julie lives here


some time ago, i had the wonderful fortune of meeting julie michelle, photographer extraordinaire, and master-mind & heart behind i live here: sf, a blog that features people who live here in san francisco through their own written words and a slide show of pictures taken by julie. browse just a few of julie’s photos, and i bet you’ll be struck by how they represent this city and its inhabitants in all of their whimsy, honesty, beauty, and humanity. that’s probably because julie herself is so much of all those things, and brimming with care and generosity, the kind that makes you feel comfortable, no matter how camera shy (like me) you might be. having a photo shoot with julie is like being reunited with a long-lost friend–you didn’t really expect it to happen, and then there you are, though you’re nothing more than strangers, feeling like you really know each other, or, at least, like julie knows something vital about you. and then, she captures it.

wanting to know more about this photographer turned friend, and to promote the upcoming i live here: sf show at SOMArts (opening night November 5th), i asked julie a few questions about how she got her start & how i live here: sf came to be. here’s what she had to say:

When did you know your camera would be such an important instrument in your life?

That’s a funny question. Because for most of my life, I never had a camera. I didn’t think about photography one way or another. So I went along my merry way, my whole life without a camera…until I moved to San Francisco in 2007. Then I became hyper-aware of my surroundings. All of a sudden, I had this literal compulsion to capture what I was seeing around me. My first year with a camera (actually, I took my first photos with a borrowed camera in the Lower Haight on Easter Sunday, 2008) was spent solely in pursuit of collecting all of the details and beauty that jumped out at me, and that came from my physical environment.

I was constantly in admiration of something, even the tiniest detail. Everything looked like a picture to me and I was unstoppable. I took it everywhere with me, and just trained myself. I’ve taken thousands and thousands of pictures since that first photo in April 2008. The city teaches me how to see, how to be a photographer. I wouldn’t be a photographer if I hadn’t come to live here.

Do you have a super power? What is it?

Ha. I’ve always been so focused on my flaws that I didn’t even conceive of having super powers! My mistake.

I don’t know if you’d call it a super power, but I have an occasional but rare ability to latch onto something that resonates with me, and devote all of my waking thoughts and energy to it. Or I guess you could also call that an obsessive personality. But I’d like to see it as a super power because that single-minded focus has allowed me to excel at things (at least at a personal level I feel competent with) in a short time. Photography is one such thing. I went from zero to 60 in such a short amount of time, considering the body of work I now have and the reception I’ve gotten for it.

If you could have any other super power, what would it be?

I would love to be able to understand and communicate with anyone, anywhere, in their native language. Not so much like being a linguist; I don’t have the time or brain power at this time of my life for that kind of study. No, I’d love to be able to walk through the Mission and be able to speak in any dialect of Spanish, that I hear. Or walk down Stockton Street and immediately be able to understand Cantonese, Mandarin.

How did I Live Here: SF get started?

This project wasn’t something I intentionally planned in the beginning. I had wanted to get more experience with portraiture, as up until that time (early 2008), I had not ever taken photos of people. I was thinking about how to get people to photograph for my own education.

I have a friend, a very talented magician/mentalist named Christian Cagigal, who needed head shots for a show at the Exit Theatre. I agreed to take his photos with the understanding that I really hadn’t a clue about portraiture, and if he liked the photos—great, if not—then we’d never tell anyone about them! We took his photos on a classic San Francisco foggy early morning in Golden Gate Park: near the deserted carousel, the trees around Sharon Meadow, the tunnel to Stanyan Street. It was my first attempt at ever purposefully taking someone’s photo, and I was so surprised and thrilled at how they turned out (having expected them not to be any good), that the experience fueled me to get more faces so I could practice. So that spark got me going.

However, the idea for a project per se did not occur to me until after a certain day in March 2009. I walked into the Queen of Sheba market at the corner of Sutter and Larkin on a rainy afternoon, after that photo shoot with Christian. I had ducked into the store trying to stay out of the rain and keep my camera dry (I’d been walking around the Tenderloin, taking photos). The owner, Ghalyia (sadly, she’s no longer there) and I struck up a conversation while she gave me tea and sweets and we waited for the rain to stop. She told me about her store, and her granddaughter, and how proud she was of President Obama and about how she came to the US from Yemen. I was so enchanted with her by the end of it all that I asked her if I could take her photo, and she said yes. When I got home, I wrote about the experience on my old blog, and within a day or two, had several emails from people saying that I should do more with people’s photos and stories of San Francisco. So those two occurrences coming together were basically how I Live Here:SF got started.

What are you I Live Here: SF goals and dreams?

Well, right now my main goal is surviving the installation! This has been a wild and amazing ride to get this show into SOMArts and next week is the big push to put all of these amazing prints and stories on the walls.

So I’m single-mindedly focused on that until the opening night, November 5. And then my next immediate goal after that is to catch up on my sleep and catch up with my friends who have been so patient and so supportive.

(Of course, I’ll be continuing I Live Here:SF for the foreseeable future. I’ll be resuming photo shoots after the show ends on November 30.)

After that, I’d love to see this gallery show continue in some form somewhere else in the city. I will always have new faces and new stories and I want to have locations in San Francisco to display them.

And probably, my biggest goal once the show is over is to see the viability of making a book from this project. It’s the Number One question that people ask me: Is there going to be a book of this project? I just haven’t had the time or the mental capacity to go about investigating that.

What’s the best thing about what you do?

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this project, and my discovery of photography in general, has been a life-changing experience. Which is amazing to me because all I wanted to do initially was learn how to take pictures of people. The cumulative effect of interacting with so many people has really opened me up. My perception of people around me has grown exponentially. Not just the people I take photos but all of the people in my environment. I look at them, finding their individual beauty/character (how would I photograph this person?), wondering how I would interact with them, what their stories would be. I am much more comfortable talking to people I don’t know and it’s much easier for me to adapt to different personalities. I wouldn’t call this a super power, but it feels pretty super.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Yes. I’d love people to consider volunteering for I Live Here:SF (if they live in the city, that is) and they can find out how to do that here: http://iliveheresf.com/?page_id=461

I would love people to come to my show at SOMArts in November. Either the opening night (http://iliveheresf.eventbrite.com/) or anytime during the month of November. The show closes on November 30 and there will be a closing night reception as well. Seeing the project online is one thing. Seeing all of these wonderful faces and stories in a real gallery is another. So please come to the exhibition.

You can keep in touch with Julie via her blog julieliveshere.com or via twitter (@juliemichelle) or the old-fashioned way: iliveheresf [at] gmail [dot] com. She’s always up for good ideas, collaborations, and new friends and connections.

The Poetry Store will be at SOMArts for the I Live Here: SF Retrospective’s opening and closing nights. Hope to see you there!


3 Responses to “julie lives here”
  1. Nav says:

    Thank you so much for doing this interview!!! I had been wondering about the “I Live Here: SF” buzz. So great to hear julie’s voice…I too am not a photographer but lover of capturing beauty. Thanks for the inspiration and I will definetly come see the exhibit!

  2. Am catching up on Julie Michelle today —
    loved this line you wrote about her:
    having a photo shoot with julie is like being reunited with a long-lost friend


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