Photographer Julien Boudet possesses a distinctive aesthetic that has caught the eye of the fashion and art worlds through detail-oriented images often juxtaposing luxury subjects with utilitarian surroundings. Best known for his street style images, the French-born photographer boasts a full portfolio of noteworthy clients and collaborators including Burberry, Thom Browne, Uniqlo, and Nike, while creating his own work and two books, Bleus Visages and Dialogue Through Form.
To learn more about his process and how he’s staying inspired during these uncertain times, Whitewall caught up with Boudet.
WHITEWALL: How did you first start capturing street style and fashion?
JULIEN BOUDET: It all happened very organically: I found out street style existed because I was shot while walking around in SoHo by Dapper Lou back in 2010. I had always been into style, and at that time I was slowly getting into photography as well, thus it all made sense to me to start shooting stylish people on the streets of New York—just like Lou did with me.
I quickly figured that shooting street style was a good way to build my fashion network and make a living at the same time. In addition to all that, it allowed me to travel everywhere, expanding my professional network worldwide and getting inspired by all those new places/people I would meet/explore.
WW: A brand commissions you to shoot their new seasonal campaign. Where do you go from there?
JB: I start putting together a mood-board to figure out what direction we want to take for this campaign, hiring a team to work with (stylist, hair stylist, makeup artist), picking out models together with the stylist and/or the casting director.
From there, it goes pretty fast. Once we all agree on a certain mood, we can start picking out a location, sorting out all the details with the production team and finally shoot. This whole process can take only 3 days up to 6 months, depending on the budget/reach of the campaign.
WW: Your images have a certain raw quality or a hard softness to them—like feminine forms against automobiles. How did you come to develop this aesthetic?
JB: I believe my work is an extension of who I am; I’ve been told that I can be a little cold at first, so I’m assuming this translates directly into my work. My street style images have always had this rawness that set them apart from other photographers, who were shooting warmer photographs and beauty shots when I was mostly interested by details and other things that they would not look at, like brutalist architecture, for example.
The color balance of my images was always cold, therefore this set the tone for my vision, which I’ve kept the same since then. That being said, I love beauty and femininity, so I tend to include this in my work as well, which creates a nice and fascinating contrast with the hard softness of my photographs in general.
WW: How do you approach portraiture? What kind of dynamic are you aiming for with your subject?
JB: Portraiture is very interesting in the sense that you connect directly with your subject, whether you know that person or not. I think you have to create a certain connection in order to get strong results, and that can happen in a few minutes with strangers if you handle it properly. Some photographers have that ability, it really depends on the person.
To be honest, it might not be my best skill, as I am not a very talkative person, but I managed to make it work in some cases—my project “Bleus Visages” being a great example of that. I usually try to make the subject very comfortable by being myself and try to have some common interests (passion, language, mutual friends…it can be anything really). This always works with strangers.
WW: Your most recent book Bleus Visages is centered around a return to your hometown. What was it like shooting those photos?
JB: Through this project I had the chance to meet and interact with people who did not know me personally but knew my parents and/or grandparents very well, which is a super nice but weird feeling at the same time.
For instance, one day I was supposed to shoot a woman who was the aunt of my best friend’s girlfriend. I show up to her place, I’m wearing a tank-top because it’s summertime, I start shooting her and all of a sudden, she stops me and asks, “Who is this man on your shoulder?” (I have my father’s portrait tattooed on my arm, he passed away in 1992.) “Well, he is my father, Francis,” I said.
She looks at me, in shock, and after a few seconds she explains to me that she was dating my dad right before my he met my mother and got married to her…She had never seen me before, so she was very surprised. She told me many things about him that I did not know, since he died when I was only seven years old.
Just for this kind of magic moment, I am very happy that I did this project. My hometown is very important to me, that’s where my whole family comes from and where all my friends and relatives are still living. I believe it is fundamental to know where you come from and to appreciate that culture in all its aspects in order to grow personally and move forward in life.
WW: What have you been working on recently?
JB: These past weeks, pretty much the day after I started my confinement, I’ve been working intensively on a new series of photographs focusing on narratives in which utopia and dystopia are deeply connected, using luxury cars that are being distorted and customized with high fashion/street culture items. At this moment this it is still work in progress, but these images will be exhibited in an art gallery in 2021 or a bit earlier, post COVID-19.
The inspiration behind this project is the fact that our daily life experiences are being luxury branded with logos appearing everywhere, more and more. I want to translate this into this particular series, to appropriate myself these codes and recontextualize them.
WW: How are you staying inspired at the moment?
JB: I sleep well, I create every day, I play basketball, I go running in the woods every single day, I read a lot… I keep myself busy and remain positive, it’s the best way to stay inspired during this difficult time. Plus, I am lucky to be confined in a pretty chill location that allows me to go out every day—thank God I am not stuck in Paris or NYC at the moment!