Thursday, May 24, 2007
David Julian - A Different Light
Drawing from multiple disciplines and deep imagination, David Julian's reality is in the eye of the beholder
Don't try to classify David Julian. In a business environment where most pros find success by specializing in a particular photographic niche, Julian won't fit neatly into a clearly labeled box. Part illustrator, part sculptor and part philosopher, he's a self-described mad scientist. His three-dimensional assemblage and photo illustrations transport you via ghost train to a dusty shelf in a pre-modern laboratory lined with artifacts and arcana, where you might expect to find him toiling over the dissection of some long-extinct winged mammal.
Then, just when you think you might have a category for Julian's work, he shows you his travel photography. Bright, graphic and quite literal, it seems totally incongruous with the psyche behind his fantastic abstract oddities. And while you're still struggling to reconcile the two personalities, there's another departure to a black-and-white world of softened solitude, warm and yet lonely, somewhere along the border of awake and asleep.
If it sounds like we're waxing poetic, it's because we are. With all of the digital magic of modern photographic technology, great images still come down to the photographer. No amount of technical skill or Photoshop proficiency can substitute for the insight of the visual poet.
So what makes a mad scientist-photographer-writer-illustrator-philosopher tick?
DPP: Your professional biography begins as a research technician at Harvard's Biological Labs, which sounds very left brain for a creative. Is it fair to say you have a split personality?
David Julian: Oh, yeah, I can't even find the cracks anymore.
DPP: How did you transition from scientist to artist?
Julian: I was never really a scientist, per se. I love science, but the duality of my personality also pushed me toward art. I first developed a passion for photography when I was sent to the tropics to collect insects, and I started doing macro work. My job as a designer in New York pushed me further toward photography, but I was terrible in the traditional darkroom. My photographic heroes, photographers like Man Ray and Jerry Uelsmann, were/are masters in the darkroom, but it wasn't until Photoshop reached a certain level of maturity in the mid-'90s that I was able to really pursue the photographic work that I wanted to do. Digital imaging allowed me to take the creative leap that I couldn't begin to express in the traditional darkroom. I also wanted to find a medium that produced visible results fast enough to keep my ideas flowing.
DPP: Photography is one of the most technically dependent art forms. Do you approach the medium methodically, or are you open to chance?
Julian: Both. I plan all of my conceptual pieces on paper first. I do a lot of sketching and writing. I'm also very right brain in how I approach my equipment, in that I overcome the technical hurdles by mastering the operation of my gear, so that it becomes second nature and I don't have to think about it. So I handle my equipment like a scientist, but the creative process is entirely intuitive. I approach my personal photography from a meditative state of awareness whenever possible. It's easier than it sounds, and I teach it privately and in some of my workshops. Photography may seem overly technical today because of the incredible technology behind the images. Cameras tend to get more complicated and sophisticated. I'm glad I explored the basics of photography and camera operation before the digital age because I learned simply how to make an accurate image. With that foundation, I'm less overwhelmed with all of the new equipment and possibilities.