Feature Fridays: Jovan Julien

I couldn't be happier to feature Jovan Julien as the fist photographer on Feature Fridays. I met Jovan during our time at Brown University and I'm proud to call him my friend.  Jovan Julien is many things but most notably (to me), he is an incredible photographer, dedicated educator, loyal son of Haiti, and a life-long learner.  I've always gotten the sense that he's been on some type of quest, using his camera to document his journey and blessing us with a glimpse of this journey through stunning imagery. Soulful, present, talented, genuine and committed, Jovan is dedicated to reaching his true potential, while touching the lives of others. Let's take a look at Jovan's "personal mission statement".

Personal Mission Statement: I will be a light unto the world. In my actions I will be an exemplar of those human traits I hold most dear: honesty, integrity, loyalty, and most importantly LOVE. I will bring joy to those around me whether friend, family, or stranger. In all aspects of my life, teaching, photography, relationships, and daily actions I will endeavor to always bring peace to those who surround me and alleviate the suffering of those who are less fortunate.

Enough said. I present to you, Jovan Julien.
Tell us about yourself!
Hi, my name is Jovan Julien. I’m a Haitian American born and bred in the great state of New Jersey. I’m a graduate of Brown University where I studied Biomedical Engineering. For the past two years I’ve been teaching Math and Science in Atlanta, GA as part of Teach For America and using my summers to work on some photo voice workshops in Haiti.

You're a very talented photographer and videographer, Jovan. You've built such an impressive portfolio over these years! How did you get into photography? When did it become your thing?
Photography was my escape during high school. I went to a boarding school for high school and sometimes just needed an escape. I started taking film photography classes during my junior year and the dark room became my escape.

When I needed to think and process I’d take some film into the dark room and disappear into myself for hours. Photography became “my thing” during sophomore year of college. After getting to Brown I stopped taking pictures, but during the summer after freshman year I saved up some money and brought my first camera. If there's one thing that defined my later years in college I would say it was my camera. I took somewhere around 30,000 pictures in three years, documenting my Brown experience.
You are part of ThreeArtsits. Tell us about this collective.
ThreeArtists initially grew out of my friendship with Michael Gray and Gabriel Doss. Brown is a place that pushed individuals to more fully discover not just their talents but also their passions. The collective's agenda is quite simple; provide us a space to pursue and develop our artistic passions. As an engineer I was so focused on the classroom work that I started to feel stuck, entrapped, jailed. The collective was our joint response to those similar pressures. We carved out a space in our lives to force us to develop artistically. As time has gone, the collective continues to grow and expand. When we meet like-minded people, we try our best to pull them in. We seek to develop not just for our sake, or art’s sake, but rather so that we can have an impact on the world we live in.
"I Play for Laina" is definitely my favorite project of yours, where you make a video using what seems to be hundreds of photos.  On top of this, the video for me, was emotional, beautiful, innovative, poetic, sad, and colorful.  This is just one of your many many remarkable pieces. I'm curious. What inspires you the most? What is the creative process generally like?
My answer for this is so simple that it borders on the cliché….Life. In each of my pictures I try to capture and portray a part of myself. I used to wish that I was great with words, paintbrush, or pencil but the medium I was granted to influence others is the lens. My inspiration then is those things in life, in my life that I either want to show and share with others or conversely those things I see playing out in my reality that I would like to see changed.

With all my pictures I try to recreate the mood and emotion of the moment in my life. A camera technically captures only data. Any person standing in the same vantage point as myself has the same starting point. What seperates us as individuals is that we each have our own unique perspective through which we see reality. We have our own lens through which we see the universe. My goal before, during, and after taking a picture is to imbue that photo with the emotional experience that I had at that very moment, or rarely to add the emotional value to the photo that I want my viewer to experience
What is the meaning behind your work? What are you trying to tell us?
Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely ADORE my grandmother. Pretty much everything that is good and right in me I can directly link to her presence in my life. Sadly, as an old, poor, black woman most of society did not put much value on the life she lived or the lessons she tried to share. Anyone who met her was forever changed, but sadly she didn’t have the opportunity to meet or influence as many people as she should have.

