and immense landscapes to small cities along the road filled with motels. It’s never boring.
How did you prepare for this series? Do you prefer to be very organized or do you prefer to be in the moment and be more spontaneous?
I planned the itinerary mostly, because there were places I really wanted to see, but I did not know precisely which pictures I wanted to take. I usually wander, and shoot whatever I find inspiring… Yes, that’s the word I would use to describe my photographic process: “wandering.”
What is the creative process behind your photography?
The only thing I knew when I got there was that I wanted to shoot America in a vernacular way, but when I hit the road, I was surprised at how everything seemed familiar, even though it was the first time I was there. The idea of this series “Memories of the Unknown” really grew from there : how something I’ve never seen can be so strongly imprinted in my mind ? I kept this vernacular and “familiar” approach all along the trip while I was shooting.
Once the pictures were shot, it took me quite a long time to look at them back home and to start editing and processing (it’s the case for almost all of my work). But once I get started, in just a few days it’s edited, processed, printed and then published online.
What camera gear do you use?
I use a Canon EOS 6D, and I also brought my Canon 24-70 (amazing lens) for this trip. I did not want to carry too much weight. And really, it was enough.
I read that your inspiration comes from movies, paintings and photography. What are your current favorites?
Speaking of photographers, I’m obviously a big fan of Stephen Shore, William Eggleston and Joel Meyerowitz who photographed the US in the ’70s (in a very new way at the time). I also love the work of Todd Hido, who seems to switch from portraits to landscapes so easily. There are many more I love: Gruyaert, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Jeff Wall, Vivian Maïer, Raymond Depardon…
The painters I love the most are the one who “paints” melancholia, so I would name Hopper of course, but also Corot and Chirico.
For movies, there are so many… I love when they explore the American dream, and all the dilemmas and sacrifices it entails like American Beauty, Showgirls (I know…), Requiem for a Dream, A Most Violent Year…
What else do you think I should know about you ?
I would love to shoot more portraits, and also to make a book out of my series “Memories of the Unknown.”