Catching up with Julie Hrudová

Catching up with Julie Hrudová

By Arden de Raaij

Over a decade ago we first featured the works of then-emerging photographer Julie Hrudová. I remember being struck by this photo in particular, which almost seems like a still from an indie movie. I’d love to take credit for keeping tabs on Julie ever since we showcased some of her photos, but in fairness, she made it easy as her work popped up everywhere. Her street photography seemed to get all the credit it deserved, she created a series about grey herons which is internationally acclaimed, became the provider of weekly Amsterdam cityscapes for Dutch newspaper ‘Het Parool’, created a hugely successful street photography concept/community with @StreetRepeat and recently successfully crowdfunded her photo book “Chasing Amsterdam”! All in all, we’re thrilled to feature her on the site once again, in this catch up with Julie Hrudová!

Grey herons, Amsterdam

First of all, congratulations on the successful crowdfunding of your photo book ‘Chasing Amsterdam‘, which even surpassed the initial target! What made you want to create this book, and how are you enjoying the process of creating it?

Hi Arden, first of all, thank you for inviting me for this interview. And thanks, I was very happy for the crowdfunding campaign to succeed. To be honest, making a photo book was never a dream of mine. However, as I was taking the weekly photos of Amsterdam for Het Parool newspaper, I felt the images belonged together in a publication. The photos are individual but the series as a whole covers this strange period (2020/2021), with even more absurd scenes on the street because of covid-measures. It’s not going to be a book about the pandemic, but the theme is present within the images as an extra layer.

As for bookmaking, let’s say I’ve underestimated almost every part of it. To make a photo book, photographers often have to figure it out by themselves and cover the expenses (hence the crowdfunding campaigns), even if they work with a publisher. I’m the photographer, project manager, editor and pr person in one. I do enjoy it, but it’s definitely a learning process.

*The publication of ‘Chasing Amsterdam’ will also be made possible with the help of the Dutch fund for in-depth journalism.

It’s been over 10(!) years since we last featured your work on the site. Do you remember at what point in your career you were back then, and what were your aspirations?

So long! I was just starting out and I thought I would love every type of photography. I was even planning to do product shoots, I wanted to work in a big studio, make portraits, fashion shoots, even photograph cars.

Along the way, I had to filter it out and search for my personal voice and style in photography. It was utopian of me to think I’d be able to cover all those genres. I realised that I wasn’t cut out to work with big lights and heavy tripods in studios. Too much gear restricted me. In the end, I narrowed it down to just a camera and I began to focus on street and documentary photography. 

If you look back at the last decade, what are the things you’ve done which you planned or hoped for? What are the things which took you by surprise? And are there any things you wanted to achieve but didn’t?

Along the way, I discovered the world of street photography and I wanted to play a bigger role in it. At one point I let go of solely trying to please clients and photo editors and I started to focus on what interested me personally; the strangeness of everyday life. A big moment for me was the first time I got selected as a finalist for an international photo contest (Streetfoto San Francisco). It motivated me to pursue my personal work. I also got a job as a part-time photo editor at RTL News TV and this combination has allowed me to spend more time on my own photographic interests. Later I started StreetRepeat, an Instagram account with a collection of repetitions in street photography. I was surprised by the attention it got and it opened doors for me to do talks and be a jury member at various photo festivals. As for the things I didn’t achieve… I would have liked to travel more for assignments.

Fun Fair – Amsterdam-Noord

On the ‘commissions’ page of your website, one of the (earliest?) entries is the guinea pig contest, featuring what can only be described as a rodent with perfect hair. What do you remember about this contest, and is this where you got your weakness for guinea pigs?

Haha, good one. This was such a weird event, the Guinea Pig Day in Tiel, the Netherlands. Owners and fans came together – some even travelled from abroad – to celebrate their shared lore (or obsession) for Guinea pigs. There were hundreds of cages, a beauty contest where a team of inspectors would examine the perfection of breeds, photoshoots, cuddling sessions, stands with merchandising.

Looking back at the photos, I think it says something about the strange relationship we have with animals. As a child, I used to have a Guinea pig but it got eaten by a dog in our garden in the countryside. I still feel very bad about it. I still like Guinea pigs for their quirkiness and shyness, but it’s better for everyone when I don’t own one.

Guinea pig day in Tiel

Your photo series about grey herons is internationally acclaimed and seems like a spiritual sequel to the documentary ‘schoffies’. Did you realise that you were capturing an anomaly in heron behaviour when you started this series?

