For the Love of Printing:
An Interview with Julie Pochron


Photographs by Julie Pochron

If you are an art school veteran like me or like Julie Pochron, you remember lessons on color theory, likely adapted from the teachings of Josef Albers. You remember a (possibly bedraggled) professor laying swatches of Color-Aid on top of each other, on a white background, while your freshman cohorts crowded around, some still sporting the fragrance of the suburbs they left behind before college. You remember your perception changing, as colors were paired with different colors. A green that looks green on its own will look yellow or blue or even slightly red when you pair it with the right color. I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking it was some kind of sorcery. Julie Pochron is a color sorcerer in her own right who wants to give you this same effect with a book on color and photography. I went to her studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn to meet with her and discuss her newest work, her business, and her life philosophy. It may sound cliche, but much like the differentiating color swatches, this is how Julie operates, on a basis of interconnection. 

The first time I visited Pochron Studios in Red Hook was during the best time of year to be in Red Hook: mid-autumn. I was in my first serious photography class as a fine art photography major at Pratt Institute. Julie was my professor. She showed us how to print our work on her Lambda printer, a behemoth and mystical digital enlarger, key to her sorcery. Years later, I would make my first color darkroom prints there. 

Pochron Studios is reaching a handful of anniversaries this year: Julie has been in business since 1999, and Pochron Studios has been in Red Hook since 2009. She has also been teaching photography at Pratt Institute since the 1998-99 school year. “I’d rather throw a party for the studio than for myself,” she admits. 

It's hard to not share Julie’s affection for her studio. As you enter you are greeted with a prolific garden of houseplants, hanging and standing, and inevitably at least one animal. In plain sight when she opens her door is her freshwater fish tank. Her new puppy Fugu, a white and brown mix reminiscent of the dog in Pochron Studios' logo, Max, will then quickly make himself known to you. There is Noodles, a lazy older orange tabby who loves lying on prints and peeking out of old paper boxes. Lastly, there’s Pygmy the "teacup" pig, whose grunts and whines are background to our conversation. Pygmy's predecessor, the late great Emmett, who graced the cover of Vice magazine's 2009 fashion issue in a portrait by Ryan McGinley, are the faces behind Julie's Instagram handle and perennially-tended body care shop, Two Black Pigs. 

Anywhere besides Pochron Studios, this display of living things would seem out of place, but somehow it adds to the magic. There is hardly any other way to quantify the place, and when I first visited, it seemed impossible that anywhere like it might exist in Brooklyn. The aesthetic doesn't detract from its environs: Pochron Studios is a full-service photographic printing studio, complete with two color processors, several darkrooms, a printing and mounting area, a digital workflow station, and a viewing room (usually occupied by at least one animal). 

Before we start talking shop I learn something I hadn't previously known about Julie: she and her husband Murphy live down the street from Valentino Pier in Red Hook. She lets me in on a secret that perfectly encapsulates her character: 

"You live down the street from a pier?" I ask. 

“Yes. I take my dog there every morning at 6am. That’s where I found my parakeet who just laid eggs.” 

Over the years, Julie's clients have ranged from former students to industry titans. She speaks favorably and frequently of Eileen Quinlan, Leigh Ledare, Anne Collier, and Sara VanDerBeek. “No one comes here unless they are looking for an opinion,” she says, mirroring a statement from a former employee of hers. Julie printed for David LaChapelle at the height of his career, which allowed her to start her own business in the late 90s. “He’s the reason I am a printer,” she says to me, but when I press her for other reasons she went into this specific field, she amends: “I can’t imagine doing anything else.” 

Interconnection and an implacable urge to keep going are what drives Julie. "We had it hammered into us, when I went to Pratt, that we were not likely to make it (in the photography industry)... we were told that we had to be okay with making artwork for ten years, and not having anybody look at it or talk about it, and being okay with that. And that's why I'm still doing it." She maintains that the reason she started her business was so that she'd be able to keep making her artwork. 

These priorities were integral to Julie’s identity before her Pratt days. She remembers the first color print she ever made. "It was in Buffalo, in my junior year of high school." She recalls a story about her art teacher, Ms. Debbee Skinner. After reconnecting on Facebook years later, Ms. Skinner let her know that the class Julie had taken was the first time she had taught art. 

