Acclaimed photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten’s love for imagery started when she stole her father’s old SLR and started experimenting with it. From then on Julia’s photography drew from real life experiences – growing up as the middle child of three sisters, often moving country and schools and the breakdown of her parent’s marriage. Hunger TV speaks to Julia about her latest project, Unadorned, a series capturing the sensitivity and beauty of overweight individuals.
THERE IS A STIGMA ATTACHED TO BEING OVERWEIGHT, DID YOU CONSIDER THIS WHEN STARTING THE SERIES?
I have for some time wanted to photograph people who are labelled ‘fat’ as judged by today’s society because of the stigma attached to being overweight. It intrigued me to know their feelings about their bodies. I elected to photograph my models in the nude to find out how they would behave in front of the camera without any clothes on and see if they had any ‘figure anxiety’.
HOW DID YOU RECRUIT YOUR MODELS?
When I first started thinking about this project I wasn’t confident that many models would come forward for it. I advertised on my blog and got my casting agent to help. In the end a lot of people were keen to model for me, and I had so many to select from that I had to disappoint a number of them. All of the models were amateurs and it was refreshing that so many large people were prepared to take their clothes off for the first time for a professional photographer.
WERE THEY WARY OF POSING NUDE AT FIRST?
I did the casting at my home. It was interesting for me to find that once they removed their clothes for a few snaps, they completely opened up and told me their whole life stories. There seems to be something about exposing yourself to a stranger.
TELL US HOW YOU SELECTED THE BACKDROPS FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHS, WHAT DID THEY ADD TO THE OVERALL FEEL OF THE IMAGES?
It is a major part of my photographic style to concentrate on the scenes that I set. In this instance I wanted to find a location with a natural colour palette, somewhat understated, but with loads of character. Eighteenth century painters always used props in their portraits and this inspired me to do the same, and I used old cassette tapes, rotten fruit, old mattresses, dead flowers…
THIS SERIES WAS INFLUENCED IN PART BY THE OLD MASTERS, HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK IT IS FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS TO REFERENCE THE PAST IN THEIR WORK?
I feel that this is a decision to be made by the individual himself. Personally, I find a lot of inspiration from studying the Old Masters’ works, in the lighting, the background and the props that are used.
HOW DO YOU APPROACH A NEW PROJECT, WHERE DOES YOUR INITIAL INSPIRATION COME FROM?
When I was doing my Teenager project one sequel led to another, but then I had to ensure that there was no ‘sameness’ in each part of the series. Since then, I have branched out into other facets of life. A lot of my Teenager series and Mothers and Daughters is autobiographical, but also inspired by my observations of daily life going on around me. It was different with Unadorned. Here I was inspired by paintings of old masters from the 15th to 17th Century (Titian to Rubens). Over a period of three centuries, these masters showed that female beauty of that time was represented by curvaceous bodies and in Rubens’ case by outright corpulence. It is only in very recent times, since Twiggy and Barbie came to the fore in the 1960s, that our narcissistic society reinforced by the media and advertising now interprets the ideal figure to be ultra-thin. I guess in my work I am making social observations as well as fine-art.
WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART OF BEING A PHOTOGRAPHER?
BELIEF. Before putting all your energy into taking up photography as a career, you need to trust and believe in yourself and your abilities, not only in photographic, but also in business skills; then to have the will-power to put all your energy into it. Then you have to have the strength of character to face up to the fact that there are difficult times and be able to overcome these.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU FEEL UNINSPIRED, DO YOU EVER EXPERIENCE SOMETHING SIMILAR TO WRITER’S BLOCK?
I live photography and find constant inspiration all around me, so i am never uninspired or experience ‘photographer’s block’. But now that I have two young boys, my new challenge in life is to find the time to do everything that I want to do. Both of the pleasures in my life fill my available time to overflowing.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CURRENT STATE OF CONTEMPORARY PHOTOGRAPHY, WHO DO YOU ADMIRE?
Contemporary photography is really exciting and inspiring, Today’s photographers seem to be constantly inventing new ideas. I am in awe of many photographers; my present favourites are Gregory Crewdson, Jeff Wall, Lise Sarfati and Guy Bourdin .