Success Stories: Julia Dean
More than a decade ago, I picked up a brochure at a local film lab and decided to take a class with Julia Dean at the Julia Dean Photo Workshops. Los Angeles, at that time, offered very few opportunites for photographers to learn photography outside of college courses or extension classes. Julia was providing an option–photography classes held in a studio that looked out at the ocean, opportunities to create community through portfolio sharing and lectures, and learning not only from Julia, but a host of significant image makers.
Now twelve years later, Julia has created a full-blown photography school that I have had the privilege of teaching at for the last decade. Workshop teachers now include photographers such as Greg Gorman, Duane Michals, Mary Ellen Mark, Sam Abell, Douglas Kirkland, David Alan Harvey, Keith Carter, Phil Borges, Bruce Davidson, John Paul Caponigro, Alex Webb, Ron Haviv, and James Nachtwey, plus a roster of terrific instructors from the commercial, fine art, and documentary world in Los Angeles offering over 170 workshops a year. This Saturday, on March 26th, we are celebrating the Grand Opening of a new home in Hollywood, with an entire building dedicated to education, including a darkroom, digital lab, and two gallery spaces. Needless to say, it’s tremendously exciting.
Julia is a life force. Her enthusiasm and instant likability keeps photographers coming back for more. Growing up in Broken Bow, Nebraska, she is a natural story teller, a wide-eyed observer, and feisty go getter—characteristics that came into play after graduation from RIT, when she went to work as an apprentice to Berenice Abbott. Berenice was a huge influence on Julia, not only in her photographic and printing skills, but in her quest to be an independent career woman. Julia went on to travel the world, work for AP as a photo editor, write a children’s book, and start teaching. In 2008, she earned the great distinction of “Photo Person of the Year, when Photo Media Magazine named Julia as the “person in the photography industry who has best demonstrated exceptional artistic and business accomplishments, photographic passion, devotion to the industry inspiration to colleagues and humanitarian achievements in the community.”
Julia has not only created her ever expanding workshop program, but has continually spotlighted those without a voice with her Child Labor and the Global Village: Photography for Social Change Project. Last year she launched a new program: Project 5, which documents America’s Social Challenges–five Pressing Issues, a five-year undertaking that would also employ top photojournalists. Topics considered for the project include health care, immigration, and education for the working class and poor.”
I’ve known you for more than a decade and I have never seen a day that you weren’t completely excited about teaching, promoting, and celebrating photography. How do you keep than enthusiasm going?
I think enthusiasm comes naturally to people when they are doing what they love doing. I feel very fortunate to have such passion for my work.
The new Julia Dean Photo Workshops and Gallery opening this Saturday in Hollywood is the result of baby steps leading to an amazing organization and community. Did you ever have imagine it would lead to this amazing result when you decided to start a photography school more than 12 years ago?
I would like to say yes, I had the vision all along, but really all I wanted to do back then was teach and bring people together. I had been teaching workshops in my loft for a couple of years and my students seemed to want more, so I decided to start a school, with the help of a small loan from a friend. I would have started JDPW in a back-yard garage, if I’d had one. I got lucky to find a spot on Venice Beach.
What would you say has been the best part of this journey?
I can tell you the worst parts almost easier than the best parts, because as bad as they were, they were fewer. The best parts were all the people I’ve met like students and teachers, and guests who come to our events, the dear friends that I’ve made (like you, Aline), my to-die-for staff, and my new partners who are enabling us to take this next step.
The photography world has changed radically since you started your photographic journey in Nebraska. Has that changed how you feel about making photographs?
Do you mean black & white film versus the digital world? If so, I guess my answer is no, it hasn’t changed how I feel about making photographs. I’m only interested in taking documentary photographs, on the street, around the corner, in another town, or country, or continent. I am interested in documenting the world around me, in black & white. I shot black & white film then, and now (as of 2-1/2 years ago) I’m shooting with a digital camera, though still thinking, shooting, and printing in black & white.
The new facility will have a darkroom, which is very exciting. Do you think you’ll wander back in and start printing?
Yes, I can hardly wait. I’ll be teaching a black & white printing class in our next season. I’ve waited 12 years to have a group darkroom at The Julia Dean Photo Workshops! I had a really nice private darkroom at our first Venice beach location where I taught students one-on-one. I haven’t had a darkroom at all for the last four years at our present Venice Beach location. I think it might be the only four years of my photographic life that I haven’t had a darkroom of some kind. I so look forward to printing again. I’ll be side-by-side with you, Aline, I’m sure. That will be fun.
I know it’s hard to balance creating your own work and teaching. Is what you get back from teaching worth the trade off?
Teaching doesn’t get in the way of my own work, because it is a part of my own work. I’ve been combining the two for 28 years. It is running the business that got in my way. When I started this place, all I wanted to do is teach, and photograph and share, but I soon realized that I actually had to run a business too. It took a long time, but I now have the staff of my dreams, who run the business as if it were their own. It gives me more time for my classes, my books (I just finished the book on my year with Berenice), and to shoot on the streets of LA, a new project that I’ve recently begun.
And finally, what would be your perfect day?
In no particular order:
Coffee at home
Reading the LA Times
Lunch with a friend or my staff
Dinner at home with Jay
Printing in my new darkroom
Shooting on the streets of LA
Teaching and/or preparing for a class
Several walks with my dogs, Homer & Peneolpe
Thank you, Julia, for your inspiration, knowledge, and enthusiasm, on behalf of the Los Angeles photographic community!
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