Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Photographer in the Big Apple: Justin Ouellette

by Fantomas (writer), Paris, May 16, 2007


While perusing the web for much-needed artistic inspiration, I stumbled onto a photoblog which immediately caught my eye as one of the most soulful I had encountered up to that point. Intrigued by the unique photographs, I grew curious about the artist and thus discovered Justin Ouellette. A renegade photographer still shooting on film while the world around him turns digital, Justin is now a rare bird capturing the sights of Old New York in that Old New York style.

After two years of distant yet fascinated observation, I finally decided to contact Justin to learn more about him and his artwork. This article is a transcript of our interview.

Hi Justin, thanks a lot for granting us this interview. Could you start by telling us a little about you?

Hi, thanks for asking me. I'm a photographer from Portland, Oregon. My web site is , a photography blog that I started in 2003. Right now I work as a developer at Vimeo , a web site for videos and people who love them. I'm an Aquarius. I enjoy grape soda.

What gear do you use?

I use a Hasselblad 500 with an 80mm Zeiss Planar, an Olympus Stylus Epic, a tuning fork, Alien Bees monolights, pliers, Bogen tripods, two butane torches, a Nikon film scanner, plastic tarpaulins, umbrellas, Moleskine notebooks, bungee cords, toothpicks, a directional antenna, a softbox, five polarizers, color gels, and a Minolta flash meter. And my eyes.

You almost exclusively shoot on film. Why did you not switch to digital? Are you tempted by it?

Film has a rich and beautiful depth; it's analog, it's imperfect, it's literally organic. You form a relationship with it. Digital has a long way to go to compete with that experience. In addition, the technology involved in film photography is simple and understandable. I don't want to have to rely on a battery or a CCD that might as well be magic, I like my tools to be extensions of concepts I can relate to as a human. I also just really like the way film looks. Digital might be more tempting to me once the technology gets cheap enough that it's possible to make some truly interesting digital cameras, but for now all I see is bayer filters and CCDs that haven't changed much since the 1970s.

What makes a good photograph according to you?

I tend to like photographs that make statements, that are opinionated either in their content or their execution, or both. Clichés don't bother me, but I do loathe the arbitrary. Not every photograph needs to have a literal message, but it doesn't hurt to meet me halfway. I can almost always respect photography that consistently says, "this is what I'm doing and I'm not making any apologies," even if it's something aesthetically grating. I think I respond the most to honesty.

Do you have a personal favorite?

I can't pick a favorite of my own, but for one of my favorite photographers, see Todd Gross of . Sets like this are classic Quarlo.

I believe you have lived in Paris. Can you tell us more about this experience?

I studied abroad there after my junior year in college. I spent time at the Sorbonne and a photography school called Spéos, but living in the city itself was the most enriching experience. Paris is amazing, it's spilling over with energy.

You now live in New York. What lead you there and why did you decide to make it your home?

New York is sort of the oldest futurist city there is, and it's made me want to be here for as long as I can remember. It used to be the capital of the US, and in many ways it still is. Cities fascinate me and I think New York is the most fascinating, it represents such an amazing intersection of geography and literally every culture in the world. I love that its diversity is so obviously its strength that people force themselves to get along with each other.

If you could change one thing in this city, what would it be?

More frequent subway trains, definitely.

In which area of NYC do you live? Any secret spots you would recommend to our readers?

I live at the end of the Lower East Side and the beginning of Chinatown. If you like joy, check out Doughnut Plant on Grand, a block east of Essex. It might be the best doughnut you ever eat.

One last word of wisdom to conclude this interview?

Don't procrastinate, it's almost always a bad idea.

Thanks a lot Justin.

Now, don't put it off until later: go have doughnut and check out Justin's photography at .

About the Writer

Fantomas is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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