In Conversation with Chloe Juno | December 2018
Our next Fable & Folk interview is with Brighton based documentary photographer Chloe Juno. Her most iconic photographic work is "Someone's Rubbish" - a long-term project documenting life in the UK through the objects people discard, specifically focusing on Brighton and Hove. As the images build, it paints a picture of a city, what people use to live, to work, for health, for food, for love, for money and then, throw away. Chloe is also known for her curation skills for both the "Documenting Britain" Instagram and the "Fishing Quarter Gallery" based in Brighton.
We wanted to interview Chloe as we think she is a fantastic example of one of the many strong female voices in the documentary photography industry and has many invaluable skills and indispensable experience to pass on to our audience.
Fable & Folk: Firstly, thank you Chloe for letting us interview you, we really appreciate it! I'd like to begin by asking if you could possibly give us a little background about yourself & your photography?
Chloe Juno: Very early on in my life I knew I wanted to work with real life stories and I found photography to do just that. I have worked in documentary photography for 18 years as a photographer, picture editor, buyer, seller and gallery curator. I've also worked with newspapers, magazines, photojournalism agencies, museums and galleries. In the past, I spent time working as a photographer relations manager and was the Global Photography Manager at Thomson Reuters. I currently practice as CHLOE JUNO working with individual photographers and arts organisations. At the moment, I am focused on creating with Alan Gignoux of Gignouxphotos and Emily at Stanley James Press. I also manage the exhibition programme at the Fishing Quarter Gallery in Brighton.
My current long-term photographic series is called "Someone's Rubbish", which is an Instagram based project that I'm hoping to turn into a physical printed project later next year. I have been exploring everyday life via the objects we discard, spanning four years of documentation. The collection is growing and creating interesting patterns and links. In a way it's like an archaeology of now.
When I started with photography I mostly worked in portraiture - documenting people working inside industrial laundries in Plymouth for example, and some of my work is held in the city's museum. I gained a 1-year commission making imagery for a 10-year show, documenting city life. It would be a dream to do something like this again and my aim is to do this one day.
F&F: Many of our audience know you as the curator of the "Documenting Britain" Instagram account. How did you first get involved with "Documenting Britain"?
CJ: I had previously followed projects by the photographer Stuart Pilkington and saw that he was involved in DB. I was then selected by Stuart to do a takeover with "Someone's Rubbish" as the feature, which I was so excited about and ever grateful to him, as it was the first time the project had national exposure. I was nervous about showing it to new people. Sadly, Stuart became ill and I met the founder of DB Alastair Cook and offered to assist. I ended up taking editorial responsibility of the page. The takeovers needed a sharper focus, so I decided to curate the feed, selecting, editing and featuring the work, similar to how I used to work when employed for photo agencies and Reuters. I have been curating DB for almost four years, and Alastair and I are now looking at some new ways to work and develop the brand and content.
F&F: @robtownsend asked which is more satisfying: producing your own work or curating and exhibiting the work of others? If you could only do one, which would it be?
CJ: That's a hard question. I couldn't really pick one as I love doing both. I love exploring other people's work, researching and working with the different types of images and stories people create and having actual contact with the photographer.
I spent a few months on the Guardian's picture desk after I graduated, and was naturally drawn to the photo editors and how the commissioners worked with features. One of the first photobooks to influence me was Harold Evan's "Pictures on a Page" where I found the power of the images and the whole process so fascinating. I became interested in images that were taken to instigate social change and how they can also get used for propaganda.
Before studying photography, I used to collect old Life and Picture Post magazines. I always loved images of real life and felt frustrated by the lack of choice of magazines out there at the time. I remember reading about the photo editors and thought it sounded an amazing thing to do. Someone I admired was the photo editor, Jon Levy, who spent years creating FOTO8 magazine and I was lucky in spending a short time working on two issues. He's still inspirational to me now. So there has always been a love of editing and curating.
