Traveler and photographer Julian Walter tells what attracted him to Yakutia, how he became a professional photographer despite all the difficulties, and gives advice to beginners.
In a few days, the photographer from the UK managed to visit the Lena pillars, went to Krestyansky market, traveled to Khatassy, plunged into a baptismal font, and met with citizens in the National Library of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).
A photo from Julian Walter's website
Julian was born in San Francisco. He graduated in Aerospace Engineering at the University of California, but his main passion has always been photography. He bought his first Canon camera when he was 20 years old. After graduating, Julian initially tried to find a job, but eventually decided to turn his favorite hobby into a profession and started making a living as a photographer.
Julian at a meeting with citizens at the National Library in Yakutsk
On lack of money
When I started, I didn't have any money. I struggled for several years. So, I advise beginners to take photos in their free time.
If you have just graduated, find a job in your field, don’t create stress and unnecessary trouble for yourself because of lack of money. You can take as many photos as you like in your free time. Practice, gain experience, and work hard. At some point, you will get noticed and get offers, and then you can start a career as a professional photographer.
I decided to go to Yakutia after accidentally meeting a Yakut woman in New York. I met Artemiy Chukrov from Yakutsk through her. I wrote him on Instagram saying I was a photographer and I wanted to visit the coldest city in the world. He immediately volunteered to help me.
Yakutia is a unique place. It’s incredibly beautiful here: colors, vibes, people. Many prefer to go to Bali or Hawaii for vacation, but I wanted to visit a special corner of the world. No one from my circle has ever been to your Republic. So, I wanted to see how people live in such extreme conditions.
At Krestyansky market with sellers
Initially, I wanted to visit Oymyakon, but decided to go there later, when it’s really cold. I got a 3-year Russian visa, so I still have a lot of time.
Everyone says that it’s abnormally warm in Yakutia now, but I’m still freezing! I was breathless as soon as I got off the plane and took a breath. Before that, my temperature minimum was -10ºC.
I was going to show Yakutsk in my photo project as the coldest city in the world. But now I decided to shift the focus on the fact that locals are used to harsh conditions. It’s -35ºC, and it’s considered warm: the city quietly gets on with its life.
On his photography projects
I shoot a variety of projects — both commercial and personal, like documentaries. I started as a photographer’s assistant, then I started taking small orders: shooting weddings, events, and now I work on big projects.
In my works, I try to capture how people live in different countries. Most of all I like to take portraits, especially of children and old people. A friend once said to me: “If I were a photographer, I’d be happy taking portraits of old people. Their charisma, expressiveness, and skin covered with wrinkles — all this allows you to create amazing portraits.” And I completely agree with him.
On two cameras
Once, during a trip to Iceland, my camera broke the very first day. I had to shoot everything on my phone. Since then, I always travel with two cameras.
Currently I use Canon 5D Mark 3. I always advise beginners: you might be tempted to buy the most expensive and best camera that you can’t even afford, but there is no need. It’s much better to find a six or eight years old device. Yes, it doesn’t have Wi-Fi and other bells and whistles, but it’s still a great camera for a beginner.
On shyness and rejection
I remember how at the very beginning I was shy about taking pictures of people on the street. I don’t have that fear now.
When I first arrived in Yakutsk, I thought: “I wonder if people are open? Or will it be difficult to shoot here?” In the morning, I saw a woman in a beautiful fur coat on the street, and I said, “Excuse me, can I take a photo of you?” She ignored me and kept walking. Not everyone wants to be photographed: someone will still refuse, and that’s normal. You get used to it and start ignoring it: “Okay, no big deal. I’ll look for someone else.”
At the time, shooting in Havana helped me gain confidence. People there are incredibly nice and open. Only two people turned me down in two weeks. It was very different in Morocco: no one wanted to be photographed there. But it was also a good and useful experience.
I love traveling. I’ve been to 30 or 40 countries, I can’t remember exactly: I don't keep an account. These trips are not work for me. First of all, it’s new experience, meetings with local people, who then become my friends, and the opportunity to see life in other countries from the inside.
I usually spend at least two weeks or a month in a new place. My favorite places in the world are Tahiti and Namibia. Both are absolutely beautiful. I’d like to live in these places.
I also like traveling alone. That way, it’s easier to feel the atmosphere and make acquaintances.
On U.S.- Russia relations
People all over the world think that the US and Russia don’t like each other. But that’s politics, on a personal level, people treat each other very differently. If a Russian comes to America, no one will be hostile to him. It is the same with an American in Russia: locals will gladly invite him to their place or to have a beer together. As Anthony Bourdain said, foreigners are not aliens, they are people you just don’t know yet, that’s all.
I have never been to Russia before, either in Moscow or in St. Petersburg. And when I got an opportunity to visit Yakutia, I didn’t think twice and immediately decided to fly here. My friends will be joining me soon. We’ll take the train to Moscow together. We will stop along the way: I want to visit Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, and other big cities of Russia.
My main source of income is commercial photography. I’ve been getting a lot of big offers in the last two years: fashion shoots and shoots for large companies. Now my main client is Lufthansa. I take photos for their logbook. It all started when they liked photos I took underwater. They invited me to take part in their photo project dedicated to manatees. They were happy with the result, and then they invited me to shoot in Costa Rica. Now I shoot for their tourist photo projects on a regular basis.
Advice for photographers: specialize in one thing you like the most and try to be the best at it. Do you know photographer Paul Nicklen? He’s one of the most famous polar photographers. He takes pictures of polar bears, narwhals, walruses, and shoots underwater in extreme conditions. He’s the best in the business.
In photography, as elsewhere, there is competition. And it’s better to take it as an incentive to get better. You may ask yourself, “How can I get better? What do I need for this? What makes other people’s photos better than mine?” I won’t hide it, there are also unpleasant moments. For example, I find something unique, take a photo of it and immediately another photographer does exactly the same. At this point, I want to say to him: “Come on, do something of your own, something unique.” But in any case, it’s better to perceive competition constructively — as a motivation to improve.
Photos by Julian Walter, Vadim Skryabin