|Selection from "Looking Glass"|
To rise above this heap of useless imagery, a photographer looking to present themselves as worthy of attention needs to really swim against the current with more guts and gusto than ever before. Miss Julian Grey is such a photographer.
I became aware of Miss Julian, a transgendered, biologically male person who refers to herself as she, through the photography on the net forum a little less than a year ago. I was instantly mesmerized and awed by the images she was posting in the forum. They had a raw quality, at first reminiscent of Robert Mapplethorpe, but with a wholly unique look that has truly become her signature. Her subject... herself.
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I would like to urge you, dear reader, to pause at this moment and take a look through Miss Julian's online portfolio. Her site, xgender.net, contains several galleries divided into themes as her style evolved. It is worth a look.
Since becoming more serious in my photographic path a decade ago I have been searching for some topic strong enough to capture my interest enough to create a long term project. I am still searching. That is why when I see the seeming ease Miss Julian show both as photographer and subject I am more than a little jealous. I long for an impassioned challenge. One that would make the viewer feel something. Maybe it'll come, maybe not. In the meantime I will continue my search and hope that some of Miss Julian's passion and courage will inspire me. I hope that by sharing this her work will inspire you as well.
In preparation for this article I asked Miss Julian for an interview. Here is that interview.
Q: Who is Miss Julian? Outside of what is available on your bio page, that is.
I’m an introvert and value one-on-one conversation in intimate settings. I’d rather take chances while hanging by a thread than live in the bland comfort of safety. I also believe love is an action. And lastly, I was an athlete as a child and credit athletics and my coaches with my physique and for teaching me how to compete, win and lose with respect and dignity.
Q: In terms of years in photography you are fairly new to the game (2003 to present) yet you have made some really fantastic images over those years garnering some accolades along the way. By your own admission you started taking pictures from a ‘safe’ distance and gradually moved in closer with your portraiture. For most photographers that’s usually as far as it goes but you took it a whole lot further by becoming your own model, and not in any ‘safe’ form either. You opted to expose more, including your own soul, to the public. Can you explain what your Persona project is about?
Persona is about being true to oneself and loving who we are in spite of our faults. It’s about understanding that we are all beautiful and the message that tolerance and acceptance are poor substitutes for love.
|Selection from "Loving Julia"|
Persona started as a means to learn about portraiture. It was easiest (and still is) to practice on myself when I want to learn a new technique or reacquaint myself with an old one. I realized from the beginning that I had something unique in my approach and in who I am and it became apparent that my portraits - if they were good enough - could have an impact.
Q: There is an obvious exploration of style and technique present in your earliest series and looking at your body of work to date one can trace the influences of one project onto the other. Did you start off with a preconceived plan of how you wanted each series to look or did it evolve as you were developing each individual series?
I follow my feelings, so no plan. Most often I create first and sort it out later. Usually it’s in the early stages of a series where I define what it’s about and what are it’s goals/boundaries. The affect is that Persona has been a window on my growth as a human being. In spite of the fact that my images are not necessarily representative, there is an honesty in their expression.
|Selection from "Voyeurisme"|
When inspiration and energy coincide, I create non-stop. There are no sit down meals and sleep is acknowledged grudgingly and sparingly. I wake up thinking about the next photo session and fall asleep reviewing the day’s images.This lasts 1-3 months usually. It’s an intense, difficult and rewarding time.
Both, Voyeurisme and Curb Appeal were tough for the reasons above. Moreover, Curb Appeal - in spite of it’s celebratory mood - was photographed in an hostile environment. For its part, Voyeurisme was recorded after my split with my wife and during the hardest winter I’ve experienced.
Fortunately I’m aware that misery and hardship can be great fertilizer for creativity.
Q: Was this a self-imposed ordeal or was it something unexpected as a result of undertaking these particular projects?
In the sense that I know what I’m in for, it is self imposed. But photography and modeling are my breath, so I have no choice… Pain is the price for the creative “emotional birthings” I experienced and is a part of life. I don’t invite it, but try to embrace and use it for positive gain instead.
|Selection from "Lace"|
Truthfully, the hardships (emotions) are already there. I don’t have to do anything extraordinary to experience them. Photography/modeling is my vent, my voice and my way to reach out.
Q: As each series evolves they seem more refined in execution, content and style. Has the process gotten any easier with each successive session?
Yes, yes, thankfully yes!!! In 2011, when Persona started, photoshoots (the time required to produce one satisfactory image) were measured in days and could go longer than a week. Loving Julia, the first series in Persona, took more than a year to create. In early ’15 Voyeurisme’s photo sessions averaged 24 hours and the series was completed in 42 days, if I recall correctly. This included wardrobe, hair, makeup, set design, 5 minute meals, naps as needed, and the actual photoshoot. And in the last year I average roughly 3 sessions per day and a have already produced 100s of edited images. So, yes, faster & easier.
Q: Many people would consider this type of ‘soul baring’ to be a scary proposition. What advice do you have to encourage photographers to explore something they would consider scary or ‘too personal’?
All of my portraits are reason to be afraid, whether they’re of me or others. In the creative meetings I hold with any prospective subject I speak of the periphery of their being and I direct them to draw from scary, unfamiliar parts of who they are in order to create. I ask a lot of those i photograph, so how could I ask less of myself?
My advice? If you’re not afraid of what you may create, you’re not digging deep enough.
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Everyone and everything has the potential to send me in a new, exciting direction. Some of my favorite inspirations, though…
Ole Square Head, Green Light, Leatherneck, Napoleon, Earnest, Mohawk, Dirty Pete and Phoenix (Hummingbirds I named while training and photographing them) for teaching me about intelligence, humor, beauty and grace.
Mapplethorpe for his audacity and honesty.
MJ Heade for teaching me what a real portrait should look like.
Picasso for his perspective.
Yet, I cannot emphasize this enough. Students, peers, subjects and everyone from the loftiest to the homeless influence and inspire me. There is no stupid. There is no ugly. There is only perspective. If I don’t see beauty and intelligence, then I have failed.
Q: In much of your discussions you connect strongly with the LGBT community, offering support and championing for change and acceptance. How, or where, do you feel your current work fits into that context?
Topically, my work appears to be timely, for which I’m grateful. But I’m hoping these photos will be timeless. I can’t imagine a day when the ideas these images represent and the messages they deliver will not be needed.
|Selection from "Troupe"|
Gender dysphoria is a killer. No different than depression, cancer or AIDS, this condition takes lives. In my case, I found photography/modeling after I’d survived the worst of my dysphoria and come to a measure of peace regarding my body. Persona has been a great reinforcement and affirmation of that, and in that way has helped me advance further. I am now - for the first time and I’m 52 years old - acknowledging and even finding beautiful parts of me that my mind still insists are abhorrent.
Q: What is in the future for Miss Julian, artistically speaking?
Life can turn on a dime and I now find myself holding perspectives I never imagined, so I honestly don’t know. Picasso is credited with saying, "to copy others is necessary, but to copy oneself is pathetic.” I’m going to try to avoid being pathetic.
I would like to extend my sincerest gratitude to Miss Julian for indulging me in this interview. I thank her for allowing me to share her images with you. I, for one, look forward to seeing more of her work.
Hopefully you found her images and her words as inspirational as I have. Please feel free to continue the conversation in the comments section.