The pictures are so evocative of lust they make me swoon. ~ Donna Ferrato
Last year we met with Julie Glassberg at les Rencontres d’Arles, where she showed us her book BIKE KILL, originally made in an edition of 25. We are happy she trusted us to make the trade edition, as usual with books coming out of Yumi Goto’s Masterclasses at Reminders Photography Stronghold, we try to stay as true as possible to the original, and will go on print in a few days. Please read our conversation with her and/or pre-order Bike Kill HERE NOW!
The book launch will be in early July during les Rencontres d’Arles 2018.
Julie, where do you come from, photographically speaking?
I was introduced to photography during an astronomy camp, as a kid. They took us out one night to see the stars and take a photo of Saturn. Later, we went to develop those photos in a darkroom. The red light, the photo appearing slowly… I was hooked.
Later on, I spent some of my teenager years in the US where I was able to take a photography class in high school. This is where I really fell in love with the medium and would spend hours in the darkroom. Back in France, I finished high school and went to graphic design school for the next 4 years. Those were key years as they opened my vision on different artistic fields and made me sensitive to typography, cinema, composition, color.
But photography was really my passion, as well as traveling and discovery,
An extended stay in San Francisco and a roadtrip to the salt flats with David Perry, a very Rock’n Roll photographer and his musician friend Kevin was a turning point for me: they gave me the courage to pursue photography as a career. Later, I flew to NYC to study documentary photography at the International Center of Photography and stayed in the city for 7 years.
In terms of photo styles, I learned initially from the great street photographers such as Cartier-Bresson, Willy Ronis, Diane Arbus, Helen Levitt. Then I discovered and fell in love with William Klein’s work and Helmut Newton’s. In documentary photography, I was quite energized by Bruce Davidson’s work or Danny Lyon’s. The list of photographers and artists who inspired and influenced me is much longer of course.
I’ve also had quite a few mentors who helped me to advance. They all had a huge role and impact in my life as a person and as a photographer. One of them is the photographer/artist/activist/rule-breaker/independent/strong Donna Ferrato.
Please tell us something about why and how you got involved with the Black Label Bike Club.
I’ve always been into subcultures and underground scenes. I am fascinated and inspired by people who do not follow the mold society has built for us. To me, we are pushed to evolve in a certain manner – get a job, have a family (heteronormative preferred), get a house, a car, a TV, consume, obey rules – and if we actually reject that mold and want to do things differently, well, obstacles tend to show as it becomes disturbing. For this reason, I really respect people who have the guts and courage to still do it and stick to their believes and passions, who don’t care if it will disturb or not or even break the rules. In reality, it only disturbs the minds that are used or conditioned to a certain way of thinking, that is all.
When I was in NYC, I started documenting a different subculture but the story didn’t really develop for various reasons. Later, a roommate in Alphabet City mentioned to me the BLBC. He didn’t know them personally, but had seen them ride their tall-bikes around there or in Brooklyn. I started doing some research and got really intrigued. There was also a movie from the early 2000’s called B.I.K.E portraying the club. This all made me want to know more and I started looking for them. It took about three months before I was standing in the kitchen of the Chicken Hut taking my first photographs during Paul’s birthday.
How difficult/easy was it to shoot this project?
In the beginning, the hardest was to be accepted/tolerated by some members who were really skeptical about being documented… After all, I was just showing up in their life taking pictures. Who wouldn’t feel weird about that? I had to spend a lot of time and it was a real human exchange. It was the exact opposite of what I had been taught in school – to be the “fly on the wall”. In this situation it could not work. Trust had to be established both ways and I had to give some myself so they would give me some of themselves. It makes sense and it’s a long process.
What’s the drive behind your work?
The main drive behind my work is curiosity. I usually go towards a photo project because I am intrigued and I want to know more. Photography is a way for me to enter different worlds and learn a lot through the very different people I meet. Then, I try to be as honest as possible when I photograph, to my subject and to myself. The best way I found I could do that was to share as faithfully what I experience. I cannot show “the” truth but I can show a truth. I saw a lot of beauty in the BLBC’s philosophy and their friendships. It touched me and hopefully it can also touch others.
