Julia Fullerton-Batten is an internationally acclaimed and world-wide exhibited fine art photographer, based in London. A Hasselblad Ambassador awarded by numerous accolades, in her conversation changing projects Julia focuses on complex interpersonal relationships and social issues: from aspirations of adolescent girls to feral children to lives of females sex workers.
How did you get to where you are right now?
After a peripatetic childhood in Germany and the USA I was in my early teens when I ‘inherited’ my father’s Minolta semi-automatic SLR. Soon afterwards my parents divorced and we, four children, moved with him to the UK. I with his Minolta. Soon after that came the time to decide what career choice I would make. For me, it was obvious – I wanted to become a photographer.
I made the decision to study photography at college. After graduation, I assisted professional photographers for five years, building up my portfolio and entering many competitions. When I won several awards in one competition, it drew the attention of a German photographic agent, they signed me up and within a few weeks I was shooting my first big budget commercial assignment in Australia. That was in 1999.
Although I enjoyed shooting commercial assignments I yearned to express my own creative ideas. I started on a small scale with street cast models and a limited budget. This led to my first solo exhibition in 2000 (‘Different Stories’ shown at The Special Photographers Company in Notting Hill, London) and subsequently to my first project release ‘Teenage Stories’ in 2005, and my first book in 2007. ‘Teenage Stories’ established my reputation worldwide as a fine-art photographer. On the back of that I was commissioned by the world-renowned National Portrait Gallery to shoot the portraits of sixteen important people in the British health service. These were hung in the Gallery for six months and are now held in the permanent collection.
Fast forward to today, I have now completed eleven more projects, most recently ‘The Act’ which handles the business and private lives of sex workers, who engage by choice in the UK sex industry. My earlier work dealt with semi-autobiographical subject matters involving the growing of age of young adolescents through to the unrequited love experienced by young women (‘Testament to Love’). More recently, my subject matter has been more social comment themed, covering topics such as blindness, today’s preoccupation with figure size, the sexual mistreatment of servants during the Edwardian era in the UK (1900 – 1911), feral children, and the afore-mentioned ‘The Act’.
Was there anyone who influenced you?
It goes without saying that my father was my first inspiration. From babyhood onwards I was conscious of his camera and the results that he produced from it. His forte was street photography and he’d take his camera everywhere with him, the local neighbourhood where we lived in Germany and the USA and on his business trips which took him to Japan.
Since I started studying photography I have been inspired by many artists, such as David Hockney, Lucian Freud, Eric Fischl, Balthus, Edward Hopper, and the Old Masters; I am an avid book collector. Living in London means that I can visit amazing museums and art galleries, which with my interest in the cinema enhance my appreciation of composition, image content and understanding of lighting techniques. My photographic career has been and remains a constant learning curve.
Have you ever taken risks to move forward?
Certainly. Every project I start could be a monetary and reputation risk. Of course, I don’t consider it in that way, for me my projects are an enjoyable challenge to be embraced.
Are your family and friends supportive of what you do?
My husband is also a professional photographer so we have a lot in common. My father still supports me in many ways – research, PR, website maintenance, etc. Many of my friends who are engaged in the industry as agents, do film work etc. I should also mention my exceedingly loyal and hardworking team of assistants, who are all working freelance, but I know that I can call on them when I have scheduled a shoot and they will prioritise my work.
Where’s home and how living there influences you?
I live with my husband and our two boys in an Edwardian house built about 1929 in Chiswick West London, close to the River Thames, with a largish well-established garden by London standards. In it I have a home office. It is a paradise for our small family. The boys are very active and play lots of sports, so the garden is a boon for them to play in. Two of my siblings live within walking distance or a short drive away. I couldn’t have a better home to live and work in anywhere else in the world.
Do you have a routine?
I am extremely well organised, but no, I can’t claim to have a routine. In fact, extreme flexibility is the name of the game as far as I’m concerned.
How would you describe your style?
My projects are narratives of a specific subject matter, they comprise between 12 and 16 scenes (images). I spend a lot of time pre-shoot refining my initial idea for the project, then carefully select the locations for the shoot, cast models, source clothing and props, etc. This careful preparation is one of my hallmarks, the other is my lighting technique. This is elaborate combining flash from multiple flash-heads with daylight and ambient light. I use cross-lighting, lighting from above using large stands and mega booms, as well as small grids to highlight specific areas. The result is filmic and intriguing to the viewer of my images. Many viewers identify my images immediately from these individualistic approaches.
What gives you ideas and inspires you?
As soon as I complete one project I start a new one. There is no fixed inspiration for ideas except living, being observant of life going on in the world and a natural-born curiosity. Early in my career it was easier because my projects were semi-autobiographical and were built up around my own experiences of a girl’s transition from a pre-pubescent to a young woman experiencing unrequited love. Nowadays, I look for ideas concerning matters that affect wider segments of society – what it’s like to be blind or go blind, to have a fuller figure, to have been a servant at the beginning of the 20th century before the first World War as countless were, to be a feral child, or to be a sex worker. My current project is closer to home, stories about the River Thames flowing just a few streets away from where I live, through London to the sea. Some of the stories will be of historical significance, others tragic, others of age-old customs and traditions.
In the end result, I guess we fine-art photographers are inspired in the same ways as all other artists - painters, sculptors, writers, film producers, architects, all other types of creatives – now and throughout the millennia, and will continue to do so. How we get our ideas and inspirations will remain very individual, that’s why we’re called ‘creatives’!
What do you see yourself doing in a few years?
Since I became a fine-art photographer I have been shooting projects at the rate of one every year. There have been exhibitions of my work around the globe, wide-spread interest by professional print and online magazines in me as a photographer and a person, in my images and how I produce them. More recently I have been judging international competitions, giving talks at home and abroad, and even more recently was designated a Hasselblad Ambassador. I am frequently called on to shoot commercial work by world-renowned agencies for internationally recognised companies. There is still more of the same for me to do, and even higher goals to strive for. And that’s just for me as a professional photographer; there’s my personal life as a supportive wife and caring mother. One thing I can guarantee is that my life will be as full, challenging and exciting as it has been over the past nearly twenty years since I became a professional photographer.
To see more work by Julia Fullerton-Batten, visit her website: