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Photography is more than just pointing a camera and capturing your subject. It is everything in between – the things unsaid and said. In a quiet conversation on a Friday morning, Canon Ambassador Julie Pike talks about the secret, little world that exists in the viewfinder between the photographer and their subject. And it is in this world that Julie thrives. Moments are eternalised, creativity thrives, and a human experience is shared.
“I always loved taking photos, but coming from a rather conservative family, I never considered photography or art as something I could make a living from. When I was in school, I chose photography as one of my voluntary subjects and absolutely loved being in the darkroom, watching the magic of the photos appear in the chemicals. I'm a very emotional person and that's why I take pictures. For me, photography is about control. I'm the one who decides what moments to remember – what moments to freeze. As a young child, I moved to different countries and cities, and I never went to school for more than two years in one place. It was a little bit chaotic, so photography was a place where I could find a sense of peace and calm. It was a space where I was in control, and I could sit with my pictures and pretend that I was part of their story for a little while. It's like a type of meditation.
During my studies in Oslo, I moved into my uncle's house, who was a very passionate hobby photographer. He had so many cameras and a darkroom in his basement so when I moved in there, I had access to all of it. He taught me how to develop photos and let me borrow his camera, and thought it was fun that someone in the family was as interested in photography as him. Then when a professional photo lab in Oslo was hiring, I took the opportunity to take a job there. I loved being in the darkroom and learning so many things, and it was during this time – now 20 years ago – that I decided this is what I wanted to do. After spending three years in San Francisco at an art photography school and some time as an assistant in Norway, I had learned so much and met some really great people, and this is probably why I'm still working as a photographer today.
I always tell my students that you can't just sit back and wait for the right clients to call you, you need to make your dream jobs into real jobs. For example, this picture of Norwegian singer Aurora and her sisters. This happened because I knew the middle sister, Viktoria, and had known them before Aurora started to sing. It's kind of funny when you think about how famous she is now. I have never seen three sisters have such a unique bond – they almost have their own language. They are very much in their own bubble, outside of everything else. It's the three of them against the world. So, I really wanted to photograph them together and found out that a Scandinavian magazine I liked was interested in them.
I ended up taking pictures in their childhood home in Bergen and was able to tell a fantastic story through images and words. Their dad picked me up at the tiniest airport you can imagine, and I asked him to stop to pick up some Norwegian traditional buns and beer because I knew the girls liked that. When possible, it's nice to turn a shoot into an experience everyone can enjoy. After eating buns by their breakfast table, we went for a short drive and this image just happened. The girls were laughing and looking out of the car window, and as we played around with these moments, this frame appeared in front of me. You can never really plan things like this, you just have to move around with it quite spontaneously.
When I photograph, I approach it from a filmmaking perspective. I never think about just a single image – I think about the whole story. When I hold my camera and sit with the lens, things happen automatically. There is a little secret world in the viewfinder between the photographer and the ones who are being photographed. Before I shoot, I always try to get into a mood. If I photograph a musician I've never met before, I listen to his or her music days before and search who they are. I have a folder with inspiration and make a mood board. During the shoot, I try not to have too many plans and to be open. I try to find out what mood they are in, if they’re happy and what kind of day they are having. Often, it's helpful to start by talking. I would rather talk for 10 minutes and take pictures for five, than the opposite. A good director doesn't go in and correct all the time because that is likely to make the person insecure, so I try to be in the moment. In terms of images and storytelling, I think less is more. Sometimes five images can be stronger than twenty.
I am asked a lot why I photograph so many women, a question I have been asking as well. I think the simple answer is that I am a woman, so it's something I know. Also, I grew up with strong women in my family, who I'm very close to and they have been my most important role models, so I know their body language and the way they speak. It feels more natural to photograph women. As a photographer, I think it's important to tell the stories that feel right for you and stay true to what's in your heart, so I always try to stay true to myself in my work as much as I can.”
More about Julie’s work and projects can be found on her Canon Ambassador page.