Julia Javel has always been a thoughtful photographer.  She’s never shot any images haphazardly, even planning out the first photographs she ever took at the age of seventeen. Her motto, “less is more,” rings true as you look through her portfolio. Black backgrounds, bold models and dark moods are all prevalent in her images. This self-proclaimed feminist hopes to break down gender stereotypes and take risks in photographs that are streamlined and sleek. In this exclusive interview, Javel spoke with Resource about how she got started, the ins and outs of her process and what makes her photographic clock tick.

Can you tell me about your photographic background, when and how did you get started with photography?

Painting, drawing and music videos have always fascinated me, but when I try to paint or to draw, it was terrible. Making music videos were impossible–too complicated. So I figured out how to create and express myself with a different tool. I started to photograph by chance, because my family had one of the first digital camera. It was brand new, simple and attractive. My first photographs weren’t my parents, my cat or my cousin’s birthday. It was already very thoughtful, staged, with makeup, costumes and poses. I was making my own lights, but I was paying attention to every detail, even if I did not own professional equipment. I was seventeen.

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© Julia Javel

It seems as though you mainly shoot portraits, why are you drawn to shooting people?

I started photography with self-portraits and with my sister. She was 13 at the time and we shared the same passion for the cabaret atmosphere, tales characters, a gothic and weird mood, music videos and fashion. She became and she still is my muse.

Now I’m twenty-six, and we always work together in the same way. I have also learned to work with different people, but it was not easy at the beginning. I was often frustrated: with my sister, no words were needed; now I have to take time to explain, to create a space where the model and me can work together.

Some people do not recognize themselves when they see the result of the shooting. I am not a magician, I do not transform anything. I’m not here to flatter the ego or sublimate anyone. It is just my way to catch something unusual and to reveal a facet of their personality.

I do mostly “art” pictures, but I came to fashion by accident. It was a way to challenge myself as a feminist: how can a woman photographer work with a woman model without the results being cliché? How to build a strong story and a strong character? In fashion, I like to explore my dramatic and theatrical side, but I also like to do the exact opposite: heavy black and white, rock and roll style. I do not care about what I am supposed to do as a “fashion photographer”. Fashion is my experimental laboratory.

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© Julia Javel

Do you prefer shooting in a studio as opposed to outside or in homes/buildings etc?

My motto is “less is more.”  My absolute passion is the black background. First, it is a direct reference to some painters I admire, like Rembrandt or Caravaggio. Second, it gets rid of everything superfluous.

I can work outside as well, but the decor has to fit with the story. I avoid cheap locations. If it is just to say “hey look I have decors !” I prefer my black background and to focus on the poses and expressions of the model. 

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© Julia Javel

How do you find your subjects, do you generally use models or friends?

I mostly work with models I know, people who can be trusted, people who are not afraid to take risks with their image. For my artistic projects, I work with my friends and family because it is a long term job. For my fashion pictures, I work with models from agencies. They are very professional and they know their work, because posing is real work.

I used to photograph myself for images that I did not dare ask my models to do, for my strangest or too personal visions. Nowadays, it is a practice that I use more rarely, but the pictures make more sense and they are stronger.

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© Julia Javel

Going into a shoot do you have a plan of the direction you want to go in, or do you keep more of an open mind?

Sometimes, I come with a very specific idea: I worked on it, I made research, I tried lights or compositions before the shooting.

Sometimes, it’s an exchange. It depends on who I have in front of me. It is like a threesome between the model, the camera and me. It can be very intuitive or it may require an adjustment period. In some cases, the model also has a very intense universe and then it makes sparks.

arts, photography, julia-javel

© Julia Javel

Where do you get your inspiration? How do you come up with ideas for series?

As a “frustrated” painter, painting is obviously my most important source of inspiration–the portraits of Ingres, the raw and incredibly alive side of Manet and Courbet, the light of Rembrandt and his self-portraits and most of all: Caravaggio.

Light is my obsession: when I walk in the street, the traffic lights on my skin, in the subway, in a bar, I keep my eyes wide open. I never sleep during a trip; I am too afraid I’ll miss something.

Dario Argento and his film “Suspiria” is also a great inspiration for atmosphere and lights; my stories flirt more with the cinema of Michael Haneke, Liliana Cavani, Claire Denis or Thomas Vinterberg. What we try to hide beneath the surface of the appearances, our urges, our social masks, our sexuality. My characters are frequently “bourgeois” because the bourgeoisie is a perfect varnish that can hide cruelty and sadism.

I am also a convinced feminist. Thus I question the gender, the stereotypes, the sexual ambiguity, the representations of women and men in the society and in the arts.

I have a little notebook, I take memos, make (terrible) doodles, catch an inspiring pose, light or references. It is one of my most important tool.

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© Julia Javel

Do you have a favorite series or “story”? If so why is it your favorite?

What a hard question. It is like asking a mother or a father who is her/his favorite child. I could say “Morning Unglory” because I spent one year to make this series and I learned a lot. I learned a lot technically speaking, but I also learned how to guide models, how to be open to some suggestions from them, how to let go sometimes and to dare to go where I am not used to. I feel very close to every image of this series because each of them represents an obsession, a question and a fascination.

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© Julia Javel

What kind of equipment do you generally use? Do you shoot in digital, film, both?

I consider the camera a useful implement, but it is simply a implement. It is not a magic object able to create instead of you. I experience polaroid films, toy cameras and digital cameras. I dare to play and to make mistakes. I am not afraid of failure, it is a way to learn faster.

How long does your editing process take? What does it entail?

When I edit a picture, I consider myself a painter. It is the final touch of a long process: some ideas on a notebook, the preparation of the shooting, the shooting itself with a team or not. I spent a some time editing a picture because I often know where I want to go and how to go there.

arts, photography, julia-javel

© Julia Javel

What’s in the future for you as a photographer, any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

Currently, I’m working on my first short movie, a story of domination and submission between two powerful women. Without forgetting my photo series, “family portraits,” which started in 2006 and is still in progress. I don’t even know if I will finish it. I always look for new collaborations, new encounters, new adventures.

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© Julia Javel