Julie Kertesz, 75
Born in Hungary almost 76 years ago, Julie grew up in Transylvania (which, until she was ten, was part of Hungary then Romania). At the age of 30, she arrived in France and moved to London in July 2008. Here, she has been using English – her fourth language – to explore the wonders of the city and meet nearly 1,000 Londoners for impromptu photographs that she collects in her Flickr set, “Londoners“.
Julie is more proud of her two children and five grandchildren than of her phD in physics, and more proud that she can tell a story in English in the Canal Café theatre with SPARK – then of the more than 1,000 daily views of her Flickr photographs. She is more proud of her group !afterclass!, a photography masterclass on Flickr which is already in its 45th month and theme, then of having won the 1st prize in a competition called Museums at Night – a gallery curated by Culture24 and the fact that her photos will likely appear as examples for the this year’s event. She is most proud of her blog, her photos and storytelling. These allow her to give courage to those who feel their older age, to remind them that at any age, “even after 70”, they can feel and think in a young way and continue to learn new skills.
Besides being an avid blogger (including one blog where she has published her first diary from the age of 10), photographer and storyteller, she is learning to improve her public speaking skills with the Toastmaster Club. This was her main activity last year where she won a “competent communicator” diploma. In Argenteuil, France, she was named “Mamie Blogger and Photographer”. Julie is a member of the London Independent Photographers and loves approaching people to photograph them.
Catch up with Julie’s daily contributions to her blogs and her Flickr page for a look at London life at the age of 75. If you have an extra 10 minutes, listen to Julie tell her story of how she came to London to an audience at Canal Cafe Theatre: Now or Never, as recorded.mp3
LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
JK: First in London I discovered the meetup groups and went to Artist’s Way weekly meetings in Royal Festival Hall, then with different meetup photo groups. Second, I discovered London Independent Photographers satellite in Greenwich. I gave speeches about different aspects of photography there and at King University. Third, I discovered from my arrival for a year, the different festivals of different groups, and was also enchanted by how easy it is in London to take photos of people. Then, I discovered the Toastmasters clubs, refreshed my public speaking ability and begin to tell more and more stories. Now, I intend to weave these all together in a multimedia project combining photography, small video parts and storytelling, directly and on the web. Yes, London helps me a lot with my creativity.
“London Canal Stroll (8)”
LLO: You have nearly 36,000 photos on your Flickr page. Where is your favourite place to take your camera?
JK: If it was only one place, it would be near the Thames and the Royal Festival Hall, but also Deptford Hight Street market and wall arts and the different markets and festivals. Anywhere around me, I find inspiration in London’s rich diversity.
LLO: When and how did you first become interested in photography?
JK: I was told, in 2004, I did not know enough English to register to the Paris writer’s conference, and they proposed me photographic group and classes. But also, a book about writing suggested we go out in our own town with a camera around our neck and “make ourselves tourists in our own town” looking around with new eyes. Going to an almost oriental market in Argenteuil, near Paris, I was stunned at the ease and delight of people when I took photos of them. Going towards people was my first motivation to continue from then on. So I begin really taking photos at age of 70, before I thought I liked more to write.
LLO: What type of camera do you use?
JK: I use most of the time a small compact camera that I can (and yes, I do) carry with me all the time. I did buy a few months ago a light reflex, but I did not use it much, in fact. My photography is more documentary then “artistically” oriented, so it is better to have it always ready, and with me.
LLO: Not very many 70-somethings are on Flickr or blogging daily the way you do. It’s great to see that. You have video blogs, a blog with your first diary from age 10 translated from the original Hungarian, blogs in French and English. How did you become so interested in photo-sharing and blogging?
JK: I discovered blogging, after having tried without success to publish my French-translated diary (from ago 10 to 70). On the web, the blog gave me instantly an easy-to-use place where I could publish. As it was the same time, almost, as I begin my documentary Paris photo classes, I was delighted to being able to publish, via Flickr, also pictures. That is how I first discovered Flickr, but after that I also discovered the groups and lots of interactions, going on there. I also met, personally, some bloggers and some Flickr photographers from all over the world. They came to Paris, now in London, from New Zealand, Australia, America, Brazil, Spain, etc. And I went to Flickr photograph strolls with them, in Washington, in Palermo, etc.
