Bizarre or trending subjects, catch a break with our curiosity of the week. British photographer Julie Cockburn combine several arts – embroidery, imagery, or even collages – to give a second lease of life to old photos.

Born in London in 1966, Julie Cockburn defines herself as a “visual artist working with found photographs, postcards, paintings and [her] own childhood drawings”. A series of experiments she started in the 1990s, when she was studying sculpture at the Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, United-Kingdom. “We were encouraged to use anything and everything as our materials, a move away from traditional bronze, wood or plaster – and, short of money, I scoured junk shops and skips for found objects as my starting point”, she tells us.

These shops inspired the artist to use photography in her creations. Found on the shelves, or on eBay, the pictures started to form a creative and colourful project. “I love to work with found photos, answering questions that the images pose. It’s like entering into a conversation that has already started rather than staring at a blank canvas”, she explains. Archive images – portraits, landscapes or still lifes from the 1940s to 1960s – thus became a tool she embellished with many accessories. Embroidery, collages and beadings transform the photographs into hybrid creations, sometimes even conceived in 3D. “The process is surprisingly physically demanding. Each embroidery takes between five and ten days to complete”, Julie Cockburn adds.

The hand-made nature of the work

“I am inspired by the materials that I use. Each photo, postcard, bead or childhood drawing evokes a reaction from me, it’s just a matter of trying to tap into that and make it manifest”, the artist tells us. Fascinated by the work of Picasso, traditional Japanese arts, and even Instagram videos of cake decorating, she uses her heteroclite imagination to give a second lease of life to old time pictures. Indeed, the images she chooses represent a classic archetype, reminiscent of the rigid compositions of 18th century paintings. “My modern, poppy, computer generated interventions bring them out of the past and into a meaningful present”, she says.

To her, this creative process is instinctive, coming, no doubt, from a saturation caused by a world dominated by plastic, speed and the digital. By distorting the images, the artist invites us to take to time to observe every detail, to notice contrasts, textures, forms and tones. “I love that people are interested in the hand-made nature of my work”, she comments. By blending together image and matter, past and present, she presents a graphic collection – both surreal and timeless.

© Julie Cockburn