American photographer Just Loomis swaps fashion for faces in his latest exhibition, As We Are.
A former assistant of Helmut Newton, Just’s recent work provides a social commentary on contemporary America, exploring social alienation across the vast landscape. Examining the nature of personal relationships and memories, Just creates a compelling narrative, paying tribute to all things Americana including teenagers, diner waitresses, models and strippers, forlorn strangers and couples old and young of his homeland. i-D Online spoke to Just about his career choices and his forthcoming exhibition at Berlin’s Gallery Hiltawsky.
Why did you breakaway from fashion photography? There is a certain trajectory, a shelf life in the fashion business. I was not a Helmut Newton, and I realised that. It was one day in a big slick white photo studio… I was staring at a supermodel talking on her cell phone. Something snapped inside of me that day. I realised that I had been ignoring a big part of who I was. I had hit a wall. I started to question the whole business and that is not a good space to be in as a fashion photographer. When I first started though, I loved the models. They were just so beautiful. I always loved the models more than the clothes. I was interested in their stories… Many were from small towns and very humble situations. They would tell me their stories about how they had escaped. I started to photograph them in their hotel rooms in their own clothes and that was the beginning.
What was the most important thing you learnt from Helmut? There were so many things, but what really helped me at a critical time in my own work was, “Look to your roots”. Helmut and I talked a lot about our mutual experiences. He worked from reality, from specific memories. There is a great series from German Vogue where he did this, he put the girl in lederhosen and tied her blonde braids over the top of her head and photographed her at a lake where he went as a young boy. People would always ask him about working from his fantasies. He hated that word, ‘fantasy’, he always said, ”Reality is always more interesting than fantasy”.
Your work appears to focus on America’s coming of age, both as a nation and more specifically the American teen. Can you explain why you are so drawn to Americana and that landscape? It’s about my childhood and my first realisations of the world. I identify with the eyes that see for the first time: contradictions and inconsistencies. The moment when we compare what we feel inside to what we are handed by the outside world. We are not sure if we agree, we don’t want what we are given. We didn’t have anything to do with the formation of it, no one asked us our opinion; they just went ahead and did it and handed us the results. I can relate, deeply, to this moment of vacant suspension of belief. In America there are some very inflated hopes and expectations that are crystallised in our minds by incessant TV shows and ads. The realisation of reality or as I call it… ‘the fall’, can be very hard. There is something about this in my work.
‘As We Are’ ccoincides with the release of ‘a-ha Photographer Just Loomis’ – a book that chronicles your history as photographer for the band a-ha. What led you to this partnership? I really don’t know. I did Hunting High and Low and the other covers and then I went along on the Brazil Tour and there was this little body of work. It stayed in my envelopes for many years and only because of their farewell tour did I think to put it all together. It’s like I say on the back of the book, it was the way of working in the 80s. It was a coming together of the elements, of people. It’s impossible to repeat. I have worked with a lot of singers and musicians, usually it is only once. I think that in this world, people this restless need to move around and try different things. Good partnerships are very rare. I could never plan a partnership, it would just have to happen. This is why I love these photographs, a-ha trusted me and stuck by me, this is very rare.
Just Loomis: ‘As We Are’ is at Gallery Hiltawsky, Berlin, from 9th April – 21st May, 2011.