If you live in Los Angeles, and have any desire to be involved in photography in any way, chances are very good that you’ve heard of Julia Dean. For the past 33 years, Julia has been mentoring aspiring photographers of all skill levels through her workshops, classes and programs. She has built a very special community that calls Hollywood home at the Los Angeles Center of Photography (1515 Wilcox, just north of Sunset). I stopped by recently to visit with Julia hoping to learn more about the woman behind the business. Not only did I get to know her, but I walked out buying her scooter, signing up for 6 months of her street shooting classes and hoping she’d be my life-long friend…she is that interesting and charismatic.
Photo above: The Staff of the Los Angeles Center of Photography. From left to right: Kasia Czerski, Manager of Programs and Events; Brandon Gannon, Director of Operations and Education; and Julia Dean, Executive Director. (Photo by Jennifer Ruggiero)
Originally from Broken Bow, Nebraska, Julia received her photography degree from Rochester Institute of Technology and a Master’s in Journalism from the University of Nebraska. When she was 23, Julia apprenticed with Berenice Abbott for a year. The famous photographer, best known for her black-and-white photography of New York City architecture and urban design of the 1930s, taught Julia a lot about photography and about teaching—something that would become a passion for Julia down the road.
For years, Julia travelled around the world doing what she called “socially concerned” photography—using her camera to shed light on social issues. As she says, “before I moved here, I was a documentary photographer and I worked for a lot of relief agencies and non-profits. I made very little money but it was very rewarding because I got to go to lots of third world countries and document the good work that was going on.” She also worked as a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, along with several other institutions across the U.S., for 16 years before moving to Los Angeles in 1994.
Living in Venice Beach, Dean began to make a name for herself by posting flyers offering her teaching services. People signed up for photography classes that she ran out of her home until it became obvious to Julia and her partner, Jay, that it was time to get a space. “I started the school January 1, 1999 so I wouldn’t forget the date. It began as The Julia Dean Photo Workshops. I couldn’t come up with a name at first until Jay said ‘you’re the only teacher so let’s call it that.’”
Julia Dean in Venice Beach. (Photo by Laurie McCormick)
A former student gave her a small business loan to get the business going, and over time it grew in size and reputation. Julia worked 100 hours a week for many years, eventually realizing she had to bring in help. As she met people, she would ask them to come in and teach, so little by little she developed a staff. “I didn’t have a vision for what it has become,” she says, “that’s just evolved through the years.”
After 12 years on the beach in Venice, she decided she’d like to be closer to her then business partner, Baret Lepejian of A+I Labs, and moved JDPW to Seward Street in Hollywood. Then a couple of years later, she found the ideal property at 1515 Wilcox Avenue near Sunset that would allow her to expand and pursue another dream, of turning the business into a non-profit that would provide education, scholarships, grants, exhibits, public programs and events, along with focused programming for youth and low-income families.
In October 2013, Julia opened The Los Angeles Center of Photography (LACP) which officially obtained its 501(c)3 tax-exempt status in August, 2014. The school now offers about 100-120 classes a year. They have a wide range of programs and services for photographers, from the beginning hobbyist to the aspiring professional. Students can choose to immerse themselves in an intense one-year program of study, or pursue one of their four certificate programs at a more leisurely pace. They can take individual classes in the basics or dig deeper, learning techniques from specialized lighting and Photoshop to boudoir photography.
The Los Angeles Center of Photography. (Photo by Marlena McClain)
There are also visits from “special guests.” “We have 12 special guests a year,” explains Julia. “We invite people at the top of their field, generally for weekend workshops. Joel Sartore was my very first special guest to come in and teach. He was in the second photography class I taught at the University of Nebraska in 1982—he was 19 years old, that’s how long I’ve known him. When I started my school, he was already working at National Geographic and well-known. It was so great to have him. And now we do these sessions once a month.”
But what interests Julia more than anything these days is designing and implementing programs for at-risk and underserved kids. As she says, “I’ve tried doing that in different ways along the way and recently came up with the idea of offering a year-long program at the Variety Boys & Girls Club. I told one of the board members and he immediately raised the money for 15 cameras. I started the program with seven kids in the class and have been with them every Wednesday for about a year. The program I designed includes a Portrait class, Street Shooting class and a Documentary class. We did all of our shooting on Cesar Chavez Avenue, the kids and I, and now we’re documenting the insides and outsides of the businesses along the street.” You can see the love she has for what she’s doing when she proudly states, “The Ron Gershman Foundation has donated money for an exhibit of their work on April 24 next year. It’s very rewarding. I really love it.”
LACP has a variety of classes designed for students in middle school and high school (ages 12-18) including summer and fall classes.
Inside the Los Angeles Center of Photography. (Photo by Marlena McClain)
The Center’s new non-profit status allows them to raise the funds to run the center, and a lot more. They are hosting a membership drive that runs until the end of 2015. They hope to sign up 300 new members by year’s end to continue the Center’s growth as a community. “I want the LACP to be more than a school,” concludes Julia. “We want to be able to offer scholarships to people who can’t afford to take a class. Or grants to photographers so they can continue their work. I want people to want to be members so they can be a part of it all.”
* * *
LACP’s will host their Second Annual Street Shooting Exhibition from February 12 – March 11, 2016, with opening night reception scheduled for Friday, February 12, 2016. The theme is street shooting in Los Angeles and Around the World. The juror – well-renowned London street shooter Matt Stuart – will select between 40-50 images based on creativity, originality, and quality.
Los Angeles Center for Photography
1515 Wilcox Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Kim Sudhalter has worked with the Hollywood Entertainment District since its early years, helping to attract investment and revitalize the area. Originally from Europe and New York, she is an architecture and history buff who has a deep and abiding love for Hollywood and its past.
Arts, arts education, at-risk youth, education, Hollywood Schools, Julia Dean, photography, Sunset & Vine BID, underserved kids