The Artistic Condition: Answers To Your Questions

Just saw Shadowbox tribute to Prince and Bowie. How about reflections on your work and legacy to date? I love your passion and vision and you fit in with these icons by just doing what you love...

Like any artist, I imagine, I look at my earliest work and see how I have progressed. I began with architectural and nature photography, but this is also when I first felt the need to tell a story with my imagery. I looked for unconventional composition, shadows, and reflections with everything I photographed. To this day, I am still asked, “Why is your photo crooked?” Stand on your head and see the world as I do and maybe the photo will appear ‘level’ to you.

If I hope to be known for some manner of a legacy, it would be that I sought to tell a story yet to be imagined. To do that, my conceptual work has favored a darker tone because of my fascination with the perpetual balance. If you see the darker tone of my work, it is because there is also an understated lighter tone. If you see a ruined backdrop of some abandoned house, see the beauty of the subject that is the center of my image. Overall, I want to be known for my use of natural light or daylight. If others can feel accomplished with their financial standings, a marathon they completed, or another life-affirming accomplishment, I want to be known for my ability to control and bend daylight at will.

How about: how does your equipment choice (camera, lens, lighting, etc...) affect your artistic direction?

I am obsessed with light and color. At every shoot, I experiment with how they interact with one another in several different arrangements. I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Mark II as a backup. Nikon is known for better quality in low-light conditions, but Canon dominates with color. I use L-Series lenses that can give added saturation to color with the proper in-camera settings. When I shoot outdoors, I used to shoot with everything from a 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and a 50mm. I have been shooting a lot of lifestyle imagery as of late, so I have been using my 50mm f/1.2L almost exclusively. There is a trick to get great color and an almost HDR effect that I will touch on in a future blog. With every genre I shoot, my direction is to break from convention and tell a story with color and light. All of the lenses and equipment mentioned above give me the ability to capture and manipulate light and color in a way that defines my artistic direction. When I shoot in the studio, however, using artificial light is easier to manipulate. When I am doing conceptual portraiture, I often use a single Alien Bees B800 strobe with a beauty dish and a strobe. This creates an incredible moody image that I can add texture in post-production.


I think it would be interesting if you did a talk discussing the misconception between artistic nudity and what many are quick to call pornography and maybe the implications the "pornography" label can have on not only the model, but also the photographer.

This is an excellent topic. The nude form, in its most natural and unaltered state, is a gorgeous thing. I’ve actually done a number of nude shoots with clients that no one has ever seen, or ever will. When I am asked by a client to do a nude shoot, there is a substantial conversation beforehand so that I know the intended goal of the shoot. In most cases, the model loves their body and wants to see themselves as art. There isn’t a need for an audience to bolster their self-worth or pad their ego. Unfortunately, what most consider artistic can easily be labeled as pornographic. This is because they fear that nudity is the prelude to some explicit sex act. The human form can bend itself into beautiful shapes that give the illusion of motion in a static capture. I’ve seen this happen with my own work and the work of others. Can it become explicit for the sake of creating a metaphor or shock value? I guess it comes down to who is offering criticism. If the work is being called pornographic, it is likely because the accuser fears admitting to their own interest and the judgement of their peers. If my work is labeled as too dark or explicit, I see this instance that I did something that caught someone’s attention. I hope the model embracing their nude form feels the same. It’s likely if you do post nude images to a public space, you will undoubtedly invite the pointed finger of condemnation.

I also want to point out that there is a clear difference between art and exhibitionism. Being seen in your natural state is empowering, regardless if someone supports or denounces the imagery. If the imagery is to satisfy a need for attention, approval from others to bolster self-worth, or to ensure more followers on social media, I will not do it. This also applies to someone’s portfolio or their personality in general. If they are trying to ‘shock’ their audience or push the “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, I don’t see it as pornography or explicit. I see it as cliché and lacking in any kind of originality or aesthetic. It makes me feel that the model has no self-respect, something needed to create genuine art. I want to create genuine art with the model, not shoot something you’ll see on the shelf behind the counter at a gas station.  

Kevin JamesComment