Valerie Jardin is not only an accomplished street photographer, but also a podcaster, teacher, speaker and writer. Originally from France, Valerie currently lives in the United States. Valerie’s international workshops and speaking engagements often sell out over a year in advance. This is why I feel so lucky to have been able to attend one of her workshops this August in Vancouver, Canada.
After the first day of the workshop, Valerie was gracious enough to sit down with me and answer a few questions for Photography Life readers. Following is our conversation:
I know you first started out photographing your children and this led to your portrait business. How did you move from portraits, to shooting food and interiors for commercial clients?
Well I never really said no! When somebody would ask me, “Do you shoot food?” I would say, “Sure I do!” I am one that always wants to learn. I always did my best, and it worked in my favour.
Can you tell us a bit about the transition to teaching and workshops?
I have some prior teaching experience and I think you either love to teach or you don’t. Teaching what you love and sharing that passion is so gratifying. Teaching workshops was just a natural progression for me.
When I started my workshops I jumped right into it. I started with a weeklong workshop in Paris. And even though I had a very small audience at the time, the workshop filled up. To sell workshops, it’s very hard; you need a very large audience. It was amazing that the first workshop sold and that I had a waiting list for the next one! It was just great! I went from teaching one workshop the first year to nine the following year. So I knew that was it, and I phased out my commercial photography business!
Did you have a career before photography?
Well yes and no! I have a background in teaching and international business. And I was a translator for many years before starting photography. I’ve always been self-employed.
When did you become an official Fujifilm X-Photographer and how did that come about?
Well, when I ditched my DSLR I switched to Fuji, and I really loved it. I am a very passionate person. And when I’m passionate about something, I’m very vocal! So it didn’t take Fujifilm very long to notice.
When Fujifilm approached me to become an Official X-Photographer I made it very clear that I didn’t want Fuji to be involved in my workshops. I wanted to keep them completely separate since I have worked very hard to make my workshops my brand.
I love the fact that through Fujifilm I can reach out to more people and share my passion and vision. Being an X-Photographer allows me to teach what I love by speaking at conferences and so forth. People are always so excited to learn that they don’t need to own big and expensive gear to make art. It’s been a great experience.
Although I’m really passionate about Fujifilm, I don’t talk about the gear any differently than I did before I became an official X-Photographer. They make great cameras, period. Anyone who has a chance to shoot with one will probably get hooked.
You just released your first eBook, “Street Photography: First Steps and Beyond,” and you are currently writing a print book. Can you tell us a bit about this new book?
The book is going to be a collection of photographs and the stories behind each one. I’ll describe what’s going on in my head as I approach a scene. How I see it, and how I shoot it, the whole feeling behind the process. It’s going to be a very personal approach to a selection of images.
Congratulations on episode 100 of your podcast “Street Focus” on the TWiP network! How do you juggle producing a podcast every week with your workshops, writing and family and when do you have time for your own photography?
That’s still my top priority, to be out with my camera, so I definitely make time for that. I never leave the house without my camera. As a street photographer it’s not like you have to go to an exotic location to practice. I still shoot a lot every week. It’s like therapy, like exercise. I need to exercise every day, and I need to shoot every day. If I couldn’t do that, everything else would suffer and nobody around me would be very happy!
It is a juggle, and at this point it is probably way too much for one person. I’m working on finding some assistants to take over some of the tasks. My eBook for example, I didn’t do the layout. I hired somebody to do that. The new print book, of course I have to write it, but once it’s written I can hand it off to someone else and they will do the rest. Because I travel so much, I record several episodes of the podcast at a time. It is just a constant juggle!
I guess it’s mostly about prioritizing and being organized. The workshops and my clients are my top priorities.
Who have you learned the most from?
I think I learn from people everyday. I learn from my students, I learn from life. I learn from people I photograph on the street. I get inspiration from so many places.
For the podcasts, I learn from the best podcasters out there. They are my role models, and I just want to be as good as them some day.
As for photography, I never stop learning. My wish is never to feel I’m there. I think that would be very sad, to feel you have nothing left to learn.
What do you do to keep motivated, and not lose your passion for photography and teaching?
The students make teaching exciting. When you see that ah-hah moment when they start understanding light, or they just get it, it is so satisfying. You always see something waking up in a student and that is really gratifying.
For my photography, I try to raise the bar all the time. I’m always challenging myself. I challenge myself by either finding more difficult situations to shoot in, like more difficult light. Or, I limit myself with gear. There are so many ways you can push yourself and keep it fresh.
And I pace myself. I could probably teach five more workshops in a year, but I know that I would burn out if I did that.
