Photographer Julian Berman
Julian is a twenty six year old photographer based in Los Angeles. You have most likely seen his work plastered across a major billboard or on your favourite album / magazine cover. While he still partakes in the same shenanigans, Julian's evolved from shooting his Odd Future buddies around Fairfax skate parks for fun (after hammering back cheeseburgers) to honing in on one-on-one portrait sessions with Lebron James and DJ Khaled.
You can see his work throughout this month's issue.
SS // What engaged you to dedicate to photography?
JB // I am not too sure what the defining moment was that made me think, "okay you know what… this is what I want to do," was. I think I was just mostly curious as this was an entirely new medium to me. I have always had a knack for technology and gadgets, and was obsessed with the computer from a very young age, so this became sort of an extension for me. I loved mathematics in school and to me that’s what a lot of aspects of photography are really about. Manipulating the numbers in this machine to get proper exposure. Slaving away on photoshop to colorize and get your images looking unique. Working with flashes, geometry in your locations, it’s all just nerdy math to me. I became obsessed.
SS // Your background is interesting. Gimme your condensed life story. What was your youth like?
JB // Hah. Is it really all that interesting? Anyways, I am born and raised in Los Angeles, California. It was a bit bizarre growing up as a kid in the city versus the classic suburban lifestyle, but I enjoyed my youth. Growing up in the 90s was definitely sick, just being obsessed with skateboarding, junk food, video games, technology, etc etc… I guess most of that still remains. As for my life story... I don’t know. Nothing that extraordinary. I was your average kid. I was never really focused on art until high school when I decided to take a photography class because I was interested in media like Thrasher, Transworld, and The Skateboard Mag. Who whould’ve thought that would pave the way for a new obsession and eventually a pretty awesome career path.
SS // You got into photography pretty early… How did you start linking with OFWGKTA? Can you remember the first shoot you kicked off with them?
JB // I had met Tyler through the Hypebeast message boards by way of a general interest of clothes and skateboarding…. Or I guess ‘streetwear’ at the time. This was before there was any ‘OFWGKTA’. We sort of just kicked it off and became friends, and as I was learning more and getting more engulfed into the medium of photography it was only natural to photograph my friends and those around me. From there, we all just stuck around and hung out together along Fairfax and the surrounding area. As time went on and the scene - or whatever you want to call it - exploded, we were just taking lots of photos... and when the music popped off, all of these other opportunities began to rise. As for the first time we shot? Yes I do remember, the photos are very bad and have very very bad post work. They’re around on the internet somewhere.
SS // Tell me about your life here in LA - present day clip notes.
JB // Life in Los Angeles is great. I live in West Hollywood so everything I need is within just a few miles square radius. There is great food everywhere, friends all scattered within 1-2 miles, and the camera store is down the street. What more could I ask for? Maybe a little less traffic from the hours of 2-8pm would be nice. I am not sure if I could really ever leave. Every once in a while I will entertain the idea of East Coast life but I am just not sure if it’s for me in the long run. Change is good I’m sure… but so is In N Out.
SS // How would you describe your aesthetic? What do you think makes you stand apart from other Photographers and their content?
JB // I enjoy portrait work. Editorial portraiture is real fun. Aesthetic wise? I don’t know. It’s constantly changing based on the assignment, and every so often it’s fun to try new things. I enjoy working with flash and artificial light sources often. I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily bright and poppy as a person per se haha, but I do enjoy portraying that sense in my work. People always say they’re impressed by my ability to immerse with the subject and get these natural realistic ‘MOMENTS’, so I guess that stands apart. To me though, it’s important to be sociable in general and converse with your subjects, even though it’s sometimes hard with celebrity clientele whom you only get a few minutes with. I can envision how I want my end result to look and I am not afraid to pose them in a certain way that may not be the norm or how they’re used to. It’s fun to break the rules every so often.
SS // Do you have any thoughts or opinions on how Odd Future [and how they have been captured for the public] has shaped youth culture today?
JB // I think it’s pretty cool how massive an influence Tyler has had on youth culture today. The younger generation is obviously very susceptible to trends and we can all agree that he is a visionary and trend setter. With the introduction of social media, the younger generation can get an inside edge on how these people are going about their lives like never before. What music they listen to. How they dress. Even things as minute and silly as what kind of colors you like or how you type, these are all trends that can be very influential when in the limelight. People will then go on to mimic that lifestyle. It’s really weird, but I’m not mad at it.. because as kids, we were probably nerding out over Tony Hawk or Michael Jordan or something.
SS // What inspires you?
JB // In my work, other rad young photographers of my generation. Social Media is huge now, and the fact that there are digital portfolios for thousands of young awesome artists being updated every day is so sick. There is constantly new work being pumped out and I am so excited to see it all. The days of digging through texts books or longing for elder magnum photographers is over. I like to look at magazines, whether it be a random tech magazine or The Fader and be like oh wow, my friend shot that! Not some jaded old head that probably has a staff of 900 people doing his production for him. That’s inspiring to me, it gives me hope that this is all so achievable. It shows that we have a purpose.
SS // What do you think is important to capture in portrait work?
JB // As I said previously, it’s so important to connect with your subject on some sort of level. Even if it’s just spending a few moments before hand having a chat, or showing them how you want them to pose or expressing your vision, it really helps. When you show you have any sort of character or are just stoked to be there nonetheless, people like that. It’s important to make them feel comfortable, because most of the time [in celebrity portraiture], these people have been photographed a million times. On the contrary, if you are shooting somebody who NEVER gets their photo taken, have a laugh, tell them they look great, just be sociable. Make them feel good as a person.
SS // What is the most fun you've ever had on a project? Explain the shoot and the why.
