I am a Syracuse, NY based photographer with work in the de/composition exhibition currently on display at Main Street Arts.
I received my BFA from Alfred University, and currently work for Light Work, a non profit photography organization based at Syracuse University. Light Work supports emerging and under represented artists through a residency program, grants, and lab facilities. I also do freelance work and studio photography.
My photographs focus on the decline of American industry, and the effect it has had on neighboring communities. As a child growing up in Endicott, NY, I witnessed the slow collapse of IBM, the region’s major employer. When layoffs began, I remember watching my father worry about losing his job. As offices closed, and manufacturing plants were shut down, the landscape became dotted with vacant factories and shuttered storefronts. As IBM’s presence in Endicott slowly dwindled, the places where I spent my childhood were abandoned, and stand now as derelict property.
As I began to search for other towns that had been similarly affected, I saw the same story unfold in other areas; places that once had function and purpose are now empty, nature slowly reclaiming the buildings and their contents. Despite their great amount of deterioration, I find these places serene. A sun beam through the roof, or a seedling rooted in the floor signal hope and beauty where it might not be expected.
Recently, I have begun collecting mementos from the places I visit. Old invoices, letters, torn wallpaper, and discarded books all tell stories of those who had been there before. I have also been collecting old IBM memorabilia: postcards of the manufacturing facilities, photographs, and items that belonged to my father. I don’t know what I will do with them yet, but gathering them feels like the next step to me.
I took my first photography class in high school, where I was introduced to a traditional black and white darkroom. Despite the prevalence of digital cameras, analog processes are still central to my image making process. While my freelance work demands the immediacy of a digital workflow, almost all of my personal work is done in the darkroom.
I photograph using medium format film cameras from the 1950’s and 60’s. Shooting with film forces me to slow down, consider each frame, and be present in the space. There is joy and excitement in waiting to see the images; not knowing with certainty that I’ve captured what I intended. I enjoy the process of analog photography, the physicality of the work, and even after two decades of darkroom printing, watching an image materialize in the developer is a magical experience.
After years of using a community space, I finally installed a darkroom in my basement. The nice thing about developing film and silver gelatin prints is that it doesn’t change much. It’s the same process that I used in high school. There is no need to upgrade to a better camera, a nicer monitor, or faster computer.
Julie Herman is one of 31 artists featured in the national juried exhibition de/composition at Main Street Arts. de/composition runs through June 28, 2019.