A day in the life of Julia Leeb.
From Iraq and North Korea to the Nuba Mountains in Sudan: Julia Leeb takes out her camera in parts of the world that are sinking into darkness, violence and war. But she also always finds light in these places: a humanity; women who are taking the future into their own hands. Julia Leeb’s days are as diverse as the countries and regions she visits. And she has a strictly different definition of beauty.
People always want to pigeonhole me.
I frequently hear: “Ah, you’re a photographer”. But that’s just one aspect of my work. I shoot photographs and videos, I write, I use a 360-degree camera and I produce VR. It’s always about the subject matter. I only express it through different media in order to reach the people I want to reach. To give an example: you can make a film about North Korea that airs on a cultural channel. And that's great. But with that, I would only reach an informed audience who don't need to be convinced of my message. Alternatively, I can produce a colourful, sumptuous photo book with text describing life under the dictatorship. I decided on the book. It is published in more than 70 countries around the world. Some people buy it for purely aesthetic reasons and then find themselves reading about the reality of oppression. Usually, North Korea has just one face – that of Kim Jong Un. My book gives a face to some of the other 25 million people who live there. I show that we are all the same at the core, even if we look different.
There are photos I don’t publish.
Moments of intimate pain that belong only to that person. A mother who has just lost her child, for example. I don't make a spectacle of pain.
A 360-degree camera frees reality from its frame.
Every photo is framed, be it on a mobile phone, a computer or in an album. When I work with a 360-degree camera, I free the moment of reality that I’m capturing from this frame. This gives people a better picture of reality.
I discover humanity in the least likely of places.
I travel around areas that are characterised by violence, yet I always find gestures of generosity. People who share their food with you, their bed. Even if they don’t have enough themselves. Very often, these people are women. They have retained the ability to forgive. Encounters such as these teach me humility, gratitude, solidarity. They also teach me that my vulnerability, my openness, are things I want to retain.
The future is shaped by women.
It has always bothered me that in history books and war reporting, it is only the voice of the perpetrators that gets heard – the politicians and the military. Those creating the future, those who represent hope, never appear. They have no voice. Often, these are women. Yet a society is always successful when women have equal rights.
I grew up in the countryside.
Here, there was always plenty of scope for imagination, improvisation and random encounters when playing. I get along well with people. That’s something I’m used to. We were always outside – in the countryside, in the forest. We would fix things, tinker with things and build things. These skills have often helped me on my travels.
I’m learning to say no more.
The last time I said no was when I was mugged and pushed to the ground during a holiday in Spain. I wasn’t physically hurt, I just didn’t want to carry around that negative energy for the entire holiday. So I made a conscious decision not to. An encounter in Iraq helped me achieve this: Iraq is a country that has been torn apart by violence. There is a small, very old monotheistic religious community there called the Zarathustrians. They worship the good, the bright, the light and the fire. There’s a lot of power in that: thinking brightly, speaking brightly, acting brightly. For me, it's a conscious decision.
My ritual: dive in.
The first thing I do when I get home is run myself a bath. This has been a personal ritual of mine for years. Total immersion. Silence in the very hot water. The cleansing. I stay in the tub until my fingertips are all wrinkly. Afterwards, I massage Dr. Hauschka Lemon Lemongrass Vitalising Body Oil into my skin. Taking care of myself helps me feel good in my own body again. Beauty always requires clarity and truth. A genuine person is a beautiful person.