Happy Birthday to Caleb Cole and Thank you for the Interview!

Thank you Caleb for the awesome interview of me on your blog Existing Light. It is amazing to have people interested in my work. The interview was really fun and a great way to reflect on what I am doing. My head has not been deep into my work for the past few weeks and it was nice to get back into it. Here is the interview:

Interview with Julia Staples

December 2, 2008 · No Comments

I can’t remember how I first stumbled upon the work of Ms. Staples, but I’m so glad I did.  She quickly became one of my favorite young photographers and I love following the evolution of her work.  I’m so so excited to be able to post this interview— it’s long, but totally worth it.


I find myself really attracted to your work, but if someone pressed me to give a quick explanation of it, I’m not sure what I would say that wouldn’t be too simplistic.  How would you describe not only what you do but your work’s style, tone, influences, etc in 30 seconds or less?

The style of my work is very simplistic. I like straight lines and simple paired down pictures. I think this draws attention to the subject. My work is influenced very much by the German aesthetic taught by the Bechers mixed with an influence from the American color documentary photographers of the 1960’s like Eggleston. I use photography as a tool to capture the details of a place.  Like the Rock Garden. A garden full of rocks references the harsh living conditions in Iceland and the flowers within those rocks let you know that people in Iceland are still willing to do what it takes to have a garden. The repetition is too highlight this idea, but also to create a typology. The flowers in the garden become specimens to be studied.

How did you find yourself in Iceland and what motivates you to make the work you’re making there? Do you see an end to the projects or do you imagine a lifelong artistic relationship with the country?

I first came to Iceland in 2003 on a Fulbright Fellowship. I highly recommend every photographer try to apply for a Fulbright. You get a year in the country of  your choice creating to your heart’s desire. I chose Iceland in an attempt to find a country whose landscape would be totally unusual. I had been making photographs of unusual looking landscapes and that seemed like a natural progression (http://www.dominomag.com/galleries/objects/accessories/art/landscapes5). However, now I find myself photographing the man made parts of Iceland. I have come back many times to photograph for a local newspaper and then most recently I was awarded an American Scandinavian Foundation Fellowship (another grant I recommend!). I also must make a full disclaimer that since 2007 I moved to Iceland to live with my current boyfriend. However, boyfriend or not, I would be trying to find ways to make art here. The current theme in my work is photographing the places people create and live in and how the place effects them and what a place says about a people. Iceland is very new to the luxuries of the rich and first world countries and is creating itself from scratch at this very moment. I think this makes a wonderful photography opportunity.

I’m interested in your process— do you have a list of areas to photograph?  Do you work methodically?  Do you wander in search of things, or do you simply shoot as you go about your daily life?

I love this question. I always wonder this about other photographers. I obsess over my ideas for months and even years. Maybe the ideas starts sometime when I am wandering around enjoying life and just walking and occasionally finding something inspirational enough to shoot. I almost never use those images which are just idea images. Then, I go back to the place many times shooting more and more. With this current project, I spent about a week shooting in one newly constructed neighborhood in the suburbs of Iceland. I realized that I liked where the project was headed, so I applied for funding to continue the project. Once awarded the funding, I created a giant map and marked all of the places with new neighborhoods. I like to see everything and know all of my choices and collect a lot of imagery. So, I traveled to almost every place in the suburbs of Reykjavik with construction and when I found something that I found particularly interesting, I would return there many times. At this point, I have been everywhere in Reykjavik, You would find me on a sunny day just walking around neighborhoods. I like to take the bus to a neighborhood and then just spend hours there getting to know it and photograph it. I also did a lot of reading about the subject and talking to people.

I have a bit of an obsession with multiples (I’m sure that’s part of why I like your work)–what is it about multiples that does it for you?

Using multiples is multifunctional. It stresses the subject matter, using repetition forces you to concentrate on the given subject. A photographer couldn’t be more obvious about what their subject is when using multiples. The next reason is that it creates a typology, like a scientific specimen. With my rock garden, you look at the works and study their differences and similarities. Also, it is a design tool. When the images are on the wall, they are laid out in a grid. Since they subject is rather harsh, I think the harshness of a grid is suitable.

What made you decide to start your Germantown Avenue project?  Where are you in the process now?

I had been traveling between Iceland and Philadelphia regularly and on one of the returns, I was driving home and felt like I was in a foreign country. I realized that Germantown Avenue was so incredible because of the amazing amount of cultures on one short street. Of course Germantown Avenue is not genuine, there are many places in America like this. I decided to go forward with Germantown Avenue though because of its historic context. It is one of the oldest streets in Philadelphia, it has changed the most, it is one of the longest and it also represents everything from industrialization to high end retail. Furthermore, my family has grown up in Germantown and has had many houses on Germantown Avenue, so there is a bit of a personal connection as well.

I have finished photographing a third of the buildings and of that, I have digitally processed half of those images. I am applying for funding to finish the project. I would like to have a website and a book of the work. I also would like to do something that involves the community with the process and the finished product.

Photographing bands seems like a departure from your other work— what’s your interest in photographing the world of music?