My work is about forcing people to see. For the longest time, I felt like I had no voice, that while I could see that I had a different perspective from pretty much everyone else around me, I was never able to share it. That initial feeling of being mute has focused my work on forcing society to see the stories that are so easily forgotten. I endeavor to force society to see the whole picture. Take for example my work in Haiti. I hope that the photos I’ve published and will publish tell two things:

1. I refuse to let us forget the earthquake, the prevailing conditions pre-earthquake that multiplied the effects of the disaster, and the horrendous conditions on the ground even today.

2. That Haiti is more than just a horror story. It is not just the pictures of Kwashiorkor victims that popped up in my Environmental Science text as the only representation of Haitians in my formal education. Haiti is a land of beauty and love. Haitians are people just as Americans are, with dreams, ambitions, and intelligence to rival any other. '

I write all that to say, that my work is about giving perspective (my persepective) to stories. To share the events hiding beneath the surface that often we don’t take the time to seek and learn about.

Your interests are many, ranging from education and photography, to philanthropy and your own cultural identity. How do you fuse and use them all?
All aspects of our being are tied together into one whole. I try my best to live and act holistically. In my mind, I don’t necessarily separate my interests into separate categories. Each of my interests flows and connects directly to each other in that they effect how they live my life. I think recently I’ve been endeavoring to look at my interests less as singular passions and more as different sides of the same coin. Luckily so far in life, I’ve been gifted with the ability to ensure that pretty much everything that I do aligns in someway to multiple interests.

You are involved with GOALS, a youth soccer program for children in Haiti. What inspired you to actually get involved in this project? What was your role? And what was it like raising over $10,000 to invest in the future of Haiti's youth?
GOALS GOALS GOALS. Working with GOALS started off as a way for me to work with a group (The Haitian people) that at the time I felt like I wasn’t properly fulfilling my responsibilies to.

Last summer I was the coordinator of a photo voice workshop for 30 Haitian youth in the Leogane area. My role before the camp was fundraising to get the resources and cameras for the workshop. During the workshop I worked as the primary teacher for three separate sites without a translator, and after the camp I was the fundraising coordinator for our scholarship fund.

Raising the $10,000 was absolutely mind boggling. I wouldn’t have assumed that much support from my family and friends. It was absolutely amazing to watch a community, my network rally around and support something I believed in.

I think it's important for Haitian/Haitian-American youth like us to be involved in promoting our culture. In your opinion, what is our role in re-imagining a new Haiti?  As an artist, what do you think is the role of artists in reshaping the Haiti of tomorrow?
In my experience, there are hundreds of different people constantly re-imagining Haiti and what it could become. I think our role is deciding for ourselves what we believe Haiti SHOULD be becoming and then going out and doing it. Instead of waiting for others to lead change, I think we’ve been given a unique opportunity to make the change we want. I think artists at all times help to make visions reality. My role as an artists is to show the Haiti I love. More specifically my role is to ensure that all of Haitian culture and society is given a chance to show itself to the world. I told my kids last summer, there aren’t going to be many reporters coming to your town or many people coming to share your story. Its up to you to find what tools you can, get up on your soap box, and force the world to acknowledge your humanity and shared right to experience the fruits of human progress.
How does your cultural identity manifest itself in your work?
I think my cultural identity shows up in both what I shoot and who lets me shoot. My identity plays a pivotal role in guiding what I focus on and those things I choose to pursue.

My readers are interested in maintaining life balance through the arts, culture, and holistic health. How do you maintain balance, Jovan?
The biggest thing about balance for me is living a selfish life. I was brought up to look at selfishness as a bad thing. As I’ve grown older though, I’ve found that even in my most “selfless acts”, finding a way to ensure I am getting something out of them too ensures that I remain in balance with the world. I am learning to ask of the world just as much as I give to it. It’s funny though…the world, society, my family, my friends…they’ve given me so much that I’m never quite sure I’ll be able to pay it all back.
How can we contact you and stay up to date with your work?
Twitter –EngineeredDreams – The Haitian adventure

And if you're at all inclined please consider supporting to projects with monetary donations (click the link).
Foto Goals – Foto Goals is the GOALS based side of my summer work this year. Your donations will help fund our work this summer in Leogane and ensure the successful start of our Scholarship Fund for the 2012-2013 school year
Project Istwa - Project Istwa is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of self-empowerment, awareness and self-expression through the use of photography. I’ll be working them for three weeks in July this summer.

Thanks Jovan!
Feature Fridays highlights people of color (with a special focus on those of Haitian descent) and organizations who are doing meaningful work.
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