An Interview With Julien Kelly-Gross

We chatted with photographer Julien Kelly-Gross about his recent project on protests in the USA and what this project means to him.

Growing up shooting LA’s growing music scene, Julien Kelly-Gross has switched his style over recent times to more social documentary based work. After starting this project in spring of 2017, following Trump’s inauguration. Gross saw the importance of capturing what hopefully will become, in his words, “a short period in our lifetime”.

What made you want to document these protests?

The first one I attended was the UC Berkeley protest against Milo Yiannopoulos speaking at the campus. I was more curious than anything at that point and didn’t really expect what I saw when I got there. I arrived shortly after Antifa had broken all the windows of the Amazon store on campus and that pretty much was the beginning of my critical curiosity of that protests and the ones to follow. Once I understood that this wasn’t a black and white situation and there was no real bad or good guys I found the events to be a lot more intriguing.

With the media being biased in todays world, do you feel it’s important to document events like this to gain truth?

I absolutely think coverage of events like these is important. Ideally the coverage would be done by “amateurs” on both sides of the political spectrum in all parts of the country. I’m happy with the pictures I took but keep in mind you’ll always be looking at a bias photograph. I tried to not let my own political beliefs interfere with what I photographed but in hindsight I think that was a pretty naive goal.

Would you say your final images in the series leant more towards a personal view of what you wanted the viewer to see?

Of course! Someone could have photographed the same protest and come out with a project that looked entirely different. There were drum circles, amateur medics helping anyone who needed it, and tons of non violent conversations. I found myself photographing the violence because it was the thing I understood the least.

Do you think most photographers would be one sided when covering a story such as this?

I do. I certainly don’t think that I was able to provide a two sided view to these events but at the very least I hope that someone can look at these pictures and not say “oh this guy obviously belongs to this political party.” If they do that’s OK but my disgust for the events definitely extended beyond any one political party.

What’s your view on protests as a form of political expressions?

I think they can be really effective if done correctly.

What about when violence is involved?

I think violence is the kryptonite to an effective protest. It escalates the situation to a point of no return where every violent action is justified by a previous one. To say violence is a necessary part of protest feels like saying violence is necessary for peace which is something I strongly disagree with.

There is a lot of blood in the series, did you purposely include these images to get a point across to the viewer?

Blood has a visual shock value that I was trying to use in the series, not so much in order to shock but rather to draw attention to the events. Most the people you see bleeding are the people that I wouldn’t necessarily align myself with politically. Violence was a common response for both sides of the protest and I think that the blood was the quickest way for me to communicate the extent of the protests.

Your work is usually different to this. Did you enjoy shooting this project?

I honestly never imagined myself focusing photojournalistichoto journalistic” as a series of protests but my proximity to the events and curiosity around them were the driving forces for my motivation to shoot. I got excited and nervous every time I heard a protest was going to be happening so I took that as a sign to keep shooting.

What would you have done differently?

I definitely would have talked to more people and potentially included a written aspect to the project. The conversations I did have were respectful and enlightening and hindsight being 20/20 I think they could have given a broader perspective to the photographs. Having said that I definitely think that that may have been another opportunity to create a general bias around the photographs so I think I prefer for them to speak for themselves.

Interview by Jonathan Tomlinson.