I have been photographing music my entire life. This is like a hobby away from my artistic career. The reason it took over my website for a few weeks was that Iceland was about to have its annual music festival and I wanted to showcase my musical work to the press who was hiring me to shoot. I enjoy concerts and music and photographing the music world is a fun way to partake in that experience.

Whose work (photographers/artists) really excites you right now and why?

I love the work of Tim Davis. It is humorous, political, simple and I feel like I can relate to his aesthetic and what he seems to stand for. There are so many that it is hard to choose. Kristina Williamson (http://www.everythingiamisonwheels.blogspot.com/) makes amazing photography mixed with drawings. She somehow is able to express emotions in her photography and also she is hilarious and the imagery is beautiful. I think her work is really different from what you see out there. I also love Toby Kaufmann’s work. It is hard to find online. She makes landscape imagery through Skype and takes pictures of porn sets. Zoe Strauss (http://www.zoestrauss.blogspot.com/) is one of my biggest inspirations. She photographs Americana and she has such sensitive take on it. She also is busy taking over the world and she is incredible at involving the people that she photographs in her process. She shows her work, guerilla style under the I95 overpass in Philadelphia. I like it when artists involve the people that they are using as subjects. The list goes on, but I will stop there.

You’ve managed to achieve a lot since graduating from school.  What advice would you give recent grads just beginning their careers?

It has taken me a few years to figure things out, every one goes at their own pace, but here is what I have to say. Figure out what is important to you. This is what took me the most time. At first I was just shooting this and that and trying to make art out of it. Now, I follow ideas that are important to me and try to make something out of the ideas. Once you have an idea or something that is clear to you, just go for it. There is so much funding out there and so many ways to get yourself known, but you have to do all of the work yourself. Being an artist is and should be a full time job. I have been struggling with making money and trying to make art. I do the best when I get funding to make my work. I excel when I only have to focus on my work. So figure out what makes you excel and continue doing that. I am obsessed with browsing the internet for opportunities. I could probably have my own art deadlines list or nyfa list. Keep up to date with all of the opportunities and apply for everything that you can. However, only apply for the things that will help you. If you need time to make the art, look for funding that will allow you the time to make the work, then when you are doing that, start trying to find funding to print and show the work or to make the book. Oh, and one thing I recommend is to find your favorite successful artists and look over their CV’s. See what they have done to make it and do the same. I look at the first galleries that people have shown at and the grants and awards that they have won and I go after that. It is almost impossible to go straight to the top.

Tell me something about yourself that might surprise me.

I worked as a successful Real Estate Agent for three years in Philadelphia. My family owns a real estate business in Philadelphia, and I moved to Philadelphia from New York to have more time, more space and an easier life that would allow me to make art. I ended up joining the family business for a few years. It was a fun job for a short amount of time and I met a TON of people. I don’t know how much free time it ended up giving me, but it was really flexible. If I was busy finishing something artistic, I could tell my clients I was busy. It was nice not to have a boss.

Final question: You been told you can select 3 dead photographers/artists (only dead, no living people) to revive for one night of drinking and discussion.  They won’t be scary, smelly, or rotting, either.  Who do you choose and why?

Félix González-Torres, he stood for something, he made art which involved the people, politics and it was art that people could touch and experience in their every day life. I would love to talk to him and just be around him in order to hear his motivation. I can’t imagine that spending an evening with someone like him would be anything other than extraordinary.

Dorthea Lange-She lived through some really unusual and difficult times in the USA and she managed to record that for history. Furthermore, she was one of the only female photographers that were known. I would love to hear both her experience as being a photographer as well as just experiencing those times.

Francesca Woodman–I would like to know what she thinks of what has become of her work. She died at age 22 before she became famous. Also her work is very personal and it is unusual to see such personal imagery in the modern art world. I would love to know how and why she took these pictures and what they meant and what she thinks about etc.


I’ve been reading about Iceland’s economic collapse and rioting and wondering what sort of effect you think this might have on your project?  For example, I read that nearly 75% of the architecture industry’s work force has been laid off in the past few weeks… what might change in your work, either physically/visually or emotionally/in the tone of the project?

It seems that after the Icelandic economic collapse, my project became more relevant. Previously, I saw my work as a representation of Icelandic extreme financial growth and now it is a representation of the growth and the collapse. I imagine Reykjavik will stay the way it is now, with many unfinished structures everywhere, for many years to come. As I move forward in thinking about the project, it becomes much more about the collapse than about the success. Or really it is about both. I have not figured out exactly where I want to go with the project when I return to Iceland. It is very important to me to be involved with the protests through my photography, but I have not figured out in what way yet.

The thing that strikes me the most is that I had imagined continually photographing Reykjavik as it continued to prosper and as it was being built. Now, I feel like my photographs will be the moment before the collapse and from here we might watch a lot of deterioration before anything gets good again. That is really sad for the culture and also for the environment. So many builders have left the country and can’t afford to continue their projects, so we might start to see plastic wrapped around newly delivered building supplies flapping in the wind for much longer than the country was hoping.

3 responses to “Happy Birthday to Caleb Cole and Thank you for the Interview!

  1. julia this interview is awesome! You are so amazing and totally inspiring me right now!!

  2. awesome interview..

    fantastic read, thanks for sharing

  3. This is an amazing interview – congrats! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts about the art that you do. very cool.

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