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Meet Julie Shafer

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julie Shafer.

Hi Julie, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I am a Los Angeles-based artist, born and raised in Southern California. My love of photography began while I was studying at UC Irvine. Watching my first photograph’s latent image appear in the developer was life-changing; the image simultaneously looked nothing like what I had photographed and exactly like what I had photographed. That changed everything. I knew right then I’d be making photographs for a long time to come.

My interests in history, environmental justice, and identity politics were also formed there and continue to play a significant part in my artistic practice. For the past several years, I have embarked on ambitious photo shoots in remote locations to create photographic images where I examine the consequence of our actions upon lands and specific populations. In addition to making photographs, I write creative non-fiction based on these photographic journies that combine research, personal anecdotes, and revelations that occur throughout the process. After receiving an MFA from USC, I began teaching as an adjunct instructor. For 14 years, I was a freeway-flyer and likely looked at anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 images a week. Seeing this many images a week started to affect how I made work and how I thought about making work. What happened in my classrooms was simply a microcosm of the larger world; it’s estimated that a few billion images are shared worldwide daily.

This reality made me ask myself if I would contribute to this daily flood of images, what would I contribute? Since that point, my entire art practice has changed. I started building my own large-scaled cameras; turning U-Hauls into a dark room so I could process mural-sized negatives at remote California silver mining areas; floating pieces of black and white darkroom photography paper in contaminated bayous for several days so images with swaths of fuscias, yellows, pinks, and blues and impressions of flora are made; photographing only a certain spectrum of light so we see what the naked eye cannot; boiling my film during the development process; etc. My goal is to continue working with different photographic methods that allow for the image to change during the recording process, anchored at sites of historically significant events regarding environmental justice issues.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
There have definitely been obstacles along the way. And it turns out every one of those “obstacles” has turned into an opportunity.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I investigate very specific, often remote, landscapes in which monumental and tragic histories have taken place. I am interested in exploring ways of recording these landscapes that point to a history that may not always be visible. In some instances, the land has been permanently altered or scarred. In others, the history resides as folklore, and the remoteness of these sites becomes symbolic of a dark past. I’ve worked in the bayous of Louisiana, abandoned silver and gold mines throughout California, walked roughly 60 miles of the Oregon Trail in Wyoming, explored salt mines in Peru and the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. I like to spend time researching and learning about a space before I begin making images. It’s important to me that I absorb a space through reading, researching, direct experience, walking, hiking, listening, and looking before I attempt to record the land.

I also keep a detailed journal of reference material and for jotting down my experiences while I location scout. All of this informs and is my practice. In addition to creating photographic records of different landscapes, I also write creative non-fiction short stories to tie together the history, research, anecdote, personal insight, reflection, and parallels between my experience and the cultural significance of the events of the land. All of my work is created over the course of several years and involves multiple shoots. My work uses a variety of photographic processes that allow for an image to be recorded that is often beyond what humans are capable of seeing. This method of working allows for new and unique perspectives to be seen and counters the oft-perceived notion that photographic images are definitive truths.

Have you learned any interesting or important lessons due to the Covid-19 Crisis?
I would say the most important lesson I’ve learned during the pandemic has been how necessary it is to slow down. So much of my week/month/year has typically been filled with driving (lots of driving), shooting, printing, working, going to shows. The pace is rather frenetic, and it’s really easy to get used to that. It’s been so nice to have things come to a screeching halt. I’m reading more, walking more, getting into gardening. So much of my art practice is dependent on being able to travel to different historical sites, and since I’m not able to do that I’ve had to turn inward to think about my work in a different way. I’ve been on input mode rather than output mode and it’s been great.

Contact Info:

  • Email: julie@julie-shafer.com
  • Website: julieshafer.com
  • Instagram: @julielynneshafer


Image Credits:

All images © Julie Shafer

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