One To Watch: Q&A with Photographer James Alexander

James Alexander was brought up in the North East of England; his passion for the American Landscape began the day his father hung an American flag on his bedroom wall when he was 11 years old. “It was a place far away, a place cinema came from, a place where music came from.” The fascination intensified when he made his first cross-country trip around the US – a journey that quite literally changed his life. Read on for our interview with this rising star photographer.

LF: Do you have a creative process or philosophy when shooting?

JA: I feel like any creative process is an ongoing learning experience. I come from a filmmaking background, studying film at university. This is where I was introduced to filmmakers and artists, all of whom continue to influence my own style. To this day I still like to watch films and take notes like we used to in class. I love to study cinematography, tone, and storytelling techniques as I feel like you can learn so much from really diving deep into a film like that. I often take something away from my notes that hopefully could be useful in future work. Travel has been very important to me and it was traveling that sparked my love for photography. My style started off being more of a spontaneous shooting style, usually while on a road trip somewhere with a friend, I’d come across interesting locations or people to shoot during the trip. This has transformed into something else recently though, often my photographs are inspired heavily by my filmmaking ideas and concepts. I enjoy planning my shoots more carefully and this usually starts with a theme in mind. For example my next series of photographs is called ‘Blue Hotel’ inspired by the Chris Isaak song, and David Lynch’s film ‘Wild at Heart’. This series will take place in one of my favourite places, Joshua Tree, California.

LF: What sparked your fascination with America? Can you remember a defining moment from your first trip to Texas in 2007?

JA: Funnily enough I just came across the map we bought back then (the year the iPhone was released) so no google maps for us! We had the option to get a GPS but thought the map would do, lets just say at one point we were driving towards Canada in the wrong direction for over 2 hours, dumb and dumber style. We flew into Los Angeles where we would spend a week and then drive to Texas. I remember the feeling of stepping off the plane it all seemed quite surreal, almost like stepping into a movie. With over twenty years of fascination with American cinema, seeing the place for real was magical. To me everything looked so cinematic and I would often find myself staring in awe of inanimate objects like a phone booth or a classic American car. I haven’t ever lost that feeling. I remember a girl we met was playing the song ‘Elephant Gun’ by Beirut in her car really loud and that song travelled with us the whole trip, my hair still stands up on end thinking about it, it was incredible music, I’d never heard anything like it. Later, we were invited to a party in Texas and it was as American as you could imagine, red cups and beer pong included. We put that song on the speakers and the whole house erupted into dance, I think that’s when I realized it was a special place, there’s something about the people I love, they are so accommodating and kind. I met friends for life on that trip and I continue to form amazing relationships with people on every trip I make. I love it.

LF: If you could work within a past art movement, which would it be? 

JA: I’m pretty much obsessed with anything late 60’s and 70’s so I think I’d like to be in California around the time The Doors started playing. Everything seemed wild back then, free.

LF: We’re obsessed with your portraits, what do you look for in a subject?

JA: That’s very kind of you. I think the main thing I look for is someone with Character, you know the type. Someone with a face that tells a story. Four years ago now, on one of our first days in Los Angeles, me and my cousin walked into a whiskey bar and there was this guy with a long grey beard and a cowboy hat. The second we clocked eyes on him we knew we would have to ask him if we could take his portrait. We actually became good friends after that. A person’s face is like a road map of their life’s journey, I think that it’s important when shooting portraits to try and get some of that journey down on film. Every line tells a story and every pair of eyes holds a lifetime’s worth of living. You can really see that in a photograph.

LF: Favorite artists or photographers? Go.

JA: David Lynch, Terrence Malik, Alma Harel, Coppola, Deakins, Muller, Fincher, Jason Lee, Gregory Crewdson, Lise Sarfati, William Eggleston.. Those and so many others.

LF: What advice would you give to your younger self– to that 11 year old boy watching your dad hang the American flag on your bedroom wall?

JA: I’d tell him to be patient, never give up and dream big. There’s going to be so many people out there, telling you it can’t be done, ignore them, as my brother always says – push on. All that hurt you’re going to feel, it might feel like the end of the world right now but you can turn it into gold. Pain is your rocket fuel. I’d like to thank my dad for putting that flag on my wall because in doing so he gave me a dream and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

LF: How do you know when an image doesn’t work?

JA: It’s so much easier to know how an image DOES work. I’m looking for light, depth, and trusting my intuition. Mostly I think the shot will tell you if it isn’t right.

LF: Describe your dream project or brand/individual collab.

JA: My dream project from being about 12, has been to make a feature film, which I’m working on now and it takes place in the Californian desert, my favourite place to be.

LF: Do you practice another art form / creative outlet?

JA: I write scripts and make films.

LF: How FAST do you live?

JA: I think there’s no other way, living out of a suitcase, fast is the only option.

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