I Is Another. The Art of Self-Portrait by Photographer Juliette Jourdain
Juliette Jourdain is a French photographer just 26 years old. As her fellow citizen Corneille used to say, “in souls nobly born valor does not depend upon age”. Her pictures are ones of an experienced photographer, who has already found the guiding principle of her art and follows it with passion, pugnacity and unbridled imagination.
Her favorite genre? The portrait, and most notably the self-portrait, a very demanding category of composition that she explores with maestria. Using a wide variety of techniques, from scenic arts to costumery and to makeup, she achieves the great performance of completely transforming herself in every shot, becoming the raw material of her fantasies. Each picture is a world of its own, mixing eclectically all kinds of cultural signals, be it Lady Gaga or Tim Burton, the catwalks of the fashion industry or the circus tents.
Juliette’s outstanding work, which you can discover on her stunning Wix website, earned her several prizes, along with the cover of the prestigious Photo magazine in France. Today, she gives us the great honour of chatting with us, sharing her views on the art of (self-)portrait, how to make a career as a 21st century photographer, and her secret recipes to building a stunning website. Refreshing!
Hello Juliette. Really nice to meet you!
Hi guys, nice to meet you too and thanks for your interest!
After seeing so many self-portraits of you, our first question: who is the real Juliette Jourdain?
I’m a young photographer living in Paris, France. As my photos don’t necessarily show, I’m a pretty simple, discrete and “classic” person. Well… if you remove all my tattoos, I am classic. It always makes me laugh when I meet people for the first time and their reaction is: “Oh, you’re not the person I imagined!” Indeed, I don’t walk around in the street with my wigs and glitter [laugh].
How did the idea of this amazing series of self-portraits come about?
I don’t really know. Probably it comes from the fact that I simply like to work alone. I have the feeling that I can experiment more, fail, try again, fiddle without pressure. Plus, I love to transform, dress up and become another character. By the way, I do the makeup myself, and sometimes even the costumes. It can take hours, even weeks if I have to design a specific dress. My goal: to be so transformed that I am unrecognizable.
The sad clown often repeats in your creations. Can you tell us more about this character?
I’m fond of the circus universe. Not the spirit, but the aesthetics. By the way, I would love to shoot on a circus ring, under a tent, with a whimsical set and costumes. The sad clown, or mime, I like him because he’s melancholic, and I find it beautiful, the various expressions and the power carried by this sentiment.
Talking about mimes, is the photography meant to express a message, according to you?
Certainly. You can say millions of things through a photo, from the most futile to the most serious. You can denounce, prove, inform… In my work, it’s the aesthetics that prevails, but of course, you can see in it whatever you want, tell yourself the stories that you want! I’m not sure I want to convey a specific “message”. What I like the most is when people invent and tell themselves small, silly stories through my characters, imagine their own universe, their own world. I like to think that my work stimulates the imagination of people.
And you, where do you draw the sufficient imagination to renew yourself every time?
My inspirations are a bit from everywhere. Sometimes, I simply see someone in the street and it gives me a new idea. I also take a lot from the music I listen to. And when I’m out of ideas, I always have a friend to tell me: “Hey! I thought of an amazing idea for you!” As of today, I have conceptualised and executed 141 self-portraits, all of them very different, on an almost daily basis. The idea is to complete a full year, with 365 images. I still have some work to do…
In addition to photographing yourself, you also do a lot of portraits. How do you choose your models?
I don’t really have clear criteria. I use so many tricks, costumes, makeup, wigs, that in the end, almost anyone can pose for me. Well, I have to confess that I have a weakness for beautiful girls with long hair. As a general rule, I prefer to shoot women than men.
You often require eccentric poses from your models. How do you work with them?
Usually, people come spontaneously to me and already know what to expect, so it’s pretty straightforward. I also take people that I already know, well or not, so that the atmosphere is more relaxed and without pressure. On the other hand, I always warn the models ahead of time that the shooting will be naked, or that the makeup will be particularly long, etc.
During a shooting, I of course always try to foresee all the possible situations. But the unexpected can always occur. For example, my dogs photobombing, my models who fall asleep during a long session of makeup, my fear of meeting a serial killer or a ghost when we shoot in an abandoned house, my flat constantly covered with glitter… The list is long!
