Julia Sokol

Interview by Natalie So

Natalie So: Let’s start off by talking generally about your project. Can you tell me what you were trying to accomplish?

Julia Sokol: I had taken a photo class during my freshman fall (I’m a senior now). For this project, I thought of doing something that combined photos of people and places that I took freshman year and photos of the exact same people now, four years later. The photos are of my friends and relatives. I tried to have the people make the same expressions and poses that they had done earlier. I wanted to see the effect time has had on people and faces and also what the camera can reveal. When you see someone continuously over four years, you don’t really see a difference, but I wanted to see whether the camera could reveal changes in these people.

NS: Your project reminds me of a couple of things: firstly, of the whole segment of photo books out there that show a photographer’s return to a group of people he had photographed decades earlier, and the before and after pictures juxtaposed as comparisons; and secondly, of the Roni Horn exhibit at the ICA where you’re looking back and forth between the grids on the two walls and seeing the differences there. Did anything in particular influence you while you were working on this project?

JS: The Roni Horn exhibit definitely did. I like how you look back and forth between two images. I tried to mix my photos all together (without a grid), but I realized it was too difficult for someone who doesn’t know these people to tell which photo is the “before” and which photo is the “after.” I was definitely influenced by Roni Horn. But also—I don’t know if you’ve seen the Lorna Simpson exhibit at the Sackler, but basically she recreates photographs from the 50s or 60s by dressing up and putting herself in the same poses as the woman in those photographs—and then the photos are put side by side. I tried to do something similar.

NS: With your second set of photographs, of course they’re little more intentional, more created and staged. Are you trying to suggest anything about the reality of photographs? Can you talk a bit about the intentional staging?

JS: One thing I was trying to see was whether people would even be capable of recreate what they looked like four years ago. I showed them the old photos and asked them, “Can you do the same thing that you’re doing here?” It was interesting to see the gap between what people were like before and after.

NS: Do you see a difference between the two sets because one is staged and one is not?

JS: I mean, definitely the whole process of taking the photos was different. I tried to match the backgrounds a little bit. But it was also interesting for me because I think my style of taking photos has changed since then, but I was trying to get back to the way I took photographs my freshman year.

NS: I noticed that two of the nine photos within the grid are of places, not people. Can you explain why you put those there?

JS: I think would have actually preferred to have more places, but I was very limited by the photos I had from freshman year. This actually feels kind of unfinished to me—I wish I had more people and places, but obviously I didn’t know I would need that. But I thought if I just had people, it would be too personal—to me, at least. With places it becomes slightly more objective so you do look more at the changes and not just ask, “Who are these people?”

NS: You have included yourself in the grid. What do you think your place is in the whole scheme of things? How does your presence affect the dynamic of the grid and the way the grid functions?

JS: As I said, this is all pretty personal for me because it starts with photos from when I just came to Harvard, and these are photos from when I’m leaving Harvard. I wanted to include myself in this because all of these people have been a part of my time here.

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