LLO: I’m very interested in your Flickr set called “Londoners” with 978 images. Can you tell us a bit about this?
JK: I love interaction, even if shortly, with people, and I did feel quit alone. I begun my “Parisians”, then I made a set of people in every place I visited, Moroccans, Sicilians, Romanians, etc. So, it seemed normal to go on to Londoners (now over 1,000) who I met in one and half years. Most of them smiled warmly to me, enchanted to be photographed. More and more often, they are the ones to thank me, feeling well, and like celebrities, after I take the photo, after I show them, after we chat a bit also, whenever possible.
At the beginning, in Paris, for example, in shops and markets, I also gave them their photo a week or two later, then took some new ones. Nowadays, I give the address of Flickr where they can find and download, use the photos I have taken of them, or send them by email. And some of them ask me to take photo of me, or of me together with them, or their friends, too. So, sometimes, it is very reciprocal.
Then, I had a project completed almost in a year of visiting Paris’ different “arrondissements” boroughs one by one and discovering lesser known places, more than often new also for me who had lived there for long years. Then, coming in London, I tried to do the same, but instead of “boroughs”, finally I did festivals and markets.
I found that in London there were even more people, thirsty of attention. Taking a photo of them fills a bit that gap, I do believe.
LLO: Is capturing photographs of Londoners an ongoing project for you?
JK: Yes, of course. Just lately, I asked my way from an elder delivery man in a small car and then asked if I can take his photo, yes, it was yesterday, here it is!
And also I took photos and small videos of the New Year’s Day London parade until the end, not realizing my legs were freezing and too tense. It took me a week to feel better, but yes, it was worth it. I went also out last year to the Museum at Night, and the photo I took has also people. I do not ask aways. Sometimes, one just cannot disturb people interracting with each other. One of my photos from that event won the first prize and I am asked to be “official” photographer for this year’s event.
LLO: Londoners are typically a bit sceptical of being approached by strangers, but most of the people in your images seem to have warmed to you. How do you go about asking permission to take someone’s photograph?
JK: I thought a lot about this question as many other photographers asked me. I understand it now even better, after having completed my ten speech projects to become “Competent Communicator” at Toastmasters. The project number 5 was all about body language. I think before and sometimes instead even of speaking, we look at each other’s body language. If it looks friendly, admiring, full with sympathy, the other answers to that with confidence.
I really do not think my age or sex has to do with people accepting and sympathizing with me. That could be seen in many of my photos, but it is their reaction to how I feel, look, move, and also, sometimes, speak. Making them feel good about themselves, appreciating how they are. As they are.
Here is one example, of a young “punk”-like looking boy, whose photo I took at the end of my photo stroll at the Trafalgar Square Hindu Light Festival, Diwali. He was so proud I chose him and appreciated how he did prepare his hair!
Young boy with “punk” hair at Diwali festival, Trafalgar Square
Of course, all are not saying “yes”, but so what? I am prepared also sometimes to “no” as we should all be when we ask someone something. But in taking photos of people, so far, I had so much more “yes” or “why, me?” than plain “no”.
LLO: Which image are you most proud of and why?
JK: It is not so easy to choose one image from around 100,000 I have taken from age 70. Those I prefer are not the ones seen 2o,000 times or 6,000 times, or those from “prize” either. They are all pictures with whom I feel sentimental attachment, like my granddaughter and her black friend and schoolmate near each other smiling to me both toothlessly around age eight. Or the man whose soul is somewhat revealed in a photo I took before he knew it, after he “composed”. If I have to give only one of the images, other then the last one that usually like best, it would be this one. Simple, cherries from my garden, in which I recognize “how is familly life”: some alone, some just lost their pairs (as I was just then), some with children, and yet others, their life poisoned with one bad one between them.
LLO: Who are your favourite London-based artists?
JK: I like a lot, some London-based storytellers, and have a great admiration for the professor and photographer John Levitt, not only leading LIP Greenwhich, but also just formed a joint study group with Goldsmith University. Being an excellent, and modest photographer, he is an inspiration to me.
Self-portait – “After Swimming”
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