Mid-afternoon, late summer light pours through the windows of JUCO's Cypress Park studios and a few reminders of the previous day's shoot are neatly gathered on the floor. Photographers Julia Galdo and Cody Cloud, the duo behind the JUCO brand, were inspired by retro Jell-O salads. They bought some gelatin molds, which now sit in a small pile, called in a food stylist and turned that slice 20th century edible weirdness into a fashion editorial.
After the shoot, they hauled the slippery leftovers outside in garbage bags. Sometime during the course of the night, someone tore into the trash and left an ant-filled mess outside of the door. By the time of the interview, Cloud had already taken a shovel to the Jell-O disaster.
"It will be a good story in a couple days," Galdo says, "but this morning, I was just absolutely not thrilled."
They had just been through a whirlwind of a month. There were seven days spent working on a project for Target and another five in New York shooting for a bank before embarking on two separate celebrity-centric editorial photo shoots. Their one week of downtime was spent editing and handling other post-shoot tasks while preparing for the gelatin mold project.
Galdo and Cloud, who were part of Annenberg Space for Photography's "Emerging" exhibition, have only done a handful of shoots inside this studio since settling into it two months ago. According to Galdo, it's already having an affect on their style. They're learning to work with the space's low ceiling and incorporating the access to natural light into their work. Galdo points to the windows that line a top portion of the wall and to the white concrete in the room as assets. "During the day, especially when it's bright and sunny like this," she says, "the natural light for portraits that you get is absolutely incredible." They haven't worked out of a studio like this before and are enjoying the change of light. "It's a nice transition," she adds.
They have only been known as JUCO since 2009, but Galdo and Cloud have been collaborators since they met in art school back in 2002. A few years after meeting in San Francisco, Cloud moved to Los Angeles, where he spent six years working as a photo assistant. Galdo stayed in the Bay Area for a time, where she worked in advertising. She relocated to Los Angeles the same year that they officially launched their artistic partnership. Since that time, their vision has continued to evolve and some of those changes are a result of their location.
Galdo recalls learning how to photograph in Los Angeles after spending eight years in San Francisco. Her photos then were reflective of her environment, which she describes as "moody, super diffused gray light all the time -- San Francisco weather." Los Angeles, with its piercing rays of sunshine, presented both technical and creative challenges. "I had such a hard time making work with this type of light and it transformed the work that I was doing at the time," she says. "I really had to reconfigure my whole style based on my environment changing." At the same time, Cloud was picking up new tricks by working as an assistant -- "on the job learning," he says -- and was able to apply that knowledge to the projects he and Galdo did on their own.
JUCO is perhaps best known for capturing images filled with bold patterns, vivid colors and bright light. They combine mid-20th century and contemporary influences for an aesthetic that is timeless. "Both of us are major thrifters," says Galdo, inside a studio sparsely decorated with vintage finds. She recalls being asked about her interest in shooting heavily-patterned images. "I think it's because I thrift all the time and the easiest thing for me to pick out is patterns," she says. Sitting on a '60s-looking sofa while wearing a red, patterned shirt and blue striped pants, Galdo references her own wardrobe. "If you look at my closet, the whole thing is patterns."
Their work extends from advertising campaigns to celebrity portraits to fashion editorials, with each project as reflective of the subject as it is of the artist. Their ads for Target are frequently eye-catching and clever in their use of the company's signatures, whether it's a woman wearing peppermint candy jewelry or one wearing Slinky toys as bracelets while posed in front of a red backdrop. Galdo says that finding the balance between what the company's needs and their artistic vision is tricky and a skill they continue trying to perfect. "We've had to figure out and learn how to voice our opinions and say you hired us for this aesthetic," she says.
Their style, and their relationship to Los Angeles, evolved in part because of the resourcefulness that comes with working within very small budgets. "I definitely feel like, in a sense, you develop an aesthetic based on using affordable materials too," says Galdo, mentioning how they would often venture into neighborhoods like the Toy District to look for inspiration. "It's a nice, think-outside-of-the-box sort of challenge," she adds.
Cloud chimes in, "That's what is really good about L.A. If you need something, you can probably find it here."
Those experiences help inform their process too, saying that working with smaller budgets has helped them put together teams that know how to do things for themselves. "The more the team as a whole knows, the better the job is going to be as well," she says.
Part of the art in JUCO's work is reliant upon the teams they build. Inside the studio is a palm tree scene painted in the 8-bit style of an early 1980s video game. Galdo's boyfriend, the artist Dane Johnson, made that as part of a shoot JUCO did with Kim Kardashian for AdWeek. They work with friends often. It was a friend, a stylist, who brought them in to shoot comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim in drag for Paper Magazine's "Break the Internet" issue and friends who participated in their favorite projects, like a photoshoot at a cabin in Angeles National Forest, a hotel in West Virginia and deep in the California desert at Salvation Mountain.
Galdo reflects fondly on the Salvation Mountain shoot, for a fashion spread that appeared in Paper, where fashions in sky blue and desert-hued patterns complemented the painted rocks of the landmark. "Making the images was great, but the experience of making them with that team was almost better. I don't know if that translates through the images," she says. But, no matter the subject, there's an enthusiasm that shines through JUCO's images.Like this story? Sign up for our newsletter to get unique arts & culture stories and videos from across Southern California in your inbox. Also, follow Artbound on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.