Photographer Julien Martinez Leclerc Creates with Theatrics and Tension

Vogue Italia Mar 2019 | Image courtesy of Art Partner

Issues of Vogue, exposure to art, landmark fashion mentorships—many of the familiar inner workings for becoming an established creative are all in check for Paris-born and based photographer Julien Martinez Leclerc. Leclerc has a flair for lighting techniques, theatrical scenes, and playing with proportions, setting the tone for his captivating images (often treated in black and white) with clients such as Vogue, AnOther Magazine, Dior, and Miu Miu. He’s progressed admirably since graduating from London’s College of Communication in 2017 without compromising on his aesthetic and earlier this month he announced that he’s joined the talent agency Art Partner, a major next step for taking his work to the “next place.” Below, Leclerc shares with contributor Nia Groce about the inspiration, muses and big moments behind his craft.

Interview – Nia Groce | Editor – Irene Ojo-Felix

What first inspired you to pursue photography and what were your first connections with images?
When I was thirteen, my sister subscribed to Vogue Paris. After receiving a few issues at home I knew I wanted to be a photographer. The quality of the photographs was exceptional and it truly felt like these images were designed to make you dream. I’ve been wanting to give that same emotion with my work ever since. I approach photography as a form of entertainment and I want the audience to be captivated.

It’s noted that during your upbringing, art and spending time at your mother’s gallery were a big part of your initial inspiration. Did you ever think you would pursue art along the way, or was your path always headed for photography?
I wanted to be a plastic surgeon and an architect before I came across photography. I am doing a little bit of both now.

How did you break through in the fashion industry? Do you recall your first major gig?
It was a Saint Laurent editorial for Vogue Italia styled by Alastair McKimm. It was surreal that I got an opportunity like that at such an early stage in my career. I remember flying to NYC with butterflies in my stomach knowing that this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.

Mastermind Magazine 2022 | Image courtesy of Art Partner

Your photography style is very cinematic – how do movies inform your photography?
Growing up I was very inspired by the quality of black and white in the work of Josef Koudelka and the movies of Ingmar Bergman. I love technique and I will dissect the lightning whenever I watch a movie or even commercials on TV. There is a lot of craft that comes into making things look desirable and I appreciate these two things equally.

Do you have artists or pieces that you come back to again and again for inspiration?
I think it’s safe to say Penn or Avedon are recurrent. But I have very random obsessions with Tim Burton’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure or a painting like “The Fable” by El Greco. Pee Wee was Charlie Chaplin on acid; I love the expressiveness of the main character and the production design, the colors. The Fable is a painting I discovered at the Prado Museum, it’s an enigmatic gathering of two subjects and a monkey around a flame, it’s simply stunning.

Do you see yourself branching into the cinematic space more officially, and if so, how?
I have directed commercials which I really enjoy doing, it has made me a better director in my stills work too. It’s one thing to say action but to express something very singular with films is not a given and I am currently searching how I can achieve that.

Image courtesy of Art Partner

Figuring out your artistic style as a creative can take time, practice, and exploration—what was your process like over the years for refining your perspective and approach to taking photos?
I looked at my first photographs last month and they carry the same humor and theatricality as my pictures do today so I think my taste was always there. What took long was figuring out how to channel that creativity in the context of fashion and the world we live in, in constant motion. I was always very aware that my work had to be synced to clients’ requirements. I remember shooting my mom’s bottle of Dior J’Adore when I was fifteen and telling myself this is what your ad for the perfume would look like. My luck was to encounter great mentors such as my first photography teacher Claire Comte and former photo agent Stephen Ledger-Lomas. Claire taught me at fourteen all the basics of technique and fed my photography history knowledge; she spoke so passionately about Irving Penn’s portraits. Stephen never represented me as an agent but he has wholeheartedly cheered me on while I was at university and in my first encounters with fashion, advising me on strategy. One of the best advice he has given me is to always keep tension in my work. Whatever that means for you – keep the tension!

“What took long was figuring out how to channel that creativity in the context of fashion and the world we live in, in constant motion.”

Who have been some of your favourite models and muses to collaborate with, and what qualities make them stand out to you?
A great model for me can equally be someone that shows a lot of enthusiasm, who will go above and beyond for the picture or it can be someone who doesn’t care to be here but serve you amazing frame after amazing frame. In no specific order I loved shooting Abby Champion, Amar Akway, Freja Beha, Hannah Motler, Leon Dame, amongst others.

Is making beautiful images enough in modern times?
Yes, reality doesn’t need to crawl its way into every single photograph, painting, or movie. It’s important that a fraction of Art remains a recreational land to escape and dream.

Image courtesy of Art Partner

What or who are you inspired by now for your work?
I have always been very attuned to the context in which my work is presented in. Having just joined Art Partner, that informs the work to come because it is an agency tied with such strong fashion iconography and history; I am inspired by that. I thought this is the best place for me to take my work to the next place.

What have been some of your most ground-breaking or memorable projects?
My first Vogue Italia story, some crazy editorials with Charlotte Collet, my first editorial with Joe McKenna, shooting Cate Blanchett with Marie-Amélie Sauvé, and a project I recently shot in collaboration with Mathias Augustyniak and Michaël Amzalag that will be out next year.

Have you ever struggled with stepping into the limelight?
Yes. It’s not for everyone. But who knows, maybe I’ll host SNL in 10 years.

What advice would you offer to aspiring photographers looking to carve out a niche for themselves in the industry?
You got this. Believe in yourself and work hard.

Image courtesy of Art Partner

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