Urban paradise: Fine art photographer Julia Champtaloup
"My inspiration comes from the tiny pockets of beauty we have around us - most of which we pass by very quickly and don’t take time to appreciate."
AS THE NATURAL environment around Sydney shrinks, photographer and Tamarama resident Julia Champtaloup can still find solace in several untouched parts of the local coastline and bushland - and even Waverley Cemetery, which is often in bloom with grasses and flowers. Julia recently exhibited a collection of her work, "Terra Botanica" (part of the Good Natured Project for Sydney Design Festival 2018), at Superlocal Studio in Bondi Junction.
WORDSwork/ARTworks asks Julia nine questions, to learn more about her and her photography practice.
1. Welcome to the blog, Julia. Let’s start with the younger you. Were you a creative child? “I used to look at old photographs in my grandmother’s albums and loved seeing images of the old gardens, houses, great aunties, and more. When I was 12 to 14, I started taking my own black and white photos with vintage Leica cameras and hand-held light meters. I studied photography in high school and had my own darkroom. That was lots of fun and experimentation. I learned great lessons in developing my own negatives and photographs.”
2. Where did you grow up, looking at your grandmother's photo albums? “I’m originally from Washington, DC, USA and have lived in lots of places, but Sydney has been home for over 15 years. The current political atmosphere in the US makes me want to stay here for the foreseeable future!”
3. How does living in Australia influence your art practice? “It’s opened my mind to a much wider landscape, literally, as well as a completely different environment of flora and fauna. I can see why painters and photographers from the 1800s and 1900s came here, and were in awe of the natural environment.
4. It's wonderful we’re still attracting photographers such as yourself! What are you working on at the moment? “Currently, I’m obsessed with getting photographs out of the iPhone and the camera and onto paper to share. We have so many images - with millions a day going onto social media or into the web cloud - I think there is still something so beautiful about honing in on one subject, one observation, one moment in time. I also want to share images (that may or may not be available in the future) of the micro landscapes around us in our everyday lives. As we are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world, I want to divert people’s attention to the small but precious natural elements just under their feet, or where they pass during their everyday lives.”
5. And what inspires your practice? “I’ve always been highly observant and am always seeing images I want to record. As photography is proliferating in one way (temporary digital images) and dying in another (analog photography) I see the need to fill a space, even a small one, with images that in some way will be timeless. We are not that far away from perhaps having no printed records of images. And so much of what we see is changing so quickly, I feel there is something important about documenting even a small part of what is around us. There will always be a story to tell.”
6. What’s the story behind some of your photographs in the WORDSwork/ARTworks online gallery? “I took some of these in the gardens of Versailles last summer. I was struck by the profusion of flowers and fruit trees that dominate the European summer. That is something we don’t have in most of Australia. The King’s Garden is in a part of Versailles where the hundreds of daily tourists do not go - it was empty of people when I was there. I was fascinated with the idea of one person, or even a small town, having such a wonderful garden yet it being isolated, almost neglected. The images reflect a historic aspect of gardening - with old walls, vines and splayed fruit trees.”
7. They’re beautiful Julia, with an ethereal, poetic quality – partly due to your double exposure technique. What was your aim with these photographs? “I would like the images to give people the feeling of being in that garden, in the golden age of a profusion of wonderful flowers and fruit trees. I used double exposures to layer history on top of beauty to give a sense of timelessness.”
8. You’re entranced by nature, aren’t you? Can you recommend any books on this subject? “I recently read Rambunctious Garden; Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World by Emma Marris, which helped kick-start my journey into looking at how we can find and tell stories to help increase awareness and understanding of how we can preserve and encourage a greener, wilder, happier, deeper relationship with nature. I have also been reading many books on new ways of thinking about landscape, gardening and re-wilding. Writers like Robert Macfarlane (The Wild Places) and Robert Harrison (Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition) have inspired me to delve further into how we can manage and protect what biodiversity and ecosystem we now have in our care.”
9. And finally, what has been one of your favourite exhibitions in the past 12 months, and why? “I really loved Pipilotti Rist’s exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art. She is such a creative soul, but also very tender. She shares so much about herself with audiences, but also creates avenues where we can explore our inner lives.” W/A