Hot Blocks & Hot Lights with Odd Future’s primary photographer Julian Berman
In his role as Odd Future’s primary photographer, Julian Berman has become a phenomenon of sorts within photography. The Los Angeles native, although bogged down by the commitments of school, has managed to produce a fair amount of quality work, which has been featured in XXL and on the cover of Billboard. In light of the release of the book, Golf Wang, that features his work, we caught up with Berman to, among other things, talk about what exactly Odd Future is, and discuss his work outside of Odd Future. Read below the in-depth interview courtesy of Ali Breland.
Ali Breland: You weren't with Odd Future at FunFunFun Fest. Was it because of school?
Julian Berman: Yeah. Usually I go to school fulltime, but right now I'm only taking one class. Honestly, that's the only reason [I didn't go]. But I mean, [Odd Future] have so many people rolling with them. Lucas [Vercetti] is with them, they have Brick doing PM work. They have, like, all the managers. I've been on tour before with hardcore bands. I mean it's fun, but going every single day in all of those conditions just gets tiresome. I need to go to school.
AB: Are you still photography major? I read that you had changed it to business.
Berman: I did change it to business and it was probably one of the worst decisions I have ever made in my entire life. I mean I'm good at math. I got good grades in high school, I got good grades in everything, and I wanted to kill myself. I was like what, I'm over this class, I'll stick with my economics class, which is currently the only class I have. In the winter I will swap over back to photography, so this is gonna be my second major change and I'm just gonna go at it full force. This is my second year at community college and I'm a little behind schedule, but I'm going full force with photography, and I will just pick up the pace totally.
AB: How did you get into photography initially?
Berman: Honestly, I'm not really sure how I did. I used to be really into skateboarding in Middle and High School. I was always into skate videos and always into reading Thrasher, and then I think it was my summer going into 11th grade, I just decided to take up photography classes and I just bought some crappy-ass SLR. I think I bought like a Nikon D60, and then I started taking pictures of my friends skating. I noticed throughout the semester, I was getting pretty good. I was just constantly reading about it, and constantly watching. I just got super into it and I noticed I was progressing pretty well, and was like, "Yo, maybe this is the thing for me." I wasn't into skating too much. That wasn't my life. I used to be super into video games, but I kind of grew out of that, so I just needed something to occupy my time, and then I just became obsessed with photography.
AB: Do you find yourself having a lot of offers and commissions for your work right now, giving your increasing notoriety?
Berman: I definitely have some solid deals. I'm working with a few magazines right now. I'm not necessarily flooded with offers, though I would absolutely love to be. I've gotten a solid amount of gigs. I've definitely gone places I would never, ever expect to be. The Billboard cover was probably the biggest gig I've ever had, and probably the biggest gig I will ever have. Just looking at that thing and knowing I shot it is just insane.
AB: What sorts of other magazines are you working with?
Berman: I just did that recent article with XXL, which was a total flop. They have all the names wrong. They have people assigned to different pictures that aren't actually them. It's bad. It's really bad.
The introductory email they sent me was like talking to an alien. It said something like, "Hello Julian. Would you happen to have any photos of..." and there was a list of people and half of them aren't even affiliated with Odd Future, like Kreayshawn, and all these one timers and people I haven't even heard of. I was just like, "You probably should have done a little bit more research in writing this article."
AB: Has this sort of thing happened outside of XXL?
Berman: Awhile ago Complex published one of my photos online. They posted two or three of them, but they didn't credit me. I just hit them up. I was like, "Yo, if you're gonna take my photos, you can at least credit them." It stirred up a little bit of controversy. Me and Tyler tweeted it, and I had like a little armada firing on Complex Magazine. I had the head chief of Complex sending me direct messages apologizing. I was sitting in my math class last semester and I was just busting out laughing. It was pretty insane in the social networking world. It literally only lasted for like a day, but yo, it was pretty nuts. Tyler was retweeting it and there were hundreds of other people doing the same. I think that day I gained like 400 twitter followers.
AB: Another thing to note is that you have a really unique style. You take a lot of grainy shots. You've talked about how when you first started out you set the ISO way too high, which would make the images absurdly grainy. What kind of process do you use now to make your images distinct in the manner that they are?
Berman: Dude, I can't believe that you even remember that. That's awesome. I remember when I first got my camera; I had zero idea what the ISO controls were. I asked my friend. I was like, "Yo, what do I shoot at." He was like, "I don't know, shoot at 1600." And then everything was grainy, and everything had a horrible light balance. Everything was all orange, and I was getting furious. I called my mom and I was like, "Mom, this camera's broken, we need to take it back." Right now I shoot a lot of film. I love 400 ISO film. The grain is pretty subtle. I use portrait a lot and it has pretty good latitude to it. I scan everything myself. I don't develop my film anymore. There's really not much editing besides stamping out dust. I have plenty of people telling me, "Yo, you have such crazy style," and I'm like, "No, I just shoot what I think looks cool." All the photos really aren’t edited much. I just use a grey camera, film, and just pay attention to light. Light is definitely what makes photographs.
AB: How has shooting Odd Future changed from back in 2009 up until now? Especially on your end.
