Photographer Julia Gorton captures Pensacola with 309 Punk Project

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That 309 Punk Project photographer welcomed Julia Gortonknown for documenting New York Citys’no wave‘ Scene of the 1970s and 1980s as this month’s Artist in Residence. Capturing a brief era of unique style and avant-garde music, Gorton photographed pioneers of the scene including Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, David Byrne and many others.

Moving to New York City to study design and later working for magazines such as National Lampoon and Conde Nast, Gorton found herself at the heart of this new scene. She was also roommates with fashion designer Anya Phillips, who co-founded the Mudd Club, a short-lived nightclub that hosted a variety of no-wave artists.

“I ended up becoming more of a photographer because it was a lot more immediate and social, and I was able to do it while studying design,” Gorton said.

During her two-week stay in Pensacola, Gorton transformed the 309 headquarters into an open portrait studio. She says she photographed more than 100 people in five studio sessions during her stay.

“The idea for me is to practice connecting with people and taking pictures of people,” Gorton said. “This project is really about creating a visual sense of community.”

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Julia Gorton

Gorton’s first portrait project took place in London in 2018 Damn gallery in collaboration with photographer Ollie Murphy. After that, she wanted to recreate the project but wasn’t sure where to set the scene.

“I came to Pensacola about five years ago and I really adored the people that I met here,” Gorton said. “By staying in touch with them on social media, I saw and liked the work that was being done at 309. After they were able to buy the building and work towards becoming a non-profit, they opened the residency program and I thought, ‘I’d love to go back to Pensacola.’ Luckily Valerie George asked me to do it.”

“I love that Julia’s art is intuitive, thoughtful and honest,” said George. “She has a real knack for finding a beauty in her subjects that most traditional photographers miss. She seeks authenticity and humanity in everyone she meets, which shows in her work. She loves people and you can tell when she points her camera at you.”

The final exhibition for Gorton’s Open Studio project featured about 300 paintings covering the walls of 309. Gorton donated all of these photographs to the archive of 309, which will be on display at Pensacola Art Museum in March 2023.

“I honestly didn’t know I could look like that to other people,” said Jocelyn Brown, photographed by Gorton at 309. “More than that, I’m amazed at how Julia managed to capture the spirit and humanity of our entire community of people and our collective, and just show the truth of who we are as misfits.”

“The whole experience was beautiful,” said Cheraldine Vaurigoud, also photographed by Gorton. “I had never done anything like this before [my partner] and I like that together. It was so intimate and she was so gentle and loving. I feel like we were seen and it was nice to be seen by our inner being.”

“I love Julia Gorton’s work,” said Nell Arnett, photographed by Gorton. “It’s really cool to be able to see these photos and collages in person, especially as a graphic designer who gets a lot of inspiration from her zines and work. It’s just great to be able to meet her in person and see how cool she is.”

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“I just don’t think I could have met any nicer, more interesting people than I have in the past week,” Gorton said. “It was great.”

During her open studio sessions, Gorton says she learned a lot about portrait photography and the goals that come with photographing new people. She says people can come across as very different talking to you than they do on camera.

“I think of [this project] than really a piece,” Gorton said. “It’s a piece made up of multiple images that work together to tell the story of that engagement.”

As she began her career as a photographer in the mid-1970s, Gorton admitted it was a way of getting involved in a music and cultural scene of which she was a fan. She hopes that by looking at her photographs from that time, people will also be able to experience some of the essence and energy of what it was like to be part of the no wave scene.

“While her early work features larger-than-life artists and musicians, at the time she documented them, they were second to none,” George said. “They were young people just discovering their talents and their destiny. At 309, we recognize that our community is full of incredibly creative people who deserve to be seen. We knew Julia would really do this wonderful job of looking at, really seeing and documenting us all.”

“Pensacola doesn’t know what they had in there [Gorton] come here,” Brown said. “Honestly, Julia Gorton is a legend. These are photos that I’ve seen in books about a music subculture that I wanted to be a part of, so knowing they’re visiting our community here, and the residency is amazing.”

Gorton is optimistic that her open studio session photographs have captured the spirit of Pensacola and its local punk scene. She hopes it will give a boost to people who are overlooked or underrepresented.

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“I hope that people felt excited about stepping out of their comfort zone and that if they make an effort, they can be a part of that scene, too,” Gorton said. “Sometimes you look in from the outside and think, ‘I wish I could be a part of this,’ but when you come into this photo studio, you’re a part of it.”

To see more of Gorton’s work, click here. You can also follow her on Instagram @julia_gorton_nowave.

Click here to learn more about the 309 Punk project here.

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