Julia Fullerton-Batten’s surreal portraits catch the longing of lockdown

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With a new Kickstarter campaign underway, the British photographer is set to turn her acclaimed motion picture series, Looking Out From Within , into a photobook. Ahead of her photobook masterclass in partnership with Academy 1854 , she tells us more about the project

Academy 1854 is a brand new online learning community providing a host of masterclasses, mentorship possibilities, portfolio reviews and more just for photographers looking to hone their own skills. Start learning today , or even become a Mentor.

Back again at the beginning of the UK’s initial Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, the national mood has been tense and unsettled. Almost overnight, our public spaces emptied, and the freedom we’d taken for granted slipped away. Lengthy used to physical connection as well as the bustle of daily life, i was suddenly contained within our homes. Collectively, we began to depend time in ever-slower ways.  

During this period, the German-born, London-based photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten began noticing the faces of individuals gazing out of their windows as she went on her daily walks. They appeared forlorn, she recalls, nearly spectral behind glass; they compelled her to reach for her camera. “It was as if they were trapped, ” the lady says, “and as a professional photographer I felt I couldn’t just stand around and do nothing. I knew My spouse and i to record this unusual and surreal time. ” Her project Looking Out From Within is the outcome.

©Julia Fullerton-Batten – ‘Penelope, Lockdown Day 51’ from her project ‘Looking out from Within’

Initially, Fullerton-Batten drew similarities between exactly what she was seeing and the paintings of Edward Hopper — a long time influence on her behalf vision. “Seeing how usually his subjects are single people, looking through windows, alienated; I took guide from that, ” the lady explains. After putting advertisements out on social media and publishing notes into local notice boxes, she selected the responses that excited her most. In each example, she discussed ideas to get costumes and sets with her sitter, and in turn they’d send her pictures of ideas from within their own houses and wardrobes. For some locations she took props together: fake birds to make portraits look like classical paintings, for instance, or smoke machines to create ethereal visual drama to the scene.  

Fullerton-Batten is now in the process of launching the Kickstarter campaign to publish Looking Out From Within in photobook type. “ Whenever we look back at this time within years to come, we will think of the challenges we endured plus overcame, and I hope our photographs will play a role in this memory, ” she states. “ Rather than people just seeing it on their screens, or every now and then in an exhibition, I want this to be something that people can hold, return to and reflect back on. ” Alongside the girl photographs, Fullerton-Batten also evaluated each of her collaborators. In the book, she has included all of their sounds, but she’s chosen to put the text at the very finish of the edit, so as to not break the atmosphere developed by the images alone.

©Julia Fullerton-Batten – ‘Ann, Lockdown Day 74’ from the girl project ‘Looking out from Within’

Fullerton-Batten has worked as a photographer since 2001, and she’s known worldwide for her large-scale, theatrical and highly-staged aesthetic. She’s also used to working with huge teams — but all of that changed once the pandemic hit. And so she needed something to focus the girl energies on. On capture nights, she’d pack the girl car full of equipment, plus enlist her 12-year-old kid as her assistant. The road became her studio, and window frames the new parameters associated with her sets. What the lady loved most about the process was how it required her back to the basics associated with her craft. “This will be how I started off, ” she says, “and it’s produced me rethink how I will certainly carry on with my work in the long run. ”

The photographs in Looking Out From Within conjure a world where everyone is contained inside their own bubbles, like dioramas in a museum. It’s nearly dystopian, but at the same time the images are cinematic, wealthy and painterly: bathed within jewel-tones, and getting progressively warmer. This is because when she started shooting the work, it remained light outside late into the night time, allowing her to make use of natural light. As time put on and the nights received in, she began to rely more on artificial light, and thus her sitters in later on pictures are illuminated simply by an increasingly amber glow: the contrast to the cool, blue-hour tones outside of their home windows. Regardless of the time of year, she constantly chose to shoot in twilight, she says, because she’s always “found a surreal magic in that short space of time. ”

All of these aesthetic options encapsulate the tone Fullerton-Batten was trying to strike. Since, while Looking Out From Within is really a project about isolation, it’s also about human link. It was important for a level of positivity to shine via, too. With the use of costumes plus props, it allows not just the photographer, but the girl subjects, an escape; a wonderland world to lose themselves set for a while.

©Julia Fullerton-Batten – ‘Zewdi, Yabsra and Ehiopia, Lockdown Day 42’ from her project ‘Looking out from Within’

The Japanese writer Hiromi Kawakami introduces her collection of short stories People From My Neighborhood with the words: “Take a story and shrink it. Ensure it is tiny, so small it could fit in the palm of the hand. Carry the story with you everywhere… You never know when you might need it. ” In many ways, Fullerton-Batten’s photographs – particularly in photobook form – function in the same way. Each of her pictures is a small but rich snapshot of individual experience. But together, they speak evocatively to a greater story.  

“Every street corner provided a row of new narratives, ” Fullerton-Batten muses. “Each of the inhabitants had their very own tale to tell. ” As the individuals from her neighbourhood gazed out onto the streets she walked, she replied in turn by looking back in, plus crystallising a little something of the season they were experiencing – we were all experiencing – by yourself, together.  


You can back Julia’s Kickstarter here .


Interested in posting your own photobook? Stay tuned just for Julia Fullerton-Batten’s self-publishing masterclass, unpacking everything she’s learned in the process –  from idea ideation through to running a successful Kickstarter campaign – coming soon to Academy 1854 .

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is really a writer and editor located in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held roles as editor for companies including The Photographers’ Gallery, Invisible Amsterdam and Self Submit, Be Happy. She lately completed an MA within comparative literature and critique at Goldsmiths College, College of London

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