JB // I love the ridiculous shoots where I am put in some sort of outrageous setting. I photographed this guy who sells wholesale caskets, he was insane. Like a classic overzealous zany businessman, and I loved every second of it. Or when I get to shoot science-based stories, like a 3D printing laboratory, or a chemical lab, or this giant metal thing that I shot that converts natural gas into solar energy but I still sort of have no idea what it was ‘til this day but whatever it looked sick and I had to wear a hard hat. On the contrary, just shooting awesome personalities and people you would normally never come in contact with as a normal human being. Rappers, musicians, athletes, A-List celebrities, F-List celebrities, it’s just all so crazy to me. I recently photographed Lebron James and that was intense. I don’t get nervous often but I was sweating bullets. The photos turned out sick though.
"I like to look at magazines, whether it be a random tech magazine or The Fader and be like oh wow, my friend shot that! Not some jaded old head that probably has a staff of 900 people doing his production for him. That’s inspiring to me, it gives me hope that this is all so achievable. It shows that we have a purpose."
SS // What was the hardest transition between shooting your friends and going high profile for album covers, magazine covers (including Billboard - hello - how old were you when you shot that, 19?) and celebrity features?
JB // Haha yes. I photographed Odd Future for the cover of Billboard Magazine in 2011. I was 19 years old. I had no idea what I was doing. But it was pretty sick. I don’t think I have ever seen a music editorial let alone a cover shoot shot on fisheye. So silly. Back to the question, there are just so many variables transitioning into the professional working world as opposed to shooting your friends, that I do not even know where to begin. I was so naïve at first, so excited to shoot anything and everything. Budgeting, Licensing, Usage, Studio spaces, even things as meniscal as gear acquisition and rentals... those are all very important. There is a lot of planning that goes into a photo shoot, and that business aspect was so foreign to me. I got screwed over a lot at first, but I definitely learned a lot because of it.
SS// You are gaining huge popularity and recognition. What do you do to stay grounded? What do you fear?
JB // I am humbled that you think so, but I am still pretty grounded and level headed hah. I am still just a normal kid!! Okay, well, 26 year old… but yeah whatever. To me, the notoriety [if even any] is not the focus, it’s all about creating new work and being stoked on the arts. I just want to shoot as much as possible and still at the end of the day be excited about the work I create. Even to this day, I am still learning so much about the industry and myself, adapting my craft and being the best possible artist I could be. I do not fear much, but am definitely overcome with ample amounts of stress planning and securing my career. I try not to focus too much on the longevity of it all and try to focus on the moment, but it’s obviously very difficult being your own boss and ESPECIALLY making a career as an artist. I guess I fear the consistency of it. I am always craving more and more, until my plate is overflowing and then I just pray for a day off.
SS // Is it fun to shoot famous people?
JB // It really depends. Again, at the end of the day, they’re people just like us. Except for when I photographed DJ Khaled, he was insane... but in a great way. Honestly my favorite subjects to photograph are those that are not used to a camera being shoved in the face. I love that awkwardness and the ‘oh man I don’t know how to pose’ or ‘I suck at this’... the photos always look great, sometimes better than that of celebrity clientele. Businessmen, CEOs, scientists, those working in tech, those are the kind of stories that I love. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome spending 45 seconds in a studio with an A-List celebrity. It feels like a surreal, out of body experience that you two are even just communicating in the same plane, but I just love bigger pieces; where I am able to explore, take my time, communicate with different people, gather their stories, and just learn about really whatever it is they’re all about.
SS // With social media making everyone feel they are a photographer, where is photography going for the professional?
JB // I am such a strong advocate for social media, so I’m all for these people shooting photos and having a platform to show their work. Hopefully that creates more jobs and outlets for photographers to be commissioned and actually make a professional career doing so. It’s no longer limited to print media as we live in a digital age. It’s sick and I am thrilled to see where the future of tech goes and the opportunities it grants us artists.
SS // What’s the #1 piece of advice you’d like to give to a young, aspiring creative who’s trying to get into the business?
JB // Develop your own style, and shoot what you want to shoot. Do not worry about following along with trends and really just create work that you enjoy. Look at photos all the time and do not be afraid to engage with photographers you enjoy for tips and advice, or even the opportunity to assist on a shoot. Assisting is great and I learned so much in my early stages by doing so. Hell, I even assisted a friend on a shoot the other day and still learned a few new tricks! It’s a great opportunity to be on set and actually be a part of the production which is super rad. Really just constantly have a thirst to learn and create. If you want to jock somebody else’s flow or bite, it won’t get you anywhere. Oh yeah, and BE PERSONABLE!
SS // Describe your dream project or client.
JB // Honestly, I really just want to photograph Guy Fieri. He’s been my absolute dream subject ever since I picked up a camera and I hope one day it actually comes to fruition. Client wise, I want to work more in business, science, and tech. Apple. Microsoft. Google. I love shooting apparel, so continuing to do more with Nike and Adidas would be a dream. Project wise, I really want to go to Japan. I cannot believe I have not done so thus far but it’s such a visually appealing place that I feel like I would have a field day there. Also, home to some of the best print magazines ever!!!
SS // This issue of the SSR is all about Victory. What does your definition of success look like?
JB // Success is wrapping up a long successful day of shooting and meeting up with your friends to grab a couple of cheeseburgers. Success is seeing your photos in print, on a website, on a billboard. Success is doing what you love for a living.
SS // What’s for dinner tonight?
JB // I have no idea. Maybe some pasta and perhaps some garlic bread. I really enjoy garlic bread.
Julian's work is featured throughout The Victory Issue.
You can peruse more of his work here.
Follow him on Instagram here.