Avid traveler and passionate story-teller, Julia Wimmerlin's journey as a photographer began in later-life, encouraging her to break from a previous successful career in marketing and to pursue photography full-time. Needless to say, we find it evident that her efforts have fully paid off. Today, Julia is a professionally-recognized photography instructor in Switzerland, where she is currently based, and a National Geographic contributor. She strives to tell a story through her photographs -- whether it is of people, of places, of animals (including her beloved pets), or of our surrounding natural environment. All of them encompass a story of fascination, curiosity, and beauty.
In this last interview of the year, Julia shares with us the story behind her photo "Stepwell," her choice of career change, and the inspirations that drive her to continue pursuing her passion.
How would you describe your photography style? Has this changed over the years?
Aesthetic, cinematic, telling a story. Over the years I started putting more emphasis on the story part with cinematic light and less on aesthetics.
What pushed you to make the change from a successful career in marketing to full-time photography?
I did not choose photography, it chose me. I held my first camera when I was 34 years old, until then my professional life was all about marketing. My husband was sent on a job assignment to Japan and that absolutely different world required being recorded. I bought my first DSLR, hired a teacher to explain the photography basics and could not stop since. At the beginning, I would photograph absolutely everything. I was not coming from the position of an artist who tries to create and show his own world. I was in absolute admiration of the fact that I could record a physical proof of fleeting beauty and maybe show my perception of this world. And I saw beauty in everything, literally. I remember taking photos of beautiful trash in Japan that I can nearly make a series from. We then moved to the Philippines where I could no longer have my marketing practice, so I had time to concentrate on photography. The rest was just trying to narrow down what I love photographing most.
You have traveled a lot in your life. Where are you now, and is this “home?"
It’s complicated ;) I am born in Kiev, Ukraine, I lived in France, UK, Japan and the Philippines, Spain, Hong Kong and I currently live in Switzerland. I left a piece of my heart in Japan, New Zealand, Spain.
At the end, home is where my family (and my camera) is. It started with me working in France for L’Oréal, continued with me studying knitwear design in the UK and rolled out through my husband’s work sending him to work in Asia.
Do you have a favorite place or subject to photograph?
My photography is very diverse because I get easily bored with one subject. I adapt to where I currently live whilst trying to stick to my main interests, mixing opportunism with deep love and fascination. The main topic that I will always photograph are animals. When I can’t travel to their natural habitat I will search for them in the zoos, rehabilitation centers etc. When I can’t travel anywhere I will photograph any of my four pets – a Sphynx cat, a Maine Coon cat, a Savannah cat or an Australian Shepherd dog. Travel photography is often a tool I use to get to either the animals I want to photograph or people and customs that interest me. The rest is just a visual diary of what I see. Creative people portraits are something I started developing much later and am focusing much more now.
When it comes to animals I’m less of a documentary photographer and more of a fine art dreamer. Oftentimes when I look at my friends’ kids I get mesmerized by how sometimes they resemble their parents and yet are so uniquely different. I guess I project the same fascination on animals. I see how humans and animals are alike, being all totally different. I tend to notice and photograph emotional moments when you can nearly replace this animal with a human and the emotions will stay authentic.
Often, we love what we understand and can relate to. I believe part of the reasons why we love animals is because they remind us of ourselves. When we observe animals, we can recognize in an exaggerated and nearly comical way our emotions, behaviors and similar life situations. A lot of people enjoy photographing animals. With a bit of technical knowledge and luck it’s rather easy to get a good clear shot – portrait or in action. At the same time when we scroll down the “Animal” section feed we stop and look at very few. It is my belief that above all the technical perfection we react to emotions or to rare moments.
Is there a bigger story behind the photo "Stepwell" you donated to our gallery?
Panna Meena ka Kund is a stepwell in Jaipur built to collect rainwater. Many nearby temples used it for the religious ceremonies, women used it for house work. The square stone stepwell itself was also used by travelers as a resting place since it offered some coolness and shade. Nowadays, it is quite popular with tourists visiting the Amber Fort. I came to photograph the amazing symmetry of this stepwell when I noticed brightly dressed local women moving on the steps. As I understood later, a few Chinese photographers asked them to pose on the steps, trying to prevent anyone else from taking a shot. It seemed hopeless since it’s a public gate-free place. Whilst the Chinese photographers tried to put the women in a perfect symmetrical position, I loved the realness of how they were moving into requested positions. I took the shot from the side with more dimensional light shining on a dynamic scene.
What does being part of Photography for Future mean for you?
As you have understood by now, animals are among my greatest interests in life. I could see with my own eyes the results of deforestation in Borneo, Indonesia and the effect it had on local fauna, so I can’t even imagine what a bigger scale deforestation does to the Atlantic Forest. If there is any way I can contribute to protecting what I love, I would feel like I made a difference.
Do you have any tips for someone just beginning their own photography career?
Stay curious and never stop to experiment.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I really wish your project gets the success it deserves, and the trees you plant keep growing.
As for our last interview of 2020, we give our heartfelt thanks to Julia for joining our project and to you, reader, for sticking through with us. Limited edition prints of Julia's photo "Stepwell" are for sale in our gallery and all of the profits go directly to reforestation work. Click here to view or purchase the photo.
Besides that, our team wishes you all the best for the coming new year. Here's to a greener future.