Berman: It really hasn't changed much, which is cool. We'd just meet up and be on Fairfax goofing around or whatever and I would just be firing. Obviously now they're a lot busier and we really haven't had the chance to shoot in a while, which is a bit unfortunate but hopefully when they come back we can fire up some cool stuff. Honestly, the last time we probably shot was like in September. They're busy dudes, so you can't knock it.
AB: At the moment, what kind of setup are you using?
Berman: I've got a few cameras. I use a Mamiya 7, which is a 6x7 medium format range finder. I use that quite often. I have a Nikon D90 that I really never use. I have a Hasselblad, that I wish I used more, but it's a bit of an inconvenience to lug around. Lately it's just the Mamiya 7. That camera is absolutely insane; it has like the sharpest negatives. 6x7 is the coolest format. The only drawback is getting ten shots a roll, which blows. I've been doing a lot of light stuff lately. A lot of flashes with strobing and all that weird stuff.
Hopefully I'll bust out the flashes and try something new. I don't really see a lot of people utilizing flashes, especially with the Mamiya in the 6x7 format, and they really should. It's awesome. There's so much you can do with flashes, and flash modifiers, and umbrellas. It opens up a new realm of photography that a lot of people are almost afraid to dip into.
AB: Do you have any other general thoughts on contemporary photography?
Berman: A lot of people are trying to be photographers now, which I mean is cool. There's a lot of people shooting digital, a lot of people over-processing their photos. If that's your style, cool, but I would almost always suggest shooting film. You'll never be able to render your colors digitally like you can with the negatives. It's tight to see people getting stoked of photography. It's cool to see tumblr go crazy with new photographers. I questions all the time on my tumblr about photography from people starting shooting. I'm glad people are picking it up an
not being afraid to shoot photography.
AB: What legitimizes a photographer?
Berman: Dude, I don't know. That's a tough one. Anyone that's passionate about it. Anyone that's continuously shooting, really developing their style, and really getting into it.
AB: Odd Future is a collective that exists outside of Tyler, Hodgy, Domo and the musical side of things. For people that don't know, could you explain more about what Odd Future is in its totality?
Berman: Basically we're just a group of friends that do everything. Tons of usshoot photos, everyone's really into music. We're just a crew of friends who all share a common interest. We all like hanging out, it doesn't matter what you do. There's the Odd Future group that is like music collective but there's also the affiliates. We've got the little kid, skate rats on Fairfax, we've got me shooting photos, people handling merchandising, and all sorts of different other people. It's just a crew of friends. Odd Future isn't just the performing act, because there is so much more to it than that.
AB: How has the Fairfax scene, where you guys are all from and you guys all hangout, changed since 2009 after Odd Future blew up?
Berman: I want to say it hasn't changed, but it really has. In the least cocky way possible, you can definitely tell that there’s people starting to come around that you've never seen before. It's not necessarily that bad now, but at the peak of Odd Future, right when Goblin dropped, there was constantly lurking. I remember for a period of time, Tyler and Hodgy would literally have to find hiding places in the back of stores. There's tons of people going to Supreme now. The whole streetwear thing is blowing up. I can't knock that. Supreme has definitely gotten a boost in popularity. On any drop there is always a line of people. For the most part it's definitely got more populated. It hasn’t really become a burn though. It's not like people aren't allowed on the street. They can do whatever they want. I don't really have a problem with it. What I do have a problem with is people who lurk around, but don't necessarily have the social skills to even introduce themselves. I'll definitely stumble upon people and they’ll be like oh my god, I saw so and so today at Fairfax. If you're there you can definitely come up and say hi. I don't know how it works for all the other dudes, but I'm extremely cordial and approachable.
AB: What's it like shooting Odd Future? Because they're obviously pretty crazy.
Berman: Most of the time it's really just us being ourselves. When it's time to get serious they are rather cooperative. If something needs to get done, it will get done, but most of the time the best images are just them being sporadic and jumping around and always just hanging out and being very natural. When things are staged it just very weird and isn't very natural. These dudes being crazy and jumping around actually works out. For the most part it's pretty easy going.
AB: You're good friends with Julian Consuegra of Stray Rats. Do you have any future plans for T-Shirt collabos with them?
Berman: Julian's definitely my boy. A while ago we we're planning to do something, but we didn't because I'm not very partial to photo t-shirts. It's kind of difficult for a photographer to collaborate with a clothing brand and not do a photo t- shirt. We could definitely have something going down in the future. On the topic of collaborations though, Dertbag and I did that shirt back in the day. I have a little something something going down in the future [with them]. I don't know if it's gonna be a photo t-shirt. We haven't really brainstormed it much. There's definitely gonna be a shirt. We're not sure if it's going be a photo shirt or what. It's definitely not going to be Odd Future oriented. [Dertbag] isn't just the kid that makes Odd Future shirts, and I'm not just the kid that shoots Odd Future photos. We'll see how those fan bases collide and how this project works out. It might be tie-dye. There might be kitties on them.
AB: Any final words?
Berman: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this. Shoutouts to Stray Rats, and all the dudes on Fairfax doing their thing.