UK based photographer Alex James, approaches his work scientifically; a quest to discover what triggers human emotion through visual sense. A former stonemason and bricklayer, Alex made the switch 6 years ago to doing what he loves - teaching himself to shoot - and working to live, so he can spend every precious moment in life with his loved ones, especially his family. Alex’s work brings drama and cinematic atmosphere into life - making ordinary moments and landscapes extraordinary.
Alex will be speaking at at Choo Choo Camp this October, 10 - 13th 2016, in NYC! If you want to hear him speak, sign up and confirm your ticket here.
1. What does making images mean to you?
Our most dominant sense as human beings is our sense of sight. “Research estimates that eighty to eighty five percent of our perception, learning, cognition and activities are mediated through vision”
I am intrigued by why a person wants to look at an image. I’ve concluded that it comes down to two main things, an emotional connection to the image or an attraction to the artistic nature or beauty of the image. A recent study showed an increase in blood flow to a certain part of the brain when the viewer looks at images with one or both of those factors. I try to remember those things when making pictures. There has to be a why?
2. What is life to you? What it should be?
This is something I’ve thought a lot about. It’s essentially a statistical impossibility that we even exist. Whether you believe we have overcome these incredible odds by natural forces or by the hand of a higher intelligence, it doesn’t matter. Life is a Miracle! A privilege we should cherish. Accepting that helps us to recognise that every single person is special and has equal right to love and respect. No one person is better than another.
I live my life with this in mind. I live to enjoy experiences and relationships, especially with those who I love, my family and friends. I want to make the most of my short stint of existence in time.
3. There are a lot of professions out there - why be a photographer?
I haven’t always been a photographer. I spent the first 20 years of my working life in construction. I am a stonemason and bricklayer by trade. It’s only the last 6 years or so that I’ve been making a living through photography. A very different career. It’s a very pleasant change. I enjoy it and as the saying goes “if you do a job you love, you will never work a day in your life”
4. How much is your family an influence on the way you view life, see things?
They completely influence my view and way of doing things. I had a quite a difficult childhood in terms of relationships etc. I never had a Dad around and spent my whole childhood planning for being one.
I am now a dad to 3 awesome kids and have a beautiful, supporting wife. I want to enjoy every single moment I can with them and live my life in a way that makes that happen. I work to live and not the other way around.
I’m not interested in materialism or success in the generally accepted sense of the word. I am only interested in happiness…..which is what they give me.
5. Are you creativity satisfied at the moment?
Probably not. I’m never completely satisfied with my work and I’m always self-criticising and looking to improve. I think that this is normal and probably necessary to prevent stagnation.
6. What are you reading now?
I don’t get much down time to read but I’ve just finished “Road To Seeing” by Dan Winters. A masterpiece!
7. Have you had any mentors along the way?
No not really. I’m completely self-taught. If anything, I was probably moulded by some brutally honest people on photography forums in the early days.
8. Is/Are there any project(s) you wish you could do - or might do?
I’ve always wanted to document the lives of homeless people. A series of photographs with accompanying stories. I’ve had a number of conversations with homeless people and some of their stories are sobering. I think there is value in them being heard. I’d also really like to see a little more of this beautiful world before I check out. A people in landscape series is something I’d like to do
9. Do you shoot with your left or right eye?
I shoot with my right eye. I had an accident at work before I took up photography that left me pretty much blind in my left eye. It’s about 20% functional. Good job I had a spare one.
10. If you were to start all over again, is there anything you would do differently? Why?
I’d definitely get more involved with other photographers, earlier. In the beginning I never appreciated the value of connecting with other photographers.
I’ve since come to realise there is a great network of support and encouragement out there in the photographic community. We are often very isolated in this job, so it’s good to form friendships with, be supported by and inspired, by other like-minded people
11. Bonus Q: Do you think the gear you use affects the way you photograph? Why?
I’ve been using Nikon equipment from the beginning; I’m very comfortable with the system. But I don’t think it affects the way I work
It’s just a tool for the job.
If you have a clear vision of what you want to produce I don’t think it matters.
I wasn’t schooled on film and came straight into photography through the Digital medium; I have no nostalgic attachment to film. Digital images are cheaper to create and actually very good quality these days, so I’m happy to shoot it exclusively. The film presets available also do a very good emulation job if you want to get that type of look. Digital is a lot less hassle for me.
I use my own custom presets for most of my work although I am a little obsessed with the LXC Presets by Tribe Archipelago at the moment.