She spoke a different language. She was from a different world. But there was no interpretation needed at this moment for photographer Julie Hough and her 83-year-old subject.
Julie had been travelling around Myanmar, Burma, with the help of a guide who spoke the local language. “He had found us someone to photograph who had lived in the village for a very long time,” Julie says.
“This lady had been a farm worker all her life. She now lives with her extended family in a little shack. We had five minutes with her. She was happy to have a rest. It was beautiful. We had a little joke and started laughing together I just snapped it.”
This photograph, along with a host of others from that journey, will be exhibited as part of Arts Open in Castlemaine this month.
For Julie, the works are part of the spoils of a gap year that’s also taken her to Italy, taking photographs. It’s what she does. Personally, professionally, socially. And it started in earnest at La Trobe.
“Photography had been a passion all my life,” she says. “I never had any formal qualifications – not that you need a piece of paper to take pictures – but if you want to work in the media you’ve really got to be qualified.”
Julie had finished high school at 15 and had never dreamed of attending university. “I didn’t think I’d cope with uni, I thought it would be way beyond me,” she says. “But I was at La Trobe for five years and it was a big part of my life.”
Julie completed a degree in both photography and photojournalism, and did her honours year in 2010. “I just got in there and worked my butt off,” she says. “I had to, but it was so enjoyable and I was doing something I loved.”
She started working part time as a photographer at the Bendigo Advertiser in her second year of studies. Julie spent five-and-a-half years at the local paper, before working for the Hepburn Advocate for 18 months.
“It’s a great privilege to go into people’s homes, connect with them and tell their stories. I do miss that,” she says. “But believe it or not, it was a lot more stressful than nursing! The hours you put in at a newspaper far exceed what you think you’re going to do.”
She says some days were more exceptional than others, citing the “15-hour marathon” of Black Saturday, the worst fires in Bendigo’s history. Two memories from that day linger.
“One was standing behind a hay merchant watching all his hay burn. The look on his face… I really wanted to get up close and photograph him, but I just couldn’t do it. The trauma on his face…
“Afterwards I did photograph him when he was later cleaning up around his house and even then he was just too devastated to talk about it. Trying to separate yourself from the emotional side of it and still capture what was required I found really challenging that night.
“The other memory is the sound of the fire as it roared over the hill from Inglis Street, near the basketball stadium. I was standing in the middle of the main road listening to it coming and it was like a freight train. Then came a wall of flame. I remember I only took one shot and when I pulled the camera down, the heat was unbelievable and I just ran.”
That experience inspired Julie to capture the unbelievable moments fire fighters go through in the line of duty. To do that, she had to train as a volunteer.
“You can’t go out on a truck unless you have the minimum skills training, but of course that idea backfired on me,” she says. “When you’re on the truck you’re not allowed to take pictures, you’re meant to have a hose in your hands.”
So that’s what Julie does, as a volunteer with the Walmer Fire Brigade. “I really enjoying giving something back,” she says.
See Julie’s work, and that of over 145 other artists, during Arts Open this month. www.artsopen.com.au