JULIEN ROUBINET: Through The Camera’s Eye
Julien Roubinet is a young photographer who currently resides in New York City. Being drawn to the underground surf scene in this area, he is working on a book with is friend Ed Thompson entitled “Ice-Cream Headaches”, which documents the surf culture of New York and New Jersey.
After returning from a recent trip to the North Shore of Oahu, I caught up with Roubinet to discuss photography, his upcoming book, cassette tape culture, music, and surfing.
Zappo: You are currently living in New York City, but are originally from France. Tell us about your early years in France, what it was like growing up, and the cultural uniqueness of your homeland?
Roubinet: The pace is a lot slower. I have lived in Paris, Toulouse and Marseille, which are all very different, but it’s fair to say that the quality of life is better there. South of France is a lot more mellow and people tend to live an epicurean life, not necessarily focused on a career.
I grew up in Toulouse where there is a great skateboard scene. During the winter, you can go ski in the Pyrenees, 2 hours away. We’re spoiled with great food too and it’s definitely a region you could end up never leaving…
Zappo: When did you start taking photographs? Are you entirely self-taught or have you had a formal education in the craft?
Roubinet: I started photography about 6 years ago while studying business in Marseille, France. I used to shoot mostly landscapes and skateboarding when hanging out at the legendary bowl there. I lived in Paris for a year and there, my interest for photography grew exponentially with access to many exhibitions and shows, travels and the discovery and experimentation with film cameras.
New York was the turning point. I have been lucky enough to meet creative and passionate people in the photography as well as surfing, music and motorcycle worlds. After blindly trying to pursue my path in the finance industry, I took the leap of choosing photography as a career.
I never had any formal education in the field but as far as the technic (lighting, retouching…) I’ve learnt most of what I know from Scott Mac Donough whom I have assisted for a few years now.
I still feel like I’m learning new things every time I shoot.
Zappo: What drew you to start documenting various counter cultures through the medium of photographs and short films?
Roubinet: I think I am attracted to people who do their own thing, not trying to follow a trend or fitting into a certain etiquette. People who dedicate their time to something they believe in.
I also like the idea of creating an archive, of the places and the shows that I have been to that are not necessarily documented.
Zappo: I loved what I saw of the concept behind the “Tape Project” on your website. I was born in 1974, so the physical nature of having a cassette, record, or even a compact disc was and is a huge part of my own music listening experience. Tell me what personally inspired this project for you and what you were trying to convey through your photographs?
Roubinet: When it comes to music, my parents had a great influence on me. I grew up listening to classics like Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd… It was mostly CDs at that time but I would still rip them on tapes to listen to on my Walkman. I really liked the whole experience of buying music a bit randomly, judging by the artwork and owning the physical object. Today, tools like Spotify shortcut this whole experience, for better or worse.
When I came across the “Nevermind” tape a couple of years ago, it reminded me of this period. So I went on ebay and got all the ones from the bands I used to listen to. In addition to these, I found cassettes at shows of bands like Fidlar, Black Lips, Ty Segall… I am buying a few each month now. I think it’s more of a gimmick with the limited editions releases but I like the idea of keeping it alive.
Photography is increasingly consumed the same way too, online, on screens and less and less physically. When you scroll through instagram or tumblr you see maybe 50 pictures a day and probably won’t remember any. Whereas having a print you can look at everyday gives you an opportunity to really understand it.
I wanted to fill both voids with this series, and it has gotten a good response so far. It has been part of a solo show and a group show here in New York.
Zappo: Recently you were on the North Shore of Oahu capturing some mind-blowing images of surfing. Was this your first trip to Hawaii? What was the experience like and what are some of your most memorable moments?
Roubinet: This was my second trip and it was just as amazing as the first one!
Hawaii is definitely a special and unique place. Places like Pipeline look way scarier than on any video you can watch online, you feel the energy of the ocean right on the beach.
Both times, we got really lucky with two amazing days at Pipeline. Seeing it as heavy as it gets was just breathtaking and on top of that, all the legends were delivering the greatest surf show ever!
Two years ago, one of the highlights was the final of the Pipe Masters between John John and Kelly. Epic surfing!
This year, right after the contest was called off, considered too dangerous, Jamie O’Brien and two friends paddled out on soft tops, and surfed double to triple overhead waves on softies!
Finally, seeing Tom Carroll surfing Waimea on a single fin and no leash was amazing too.
Zappo: Now you’re back home in New York City and it’s been super cold as of late. How are you adjusting to the climate and cultural contrast?
Roubinet: Well I’d say that going from boarshorts to 5mm wetsuit is painful.
Zappo: Currently your working on a book entitled “Ice-Cream Headaches”, a photographic and written documentation of the North East surf scene. When most people think of surfing, I imagine they are not thinking of the North East region of the United States. Tell us what was the impetus for this project and how it’s coming together?
Roubinet: My good friend Ed Thompson, a writer from England, came up with the idea. The concept was to cover the North East surf scene and culture, from New Jersey to Maine.
Shortly after that, we met photographer Michael Halsband (he followed the Rolling Stones for years and made a book about surfing with Joel Tudor). He was our starting point. He led us toward other figures and then one guy leading to another, our list started to grow. It is actually so long now that we have decided to focus only on New York and New Jersey.
We’ve met with about fifteen people, shapers, photographers, pro surfers… so far and we can already notice similarities in the devotion and real commitment to surfing. We remarked also a contrast in style of surfing between the two states. There is a lot more to say but you will have to wait for the book!
We just launched our website featuring three stories for now. We will be adding stories regularly until the launch of the book!
Zappo: What are your favorite mediums to work with when it comes to photography?
Roubinet: I mostly work with digital but not exclusively. I really enjoy the peel-apart Polaroids. The black and white is so rich and you get a tangible piece instantly.
I recently got an underwater housing and it has been a steep learning curve. It is a very particular exercise for which major adjustments are needed in order to produce a decent image.
Experimenting with different processes and mediums keep it intriguing.
Zappo: I love photographs and I always find myself mesmerized by photographs as they convey so much emotion in a singular image. What do you feel are the key elements to a superb photo and do you see photography as a means of self-expression?
Roubinet: What makes a photograph incredible is not necessarily substantial, and for me, hard to put into words.
Maybe emotion could be one element or even the lack of it. Harmony in hues, composition or proportions would be key. The singularity of the subject is another one. If one of these elements is strong enough, not necessarily the combination of all, to leave you thinking about it, coming back to it or study it, you’ll probably have a great photo.
The photographs that left me speechless and unable to describe what made them great, are the timeless ones.
It is, for me, a way of self-expression. Whether you frame a scene in a way, push contrast or decide not to include an element, it will be a personal perception and a way of saying, that’s the way I interpret this moment.
Zappo: Music tends to be the muse for many of the creative tribe. What are your top five records of the moment?
Roubinet: I listen to a lot of different stuff these days but if I had to pick records it would be:
Ty Segall: Singles 2007 / 2010
The Smiths: The Queen is Dead
Fuzz : Fuzz
The following singles:
Barry White and the Atlantics: Tracy
Barbara Dane: I am on my Way
And anything my friends The Mystery Lights put out!
Zappo: Well I think it’s time to wrap up our chat here, any final thoughts for our readers out there?
Roubinet: We just launched our website icecreamheadaches.nyc including three stories and a few prints for sale. Visit it to follow our adventure and support the project!
For more of Julien’s work: www.julienroubinet.com