You made your first, handmade edition of 25 copies during the 2015 Masterclass at Yumi Goto’s Reminders Photography Stronghold Masterclass, with Teun van der Heijden and Sandra van der Doelen. It sold out in no time. Does having a book change the work? Did it open any doors?
Yes! For me it was a huge thing. For 3 years I photographed those people, I spent a lot of time with them, yet, I was almost never able to show the intimacy, the quiet moments of their life. The same 15-20 photos would be interesting to editors or galerists and finally, the book gave a new life to the project. Also, it was hard for me to define when I’d be done with this photo project and the book really brought closure.
Are you still in touch with the members of the BLBC? What was their reaction to the work?
Yes of course – because of all the time spent, some became friends or close friends even and we are still in touch. Stinky, whom I met during Paul’s birthday, my first night at the Hut, helped me so much, introducing me to people, helping gaining their trust. He has a baby now and I can’t wait to meet him! Mikey accepted me very fast and pushed me in the action during the first jousting competition I attended: Slaughterama, in Virginia. Over time, I became close friend with the two. Ian, was the first BLBC member I met near the Hut. He’s always been really sweet. He also gave me great tips when I moved to Japan! He had lived there for a time. He is now based in Thailand.
Those were the ones I knew best – but I’m still in touch once in a while with other members and friends as well. There were all kinds of reactions about me being around. I think in the beginning a lot of them were a bit worried about what I was doing there and they started to be reassured when I brought some photos over. I can’t speak for everybody, but the ones who got back to me seemed to be happy to see the images. In a way, a big part of their friendships and lives was archived.
Which one is your preferred photograph from the project and why?
Tough question. I don’t think I have one favorite. The affection I have to the photographs is more linked to the moment I spent when I took them and how I felt. Some images plunge me right back in there.
For example, the BB Gun photo is important to me because it is the first one I took and the first time I spent an evening at the Chicken Hut. That was the beginning of it all, the same night I met Stinky. If I look through all the photos through the years, although I enjoy all the action and craziness, I have a preference for the quieter moments and friendship moments. I really like the photograph of Lile shooting a BB Gun on the rooftop – she is clearly having fun, she’s wearing a super cute skirt with flounces and there is something that always makes me chuckle in a very endearing manner when I see it. I really like the “décalage” between her body language and the BB gun. She’s badass but without trying to “act tough”. I love that.
I also like the photo of Alex and the doll head, there was something really touching about those few minutes. A lot of beauty in her gestures. The two topless girls in the bunker in Fort Tilden because of its timelessness. It looks like it’s straight out of the 20’s. There is a bit of “années folles” feeling. The double exposure of Mikey and a diner. It was an accident with the film: that photo shows Mikey and a diner from my first americana solo roadtrip. Two important elements that marked my life.
What would you tell a younger Julie, after having been in this work environment for 10 years?
Be persistent. Trust your guts. Don’t give up. It’ll be worth it.
(But the younger Julie would probably not listen, haha)
What new projects are you working on?
First – re-adjusting to life in Europe after 9 years abroad. Then, I have to finish a project about Dekotora that I started when I was spending a year in Japan. For 6 months I went around with Japanese truckers who drive heavily decorated trucks and live very traditional lives. I definitely want to go back to Japan. Not only to continue this project but also because I would love to photograph other stories.
Also, being back in Europe, I realize I don’t know it well; not even France as a matter of fact. So I need to explore, without necessarily going far.
Since I left NY, I have been trying to travel more, discover cultures and explore various artistic media that I’m not familiar with. I am very interested in artistic collaborations – with dancers, performers, musicians or writers for example. It’s about pushing myself in places where I am not comfortable at first and develop new skills, visual languages or interests along the way.