Thank you. At first, I was fascinated by the birds and their posture. I was waiting for someone at the Albert Cuyp market when it was closing down, and I saw many herons flying in to hunt for leftover fish. They were impressive, but also clumsy. My series about the market herons got published and I thought I was done with the subject. But then I started to see herons everywhere, in parks, the zoo, other markets, on rooftops.

Friends were sending me tips about the birds in Amsterdam and stories about people feeding them, even in their homes. I became ‘heron friends’ with Marc van Fucht, the director of Schoffies and sometimes we do lang walks in the city with cameras and binoculars. It’s very interesting to learn more about these creatures, especially about their role in the city and the ‘relation’ with inhabitants and visitors of Amsterdam. 

Grey heron Kiri

In an interview with ‘exibartstreet’, you recommended aspiring street photographers to find their visual obsession or urge. What are your visual obsessions and urges, and have they changed over time?

In the beginning, I wanted to tell stories with my photos. Over time, I started to prefer a story to be hidden or even absent in the image. I’m fascinated by strangeness and illusions and I love it when people have to look longer at an image because they can’t fully understand what is happening. Photography is often seen as this truthful medium and that’s exactly what makes it manipulative at times. I like to play with this element.

Besides being a photography powerhouse, you’re also the founder and patron saint of @StreetRepeat. Why do you think it has become so popular, and what do you get out of it yourself?

Haha, thank you. Actually, I was afraid that photographers wouldn’t like to be part of it. I thought people might see StreetRepeat as if I was laughing at the works of others.

That was never the intention. I wanted to show to what extent we all get influenced and inspired by each other, even if we are not always aware of it. People enjoy seeing these three similar images together in the themes and probably a lot of photographers will recognise their own patterns in the StreetRepeat collections. As it’s not a judgemental account, most people are happy when their work is featured. 

For me, it’s born out of my fascination with finding and analysing these patterns. The street photography world has a strong community and I’m happy to contribute to it as a photographer and editor.

One of the questions you’ve posed to other street photographers is how have you unhandled unpleasant experiences and what have you learned from them. Can you tell me about a specific unpleasant experience and how you’ve handled it?

I feel like the street is becoming more hostile. Not everyone is happy to be photographed. A fun fact is that the most unpleasant situations occurred when I wasn’t even taking photos.

One of them took place in an industrial area in the North of Amsterdam. I visited my mother at her work and as I walked out, I directed my camera towards a random building just to check my light settings in case anything photogenic would happen. When I walked further, two guys jumped out of a big car and they cornered me, asking why I took photos of a black van. I told them I had no idea about a van and I didn’t even take a photo. They demanded that I hand over my camera and phone, which I refused. But they were still blocking my way and were acting aggressively. In the end, I got angry and told them to stop intimidating me and to get out of my way. As they got back in their car, one of them shouted: “You’re on camera, we know who you are”. I waved at them and called the police just to pass on the driver’s plate. This was pure intimidation and probably some shady business. A lot of times people are upset or unhappy about being photographed and in these cases, I try to stay calm and explain what I’m doing. 

My goal is certainly not to harm anyone. On the other hand, you never know everyone’s story in the street, so there’s always a risk that someone might be unhappy about a published picture.

What is the funniest thing you’ve experienced while photographing? (either on the street or during an assignment)

Good question. A lot of fun stuff is happening during photo sessions. One thing I remember is taking photos of Kiri the heron in an Amsterdam home. Kiri often comes inside for a snack, but this day the bird was a bit shy. The owner put the snack on the floor and we had a break for dinner. Suddenly Kiri stepped into the living room and I managed to take a photo of the people eating, with Kiri in the background.

Gray heron Kiri

In the interview you conducted with Peter de Krom, you talk about his abandonment of photography for a completely different career. Is this something you’d ever see yourself doing?

At first, I thought that would be impossible, but now I can imagine taking such a step. Although I see myself working within the visual culture, it’s possible that I’d shift to a more analysing role instead of being a photographer. But as long as I experience joy in taking photos, I’ll keep on doing that. Also, I’ve chosen a combination with my job as a photo editor, to not become a full-time photographer.

I was afraid that I’d lose my love for photography if it would become something mandatory in order to make a living. So far this combination is working out well.

What can we expect from Julie Hrudová in the future? 

I have no idea in terms of long term predictions. For this year, if everything goes as planned, I’ll publish the Chasing Amsterdam book. As I enjoy collecting and analysing repetitions for StreetRepeat it might be interesting to do something more with photography trends. But I’ll have to concretise that 🙂

About Julie Hrudová

Julie Hrudová (1988) was born in Prague but now lives and works in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She has worked with a variety of publications, including The Guardian and VICE News. Julie’s work has als...View profile