My grandma would introduce me to her friends as “James the photographer” and I would whisper under my breath “‘I’m a filmmaker, not a photographer” but thinking about it now she was right.
Since the age of 12, I have always carried a video camera with me, I quickly became fascinated with recording everything I could, almost like a video diary – this was way before the days of YouTube.
My friends and I would try and remake our favorite horror films scene-by-scene and this taught us about composition and camera movement. We used to have to hook up two VHS players and edit through that. We would also try to edit as much in-camera as possible. As we grew older and started to get into rollerblading – our videos became almost like music videos and digital editing software became available to us. I remember having a fascination with slowing things down – to be able to do that was so exciting.
I then decided to go to film school and this is where I started to study classic films and learn more about the role of the cinematographer.
The day I was introduced to the film Paris, Texas (1984) Directed by German Director Wim Wemders was a day I’ll never forget. It quite literally changed my life and how I would view cinema from that moment on. It had a big impact on me, the acting, the cinematography, the American landscapes, the music it all just came together and moved me in such a way I became pretty much obsessed with it. I was going through a really tough breakup at the time and I was experiencing feelings I had never felt before – it was a testing time. But this film saved me. This is what I love about cinema so much, the power to move someone so deeply – it’s a beautiful thing.
My work in photography and film has been deeply inspired by the work of Wim Wender’s and the stunning photography by Robby Muller. I’ve always thought to myself to be a good cinematographer they must be a good photographer, right? Surely if you can’t take photographs you can’t make a moving image beautiful?
I started to make a list of my favorite cinematographers and then do research on their photography. I also did this with some of my favorite film directors and for the most part, I was right. I think it’s really important to be able to create a beautiful image. To me, this is key for filmmaking and photography to move an audience. Obviously there are many more key elements like music, acting and editing.
The trip that would change my life was four years ago now. I had always had this pipe dream about picking a car up in California and driving to New York over three months – basically as long as they allow us in the country on a visitor visa.
I would talk about this idea all the time to family, friends and anyone who would listen – often to strangers while I worked behind the bar at my dad’s pub. Most people dismissing it as just a dream I don’t think anyone thought I’d actually do it.
But things fell into place four years ago. I had some money left over from my mother’s inheritance, sadly she passed when I was 12 years old. This money was giving me an opportunity of a life ime and looking back at it now it really did change my life for the better.
It wasn’t wasted.
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Deep down, I know my mother would be proud of the things I’ve done and the places I have seen. I fell in love with the American landscape and taking photographs is a big part of that too. It made me realize that I feel more at home in America than I do back in England where I was born.
It’s hard to really explain that to people but I’ve never felt comfortable living in the North East of England. I don’t want to sound ungrateful because it’s a beautiful place and there are way worst places I could have been born, as we all know. But to me personally, it’s been a struggle, maybe the cold, the grey skies, the constant wind and rain has pushed me to find something more comforting. I think being brought up on music from California, the music my Dad would play to me every day in the car to school or on long trips around England, this somehow fell into my subconscious. I would dream about the lyrics, of the sunsets and long country roads. I dreamt about seeing it for myself.
My education in cinema was American too, my dad would introduce me to films like Easy Rider and Apocalypse Now.
When I visit America, to me everything is so cinematic, my American friends often ask me “why are you taking a picture of that phone box?” But to me, there’s a mood and emotion I find hard to describe. I will be driving along the road and see a Motel standing there, it’s neon signs (something we don’t really have here in England) and something will tell me you have to stop and capture that.
Nowadays I like to take my photo trips alone just with my cameras and a notepad. Something I have recently started to do is Journal each trip and each photograph. I find this way you become more aware of what you are shooting and it sort of forms a discipline to your shooting style. However, I do love to be spontaneous while shooting too so a mixture of both is always good.
I have recently started to shoot on a Pentax 645 which is medium format film – this has also given me a discipline like no other format. Only having 15 shots per roll has changed the way I take photographs and work. The same way most filmmakers would be very careful while shooting on 35mm motion picture film.
I have two passion projects that I am working on right now. The first is a feature film I’m writing. I have had the idea in my head for a year but only now I’m I starting to flesh out the idea into scenes and forming the script. It’s a road movie about two sisters who recently lost their mother and have to make a trip to find their estranged grandmother who now lives in a small desert town in California. The two sisters weave in and out of California on a dangerous journey forcing them to confront the very nature of loss, grief and what it really means to be family.
My second project is a photo book called “Take It Easy” – the title taken from my favorite song on the Eagles’ 1972 debut album. This is a song that my dad introduced me to when I was young, it would become an important part of my life and the older I got the more the lyrics would resonate with me. I feel like it’s a song that tells us not to let things get the best of us. It has a universal message that everyone can relate to. I want my photo book to have a similar effect on people.
The premise of the book is a collection of my film photography taken on the road in America. It will include portraits of people and writings all centered around lost love and how this can affect our mental health. The idea is that someone who is going through a really hard time can pick this book up and look at my photographs and the stories that go with them and feel a little better. If I can do that then I will have achieved something good.
I hope to one day live and work in Los Angeles, this is where my heart is telling me I belong.
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