Interview by Harry Flook –
Julien Martinez Leclerc has quickly honed a distinctive style, despite having only recently graduated from London College of Communication. His strong creative voice been rewarded with an impressive client list, rare for a photographer of his years. We featured a selection of Leclerc’s varied portfolio in Issue 8, accompanied by a text from photographic agent, Rosie Wadey. In this interview we discuss his early break into the world of fashion, the development of his strong aesthetic sensibility, and the advice he has for others looking to achieve the same.
Harry Flook: Tell us about your first commission for Pop Magazine, which you shot during your studies. How did that come about and what did you learn from the experience?
Julien Martinez Leclerc: Make-up artist Yvonne Gold and producer Jo Matthews teamed up in 2014, to prepare a Saint Laurent story that Pop Magazine had commissioned. They were looking for someone that could photograph black women well. When Jo was doing the casting she found a test picture I had shot of Amilna Estevao on the Elite model website. She google-scanned my picture and landed on my website. Yvonne got in touch and asked me if I was interested to shoot it. It taught me a lot about shapes, hair and make-up. Yvonne has an incredible eye for beauty and she is very specific, every little details count; she taught me a way to craft stories and be consistent.
HF: Stylistically, your work is reminiscent of Bill Brandt and Joseph Koudelka, both of whom you’ve cited as references in the past. In that sense your approach differs from the recent trend in fashion toward a more quiet and subtle analogue feel. What was the reason for developing your distinct aesthetic voice?
JML: My aesthetic is pure hazard and taste, I didn’t plan to be where I am today. It’s been a long process from taking snapshots to shooting the heavily produced pictures I create now. But the process is simple; I took some images ten years ago, through all bad pictures in the bin, kept the best, and then tried to make that best better and so on until my style evolved. I guess I was always confident enough in my ideas not to want to be anybody else, which is probably why they don’t seem to fit in with todays trend.
HF: Your more personal projects, the images of your grandparents for example, are consistent stylistically with your commercial work, generating a similar level of drama. How do you approach personal projects, and do you draw a distinction between them and your commissioned works? Or do they all come from the same place creatively?
JML: They all come from a need to see an idea come on paper. If I’m working for a magazine then I try to think deeply about its identity and if it fits my vision. Sometimes the magazine come to me with an idea and to decide whether I agree to shoot it or not. I think that if you can’t see a difference it’s because until now there hasn’t been a magazine telling me I can’t do this or that. I’ve had incredible freedom and trust and that came as a nice surprise. I really enjoy the collaboration and to see my work being taken somewhere new.
HF: You’re now represented by an agency, how did that come about and what has it been like?
JML: Chris McGuigan who started Mini Title got in touch during my final year at university. We met and afterwards agreed that I needed more time to develop on my own, without shooting any editorial. We met again 6 months after I graduated and he offered to start working together. Until now it has been a huge support artistically and in the production of my work. Chris is deeply involved with the photographers he works with, he wants to push us to our full potential. I value the perspective he has on my work, if I show him some ideas for editorials he will say things like; “maybe this is better for a menswear story” or he’ll recommend I alter something. I’m lucky to have that feedback on top of all the production work they do for me.
HF: What advice do you have for photographers looking to work in fashion?
JML: I think great fashion photographers are people who speak a language that very few people can speak or understand. If you don’t understand it you’re left wowing on the images, if you do, you just get the trick, it’s like going backstage in a theatre and seeing the make up room and the machinery. Helmut Newton and Horst P Horst are different, but they speak that same language really. It’s all about shapes, textures, attitude and making good decisions about what comes inside the picture in relationship to what you’re selling. But that’s the same for any discipline, cinema and literature etc. My advice would be with any picture you see that provokes great emotion; dissect it, try to understand why it is such a great image and find a way to apply that to your own work. I don’t think shooting everyday will make you a better photographer. You need that time to reflect on photography, feed yourself. for me it’s been quite an intellectual process. The technical aspects anybody can learn.
Julien Martinez Leclerc was featured in Issue 8 of Loupe. Many of our stockists will now have run out of copies, but they can be purchased along with annual subscriptions here. We’ll be sharing more of his images over on our Instagram, where we post new work every week.