I also think that my love for curating links to my dyslexia. I've sometimes found the tech side of cameras to be stress inducing, whereas there is something about laying out work and visual storytelling that's really liberating for me. I imagine layouts and stories in my head and see how images move and flow.
That said, I 100% love creating my own work, spending time walking, exploring and zoning in to take a photo. If someone gave me a big pot of money, I would buy a new camera and spend more time taking my own photos, but I also want to share other people's work and stories. Working for so long in photography and with other photographers, it seems to have become part of me and I thrive doing it. I love seeing others do well with the work they produce and understand the time and passion that goes into their work.
F&F: Continuing on with your curation skills, @robs001 asked when you curate a series or body of work, are there any specific things you look for to connect the images?
CJ: A body of work that flows and has energy, meaning, different compositions, colours, tone, depth, layers and you can see the time spent on it. Does the image really pull me in and make me forget about the world around me for that moment? I like work that gives me an energy rush. I like work that shows me something in a new way. Does the work take me to the place the photographer has been? Does it stop me, make me think and urge me to explore further? Does it feel like work that will stand the test of time for people looking back?
I also like work that is clearly had time spent on it - research, leg work, a level of involvement with people and place.
Often I like to have a large batch of images to edit from - say, 30 or 40 - so I can gain a feel for a project as a whole. I like to feature sets that work together on a page. Ethics are important to me also - I favour work that does its best for the issues being covered.
F&F: @JordanJTurnbull asked what are the major themes of projects coming up over the next year on Documenting Britain and what would you like to see more of in submissions?
CJ: Alastair Cook and I are discussing this, and we are planning some new ways of showing work. Watch this space! Re: submissions, I would love to see more stories with layers - ones that take you right into the subject, area, person that is being photographed.
You will see from Documenting Britain that I love street photography. I think the street is so important. I know there are arguments about privacy, but I think it's vital that we have everyday people showing what our streets and people look like for generations to come. We have this freedom to look and share, a freedom that some other cultures don't.
I'd like to see more story-led work, street photography, long-form documentary work, work focused on social change, portraits that really embrace the now, work giving a real insight into how we live - the details of everyday life, new ways of seeing.
F&F: In addition to curating "Documenting Britain", you are also the curator of the Fishing Quarter Gallery in Brighton. What kind of work are you currently featuring/planning on featuring in the gallery?
CJ: The Fishing Quarter Gallery is based next to a Fishing Museum in Brighton. It's a charity and I'm on of the Trustees, and we're working on raising money for the whole quarter, and for improvements to the infrastructure, so it is not just about the visual. We have received some lottery heritage funding for sustainability, and I'm now engaged in an Arts Council funding bid for a documentary project looking at The Coast of Britain. I am working in arts development too. The gallery space is a hire space right now, so we welcome a mix of artist mediums in the space, and I curate some shows when needed. I would like to run a Documenting Britain exhibit, maybe some street work that highlights global documentary and culture and images from the coast of Britain, in some story led documentary work.
F&F: @robs001 asked what are your long term plans for the gallery and where are you aiming to position it in the photography world?
CJ: Well, the goal/dream would be to become a centre for documentary visual storytelling on the south coast, but there is a whole load of work involved in getting to that point.
CJ: They saw Someone's Rubbish on Instagram, as well as my work curating "Documenting Britain". The invite to curate the project came from there. Instagram has been a great place for me for work, I have gained some really good work, by being active and present on that platform.
F&F: In terms of your own photography, tell us a little about your "Someone's Rubbish" project and what inspired you to start?
CJ: I worked as a photographer after graduating from Plymouth Art College, and had wanted to carry on studying at Newport. I started the course but left after the first month, mainly due to money issues and being worried about debt. I also had an offer of work on picture desks in London, had a free place to stay in London and wasn't earning much, so I thought it best to leave. I have always had the urge to document but needed to earn money to live.