Ms. Skinner inspired her to head to Pratt to pursue photography, where she studied under Phil Perkis, Robert Kozma, and Anne Turyn (who remains at Pratt, as of 2019). Julie drew great inspiration from Robert Mapplethorpe, forming an artistic process largely based on self-portraiture. "Seeing Mapplethorpe's work was the first time I was really floored by photography," she tells me, and we talk at length about seeing his prints on view at the Guggenheim. “I was amazed that I had students who were juniors at Pratt who weren’t familiar with his work.” 

Following her instincts after graduating allowed her to secure a show the year after she graduated, as well as a job at My Own Color Lab. For about seven years, she rented out time at a space called Latent Image from 10am-10pm every day, often hiring assistants to help with the printing. “David LaChapelle shot the entire 30th anniversary edition of Interview Magazine, and everyone (who worked for him) got a huge paycheck. And with that I bought the color processor that I have today, and moved to a studio in DUMBO that was 1,100 square feet.” In 2002, they moved into a 10,000 square foot space “where they went digital.” 

In its heyday, Pochron Studios employed twelve people. "I was, like, wearing a Britney Spears headset to accept phone calls while I was printing," Julie says. “No one wanted prints from anyone else at the studio. I learned that early on.” 

“So you make every single print yourself?” 

Julie nods, adding: “You have to have a huge amount of patience for color printing.” 

“I have almost no patience,” I admit. 

She knows this about me, and she laughs. “That’s why I always have a job!” 

One of my questions for Julie was whether or not she had ever stopped making her own artwork. It led to some complicated answers. When she was working for LaChapelle, a photographer almost inseparable from his color, her own artwork was solely black-and-white. “A lot of artists working around that time weren’t using color intentionally. It was a vomitorium of color.” Julie describes herself as “fiercely intentional about color” in Pochron Studios’ online biography. “So, I didn’t want my work to be affected by this corrupted color.” 

When Robert Kozma, who we both credit as a “patron saint of knowing things,” looked at her black-and-white prints in a faculty show at Pratt, he seemed surprised. He mentioned her previous work in color had seemed so much more “alive.” Pissed off, Julie consulted her team at Pochron Studios, and when they agreed with Kozma, she shot an entire box of color 4x5 film, and hasn’t looked back since. 

In 2008, when the economy took a turn, Pochron Studios survived by refreshing their business model and moving to Red Hook. They downsized from a staff of twelve people to five, and they moved locations to a studio half the size. When things looked as though they had returned to normal after the move, Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012, devastating Julie and the studio. While there is no visible damage today, Julie told me about watching the storm take over her street level studio while she and Murphy stayed safely above ground. "We really had nothing.” 

Overcoming the process of having her studio decimated by Sandy was as formative as any other setback Julie has faced. "All my core clients really showed up and helped when Sandy hit." Around that time, some of her important professional relationships ended for an array of reasons, including general downsizing and a separation of creative directions. In her art and in her business, these periods of change proved challenging but not impossible for Julie to take on. She says, “I’m sort of amazed I’m still here.” 

As an artist, teacher, and advisor, Julie emphasizes the importance of doing "the good and uncomfortable thing." She will relentlessly urge you to do something constructive and challenging if she believes it will help you accomplish whatever goal you want to achieve; she will be your biggest cheerleader, but you have to show her you’re challenging yourself and your work. She reminds you that, karmically, there are factors outside of your control, at all times, and that circumstances can change at any moment, and so it's important to exert control over what you do have control of. I ask my former professor if what she’s doing with her current project on color is a “good and uncomfortable” thing. 

“I think so,” says Julie in a quiet voice that I have come to understand indicates she knows so much more than she lets on. 

In explaining her inspiration for the project, she quotes Albers: “‘They are the same color, precisely alike. At the same time, they refer to the neighboring grounds. The true color of the central square therefore becomes unrecognizable. It loses its identity.’ 

So, okay, if I’m being taught color, and I’m being told, ‘do this thing! It loses its identity,’ how do I explore that? What I want to do is, make a photograph with this exact same thing, but then make it my art, while talking about losing identity.” 

Julie calls back to her beginnings and goes into detail about the new work. “I’ve been photographing myself since 1989. (After Hurricane Sandy) I was using old Polaroids of myself because they were physically deteriorating so quickly. They were all I had. Then I finally got my groove on, and I was working on what I called Prepared, which was a sort of riff on preparedness for a hurricane, but it was also preparing ingredients for a stew or a dinner party or a recipe, taking little bits of all these little things and making them a harmony.” Prepared, as well as Julie’s current work, both deal with her sense of self and identity more than her past work, Umami, which was “more of a feminist project.” 

