Julien Catella captured the streets of Cuba, New York, Detroit, and especially Montreal, where he lived for seven years. His colorful and frontal style evokes the great names of street photography.
Here, he talks about his passion for photography, giving valuable advice on how to approach passers-by and affirm one’ s visual identity.
Hello Julien, can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello ! I am a street photographer, instructor and lecturer. I just turned 30. I am back in Lyon after 7 years living in Canada. It’s a funny feeling! I look forward to discovering the city and its changes. It is an opportunity to take a new look at my environment.
“Unfortunately, society does not always push us to realize our childhood dreams.”
How did your passion for photography begin?
I remember that when I was younger, I wanted to become a photographer and travel the world. I think National Geographic magazine has played a key role in this vision. Unfortunately, society does not always push us to realize our childhood dreams. At the time, I chose to focus on safety and study engineering.
“[…] street photography had become an obsession, a permanent search, a lifestyle.”
I worked for 5 years in the energy industry. It was upon graduation that I decided to stop everything, quit my job and go on a trip. The adventure will last 2 years and take me to the Alaskan mountains. My only company was a camera. It is thanks to it that I have reconnected with the passion of my beginnings. In 2013, I decided to return to my studies in photography and give this revealed talent a new chance.
How did you first get interested in street photography?
I have always been inspired by the work of street photographers. I am thinking, for example, of Robert Doisneau or Henri-Cartier Bresson. After my studies, I became friends with Jonathan Bernier, an excellent photographer. We were very similar in our differences. Since we didn’t have much money to travel, we spent our time exploring Montreal. The camera never left us! It will take a summer to face the evidence, street photography had become an obsession, a permanent search, a lifestyle.
“Photography allows me to take a new look at my daily life.”
What are the subjects that attract your attention?
The banal, the modern, the routine, the empty spaces. I like to analyze the relationship that people have with their environment. Photography allows me to take a new look at my daily life.
“I think [beauty] is all around us, it’s a matter of perspective.”
You have lived in Canada for several years. Did the fact of moving from one country to another affect the way you take pictures?
Of course! After all, our images speak of us. They reflect our beliefs and our vision of things. In general, I find that the original and innovative nature of art in North America contrasts with European sophistication. Breaking established rules opens up new creative horizons. It is undoubtedly the American photographers who influence me the most. I think of Alex Webb’s work, for example, which has given my photography a new direction.
Young photographers often have difficulty reaching out to people. When you make posed portraits of passers-by, how do you approach them?
In the most sympathetic way possible! I use a lot of psychological techniques from sales and communication. I would say that the first thing is to clarify the intention behind the photographic gesture. It is also necessary to skillfully gain legitimacy in the eyes of the passer-by. I prefer to use positive words and open-ended questions instead of saying, “Sorry to bother you, sir! Can I take a picture of you? “, I recommend to say “Hello Sir! I think you have a very original hat. I am a street photographer and I am interested in hats. Would you accept that I offer you a portrait?».
“My goal as a photographer is to reveal beauty in the ordinary.”
In the second approach, attention is focused on one detail. We explain why we want to take the picture and give ourselves the title of photographer. The emphasis is no longer on disturbance (Sorry to disturb you) or dispossession (taking a picture), but on implicit acceptance (Would you accep) and artistic creation (offers a portrait). It’s a simple example! There are many other approach techniques that I share in my training.
What do you want to convey through your images?
Dostoïevski said in one of his novels that “it is beauty that will save the world”. The beauty he was talking about is the beauty of the human gesture that gives meaning to our existence. I’m looking for this beauty! I think it is all around us, it is a matter of perspective. My goal as a photographer is to reveal beauty in the ordinary.
“It is essential to define your art tastes to develop a mature visual signature.”
What are your inspirations?
The Magnum agency photographers are a quality reference for me. In particular Alex Webb and David Alan Harvey. I can also quote two books that have strongly inspired me: “Errance” by Raymond Depardon and “La chambre claire” by Roland Barthes. I recommend these readings to someone who wants to go further in their thinking and approach to photography.
What advice would you give to take good street pictures?
I recommend to immerse yourself in the great masters of photography and painting. It is essential to define your art tastes to develop a mature visual signature. I then recommend to practice as much as possible to make the photographic technique unconscious. Henri Cartier-Bresson said: “Your first 10,000 photos will be the worst”.
And finally, I would say that it is essential to always have your camera close by. The most beautiful photos can appear around the corner.
Do you have any ongoing projects you can tell us about?
I am currently working on the draft of a new project that I would like to carry out jointly with my good friend Vincent Prayal. We want to talk about the American dream, what remains of it today and its new evocations in China. Indeed, the sleeping giant is now well awake and seems to embody the American dream better than the United States itself.
Its rapid economic growth offers statistically more opportunities for the poor to improve their living conditions. It would be a documentary project, a cross vision of two countries in the midst of political tension.