Julia Fullerton-Batten, Fine Art photographer

Profile by Bridget Osborne

April 2018

An award winning Fine Art photographer who uses photography as a means of story telling

You can’t see one of Julia Fullerton-Batten’s images without divining the story which goes with it. Whether it’s her series on erotic entertainers, domestic servants or feral children, her portraits of blind people or projects with titles like ‘awkward’ and ‘teenage stories’ you are compelled to imagine the back story when you look at her pictures. They’re moving, shocking, thought provoking, challenging, full of pathos and tension, taken at a moment of drama and they immediately involve the onlooker in the drama of that narrative.

Feral Children

After reading ‘The Girl With No Name’ by Marina Chapman, the true story of a woman who as a child spent five years in the Columbian jungle literally being brought up by monkeys, Julia was moved to research feral children and was amazed at how many stories there were – different circumstances in different countries – and how strong is the power of survival. Marina was kidnapped and drugged and thrown into the jungle. She survived by copying the behaviour of monkeys. Julia met her and reimagined what her life in the jungle must have been like in a series of photographs with a child model. She’s done the same with other stories of feral children in Russia, India, Cambodia, France and the USA, capturing the isolation and at the same time both the strength and the vulnerability of the children at the centre of these stories.

Teenage Stories

In ‘Teenage stories’ she portrays the ‘emotional dynamics’ of the female adolescent: ‘her self-consciousness, mood swings, uncertainty and vulnerability.’ The pictures have an element of surrealism as they take you in to the dream world she says teenage girls sometimes inhabit: ‘Adolescent girls can often be caught day-dreaming, just staring into space, immersed in their own thoughts and fantasies. For a while they inhabit an imaginary world’. She shot the photographs in a model village to illustrate how the girls had outgrown their surroundings and the scenarios range from the mundane to the exotic.

The road to success

Julia lives in Chiswick with her husband Kelvin Murray, an advertising photographer, and their two children. Born in Germany, she got hooked on photography as a child living in Pennsylvania, observing her father develop the pictures he took as a hobby in his dark room. After moving to England and taking A levels she did a BTEC in photography and became a photographer’s assistant, initially as work experience, where she found that in quite a male dominated world she had to prove to her colleagues not only that she understood the photographic process but that she could carry the heavy lighting equipment. She went out on her own as a photographer at the age of 29, starting in advertising, and became a Fine Art photographer because she wanted to create the projects she worked on herself, rather than fulfil someone else’s vision on commission.

Becoming a self-employed Fine Art photographer is a fairly high risk strategy but it has paid off, as Julia is now described by prominent art critics as one of the leading fine-art photographers in the UK. Her long string of prestigious awards includes the prestigious HSBC Fondation pour le Photographie in 2007 and the European Photography, 100th Anniversary, 100 pictures that tell a story, (for ‘Marina’, Feral Children) 2016. Her work has been exhibited all over the world, in Tokyo, Korea, China, USA and Peru as well as Europe. She has a permanent collection at the National Portrait Gallery in London and at the Musee del’Elysee, Lausanne, Switzerland. Her images were on the front cover of ‘A Guide to Collecting Contemporary Photography’ (Thames and Hudson, 2012). Her limited edition prints sell for up to £15,000.

Old Father Thames – You saw it here first!

Julia is currently working on a series she calls ‘Old Father Thames’ inspired by true but extraordinary stories associated with the River Thames. Two of them are on show currently in The Chiswick Calendar’s exhibition Chiswick Through the Camera Lens at the Clayton Hotel Chiswick until Saturday 29 April. ‘The stories encompass birth, baptism, death, suicide, messages in a bottle, riverside scavenging youngsters, quaint ancient boats, prison ships (‘hulks’), and include other melodramatic episodes of life and death in and along the Thames’. The fourteen stories she’s already photographed plus those which she’s currently working on will be the subject of a solo exhibition in the autumn.

Here are some of the pictures and below them the stories as she describes them.

Annette Kellerman – Swam the River Thames

Annette Kellerman was an Australian professional swimmer, vaudeville star, film actress, writer, and business owner. She arrived in the UK in 1905 aged 19, with the goal to swim the English Channel, she failed three times. However, she became the first woman ever to swim any distance on the Thames. She swam from Putney to Blackwall, a distance of 27km. On these occasions she wore a one-piece bathing suit that she had self-designed. This was very daring and controversial as, at that time women still wore bloomers and long sleeve dresses. Her daring apparel was duly noted and became headlines in the UK press. Two years later she was arrested in the USA for indecency as she continued her fight for the right of women to wear a fitted one-piece bathing suit above the knee.

The Thames Whale

In January 2006, a juvenile female northern bottlenose whale was found swimming in the River Thames in central London. Approximately five metres long, she weighed about seven tonnes. Her normal habitat would have been on the coast of the far north of Scotland and Northern Ireland, or in the Arctic Ocean. It was the first time a whale had ever been seen in the River Thames since records began in 1913. Sadly, the whale died the next day from a seizure as she was being rescued. Her skeleton is now exhibited at the Natural History Museum.

Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson gained worldwide recognition and became the heroine of the British population, especially among womenfolk, when, in 1930 aged 27, she became the first female pilot to fly solo from Britain to Australia. Her plane was a second-hand de Havilland Gipsy Moth bi-plane. She named it Jason. It now hangs in the Science Museum in London. She subsequently set records for flights to Moscow, New York and Tokyo, and survived several crash-landings in doing so. As well as gaining her incredible pilot credentials she graduated from Sheffield University with a Bachelor Degree in Economics. In 1940, at the outbreak of WW II, with 164 other female pilots, she signed up with the newly formed Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). Their job was to ferry military aircraft, fighters and bombers, single-handedly to various RAF bases around the country. My image illustrates the tragic death of this remarkable woman. She lost her way flying a plane in bad weather from the North of England to a base near Oxford. She had to bail out of her plane when it ran out of fuel over the Thames Estuary. A minesweeper close by saw her enter the rough sea on her parachute and attempted to rescue her. The boat’s commandant jumped overboard, but was unsuccessful. He died two days later from hypothermia. Amy’s body was never found.

Swan Upping

Swan Upping became important back in the Middle Ages in Britain. Back then, not only was the mute swan a valuable commodity and regularly traded between noblemen, but swan owners were legally bound by the Crown to mark their swans with nicks in their beaks. This activity took place annually in a ceremony called “swan upping”. Although now largely symbolic, the event still takes place today on the Monday of the third week in July, and serves to monitoring the condition and number of swans on the Thames. The year’s new cygnets can be marked when they are reasonably well grown but cannot yet fly.

Baptisms along the Thames

Baptism is a very important activity in those faiths immersed in New Testament belief. It is a public affirmation of faith, and is done before a group of people who witness the candidate’s confession of faith in Jesus Christ. It is the rite in the Christian Church by which immersion in water symbolises the washing away of sins and admission into the Church. For many centuries full immersion baptisms were performed by Baptists in the non-tidal section of the River Thames upstream from London. It was one of the more ancient rituals on the river. Several hundred people would congregate to watch the open-air ceremony. My image was shot in the ancient town of Cricklade in Wiltshire 100 miles distant from London where the ceremony still took place on a space known as Hatchett’s Ford at the beginning of the twentieth century. Even today baptism ceremonies take place along the Thames on personal request.

Update 2019

Julia took part in The Chiswick Calendar’s photography exhibition Chiswick Through the Camera Lens, in 2018 & 2019 at the Clayton Hotel Chiswick.

See also profile of Richard Bradbury and his Children of London project