Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

"Gramma Purdum," 1975: Greta McCreath, Julia Dean's grandmother, tries on an old hat while preparing for an auction to sell off the contents of her 11-bedroom house in Purdum, Neb. (population 20) Following the auction, she moved into a small apartment in Broken Bow, Neb., where her daughter, Patricia Dean and her family, lived.


"John Lennon Shot Here," 1980: People gather in front of the Dakota -- the apartment building where John Lennon lived --to mourn Lennon's death the day after he was shot, Dec. 9, 1980. Julia Dean was working as a photo editor at the time for the Associated Press in New York, her first professional job.


"The American General Stores Series," #13: Paul Dean, Julia Dean's grandfather, drinks his soda pop at the fountain of Pirnie's General Store in Weissert, Neb., in 1981. Julia Dean worked on a general stores project across the U.S. for several years. Dean considers this picture of her grandfather the first good picture she ever took after seven years of trying. She credits a Leica M4 that Letiz educator Walter Heun lent her.


"Madonna & Child," 1988: A Guatemalan mother breastfeeds her son while standing in the rain. On this maiden trip to Guatemala in 1988, Julia Dean took two of her University of Nebraska students with her to work on collaborative stories.


"Old Quarter, Hanoi," 2006: The old quarter of Hanoi bustles with people just after dusk. Julia Dean, who has led more than 25 travel workshops around the world through the Julia Dean Photo Workshops, took groups to Vietnam in 2006 and 2007.


"The Kiss," 2010: A couple pose for a photographer (foreground) in the middle of Day of the Dead celebrations on Olvera Street, Nov. 2, 2010. Julia Dean was having dinner with her street shooting students at the time.


"Orpheum," 2012: A man named Willie sits on a bench on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles at 1 p.m. on May 12, 2012. Julia Dean's current project is to shoot on the streets of downtown Los Angeles.


"The Worker," 2007: A teenager works with leather goods within the maze of shops and alleys in Marrakech, Morocco in 2007. Julia Dean was leading one of her travel workshops.


"Light Series #3," 2002: A woman with a cigarette walks through an alley in Prague in 2002. Julia Dean was with a student at the time, discussing the wonders of light.


"Night & the City," 2002: A man walks along the street that intersects with the famous Charles Bridge in Prague at 5 a.m. The camera's shutter speed was set at 1 second.


"Street Life, Havana," 2002: A woman hollers at a neighbor on the streets of Havana in January 2002.


"Film Noir," 2002: A man smokes a cigarette while sitting in an old car on the streets of Havana in 2002.


"Lake Titicaca, Floating Island #1": A mother talks with her daughter on their manmade island on Lake Titicaca, Peru in 2008. This travel workshop was the first time Julia Dean shot seriously with a digital camera. Prior to 2008, Kodak Tri-X 400 and Kodachrome slide film were Dean's films of choice.


A girl runs with a bounce in her step along the reeds used to make these man-made islands on Lake Titicaca in Peru.


A Nicaraguan man poses for a picture in his frontyard. Julia Dean was on assignment for Maryknoll magazine, a Catholic publication, during this time.


Children play in a sauna that their mothers use for cooking in their mountain-top village. These villages at the time didn't have potable water, so people had to walk two hours down a mountain and back with their water supply. Julia Dean was in Guatemala for a month with two University of Nebraska students at the time.


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Julia Dean: A retrospective look at the photographer's 40-year passion of exploring the world and teaching

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Julia Dean: A retrospective look at the photographer’s 40-year passion of exploring the world and teaching

By Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times

After a long career in documentary photography and education that includes traveling to more than 40 countries, publishing an award-winning children’s book, “A Year on Monhegan Island,” working as an apprentice to Berenice Abbott and founding the Julia Dean Photo Workshops, Julia Dean celebrates four decades of work in her retrospective “A Life in Photography:  A Retrospective.” Her closing party  will be held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday at the Julia Dean Gallery in Hollywood.

