Julian Ortiz: Street Film
Through the use of film photography, Argentinian native, Julian Ortiz captures the everyday life of commuters and tourists of the Washington, D.C. Metropolis.
By: Christopher Casey
All images featured have been contributed by: Julian Ortiz Photography
For Julian Ortiz, every situation is an opportunity for a photograph. Born and raised in Argentina, he has been enamored with the life contained within Washington, D.C. ever since he moved to the city 18 years ago. He strictly uses film in order to capture candid moments, finding the technical abilities of digital cameras to be tedious and uninspiring. Drawing inspiration from street photographers like Ansel Adams and Garry Winogrand, his primarily black and white pallet features color only when necessary.
Ortiz sees photos as an essential communication tool in today’s world. He hopes to share his work with others on a larger scale in the coming years. In regards to his skills, he sees being able to connect with other people through sharing photos as being just as important as having a good eye for shots.
When did you first become interested in photography?
My wife gave me, for my birthday in 2007, a D40 camera. I started shooting because I started feeling more stable economically here in the United States because my salary was much better. When you don’t have to worry about money, you start doing other things that you enjoy. That’s why a lot of people can’t do things like art. I wasn’t preoccupied with other things. My father loved to take photos. He began when he was younger after he moved to Buenos Aires to study. He traveled a lot inside of Argentina because he didn’t like to leave the country. He drove to the Patagonia region on a motorcycle and took a lot of photos there. Seeing those photos made me love photography. Once I began shooting, I realized that I had an eye for it and have been doing it ever since.
When did you move to Washington, D.C. and how was that transition?
I moved to the city in 2001. In Argentina’s history, every ten years we have had an economic crisis and that year one began. I moved on December 19th and by the 20th, the president lost power because of the crisis. I remember going back three months later, and it was like another country, it was crazy. I began working at the Argentinian Embassy, and one of my bosses from that time is currently the Vice President of Argentina. I started doing market studies to help the government export things to America, but nothing related to photography at all. After I started photography, I began shooting some events at the embassy which I still do to this day. We have a room that has portraits of all of the ambassadors, from the first one to the current one. I’ve shot about seven of those.
Do you like shooting portraits?
No, I hate it. I don’t shoot portraits. If you look through my photos you can see I don’t shoot portraits. The only portrait I have ever taken outside of work was of a homeless person that asked me to take one of him. I love candid photography. I don’t shoot people, I shoot situations, I shoot things that I see. I started shooting digital.
So did you have to make the switch to shooting analog?
Yes, I switched to analog in 2010. We had an exhibition at the embassy with photographers from Argentina and I started talking to one very famous photographer, who some have called the “Ansel Adams of Argentina”, Diego Ortiz Mugica. After speaking with him about how he shoots, I tried using film. I think film helped me a lot; it helped me to wait, it helped me to see. The first film camera I used was an Holga 120. I started shooting Georgetown with that camera. Then I moved to Nikon. I still shoot digital portraits for work but only film for my own art.
What interests you about D.C.?
You find people from every country here. You don’t feel like an immigrant here in D.C., it’s amazing. You’re gonna find more people from the rest of the world than from other parts of America here. The thing that I always say is that D.C. is a town city. Everybody knows everybody. When you’re a photographer, you know all of the other photographers. Even if you aren’t friends with them, you know their work. It’s like how congressmen know all the other congressmen, and diplomats know all the other diplomats. That’s why I love it. I like living in the city because I don’t drive, I don’t know how to ride a bike. All of my life I’ve taken buses and the metro, that’s why I shoot the metro all the time. I shoot the street because I love to walk. When I started walking in D.C., it was a natural thing to start doing street photography. Then when I didn’t have my camera with me I would always say “I wish I had my camera right now”. When I started shooting with film, it was cheap and easier for me to have a camera on me.
How do you decide whether to shoot in color or black and white?
I love black and white because you don’t think about the colors, you think about the person or the situation you are shooting. I shoot color when I want the color to pop out. I develop black and white photos myself in a dark room at a community center in Arlington.
When you go back to visit Argentina now, do you shoot photos?
Actually no, not like here. The main difference between D.C. and Argentina is that here in D.C., people don’t care if you’re taking their photo, I don’t know why. But over there, when I try to shoot street photography, but it’s not the same. The last time I was there I was shooting at the metro and it was really hard to shoot a candid photo because one or two people are looking at you like, “What are you doing?” Also, you have to pay attention to your surroundings every second, you have to be careful with your stuff. My father is 86 and still lives there. I want to give him a camera so he can start shooting. He has lost sight in one of his eyes, and in the other he is beginning to as well. I want to share that common interest with him.
As a street photographer, what do you like to capture?
I try not to shoot with an intended message. For example, I don’t go out of my way to shoot homeless people to highlight poverty. I want to highlight D.C. because it is my city and I love it. I want to show that every daily thing that you do, you can find art. I like to shoot people reading books because people are reading less these days because of technology. I love to shoot the faces of people reading, whether they’re smiling or falling asleep. I read a lot about photography as art and how it is changing. Right now they are using less contrast or more color. It’s a digital thing, if you have the template you can do it. But it’s really boring. Street photography, you still can find a different way to show situations. Portrait, by comparison, is all the same. You can see a person’s face but I can just find another one if I want.
Do you like using social media for your work?
I like to use it as a means of communicating with people and shooting something you see every day, because then you can reach more people. Right now, everybody has an Instagram. If you don’t have photos on your website, people won’t read it. If you don’t know how to communicate with someone, a picture will be able to. Social media helps people see another person’s photography. People always show the best of their photos, so you only know people based off of the best that they want to show you. When you want to really know someone, though, you have to get to know them in person. Another thing I want to show with my work is that anyone can become a photographer, they just have to try it, and social media gives people the ability to share their work and connect with others.
Which photographers inspire you?
With film, the classic Ansel Adams. A time period I draw inspiration from is the 1910s when people first started shooting streets, particularly a guy with a big camera shooting people watching the solar eclipse, that was amazing. I always admire the way that people shoot, even more than what they shoot. Also, the classic street photographer Garry Winogrand. Joel Meyerowitz and Matt Weber, New York City street photographers, I try to take something from them. They are lucky they are in such a big city with millions living there where you can stand on the corner and find anything to shoot. I’ve read a lot of books about photographers and seen many photobooks. I try to learn from them but I try to be myself.
Do you have goals you’d like to accomplish with your photography?
Social networking has helped to me see that some people like what I do. That gives me more confidence to do a lot of things. I hope to publish a photo-book in three or four years. Every time that I have a project, I start really small and step by step. I prefer to have small victories than to get a big victory followed by failure. I don’t have a lot of time because I have a day job, and my daughter and wife to spend time with. I’m no longer in my twenties so I have a lot to do. If I have a small victory then I will know it’s possible to move to the next step.