Street Shooting in DTLA_First Take_2010 to 2016
For many years, I traveled the world on one thin dime while on freelance assignments for various relief, non-profit, or religious organizations who were doing humanitarian work around the globe. The assignments didn't pay well, but what I didn't make in salary was made up by the opportunity to meet and learn about the lives of people from so many different countries. This was monumental to a girl from Broken Bow, Nebraska, a town of 3,865 white people, with the exception of one Mexican and one Vietnamese family. (Broken Bow is a special place, I must add, but not diverse during my adolescent years there.)
These trips most often took place over the winter holidays and during the summer months due to my teaching schedule at various colleges. I had two lives that were intertwined — teaching and photography — and they have been ever since, 34 years later.
In 1999, when I started The Julia Dean Photo Workshops (which transitioned into a non-profit called the Los Angeles Center of Photography in 2013), I gave up my travels and photojournalistic missions to build a school and photo center. However, I managed to come up with a way to continue to see the world despite my many daily obligations — by taking people on travel workshops. I led 25 of them over a decade. We shot on the streets of such fascinating cities as Budapest, Buenos Aires, Casablanca, Hanoi, Montevideo, Paris, Phnom Penh, Prague, Tijuana, Venice, and Vientiane.
Once home from one of these trips, while longing for the next, I had a revelation. Why not shoot street photography in Los Angeles, my home since 1994, a dynamic and fascinating city itself, a city with a downtown in major transition, and the second biggest city in America? I wouldn't have to wait to go anywhere.
That decision was in November 2010 and I haven't been without a camera over my shoulder since. In 2011, I moved downtown with my partner, Jay Adler, an English professor and writer, so that I could be close to my project. We live on the corner of Broadway & 7th Street, right next to the famous Clifton’s Cafeteria. Our view almost makes Jay think he is back home in New York. I am inspired at this location, despite some surrounding urban problems, as every time I walk out of the door, life’s moments unfold in front of me. I have never been so visually stimulated in all of my life. Berenice Abbott, a legendary photographer and my mentor in 1978-79 (I was her “Last Apprentice”), told me that you must always have a personal project. And I do. For life. The streets of downtown Los Angeles.
What am I looking for when I shoot a photograph, I am asked by those who take my street shooting classes. “You will know when you see it,” I say. Most importantly, it is the content. In my opinion, there are five elements to consider when editing your own work or work by others. Does the photograph have compelling content and good composition, does it catch a moment or mood, does it capture great light. The best photograph delivers all five.
People also ask me why I love street shooting so much. There are many reasons. I love being on the street for hours at a time. Not only is it great exercise, but it is exciting, challenging, sometimes scary, and almost always fun. The same reasons I love life. The idea of capturing an image that no one else will get, solely because that moment happens only in that instant, on that day, on that street, in front of you, is simply exhilarating.
Shooting on the streets of downtown Los Angeles will be an on-going personal project for as long as I can walk the streets.