It looks like a lot of things to foresee for every single portrait. Can you detail the process?
Generally, I first find the idea, then I check if I already have what it takes to make it happen. If I don’t, I buy, borrow or create. Then, I have to find the right model, and a makeup artist if needed. When it’s not in a studio, the next step is to find the perfect spot. Finally, I wonder how I can exploit the same idea differently, to get many pictures.
For my self-portraits, it’s “easier” since I already have the model at hand [laughs]. I simply shoot in my home studio, and if I want, I can do it at 3 in the morning.
What are your secret tips to create great portraits?
What I can recommend is to take the time it needs to get THE photo. Neglect no detail, don’t leave anything to chance. Then, you will need light, perfectly mastered and adapted to the model. Finally, don’t panic if the image you had in mind doesn’t show perfectly – one needs to adapt their ideas to reality.
What gear do you use for your shootings?
I have a Nikon D800 camera, two studio flashes, several backdrops (the grey is my favorite), and – which is fundamental for my self-portraits – a tripod with a remote photo clicker.
The result often gives the impression of perfectly executed paintings. Which lights do you favor to get this result?
What I prefer is simple lights, classic but perfect. I find that the more the light is worked in this direction, the more the eccentricity and the personality of my characters will stand out and be glorified. And when I go for black and white, the light that I am so fond of is even more visible. A well-executed black and white is really sublime.
How important is the digital editing aspect in your work?
Extremely important! When I shoot a picture, I already think of the editing that I’ll be doing after, because I simply love it. In my eyes, working on a snap in post-production, it’s a bit like going back to my first “amours”: drawing and painting.
Who are the photographers, from yesterday and from today, who inspire you?
I love Patrick Demarchelier (talking about sublime black & white…), Annie Leibovitz, and Tim Walker.
Some precious tips
Do you have your work on display already?
Yes, my work is exhibited in galleries in Rennes, La Baule and Paris. Plus, from time to time I’m invited to temporary exhibitions. By the way, from February 1 to April 1 2017, you’ll be able to see my work in the Galeries Lafayettes of Lyon. I wish it could happen more often!
Apart from your fine art creations, do you happen to commission work as well?
I have quite a lot of publications in magazines, often even covers, but I don’t work for them directly. That being said, I would love to create a series of pictures for a paper. I’m currently working for the brand Corum on the creation of a watch. Besides that, I only do photography. Sometimes I live very well on this occupation, sometimes not. It comes with the choice of career.
Let’s talk a bit about web design. Your website is just gorgeous. To what extent is a good website important for a photographer like you?
Social networks are a necessity when it comes to spreading the word and be known online. But my website is MY professional reference, and unlike my social profiles, it perfectly resembles who I am. I made it a point to create a site that honours and reflects my work, my universe. I believe I succeeded in this. It’s a crucial point, because you cannot put your heart and soul into your photos, and botch the platform where you publish them. Not to mention the fact that a beautiful website can only have a positive impact on your business.
What made you choose Wix to create your site (www.juliettejourdain.com)?
In three words: simplicity, simplicity and simplicity. Except for maybe Photoshop, I’m not what you would call tech-savvy. So for me, Wix is just perfect. Besides simplicity and the user experience, I have almost-endless possibilities for customization. If you do it consciously and take sufficient time to do something that is truly you, I don’t think that your website can resemble – even by a little – to someone else’s site, even if you share the same website builder.
What took me the most time was to experiment with all the features and possibilities (and I still don’t know all of them) of Wix. Sometimes, I just want to rebuild my website from scratch, for the sheer pleasure of creating something new and exploring the features that I didn’t use on my current site. Finally, I find Wix extremely well conceived especially for artists, because it’s very visual.
Thanks a lot for your time and kindness Juliette. The final word is yours. A dazzling thought to share? A love declaration? A political manifesto? A quote to savour? You have carte blanche.
I will simply go for my favorite quote, signed E.A. Poe: “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night”. And my work motto: “The devil is in the detail”.
By Jonathan Sitbon
Editor-in-Chief of the Wix Blogs