I worked for years in photojournalism for newspapers, magazines and agencies. The trouble was that my paid work was getting in the way of my own photo projects. After leaving Reuters, I had a break from working in the industry. As the money issue reared its head again, I ended up temping as a PA and building up my creative work on the side. I managed to secure work with photographers and a 2-year commission documenting a traditional working-class area of Brighton (where one set of my grandparents used to live), but couldn't afford a digital camera so ended up using the project's camera. It was then that I also started to use an iPhone 4. I soon discovered the world of Instagram and what a good platform it was, to take photos and share them. I started to focus on the objects people were chucking out on my daily travels and people started to like them. Georgios Makkas (Panos Photographer) mentioned the work was like a street museum, and his comments spurred me on. In fact, other photographers have been supportive on Instagram as well, such as Stephen Shore who actively follows and likes the images I have been posting. I started to look for objects that told a story of our time in sets, so when people look back they can gain a picture of a specific place. I'd also been thinking of money and the cost of living and the on-going issue of austerity. I think this is also because I have struggled financially and it made me focus on more on this - the money we spend on things, the food we eat, the the broken credit cards, the debt letters, the beauty products we buy, the drugs we take.
So I would say financial struggle has been an aspect that has sharpened my focus with "Someone's Rubbish".
F&F: Whilst working in the photographic industry, have you encountered any challenges and do you have any advise based on your experience?
CJ: Make sure you are clear at the start of a project of what your role actually is and where your responsibilities begin and end. Make sure a contract is reviewed if the project demands appear to change - projects tend to go well, but you never know what might happen, so it's important to protect yourself. Make sure that your work is always credited or acknowledged, and that your creative ideas are yours. As a photographer or creative in the arts, it's all too easy for people to use your images and ideas.
Communication is key. If you ever have problems, raise them right away with the right person. Speak in person. Don't let bad experiences put you off, keep focused and be yourself. Be organised and consistent with your ideas. If you can find an industry mentor or someone to point you in the right direction, do it.
F&F: Leading on from that, @AdamElliottFoto asked what advice would you give specifically to students graduating from documentary courses this year?
CJ: Well, I was ready to do anything work-wise - not just in the industry, but to get time to make work and find photographic work. I think it's maybe the same. In the meantime, get your social media profiles sorted. Create a cheap blog or website with your work and link to it on social. Look at key pages you like and who they are following. Start sharing some projects. Be your authentic self and keep plugging on. Think about how to market yourself and most importantly, find time to make the work and keep focused. Documentary is hard to make a living from and many photographers I work with also have alternative incomes. Some are able to make a living from it but this takes time. When I graduated a tip someone gave me was not to be afraid to contact people however high in the chain they appear but br mindful of how busy people can be and not be put off. Don't let the 'no', the things that go wrong, put you off - learn from them. I still am. I find that different work aspects slowly generate a network of contacts. When I started, social media was not a thing so I had to research in order to create a contacts book (I still have it, a leather thing full of phone numbers and cards). Now, it is easier to get your work in front on people. Try and believe in yourself, I wish I had believed more in myself at the start.
F&F: How do you fund your curation based projects? Have you applied for grants and funding before and if so, any advice for our audience?
CJ: Heritage Lottery, Arts Council, self-funding, support from companies. I work with photographers who apply for focused funding. It's lots of work and I am not a fundraiser, but do assist and input the process. I do enjoy researching the right places that may help. I am about to embark on an Arts Council bid with the Fishing Quarter Gallery and was pleased to find they offer mentors if you are dyslexic.
F&F: Finally, I'd like to end by asking what was the last photobook you bought?
CJ: "Until Death Do Us Part" by Thomas Sauvin, which is focused on the unexpected role cigarettes play in Chinese weddings. I love the design of this book - it's the same size as a cigarette box and the book sits inside the box. As I am currently engaged in photobook making, it's great to explore all the different ways to present projects in book form.