FOCUS: BTS with Julia Fullerton-Batten
25 June 2020
Julia Fullerton-Batten talked about her recent project Looking Out From Within in our recent AOP Breakfast Club talk which looked at creating Fine Art Photography during the COVID-19 pandemic. We go BTS with Julia to find out how she continued to create projects during these difficult times. Usually working with a huge production team we gain an insight into how Julia adapted to work within the constraints set upon us.
© Julia Fullerton-Batten. Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Richard Jones, Lockdown Day 53.
© Julia Fullerton-Batten. Zewdi, Yabsra and Ehiopia, Lockdown Day 42.
The onset of the pandemic saw commissioned work come to a grinding holt. Can you talk about how this affected not only your commissioned work but your fine art projects?
I had a slow start into 2020, but suddenly my fortune changed such that at the beginning of April, I was booked for an assignment in London, assured another in the USA and was ultra-busy planning the last stages of a large personal project.
We had heard of a virus that was causing chaos in a province in China causing many deaths and forcing a nation-wide lockdown. As it was so far away and so incomprehensible, I feel that we tended to ignore its potential ramifications to a certain extent.
The job in the USA was the first to go, the agency gave the reason that they did not want anybody from Europe involved and gave it to an American photographer, which then got cancelled. A couple of days later my assignment in London was also cancelled. I postponed my project two days before the planned date for the shoot. The risk was too great as some of the models were in the vulnerable age category.
Then the pandemic appeared in Italy, Spain and France, and finally it arrived in the UK. Lockdown was called. Our daily existence was threatened. Panic set in. Time stood still for most of us, excluding those who were engaged in essential work keeping the daily fabric of our society in some sort of shape. I felt numb but knew that I couldn’t stand around and do nothing. I decided to document for posterity the new and strange existence being lived by many people in self-isolation, effectively imprisoned in their own homes. I chose to capture them behind the windows of their homes looking out onto a different desolate world.
I started my Covid-19 project “Looking Out from Within, Living with Self-Isolation” with my first shoot on Lockdown Day 16. I have been shooting every two to three days since then. With the gradual easing of the lockdown my project will come to a natural end in a few days, by which time I will have nearly 30 images of all sorts of different people from different walks of life.
© Julia Fullerton-Batten. Serena and Chloe Lockdown Day 16.
© Julia Fullerton-Batten. Penelope Lockdown Day 51.
Some image-makers have found a new path of creativity recently, perhaps having been gifted time away from the usual bustle of life. Has this been the case for you?
We have two very active boys under our feet all day. They need to have their noses kept down to home-schooling, be fed seemingly non-stop, prevented from partaking in mobile-mania, and taken to play tennis and football when it is necessary to ensure that they practice safe distancing. As a consequence, my life has actually been super hectic and I’ve probably had less time than pre-pandemic to concentrate on projects, etc. Being so engaged with “Looking Out from Within” has been a life-saver for me and helped me remain sane. It’s not exactly been a new path of creativity but has given me a renewed insight into my approach to photography as it has been a real throw-back to the days when I started my photographic career.
© Julia Fullerton-Batten. Hannah and Annebella Lockdown Day 27.
© Julia Fullerton-Batten. Father Kevin Lockdown Day 70.
You are used to working with huge productions for example with your ‘Old Father Thames’ project. How have you adapted your approach to shoot your project “Looking out from Within’?
The whole process was different. Everything was very much more short-term. Contact a person one day and the shoot was a couple of days later, longest a week.
Initially, I advertised my idea via social media and the local press in my home area of West London. The response was great. I even got responses from people living outside London expressing interest in taking part. I had to select applicants to avoid a sameness appearing in the images. More recently word-of-mouth and local canvassing has produced yet more leads.
Once somebody had expressed an interest to participate, I would contact them via email and phone to discuss details of the shoot and ideas for clothing as well as to fix a date and time for the appointment. I recce their home in advance to get an idea of the setting, angles, etc. They stand at their windows and we communicate through the window with hand signals or by phone. There was no physical contact at any time. I shot in the evening twilight to capture that twilight look I have always loved. Contrary to my normal lighting I used minimal lighting that can be hand-carried’. We set it up and a few poses later the shoot is over. I also asked each participant the same set of questions to find out how they were coping with their situation. You can find the small interviews on my website.
© Julia Fullerton-Batten. Ann Lockdown Day 74
Can you talk in more detail about the challenges of not working with a large team? Will this have an influence on your future productions?
I chose to shoot in the evening twilight when the light was softer and imparted a more emotive setting. Obviously, because of the lockdown restrictions it was not possible for me to assemble any sort of crew to help and I was seriously restricted in the lighting that I could use. I used a few lightweight, battery operated Profoto B10 Plus heads mounted on stands. They work really well as continuous lighting as well as flash. Added to that I could change the colour of the continuous light to a warmer or cooler light and dispense with gels. I could also use a radio slave to control the power of the lights and switch them off, as well as use the trigger to change the setting on the flash. In many instances I carried my own equipment, aided on occasion by my 12-year old son and husband. However, this impinged on our family life quite a bit as it interfered with our evening meal. As the days got longer it meant that I was shooting later and later in the evening and the interference got even more pronounced. Fortunately, the lockdown has now eased and recently I have been able to have an assistant help me.
I used the Profoto lighting from outside the house directing it towards and through the window. For effect lighting I relied extensively on available light sources within the room itself. I would ask the home-owner to switch on all the lights in the room and then request them to switch off individual lamps or reposition them to make it look right. Sometimes I got them to fetch more lamps from other rooms and plug those in as well. As the lockdown eased, I passed flash heads to them through the window and asked them to position them. I used my tethered laptop to judge and control the various lighting effects. Of course, I needed to position the flash heads very carefully to avoid reflections from the external lighting.
My experience during these past three months has taken me back to those of my earliest days as a fine-art photographer. Frankly, I have actually quite enjoyed it. It is something that I may carry on into the future after this dismal period is over. We’ll see!
View more work from Julia in Find