Standing in her gallery looking at Dean’s work, my experiences of knowing her have come full circle as I view each composition. Beginning with the photographs of old general stores in rural Nebraska, where she and I grew

Julia Dean

Julia Dean. Photo by Laurie McCormick

up, to her captivating images of India, where the two of us traveled together in 1993. Also, her adventures on Route 66 are reminiscent of my own travels more than a decade ago as I made my way from rural Nebraska to downtown Los Angeles, where I work as a staff photojournalist for the Los Angeles Times. Having been mentored by Dean for more than 20 years, I admit that the quality of this retrospective is in great part the inspiration for my career. Dean and I share a background and experiences that brought us both to Los Angeles to pursue careers in photography. We grew up in small towns in rural Nebraska and share an appreciation and zest for exploring life beyond our surroundings.

“The trust in people that you learn from growing up in a small town gave me the confidence to travel the world,” Dean said.

Originally from Broken Bow, Neb., Dean founded the Julia Dean Photo Workshops 14 years ago in Venice Beach and moved to Hollywood, where she has taught thousands of students through hundreds of her classes. Dean has introduced Angelenos to photographic luminaries and educators such as Mary Ellen Mark, Joel Sartore, Duane Michals, including several Los Angeles Times photojournalists. Dean has created a photographic community that brings people together through exhibitions, portfolio reviews and classes.

Dean says that one of the most important things that contributed to her life as a photographer and a teacher was being an apprentice to the master photographer Berenice Abbott for a year. She was 80 and Dean was 23 and taught Dean a lifetime worth of photography. “I learned a lot about photography, living in Paris in the 20s, living in New York in the 30s and I also learned what it takes to become a good teacher, because Bernice was a good one, even though I didn’t know I wanted to be one at the time.”

When I was a student of Dean at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she cultivated a curiosity and appreciation for the different cultures of the world by inviting a fellow student, William Lauer and I on a three-month trip to India. She took us out of our comfort zone to the streets of Mumbai, India, and all across the country, where I got to meet and photograph Mother Teresa, as we produced socially concerned documentary photo essays and stock photography.

“All of my Third World travels and experiences changed my life. I think that as a naive Nebraska girl, I didn’t realize how many people have it so badly in their lives and it has made me complain less and has made me want to do good things for others.”

Dean has devoted her life to doing documentary photography, street photography and teaching.

Dean plans to continue her Los Angeles street photography and to travel and explore. “In all my travels I’ve always looked for both the similar and the dissimilar. The similar things made me instantly comfortable. The dissimilar things expanded my knowledge, Dean said.” “There’s more than 200 countries in the world and I’ve been to only a little more than 40 of them.”


  1. January 18, 2013, 12:11 pm

    Great article and great retrospective, congratulations. I love general stores and I love your work on general stores. Funny how in a retrospective you appreciate that your photos captured a bit of passing history, things that are now no more, although you probably didn't know it at the time. It can change the way you approach your present work, now understanding that the same holds true for subjects and places you are currently shooting. peter

    By: peter
  2. January 18, 2013, 12:13 pm

    A wonderful tribute from one excellent photographer to another. Thanks to both of you for sharing.

    By: Gary Kemper
  3. January 20, 2013, 8:56 pm

    My years teaching at Julia Dean Photo workshops are some of the most wonderful times of my life. To be surrounded by this woman's energy, passion and dedication to her students was an amazing experience. Congratulations on your 40 year retrospective, quite an achievement!! Amy Kawadler

    By: Amy Kawadler
  4. February 5, 2013, 12:10 am

    I met Julia as a student in one of her classes more than a decade ago. From that evolved a our collaboration on several charity projects and most importantly a dear friendship. Having started myself with black and white photojournalism photography some 50 years ago (and quickly abandoned for other pursuits), I was instantly captivated by the simple beauty of her work. A simple rangefinder camera, rolls of B&W film and a lifetime in the soup and paper of the magical darkroom grounds her work in that lost era. What is so captivating about her images are their stark honesty, an opportunity for second sight of the world she sees, free of any agendas, affectations are allegiance to fashion. To know her work is to know her, they are one and the same, and it is that unfettered fusion of self and world that gives her images such devastating impact and clarity. And she gives us that vision not just through he images, but even more importantly through her immeasurable contribution as an educator and a cultural mediator of the art of photography and the culture of Los Angeles. The Julia Dean Photo Workshops literally opened the photo cultural doors of our city to the everyman and as a result so many thousands of people have had their lives enriched by this field we both love so dearly.

    By: Ron_Gershman

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