One of our missions at Behind the Frame is to make the work of photographers approachable and personal. We believe photography is a democratic and accessible medium—why obscure its meaning rather than bring the viewer closer?
To this end, we will be publishing interviews with each of the 20 photographers whose work is available for purchase in our inaugural sale "Always a Beginner." Get to know these impassioned image-makers a little better.
Here, we sit down with Danish photojournalist Lars Just. Published in media around the world, Just has also worked with international NGOs and pursued long-term personal projects in many different countries. Here, he shares some thoughts on his origins as a photographer as well as some invaluable advice for all of us—
BtF: How did you begin your work in photography? Was there a "decisive moment" when you knew it was a special medium for you, when you felt truly committed to it?
LJ: I spent three months in Iceland back in 2005. During one of those weekends, I went to the countryside to participate in Rettír, an annual "sheep round-up." This was one of those distinctive cultural events that all photographers like: old mossy stone walls built in circles, children running around, sheep everywhere. I was all over the place with my camera and nobody seemed to notice. It turned into my first real reportage—a series of expressive pictures telling a story. It was also the first time I succeeded in creating a visual narrative instead of just single, incoherent images.
I believe that was my first step towards photojournalism.
BtF: When you were beginning photography, were there any people, artists, books, films that served as essential inspirations? How about now—any sources of creativity you discovered recently that give you that jolt of "beginner's" passion?
LJ: I very much enjoy the work of my friend Nikos Economopoulus from Magnum. Nikos is not a photojournalist like me: he’s not interested in the storytelling element of an image, but more in the abstract and the visually interesting. He also hates captions, as he feels they give away the photograph's secrets.
For me working with photojournalism, his work has inspired me tremendously and still affects my photography today. Photojournalism is quite often too direct in its communication, so I try to use what I see in Nikos’ photography - the surprise, the element of surrealism, the unexplainable - to capture my viewers.
BtF: Cartier-Bresson famously said, "Your first 10,000 shots are your worst." Can you share a humbling moment that happened to you recently with regards to your photography? A moment when you realized, like all of us, that there's always much more to learn?
LJ: I had an assignment to make a portrait of author John Irving. In my head, I had a clear idea how I wanted him to look. But when I met him at his hotel, he was wearing pink jogging shoes and a purple running outfit. I was shocked!
In order to produce what I thought was a more appropriate, traditional "famous author" image, I wrapped him in my own black jacket and shot the pictures. They turned out great.
It didn’t strike me until I was on my bike back towards to newspaper—nobody has ever seen John Irving in a purple running outfit wearing pink shoes. Ever. And I just missed the perfect opportunity to make that picture because I had an image in my mind even before I was on location.
The lesson: Keep your eyes open.
—Lars Just, interviewed by behindthefra.me
Editor's note: Just's work is available now in our inaugural themed sale, "Always a Beginner."