James started photography using a camera made by his mother when she worked for Canadian Kodak. While learning Australian as a boy he started taking pictures of his brothers with kangaroos and never looked back. Despite working & fighting his way through the living industrial archaeology of Northern Ireland ( its factories & bars ) building cars in England ( Land Rover & Aston Martin ) and sleeping in strange countries with his faithful Rolleiflex and sciatica- inducing tripod.
He decided to study photography first in England (HND / BA Hons) and back home to Northern Ireland (MA / MPhil). His other talents include archivist of his long term empire of dirt (photography books and junk) while his unpublished memoirs in the form of poetry and graphic design continue to grow unabated. Recently a grandfather to Amelia he knows the value of staying up late, which he combines with the habit of watching only foreign subtitled movies and talking to strangers about photography. He has never been to Machu Picchu.
Today, James is a celebrated photographer with a wonderful breadth of subject matter and feeling. He has had dozens of shows and won many awards. His work is collected by intellectuals and critics, museum patrons and a few enlightened locals. Through 8 Publications he has published his two recent books, “Spectres of Place: Three Decades of Ulster Interiors”. and “Spectres of Trotsky : The Lost Interiors of an Exile”. His work is represented internationally in some very exotic (and not so exotic) places.
He currently resides in Istanbul, Turkey.
Q. What does art mean to you?
A. Art for me is like nourishment for hunger, a hunger for the visual and I can’t imagine living without that.
Q. Do you have a favorite modern artist?
A. Amselm Kiefer currently ticks the boxes for me.
Q. Who are the artists you admire and why?
A. Certainly Caravaggio for his color and light and similarly the director Andrei Tarkovsky: his use of narrative and poetics
Q. When was your first exhibition?
A. 1997 was the first solo exhibition called Northlight at Clotworthy Arts Photo Gallery
Q. What challenges did you face?
A. I was working 12-hour night shifts in a factory while freelancing during the day combined with apathy for creativity within my home environment, though both reinforced my desire to continue.
Q. What does photography mean to you?
A. A way of expression particularly for my hidden personal side and for preserving the stories of the forgotten.
Q. Do you have a favourite piece among your works?
A. Many usually due to the connections with taking them, currently the triptych Was I sleeping as it is a departure from my usual style but mainly because of the power in which it took me! It was a Samuel Beckett moment hence the use of waiting for Godot texts as caption.
Q. What/who were your subjects when you first started out?
A. Documenting my home environment and a love of photographing the local were the first to steps I took.
Q. Could you tell us a bit more about your creative process?
A. I have a wide range of influences which work unconsciously while I tend to let the subject matter find me, usually leaving myself open to chance/fate then I research the place/interior. I wait patiently for the right conditions (light/weather) but work very quickly from the point of deciding a direction, as I often can’t return, spontaneously a bit like a criminal and the crime scene.
Q. What equipment do you use and why?
A. Digital at the moment, Nikon D2X with a 17-55mm for the very convenience of speed of use and its range of colour and latitude on RAW files. Although I can say that my long-term personal companion is my 2.8F Rolleiflex; always with a tripod for interiors and a good pair of walking boots.
Q. What techniques do you use to obtain the piece you want?
A. Camera on the tripod with the mirror locked up for long exposure with the maximum aperture and lowest ISO. I also expose for the highlights and saturated colour. I use photoshop to pull back the shadows and the color the low ISO reduces noise but it’s a balancing act so bracketing helps. Also the light, never sunny its best when overcast and my favorite condition is light rain (drizzle) as the light is defused naturally. This technique becomes like meditation as I wait during the exposures and the vibe of an interior can influence the composition.
This also translates through to the final prints. I spend a lot of time sampling papers and inks. When the printer of my last exhibition Spectres of Trotsky: the Lost Interiors of An Exile asked for my preference of style of printing was told: in the style of Caravaggio the reply was unrepeatable …but that’s what I aim for.
Q. What is the motivation behind your choice of material?
A. My motivation is in finding Poetics, history, narrative and melancholy aligned with a sense of place in subject and is personal, it’s like a high when it comes together, the rest is secondary.
Q. Can you talk about one of your strongest work?
A. Glenda’s Bed, the picture of the bed with the mattresses piled upon it is the most successful and effects audiences the most. It came about when Glenda saw my work as part of a conference presentation, she told me about her deceased Father in laws house which she thought was a good subject for my style. A few months later she showed me around the recently deserted farm and left me inside to photograph. Upon opening the hatch into the attic I was presented with the gift that is the image Glenda’s Bed. I call it a gift because like many artist/photographers there are times when the subject is presented like a gift when you only go through the motions of your technique or style and the rest is presented in front of you. So with the Bed taken in the style of long exposure by a small skylight on a rainy day, me balancing on the attic hatch … the remnant’s of her father in laws bed are preserved and without the story it still strikes a chord with people because mostly they bring there own baggage to it as picture.
Q. You recently moved to Turkey. Is there a specific reason for that?
A. I was attracted by the sense of place and time, the weather also as I was tired of months of darkness in my homeland. I also like the attitude to the outsider which I prefer and am learning visually from the very different way of seeing.
Q. What was the force that attracted you there?
A. The project Trotsky’s lost interiors which found me on the Princes Islands of Istanbul and it was the start of an affair with a place and people in flux.
Q. How does Istanbul inspire you?
A. Its unique sense of place and time, its colour of light and personality, for me images everywhere and time frozen.
Q. Each and every work of yours is very strong but the most intriguing ones are the Georgian and the Buildings at risk. What inspired you to create these projects? Can you tell us the story behind it?
A. The series buildings at risk where a reaction and one of the reasons I started taking pictures, I was concerned about the disappearance of vernacular buildings and interiors, this has continued to date with the Georgian buildings in Dublin. They started as a research interest and became a passion which is possibly reflected in the images.
Q. Are you working on new projects currently?
A. Finishing an MPhil thesis (Could Northern Irish Interiors be Defined Photographically), also two documentary projects: one on the abandoned photography albums of the anonymous people of Turkey and the other Doors and Shoes of the Dead (In Turkey the ancient tradition of putting the deceased persons shoes outside the door still continues, I have almost completed a series for exhibition & publication) and also I will be teaching at Plato in Istanbul.
Q. What are your professional ambitions and your projects for 2011?
A. My objectives for 2011 are to complete the recent projects and also start compiling my retrospective for 2012 and beyond … a vast project as I have 30 years of un scanned negatives, also to publish a small series of limited quality artists books time permitting.
Q. How do you hope Pelime can help with this?
A. Through contact with like minded creative people with possible liaisons on similar projects.