The first time I encountered Julian Master’s work, I was blown away by the honesty and brutality of his work. His pictures brought awareness to my emotions. I was moved by those feelings usually specific to vivid dreams or deeply rooted memories. Somehow, his work sharpened my empathy. People, at the center of Master’s art are subject to his objective commentaries seen yet through his subjective lens.
We had a conversation about his path, his artistic desires and his technics.
Q. First of all, what it is that you are seeking through your photographs? Is it a statement, a feeling, a truth?
A. I seek to entertain when somebody looks at a photo of mine. I want them to feel something — humor, empathy, confusion, fear etc. I’m interested running the full gamut of emotions and feelings and for the viewer to explore all these different types of feelings through my photographs. For example, It’s exciting to me to show something that makes people laugh and then to show them something else that might make them feel dread — or, perhaps, a different emotion: that feeling when you see something cute, jealousy, love, etc. It’s my job as the photographer to lead the viewer through a variety of emotions as they look at my photos. In my perception, it’s not too dissimilar to the ups and downs of a plot in a story. This is something I’m still very much working on doing better.
Q. Narrative of your photographic history: How did you start photographing? What were your main subjects when you started? Has it changed through the years?
A. When I first started taking photos, I took mostly photos of my friends. Eventually, I got bored of just friend-photos and I started taking photos of other people I didn’t know as well. I do really enjoy taking photos of people. A persons face is great to stare at. If that face is connected to a body that’s doing something interesting and is in an interesting environment, than all the better.
Yes, I do believe the subjects in my photography have changed over time. I haven’t really been photographing all that long. I started carrying a camera around with me everywhere in 2013 and still do it to this day.
It’s difficult for me to document the changes of my photography over time. I’m quite unsure right now what type of photos I’ll be making in the future. If anybody has any ideas, please let me know.
Q. There is a strong theatrical value to your work. How do you work with the ‘chance’ factor? To what extent is there a ‘mise en scène’ behind your pictures?
A. Photographers I admire know how to deal with the “chance” factor (also known as ‘good luck’) very, very well. They consistently make amazing photos, while the rest of us wait around for good photos to ‘happen’ to us.
In my opinion, being prepared to photograph, and knowing what to look for turns the ‘chance’ factor into simply a matter of statistics. If you’re always ready to take a picture, and your looking to take a photo that excites you, fun pictures will come your way all the time.
Q. What are your favorite subjects?
A. My favorite subjects are people.
Q. What is beauty for Julian Master? Do you try to convey it in your photographs?
A. For me, beauty is a display of positive emotional connection to something or someone. I think Garry Winogrand said something like, ‘I take pictures to see what things look like in a photo’ (these aren’t his exact words). It’s exciting for me to see beauty all over, and when I take a photo of something, I can take my time looking at it.
Q. Do you follow a routine? Do you go to work or do you always have a camera in case work comes to you? What was your first camera? What cameras do you use now?
A. I used to follow a routine to make street photos in New York City. I’d take the subway to Union Square and then walk up 5th Ave. or down SOHO towards Wall St. This worked well. There are lots of people there, so the chances of seeing somebody doing something I find interesting is higher than less crowded areas. This isn’t a routine of mine any longer.
As I said previously, I carry a camera everywhere I go just in case I run into something that I want to take a picture of. In regards to cameras, they all take pictures and photography, to me, is more of a brain game or mental exercise regardless of the camera one might choose to shoot on. My first camera was a Canon T2i, a great beginner camera, as it is very cheap. Now I use a variety of 35mm film cameras as well as my cellphone. Whatever feels like fun for the day is the one I go for. Here is a list of a few cameras I use currently: Contax G2, Contax T3, Konika Hexar RF, Canon Canonet, Canon EOS 1V and iPhone.
Q. Would you say photography is your ‘truth’?
A. I would not say photography is my ‘truth’. I would say making things is my ‘truth’. Photography right now is just the flavor of making things that I’m currently most interested in.
Q. What’s your favorite part of the work; the making or the result? Are you taking as it goes or do you set yourself goals?
A. I like shooting. I don’t like editing as much. I do post work/editing because it’s required and nobody would see a single picture of mine without me taking the time to finish them. I think editing is more important than shooting. Photographers I admire are incredible at editing their own photos as well as other’s photos. I am much less confident editing than I am shooting.
The vast majority of my photography is a result of ‘taking it as it goes’. Occasionally I will set day long goals which are usually technically inspired. For example I may say to myself, ‘Today I’m going to get closer to my subjects’ or ‘Today I’m going to shoot vertical photos’. I also have long term photography goals but am still very much working on how to make them a reality. I have ideas for books, and photo series’, but for some reason I’m so disorganized that most of my longterm goals have yet to materialize. If somebody knows of a way for me to organize my thoughts better, please let me know.
Q. Do you have a favorite “I can’t believe I took this picture” best of all time picture?
A. I have a photo of a child who has a lizard biting his ear. I really like this photo. It’s funny but also a little sad because the kid is crying. I hope he’s doing alright. It’s a little sad to me that I’ll never come in contact with the majority of people in photos again. I would love to see what they’re up to and to know what their lives are like.
Julian Master is a photographer from Eugene, Oregon currently living in New York City.
See more of his work:
All images © Julian Master