Join us for an interesting and inspiring conversation with Julia Cybularz.
Niko Kallianiotis

- Can you please discuss your project "The Mathematician" from its inception to its current state? Also, please talk briefly about the title of your project.

Slawek, the main subject in The Mathematician is my cousin. I have been friends with Slawek since childhood, in fact, he now lives in my bedroom from my childhood home. I began this project without a clear direction on how it may evolve or what form it would take. I was just very interested in collaborating with Slawek and learning more about his illness. The series began with black and white photographs that slowly changed over to color photography. The moving and sound elements came later. It seemed to be a natural progression towards using the moving image. I was very open and inquisitive when I began this project which I think allowed me to embrace different technologies. I didn’t have any preconceived notions of how the series would look. The title is simply inspired by Slawek’s love of math and ‘solving’ equations. As seen in the video, Slawek is rarely without his calculator or a pencil and paper writing down problems.

- Although separate, is there an inherent connection or conceptual link between "Breaking the Girl" and "The Mathematician"?

The Mathematician and Breaking the Girl visually investigate the emotional and physical connections people have to their bodies and minds during the times their bodies fail them. The images explore the physical manifestations of anxiety, hope and the pervasive sentiment that the subjects are inhabiting a space not quite their own. Throughout both of these series, I sought out to examine the alienation and disconnect that occurs when the subject is affected by physical and psychological constrictions. The photographs from the two bodies of work consider the nuances of everyday encounters, which often get overlooked.

Although the two subjects are superficially distinct; our gaze is directed at a schizophrenic forty-four-year-old man with development delays whose body reveals the battle wounds of the illness through its form; fully expanded from the effects of decades of psychiatric medications. In contrast, his cousin, Hannah, of Breaking the Girl, is a prepubescent twelve-year- old who also has a severe curvature of her spine. She has been repeatedly, and painfully fitted with, and worn numerous braces since she was nine. We see a young girl about to embark on the physical changes that coincide with puberty while facing the confines of a corseted brace worn twenty-three hours a day which restricts the natural urge of the body to expand.

- What were some of the difficulties you encounter during the project and how you surpassed them? Considering you are still working on the project, what is your process of incorporating new elements to the existing body of work, and how important that is in order to expand the project?

I think every photographic project poses unique challenges. A large part of being a photographer is learning how to embrace and overcome difficulties as they arise. Both of my subjects were and continue to be vulnerable at times so I feel like it is my personal responsibility to respect my subjects and understand their perspectives both photographically but also how they address living through needs. I continue to work on both projects so I have a clearer understanding of what obstacles will come up during the process. Usually, the challenge will revolve around fatigue from my subjects which is addressed through frequent short breaks. Working on a long-term projects forces you to evaluate your techniques and approach to the concept. It is not as important for me to consider new elements as it is to ask myself if they approach is going in the right direction for my intentions. My intentions and expectations change more often than the technique. Recently, I returned to video for The Mathematician series. As ithe project evolves, the video is currently more useful in helping me to visualize the direction of the project.

- I find really interesting in the particular project the intimacy but at the same time the distant attitude you maintained, considering your relationship with the subject. It fluctuates between fiction and reality with "documentary tendencies". Can you talk a little about the process of working with someone within your close circle while trying to pass a message omitting a superficial result?

My approach feels very natural to my way of looking at the world through images. I enjoy the collaborative effort that is required to make this type of work and through this process I find often have more discoveries. My subjects understand that we are not creating a series that is strictly documentary. I think the “documentary tendencies” comes being an observer but really stops there. I am more often influenced by a concept that leads me to make the photograph than an actual situation. However, there are photographs in the series that remain true to the interpretation of a documentary photographic approach. I enjoy the blending of staged versus documentary photographs in both series. The incorporation of the staged elements helps to give me distance from my subjects which I think relates to your question about intimacy and the omission of superficial results.

- From where do you derive inspiration for your work? Who is your favorite photographer?

I derive inspiration from so many places aside from photography. I don’t think I could name a favorite photographer because I have learned very special things from so many generous photographers. For The Mathematican, I was inspired by Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’. I felt many connections between experiencing that play in relationship to working with Slawek. Donigan Cumming, is an artist that I respect for his ability to take on challenging subjects. I was fortunate to have worked with many terrific photographers including Mary Ellen Mark. I learned so much watching Mary Ellen work with her subjects.

- What are your intentions in communicating the work with the public and how do you promote and distinguish your work among a dense photographic community? Do you have a strong social media presence and what the social media platform means to you?

I have never been great at promoting my work but it is definitely necessary if you want to get your projects seen. I have been fortunate in connecting with wonderful people in the photographic community. I think my website is really my main way of exhibiting the work along with lectures at different venues. I recently joined a group called the GUILD through Visura. I have gotten a lot of exposure and work from this community. I do use Facebook and Instagram on a more limited basis.

- How was the project received both from family members, but also the photographic community?

I feel very grateful to have received overwhelming support from my family on both projects. It can be tough for people outside the photographic community to understand why you want to make photographs so I think communicating clearly is helpful. The photographic community has really been incredibly supportive as well. It is through these two projects that I have met and made so many friends and given opportunities to speak about the work.

- What is your advice to students and emerging photographers?

My advice would be to be open to constructive feedback as you learn and grow in your craft. Try to seek out experiences and find mentors that will be open and honest in their feedback. I would also encourage patience because you really need to be dedicated to the work you are creating for the long haul.