In 2018, “I was going strong with that, and then Goose (her dog) died, and then four days later, Emmett died. It felt like there was no reason to make this work anymore. It took me about a month to make work again. I probably wouldn’t have taken pictures again.” 

At the same time, one of Julie’s clients, Leslie Hewitt, was making digital color fields on her computer and requesting they be printed large-scale. Julie tried to reproduce them digitally, but kept running into technical issues. “The prints don’t band,” she says of the digital errors the Lambda produces, “they do… other weird things.” She took a different approach and tried to match the colors in the digital files in her darkroom. 

“To get the color, I had to get all these different shades of turquoise and cyan. And later, I was showing them to my friend Jen Davis who said, ‘why don’t you start making these for yourself in the darkroom?’ So I started making colors of sadness, for my own work. The whole first month was just blue. The color wasn’t at all like Leslie’s, though - hers were more candy-colored and cyan than what I was doing. 

“After I showed Leslie her darkroom prints, she sent me a dozen more requests, and we just went from there with her work,” says Julie. “Dealing with dying’s hard. But what better way to get through it than with pictures?” 

This project takes color all the way back to basics. Plainly, Julie’s current work involves torn color darkroom prints and objects arranged on colored backgrounds, using pieces of self-portraiture as well as solid colors. As anyone can see, however, there’s much more to it than just collage, or just photography, or just color. It is a melange of these elements and an ultimate exercise in the good and the uncomfortable. In preparing to pick apart color theory, Julie sought out advice from a Pratt librarian, Cheryl Costello. “Cheryl helped me do preliminary research using everything the Pratt Library offers.” Albers’ discussions on color are all but scientific; Julie is arranging states of existence, moods, feelings. 

Julie has nothing but feelings about color, and picking them apart is exercise. “Bad color is what happens when nobody thinks about it. A lot of people let digital cameras decide for them. There’s a lack of intention. Many people don’t think about (color) enough and are lazy.” She synonymizes “good” with “satisfying and fulfilling.” She has never stopped saying “a good print makes you want to know what it tastes like.” 

She goes on to remind me, however, that asserting things as good versus bad is a lazy act in itself. She is the first person to insist that “there’s no right or wrong - that’s what I love. There’s no best print ever.” She asks, “How do you find the colors of spring? You just go out and get it.” 

In a less poetic but still trademark Julie way, she speaks to the intermingling of her surroundings and her process: “I try to keep my studio full of things to photograph. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I go in.” Pursuing the satisfaction of “what happens after” has been driving her since her first days in the darkroom. Her new work has a multiplicity of “what happens after” in the ways her colors and elements interact, over and over. A loss of identity, as Julie shows us with her work, allows the phenomena of color theory to breathe new life into the void. 

When Julie started printing for others, she was of the mentality that “she would only do it for five years.” I ask her about one of the newest additions to Pochron Studios, an inkjet printer, and she says she is starting to go back on some of her "nevers": 

“I said I would never dance salsa, wear heels, or drive a station wagon. And now I do all of those things.” 

She has been resistant to certain digital processes for years, but as Pochron Studios has changed over time, so has her opinion of inkjet printing. “I have confidence in my color from my clients. I can make the perfect white and master color in a way that makes it look easy,” says Julie of her color darkroom skills. “Now I feel like I can master it with ink. And I don’t want to go out yet.” 

Inkjet is not the only venture Julie is experimenting with. She meets with other women who run small businesses in Brooklyn, “finding a community during the current presidency.” She says the feelings these meetings give her are uncommon for her, but that it’s another good and uncomfortable thing, another exercise. “Sometimes you just need to talk things out.” 

I ask whether she has ever thought about quitting. “Oh, all the time! After Sandy, no one would have said, ‘that loser didn’t rebuild,’ or shamed me for quitting. But I didn’t quit.” She describes the last time she thought about quitting: she and Murphy were driving in a car they borrowed after the storm had taken everything away, and they stopped next to a bus stop with an advertisement for the New York Lottery, lit up in bright Duratran. “The ad said, ‘what would you do with $15 million?’ And I got really emotional because I realized I would just build the studio up and start all over again.”

This kind of endurance has been Julie’s why and wherefore since her earliest days. With everything she and her business have been through, it’s hard to think of anything she could not overcome. “I feel like the only way to survive is to be flexible,” she explains. “All the things I do, my art, my work, and my teaching, support each other really well. And if something fails, so what? I’m still me. I just take it on.”

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