I think I’ve reached a good balance. There is a thin line that you don’t want to cross, where what you love becomes a job and the fun goes away. And if you loose the passion, then why would people come and learn from you? The passion has to be contagious, and I want to keep it that way.
Is there an image that got away or one you have envisioned, but haven’t been able to nail yet?
There are always shots that get away. But that’s OK; there will be new shots to catch another day.
There are some photos I envision. You go to a location again and again, and then finally you capture it. That’s the saddest moment in a way, because once you capture what you have planned for so long, that shot is done. It is so bitter sweet. You’re excited because you caught the shot, but it’s sad because you have to try and find another location and shot to capture.
But, there are always new spots and new shots. I don’t like to think that far ahead though. I like the streets to surprise me! I think its actually working at getting the shot that is the most fun, that’s the most exciting part.
What is your favourite photography gadget?
I’m not actually too into gadgets. I really love my thumb grip on my X100T though, and I just couldn’t live without it. And of course, I love a cool bag and a cool strap! I recently got a Lúcida strap, its artisan made in Spain and custom made in the leather colour you want and the length you want. It’s just beautiful. It is so well made, it will last forever. It will outlast the camera and the photographer.
Do you have a favourite photograph that you took?
There is always one that stands out every year or every trip. It’s not usually because of its technical merit. It’s more about its emotion. I don’t think I have a constant favourite. I will look at a shot that I loved two or three years ago, and now I think it really wasn’t all that special. I try not to get too attached.
If you could go shooting in the streets today with any other photographer, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Today I would love to go out with Jay Maisel. I just love his personality. He is a typical New Yorker. I think it would just be awesome to hang out with him for a day. Unfortunately I never made it to any of his workshops, and I don’t think he is teaching any more. That is something I would love to have done.
If you were told that you could only keep one camera and lens combination, what would it be?
The Fujifilm X100T with the only lens it has, the fixed 23mm lens. I could be happy with that camera forever!
What is your favourite photography book?
I have a few. I really like “The Passionate Photographer,” written by my good friend Steve Simon. And “Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision,” by David duChemin too. It is one of my early favourite photography books. It’s not only about street photography; it’s just a beautiful and inspirational book.
What elements do you feel make a really good street photo?
To make a strong photograph, it depends. It could be a combination of things. A lot of amazing elements can come together. You could have a great composition, a wonderful subject and great light and everything falls together. But that is so rare. It’s all about finding an interesting subject, something you haven’t seen before. It can be finding something very timeless. Like when I’m in Paris and I photograph a scene that could have been shot 50 or 60 years ago. When there is nothing that will date the capture, I think that is very special. Often it’s all about the light, and at times when the light is bad, it’s all about the gesture and the story. It just depends!
Everybody seems to have different definitions of “street photography”. Do you adhere to rigid rules, or something broader? What is your definition?
To me it’s making life extraordinary, or looking at the ordinary in an extraordinary way. It’s about seeing the uniqueness in the mundane.
What do you like to shoot when you are on vacation with your family? Do you always have your camera with you?
I love shooting architectural details and still life. It’s hard for me not to incorporate people in my shots though. So for example, if I’m at dinner and I shoot my glass of wine, I’ll wait until a waiter walks into the background. I like the human element.
When I’m on vacation I try not to take too much time for photography. But I always have the camera with me, and I grab shots along the way. I try and turn it into a challenge: How many good shots can I get in just a couple of weeks without taking too much time? Sometimes it’s the power of limitations. If you don’t have a lot of time, maybe you will use those limitations to your advantage and see better.
Lastly, do you have any tips for photographers to help them grow artistically?
Just go out and shoot! It’s great to get inspired by reading books and watching tutorials and so forth, but you need to actually go out and take pictures. Don’t be afraid to get out there.
Also, it is very important to follow your heart. It’s great to be inspired by other photographers, but find your own voice. It will happen, it doesn’t happen over night, you just have to be true to yourself. Don’t try and fit to a mould. You have to shoot what makes you happy. Because when it comes down to it, you are the only person you have to satisfy. If you shoot with your heart, and you do something you really love, it will shine through. That is when you will do your best work, so find your own voice.
Valerie’s passion is infectious. If you ever get the opportunity to participate in one of her workshops, or listen to her speak, I would highly recommend it! For me, the experience was highly motivating!
Interview Update (Sept 23, 2016)
After 104 episodes of ‘Street Focus’, Valerie has decided to leave the TWIP network to start her own podcast. Her new podcast, called ‘Hit the Streets with Valerie Jardin’ aired it’s first episode this week. It is available on iTunes, Google Play, Pocket Cast, or you can find a link to it on her website.